Close-knit in Balbriggan
Sir, – I note with interest Tristan Donaghy’s comments on textile imports purporting to be of Irish origin (November 20th).
This problem is not new. The town of Balbriggan in Co Dublin has been famous for the quality of its hosiery since the early 1740s. The term “Balbriggans” was originally associated with finely wrought stockings and later with “combinations” (full-body cotton underwear). Balbriggan is among the few towns that are listed as noun in the dictionary (“a knitted cotton fabric for underwear, named for the town where it was originally made”).
This fame was not without cost. As early as 1818, Joseph Smyth (founder of Smyth and Company, suppliers of stockings to Queen Victoria for over 60 years) fulminated against “several shops in the Metropolis selling articles of inferior quality” under the Balbriggan name.
So highly regarded was the Balbriggan brand that haberdashery shops from Cork to Belfast advertised both “Real Balbriggan” and (slightly cheaper) “Imitation Balbriggan” hosiery.
Loss of income to the hosiers of Balbriggan led to pressure being placed on the British Trademark Society, which, in 1867, granted the trademark of Real Balbriggan to “be used only on goods manufactured in or about Balbriggan”. This did not solve the issue, as an increasing number of international hosiery manufacturers continued to use the brand name on their imports to Ireland.
In 1875, energetic lobbying of the British Trade Protection Society by William White, managing director of Smyth and Co, resulted in the British government making a decision that thereafter any imported goods bearing the word Balbriggan coming to the notice of customs officers would be impounded.
Vigilance was still needed, however. Mr White went into battle again in 1891 when he took legal action against Messrs Stagg, Mantle & Co of Leicester Square, London, for attempting to sell hosiery made in Germany as the higher-quality Balbriggan stockings. The company admitted guilt and offered both an apology and damages to Smyth & Co.
While imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery. It also tends to have a damaging effect on native industries. – Yours, etc,