New Tillie & Henderson flats will pay ‘historic homage to the girls who worked in that factory’

The developers who are to construct an apartment complex on the site of the historic where Tillie & Henderson’s factory once stood have spoken of their commitment to honouring the memory of those who worked there.

Friday, 3rd December 2021, 10:46 am

The green light was given to plans for 131 new apartments on the derelict site of the former Tillie and Henderson shirt factory site in Derry at the recent.

In a second application by the same applicant, Listed Building Consent was given for a replica of the iconic metal staircase that linked the historic factory with the Craigavon Bridge. 

Members were informed the bridge will serve as a platform to pay homage to the factory girls as it will feature sculptures of the former workers who used the staircase.

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An artist's impression of how the new Tillie & Hendersons apartment complex will look.

The new apartment building will also carry the Tillie & Henderson name after the applicant bought the name as a means to pay respect to the former site.

In 1890 Tillie & Henderson was the largest shirt factory in the world and it was deemed important enough for Karl Marx to reference in his book Das Kapital. It closed down in the 70s before the listed building was demolished in 2003 after damage from a fire and the site has been vacant since.

When completed the new building will accommodate one and two bedroom apartments which  will be located over eight floors on to Foyle Road and five storeys onto Abercorn Road.

The exterior finish will be clay brick replicating the heritage of the shirt factory site.

The new development will also feature a number of other facilities including a café, library, hair salon and gym.

All Members of the Planning Committee warmly welcomed the application with SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins saying: “Tillie & Henderson is very close to a lot of people’s hearts throughout this city. To have it replaced with the design and concept we see in front of us, I am 100% behind it and to get a monument contributing to the fact it was a factory and what Derry stood for within the factory industry, my hats off to the work that has been put in.”

Describing the ‘whole concept as fantastic’, UUP Alderman Derek Hussey praised the design and the fact it would be a benefit to the entrance and gateway to the city.

Agreeing with previous speakers, DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock congratulated everyone involved with the project.

She said: “You have made every effort to keep this application in keeping with what was there before. My thinking is that there would be a lot of young professionals looking for city centre living and that will help revitalise our city centre.”

SDLP Councillor John Boyle Councillor spoke of the ‘imagination that has been applied to it’.

“We all appreciate and understand the significance of this site and the loss of the iconic Tillie’s factory.

“Over a period of time there has been a great deal of frustration across the city and beyond at the fact that the site has laid vacant for such a prolonged period of time.”

Describing the planning application as ‘quality’, Sinn Fein Councillor Christopher Jackson spoke of his interest in this application and the iconic nature of the former building.

He said: “It was a tragedy to see that building being demolished. To be able to present an application will be of benefit to the overall city and that landscape picture.

“It’s not only the initial appearance that is of high quality, I was very surprised to see that 10% of open space was able to be achieved despite being in a location within the central commercial core. That’s something that is particularly welcome and it shows the imagination of the architects who were working on it.”

Councillor Boyle proposed the recommendation to approve the application for ‘this very significant development in our city centre’ was approved, Councillor Dobbins seconded and all Members voted unanimously in favour of approval.

A second application seeking permission to replicate the original metal staircase that linked the factory with Craigavon Bridge also received unanimous support.

Presenting officer, Sarah Barrett informed Members that Listing Building Consent was required to connect the staircase to the gates of the Craigavon Bridge as it is a listed building.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Matt Kennedy from MKA Planning said: “It was felt it was necessary to pay homage to the previous building that was there on site. 

“The applicant has been able to track back and purchase the original company for Tillie & Henderson and he has bought the name and that will be replicated on the building so that’s how the original building will be remembered and some degree of respect paid to it.

“Another way to pay homage is to replicate the iconic staircase out of the shirt factory on to Carlisle Circus. That’s a very important staircase because it embraces so many memories of so many people who had worked in that shirt factory over many years. We’ve actually discussed with one of the local sculptors in the town and he is putting forward detailed sketches which he has prepared for a number of statues of factory girls to go on this staircase.

“One of the other intentions was that the names of people who have worked in the factory over many years would be replicated on that staircase too as a type of historic homage to the girls who worked in that factory.”

Mr Kennedy also paid tribute to the project’s architect Mr John Bradley, a local Derry man.

He said: “John was born not a stone’s throw from the site and has put in serious hard graft to put a quality scheme on this site. He has personal connections to the factory as well and wants to ensure it is as good a scheme as possible.”

Committee members were vocal in their praise of the plans to restore the staircase with Councillor Dobbins saying: “You used the word homage, respect and iconic – how very fitting.

“This staircase is exactly that, it is very fitting, not only to the workers of Tillies but every factory worker in Derry.”

Alderman Hussey, McClintock and Councillor Boyle agreed it was ‘absolutely tremendous that something so iconic is being reinstated in that location’ and Councillor Jackson remarked ‘it wouldn’t be the same if the staircase wasn’t there’.

Mr Kennedy concluded by saying that, following the approval, a planning application would be submitted sooner rather than later for the statues.

Members unanimously approved the recommendation to grant Listing Building Consent for the installation of the staircase.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter