CONCORDE, the world’s first supersonic passenger airliner, had its maiden voyage 45-years-ago - and there was a little bit of Randalstown on board those first record-breaking trans-Atlantic flights!
That inaugural flight in 1976 marked the culmination of 14-years of tireless work, and thousands gathered at Heathrow to see this modern miracle finally get off the ground.
But joining in the national toast were the 350 strong workforce at Old Bleach in Randalstown. The team paused to watch the historic take off, no doubt savouring the knowledge that their skill and craftsmanship were adding that touch of class for the lucky passengers.
For when the caviar, smoked salmon and pheasant luncheon was served on that very first flight to Bahrain, it was gently placed on linen specially created in the local factory.
And after the meal those on board were able to relax against toning headrest covers, again fresh from Old Bleach.
In rich, lupin blue, the linen was part of an initial order of 6,000 which was expected to be repeated numerous times that year. They expected to earn around £25,000 from the deal - which is over £160,000 in today’s money.
Not bad. Not bad at all!
The supersonic order was born from the Old Bleach association with British Airways, which by that time had spanned back over a decade.
During that time the Randalstown company supplied most of British Airway’s linen. On the back of the Concorde coup, BA were upping their game across all their fleet - which, Old Bleach hoped, could result into a massive ‘six figure’ order winging its way across the Irish Sea.
The wind beneath the wings of the deal was the firm’s managing director Geoffrey Armstrong, and he revealed that they had to slug it out with four other major firms.
“Although we have been dealing with British Airways for such a long time, we won the Concorde contract in open competition, and this is something we are very proud of,” he said back in ‘76.
“We were absolutely thrilled at our success and it’s wonderful to know we have contributed our small part in making the first official passenger carrying supersonic flight as smooth as it turned out to be.”
And he revealed that they took the contract very seriously indeed, taking the design back to the drawing board.
“In these days of worldwide travel aircraft linen must look good and he very hard wearing. Our material is designed with air travel very much in mind for not only does it withstand the heat and humidity of really hot countries, but it also is able to weather laundering in airports all over the globe - and very often these laundering techniques are not up to our standards.”
The MD’s pleasure at landing such a ‘prestige order’ was shared throughout the company.
One of the women who helped examine and pack up the Concorde supplies was Miss Vera McCausland.
“It was marvellous seeing the take-off on television, and knowing we had a personal link with what was happening made it all the more exciting,” said the Randalstown woman.
“I really wish I could have been on the flight myself!”
A number of Old Bleach stitchers were involved in the making up of the Concorde order, and Anne McErlane from Toome said it had been ‘a pleasure’ to be involved.
Two ladies who had the arduous job of pressing every one of the items were Miss Elese Allen, from Antrim, and Mrs Jeannie O’Hara, from Randalstown.
“It’s always good to hear of any order coming to Old Bleach, but the work for Concorde was a special thrill,” said Mrs O’Hara.
Production Manager for the stitching and cutting department George Graham had the responsibility of personally supervising the Concorde order.
“No-one can edny that this was a great thrill for everyone concerned throughout the factory,” he said back in 1976.
“We have done, and will continue to do, something worthwhile for Concorde - and the fact that we are involved in the supersonic project is a tremendous reflection on the reputation of Old Bleach.”
George McCracken, the manager of the weaving department, had already served almost 30 years by that time - but he conceded that the contract was ‘a bit special’.
His job was to ensure that everything was up to the high standards expected. Under his forensic supervision Hugh Rock and Rosemary McLaughlin led the team who wove the linen/terylene material.
Then it was on to the warping department where Antrim woman Agnes Verner cast her eye over the weave.
A long process, to be sure, but nothing was too much for the international jet-setters fortunate enough to snap up a seat. They had paid a lot of hard cash and they expected all the classy extras.
In 1997, the round-trip ticket price from New York to London was $7,995 - the equivalent of more than $13,000 today - which was more than 30 times the cost of the cheapest option to fly the route.
Sadly the Concorde dream did not last.
The iconic aircraft were retired in 2003, three years after the crash of Air France Flight 4590, in which all passengers and crew were killed.