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Tulylish Bleach Tower

Tulylish Bleach Tower, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum collectionTwo centuries ago this small distinctive stone tower provided shelter for a watchman. His duty was to guard the long rows of newly woven linen webs stretched and often pegged down upon the grass and left to bleach in the sun.

Older methods of bleaching linen involved various lengthy treatments of washing and boiling the cloth and included the placing the linen upon greens in the open air throughout the summer months.

A web of linen is a whole piece of cloth woven upon a loom. The linen webs were placed upon gentle slopes of a designated green or bleach field. The natural colour of unbleached linen is brown but over several weeks the effect of sunlight helped to bleach or whiten the linen cloth. 

The green keeper who used the watch tower guarded the linen from damage; ‘linen on the green’, was vulnerable to damage from straying livestock and from theft.

During the 18th century stealing cloth from bleach greens was a common crime in Ulster as the stolen cloth was relatively easily sold. However, if the thief was caught the punishment was harsh. Penalties included the death sentence, a consequence which remained in force for this crime until the law was repealed in 1811 (click image above to enlarge).

The Tullylish watch tower was acquired by the museum in 1967 and re –erected in its present location. Originally it was one of a pair of watch towers which guarded the bleach green at Tullylish near Gilford in Co. Down in the 1800s.

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