William Scott laid the foundations of this new industry in Derry. Born on 12 March 1765 at Ballougry, of Presbyterian parents, Scott learned the art of linen, cotton and woollen weaving as an apprentice to Gilmour’s linen factory in Artillery Street. He then became a master weaver and from his weaving shop on Weaver’s Row he produced linen cloth on a hand-loom. With the establishment of a regular steamboat service between Derry and Glasgow in 1829, William Scott began to travel to Glasgow to sell his webs of linen cloth to the firm of William Gourlie & Son.
In 1831 Scott’s wife and daughters got Derry’s shirt industry up and running when they made a few linen shirts in the summer of that year. Scott took these with him on his usual trip to Glasgow. The shirts were quickly sold to his Scottish contacts and he returned to Derry with orders for more.
By 1840 Scott had stations dotted all over the country: in county Derry, in the Inishowen peninsula, in the towns of St Johnston, Milford, Ramelton, Raphoe and Castlefinn (all in county Donegal), and in Strabane, county Tyrone.
For well over a decade William Scott & Son were unrivalled in the shirt-making industry. Many homes in counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, formerly dependent on the linen industry, now relied on shirtmaking for Scotts to supplement family income.
Scott retired in 1850 at the age of 85, handing the business over to his sons. Despite the introduction of the sewing machine, the sons continued to use Bennett’s Lane as a distribution centre for their network of out. The Scott method of hand-stitching shirts in the homes of outworkers was now inefficient. In 1859, one year after the death of William Scott, the business he began in Bennet’s Street closed. It was William Scott’s success however that attracted future Scottish entrepreneurs to Derry. These business men brought with them the latest ideas and methods of production so that the city’s shirt industry continued to grow.