Friday 29 January 2010

The Wigmaker, “Cottonpolis” and the first factory

Richard Arkwright started his young working life as a barber and wig-maker, opening his first shop in Bolton, Lancashire in the early 1750s. He was the youngest of thirteen children, and despite being poor his parents ensured he was able to read and write.

Arkwright obviously had a flair for learning and invention, as it was while he was working as a barber he invented a waterproof dye for use on the fashionable ‘periwigs’ (wigs) of the time, the income from which later facilitated the financing of prototype cotton machinery.

Wigs in the 17th century

Cotton had been spun, woven and dyed since prehistoric times. It had clothed the people of ancient India, Egypt and China before its use spread to the Mediterranean traders by the Arabs in the first century AD. The Moors introduced the cultivation of cotton into Spain in the 9th century, before it spread into Europe; little cotton was imported to England before the 15th century, when it was known as an imported fibre.

The indigenous species of cotton from Mexico, which has been cultivated for at least 8,000 years, now accounts for about 90% of the cotton production worldwide.

Marie Antoinette, in 1783, in her famous "muslin" portrait. (Muslin in England is a name given to sheer cotton fabrics, while in the States muslin is a firmer fabric, we know as calico).

Arkwright (1733 – 1792) is credited as the creator of the modern factory system. Arkwright’s achievement was to combine power, machinery, semi-skilled labour and a “new” raw material (cotton) to create, more than a century before Henry Ford, mass production. His mechanical abilities, his genius for organisation made him the person who pieced together the origin of the modern factory system.

Arkwright, together with his partner, a clockmaker, moved south to the textile heartland of 18th century England – Nottingham and Derby. His cotton mill at Cromford, Derbyshire was built specifically to house machinery rather than just bringing workers together and was one of the first instances of the working day being determined by the clock instead of daylight hours, and of people being employed rather than just contracted.
Gateway to Arkwright’s Mill

As well as being the ‘father of the factory system’ he is considered an innovator as he combined water power, the water frame and continuous production with modern employment practices. Entrepreneurs in the 18th and 19th centuries abounded with many inventions being borrowed, stolen, amended, melded out of other practical ideas; they struggled for money, for recognition of their achievements – if you were unable to raise sufficient funds to cover obtaining your patent, the likelihood was another entrepreneur would copy the process or specification.

Arkwright tried to obtain a grand patent covering many processes that he hoped would give him monopoly power over the fast-growing industry – but this was not to be: there was hostility to the granting of exclusive patents. Aggressive and self-sufficient, Arkwright proved a difficult man to work with, so he was able to buy out his partners and built more factories across England and Scotland.

Arkwright in 1790
Cromford Mill was the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in Derbyshire, which laid the foundation for Arkwright’s fortune and was quickly copied by other mills in Britain, Germany and the United States. Cromford was built in 1771 as a five storey mill and from 1772 it was run day and night with two 12 hours shifts. He started with 200 workers, but within two years employed 600 people; he built housing for them nearby, one of the first manufacturers to do so, as the locality could not supply sufficient workers.

He chose the site at Cromford, on a subsidiary of the River Derwent, because it had a year-round supply of warm water being drained from the local lead mine – ensuring that the water wheel had a constant supply of water at times of drought, and that would not freeze in winter, and lastly that would not be damaged through river flooding. The river water flowing through the Peak uplands was soft, which softened the cotton during the washing process.
Cromford Mill developed by Arkwright in 1771, now the centre piece of the Derwent Valley Mills, a World Heritage Site.

Future developments arising from the Industrial Revolution, notably the introduction of canals into Britain in 1757, and then the invention of the steam railway in 1794 completely revolutionised freight transport, particularly the transportation of cotton to the various textile centres, ensuring the England became criss-crossed by numerous interlinking transport exchanges. This was when the “cottonpolis” developed – the large mills powered by water turning machinery sprang up in and around Manchester, backed up the Industrial Revolution of reliable transport and the large port of Liverpool.

Arkwright will be remembered by most for his reformation of the way that people work. No one has had greater influence and indeed revolutionised industry than Sir Richard Arkwright. At 60 years of age, Arkwright died one of the richest men in England. It is estimated that his fortune amounted to something in the region of £500,000.

The fourth mill to be built in 1784 near to Cromford lives on over 200 years later, being run by the same family, the Smedley family, after Arkwright moved north to take advantage of 'cottonpolis’. The factory has been renovated and still operates as it did all those years ago, while having continued to invest in the latest technology for the new factory block, which now manufactures seamless long johns.

A wig-making entrepreneur brought the component parts of a factory under one roof for the first time – a long john cotton manufacturer continues a similar factory and its concept today – with (just) the Industrial Revolution in between!

Dear Mr Postman – arctic winds arrive again, and the possibility of snow, which should it arrive I may need my long johns! though if we’re lucky not down here; but it is noticeably lighter in the evenings. My mother finally seems to be improving and was awake for a little today, so that is good news.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Jannie Funster said...

Oh I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE cotton in all it's many splendid forms.

And you'll have to forgive me for laughing at 2 mentions on this post. I cannot see or hear the word Moors without remembering the Seinfeld episode where Moors had been misspelled as Moops on a Trivial Pursuit game card.

And Bold Life Tess often refers to her love of some pastry called a Long John, which invariably makes me think she is ingesting long underwear.

Ahh, grins galore.

Muslin, another gorgeous word.

Wonderful evokations here, Dear Hilary!! Thank you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie - THANK YOU! Me too .. no wondered you weren't too keen on your polyester sofa! Cotton abounds in my house - clothes, furnishings et al

Your Moops mix-up - I hadn't heard of .. but I can understand as four teenage girls on holiday we played mah-johng .. with the circles became 'balls' .. we spent the whole time in hysterics, girlie kids ..

oh dear - I've spent the last decades! forgetting that circles represent stones or wheels .. I can feel a post coming on.

Lets hope Tess comes over and lets us know about her pastry longjohns? .. oh dear it's breakfast .. ingesting ljs ... they're thinner than pjs though!

Glad you enjoyed it .. and muslin is that lovely floating fabric - my memories of floating fabric against (oddly enough) huge mill windows in a restored South African yellow wood mill .. it was gorgeous. Gently fluttering in the river wind as it escaped to the nearby sea on walm balmy African days ... on the few days I spent with friends - sadly they've sold it now .. anxious about the underpinning of the rushing tide against the bank.

thanks to you Jannie .. brought back some other memories and some of the small happy times and things we perhaps forget about ..

Lovely sunny day here - very cold though .. but SUN = warm smiles! Have a great weekend ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Betsy Wuebker said...

Hi Hilary - Wow, old Richard did well for himself in what seems like a rough and tumble economy and marketplace back in his day! I love hearing these stories. The fruits of his organized mind resulted in a major shift in opportunities and lifestyle for workers, too, with his company housing.

And you're right, "muslin" in the U.S. refers to a denser fabric. I'm wondering if in the UK I'd get a cotton voile or perhaps a filmy cheesecloth if I ordered muslin? Having been in the garment biz in a long ago past life, I'm still fascinated with fabric and textiles.

Did you know Egyptian cotton is really an American species? It rose to prominence in British markets due to lack of availability from ours during our Civil War, when we embargoed our South.

Nowadays I prefer cotton next to my skin, and can't abide even the slightest bit of wool - too scratchy. So my winter layers always start with cotton first. And have you tried the long johns with lanolin? Anything to keep us from itching our entire skin off in sub-zero temperatures!

Thanks, Hilary, I enjoyed this.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Betsy .. yes if the entrepreneurial spirit took they could be very successful, or fail miserably too – however he set the factory pace for today.

Cotton – yes I think it’s actually Mexican (well that’s what Wiki said .. and it made sense, so I believe!) .. and that interlink of Egyptian type cotton, and the trading between the American eastern seaboard and our ports of Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol on our west coast allowed the invention of huge industrial machines and conglomerates - including Eli Whitney's cotton gin invention in 1793.

I’m amazed you were in the garment biz – always turned me off because I can’t wear most of the fabrics .. so hate shopping too! I haven’t ever tried long johns .. but I guess if I needed to I would. Lanolin to stop the chafing – unless you’re allergic to sheep fat, used in lanolin? Some are I know.

So my knowledge of textiles is pretty negligible .. both cotton voile and filmy cheesecloth are available here .. but not sure if they’re the same as muslin or not. I haven’t sewn anything for years .. though I may do in the future as I’ve been thinking about it for a while – but again I’m not a seamstress!

I enjoyed your Viking story on keels and backbones – that was really good .. just glad this one seemed to match up!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

T. Powell Coltrin said...

So many interesting things from your post I could talk about. First all I sew and love all fibers. I get a little giddy thinking about it. I'm like Betsy, gimmee cotton.

Secondly, those wigs are a life form in their own right. They had to be uncomfortable, unlike the wigs of today.

Great post, Hilary. Love it.

PS I am glad you mother awoke for awhile.

Liara Covert said...

Wigs are a popular accessory in the modern era, and not only for cancer patients who lose hair as the result of chemotherapy. Indian temples generate much income through collecting hair of devotees and selling it to North American and other Western markets. Your stories always offer meaningful food for thought. You are a talented historian with wit:)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. amazing how we all gravitate to the comfortableness of cotton - did I struggle growing up, when there weren't cotton clothes .. it was 'horrid'. Great that you sew .. I'm not very good, but I did make quite a lot of my own cotton clothes as soon as I could master a sewing machine!

Those wigs from times gone by are magnificient aren't they .. I remember my father's barrister's wig, and I borrowed one for the judge in Toad of Toad Hall .. & it was horrible - horse hair probably .. itchy to say the least. No doubt today there are remedies of sorts ..

Thanks for the complement .. and yes my mother is improving now .. so that is good news - thank you though for asking. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. as you rightly say wigs are popular - in fact my mother had one - can't say we 'approved' .. but she seemed to think she looked better in it! They're essentials for people with cancer or for people with alopocia .. providing a degree of normalness for them.

I hadn't realised that about Indian temples collecting hair for 'our market' .. Arkwright was travelling the country collecting hair for the wigshop .. which is how he encountered other engineering ideas and people with those type of skills.

Thanks for the complement - just so pleased people find them interesting ... Hilary

Linda Bob Grifins Korbetis Hall said...

cotton is used to be grown in my village.
beautiful and impreesive post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Ji .. in the United States, or at your old home (your village) - where your heart is perhaps?

Glad you liked the post .. thanks for being here -

Robin Easton said...

Like I was saying, dear Hillary, in my response to your comment on my last post....YOU thick?!! I DO NOT THINK SO!!! Lol!! I am just stunned every time I come here. Liara is right, you do history with class and wit. I sure as heck NEVER had a history teacher like YOU! :) I WISH!!. And I adored the little tiny footnote at the bottom to the postman and about your Mom. It is soooo precious. Also, I never knew this much about wigs or cotton. Boy, to read how Arkwright went from nothing to being one of the richest men in England is not only remarkable but inspiring. It makes us feel that we too can do anything we put our minds to. Wonderful history, wit, charm and inspiration you are, Hillary. Thank you so mcuh. Hugs, Robin PS Again, I LOVED the little bit about your mom. So poignant.

Blue Bunny said...

My favrit is linnen for fabriks. I feels liek a king in linnen, spshully the dark purpil.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Robin .. hi!! Well THANK YOU .. I think I’m only just half-a-step ahead in this history lesson! I am learning so much too.

It’s a great way of passing on the snippets that interest me and making something of educational interest .. so much passes us by – this is making me sit up and think a little. History was a nightmare for me at school .. I couldn’t get my head round it, nor English!! Something I suppose did sink in over the years.

The footnote about my Mum – is that this is the type of content Mum and I discussed in hospital then she’d send me home to google more – so we’d have something new to discuss the next visit etc .. and we had lots of laughs from it .. then I’d write my "positive letters" to friends and family with some snippets, as well as letting everyone know how my mother was faring.

Just delighted that you’re happy visiting and enjoying “the Hilary take on life”, on whichever subject I feel like writing about. As you say we can do anything – your book coming out .. the world is our oyster ..

Just honoured to have such a complimentary comment – THANK YOU and HUGs galore .. glad you like the little addition re my Ma .. it’s the reason I’m here!!


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny ..gosh I thought it was fur, with a new coat coming shortly? Will you have an ermine one this year .. with all the snow, or will it be Royal Russet Red to match the red soil of Austin??

Linnen .. ahh .. anuver of dem fabrics, me heer canna wear .. it itches too muchly. A King – whaoo ... King of Austin in Tyrrian Purple (the Royal Purple of the ancients) – betcha ya look kinda schplendide ‘nd it’d match your fur kinda well. A Gud Lukken Bunny!

Thanks for popping by BB .. I’ve been decorating my Mum’s room ... not so cleverly this time – but it’s a change! C U on de other side soon .. sleep now, me thinks!


Patricia said...

I just finished a BBC series on Cromford about the role of women in that community. This was a delight to find after finishing that piece of work and I learned so much background material which makes the DVD so much more fulfilling a story.

Awake is good - we are having an early spring and fog, fog, fog....Wishing you well

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. funny how these things seem to tie up - I'd never heard of Cromford and the community that started there. That must have been interesting to read about - perhaps on a podcast? Glad I filled in some background for you - there are so many jigsaw pieces to history.

Today is a bit more spring like - ie warmer, damp and wet - just hope it warms up here somewhat .. it's been a bit much. Grey and wet though ...?? not so sure either .. but don't want to wish time away.

Good to see you - have a good week .. Hilary

Barbara Swafford said...

Hi Hilary,

What a fascinating story. It's hard to believe the factory is still operational after all those years.

I had to laugh at the part where you shared they are now making seamless long johns. Who knew, hey?

P.S. I'm glad to hear your Mom is doing good.

Hugs to you both.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barbara .. Thanks - yes I was amazed to learn about the information - even more surprised that Patricia had been reading about it. The seamless longjohns .. must make a lot of difference to some people .. so no laughing matter .. ha ha ha .. ??!!

Thank you - Mum is much better - now just need to sort her hearing out .. I guess the bad throat infection caused it. It'll be fine I'm sure .. and thanks for the hugs! Hilary

Barb Hartsook said...

Hi Hilary. I'm new here -- and sooo glad I made it to class. I have come to love history over the years, no thanks whatsoever to the teachers I had in school, who taught only from the text book. I wish I'd had you....... My daughter home schools, and this is how she teaches. (She enjoys history now, as much as her daughter does.)

I too love cottons. They're just comfortable. In 7th grade (junior high back then, in the States) I had my first sewing class. We were each given 50 swatches of various cotton weaves, which we had to learn. I've forgotten most of their names, but I've never forgotten how luxurious some felt. I played with those swatches until my fingers knew them by heart. I love textures anyway -- today I use them in my art work.

Your 'lesson' has gone down well with me. Thank you for it.

I will most certainly come back for more...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barb .. great that you're here ... we all get to be where we're meant to be in our time! Thank you for the comment .. really appreciate that and I'm so pleased to hear you are all enjoying your history .. me too I'm enjoying it, learning as I go.

They are so comfortable aren't they .. swatches of various cottons .. I'm not sure I'd have coped with that - but really interesting to look back on. Great that you remembered them - perhaps if I could tolerate other fabrics I'd be ok .. and if I'd been remotely artistic then that might have helped!

I'll see more of your art work as the Reader feeds me! Have a good week and thanks for coming over .. Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- Well, you made me curious about this post when I was replyin to a comment you left.

Wow. Arkwright was a busy guy...from wigs to factories and it seems, if he could have had his way, the world:~)

I always enjoy what I learn at your site:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. glad the title caught your imagination and you popped over! Those eras were amazing at what they accomplished & he certainly spread his factory wings around England - Bath to Scotland ... with a base outside that textile cenre Manchester.

It's just so lovely to know that you enjoy the posts and the bits and bobs I post about history or life, as you wish! Thank you .. Hilary