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European Themeroute | Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building ... more

Icon: TextilesFrom raw materials to the factory. European Theme Route Textiles

The thousands of rattling bobbins on the spinning frames in cotton factories have become a byword for industrialisation. British cotton mills were indeed the forerunners of, and models for the industrial revolution. That said, the first textile factory was a silk twining mill. The five-storey building was constructed in Derby as early as 1720, and contained more than 26.000 water-driven spindles. Since the Middle Ages Italy had been the centre of silk processing, and the machines came from there. The problem was that they were incapable of spinning, and simply twisted thin silk thread to strong yarn. 

One of the forerunners of mechanisation was John Kay’s flying shuttle which he invented in 1733. This speeded up weaving considerably for the weavers no longer had to push the shuttles through the warp threads over the spinning frame by hand. Nevertheless Kay’s invention remained an isolated step forward on the long road to power looms. The mechanisation of the textile industry began with spinning. 

The striking lack of yarn in the wool industry, one of the most important sectors of the British economy, led to attempts to mechanise the work of the spinsters. The women workers would take a bundle of extremely thin short fibres, the so-called shear wool, and pull out the fibres by hand, before stretching and twisting them. In the 1730s two inventors by the name of Lewis Paul and John Wyatt developed a machine with two sets of differential rollers which were able to draw out the slivers of wool and spin them into yarn with the help of spindles, similar to the process in a spinning wheel.

But it was not until 1769 that Richard Arkwright succeeded in constructing a workable spinning machine able to produce strong yarn suitable for the warp threads of the spinning frame. Since he intended his invention to be driven by water it was called a water frame. Arkwright opened his first spinning mill in Cromford, and soon he had built up an empire and become one of the most powerful entrepreneurs in the industrial era. 

An alternative solution was offered by the spinning jenny, invented by a weaver called James Hargreaves in 1764. In it, two boards with several spindles were used to imitate the hands of the spinning women. Experienced workers were necessary to operate the machines, but nonetheless productivity was much higher than by hand spinning. Since the threads produced by the spinning jenny lacked strength they were an ideal complement to those produced on the water frame, and the machine was used for decades by homeworkers. 

In 1779 Samuel Crompton invented a hybrid machine in Lancashire which combined the best features of both its predecessors. His spinning mule was not only capable of spinning warp and weft thread, it could also produce a much stronger finer yarn. Over the next ten years British wool-processing accelerated at an unbelievable rate and spinning mills shot up all over the place. Based on Arkwright's original factory, they were long redbrick buildings on several stories containing water driven machines with a capacity of up to 1000 spindles. 

Crompton’s "mule" was soon adapted to steam-driven power, but it was not until the 1820s that the decisive innovation was made. In that year an engineer by the name of Richard Roberts succeeded in developing the first fully automatic spinning machine. His "self-actor", as it was known, made expert weavers redundant. The spinners, who were now robbed of their basic existence, reacted with desperate and violent protests. 

The final major change was the ring spinning machine, which was much more reliable. It was developed in 1828 in the USA and slowly established itself in Great Britain, where spinning was already strongly mechanised. All the technical problems involved in changing over from hand-spinning to machinery had now been solved, and mechanisation – with the concomitant protests - now moved over to weaving. 

Edward Cartwright had already developed a mechanically-driven weaving loom in the 1780s. He took over all the basic elements of a hand weaving loom and adapted them so that they could be driven by a machine which could size the warps, push the shuttles through the weft threat and stretch the resulting cloth. But it was not until 1822 when (once again) Richard Roberts succeeded in perfecting the technical details and manufacturing the machines mainly from iron and steel, that mechanically-driven weaving looms began to establish themselves. Thousands of handloom weavers were thrown out of work and threatened with starvation, and the last specialist workers were replaced by cheaper, specially trained women. In protest, the desperate workers began to destroy the machines and attack anyone who tried to construct them; and at times the social conflicts resembled a bloody civil war. 

The complete production process was now mechanised, from the original ball of fibres to the completed cloth. Manufacturing was now increasingly concentrated in factories where the fibres were not only spun but also woven. The port of Liverpool with its major exchange, and the expanding industrial city of Manchester made the county of Lancashire the leading textile region in the world. Hundreds of thousands of workers abandoned the countryside for the cities, and the textile industry quickly became the leading sector in the British economy, with cotton processing at the top. In order to satisfy the insatiable demand, cotton plantations were cultivated in America. 

As early as the end of the 18th century British industrialisation began to move to other countries. In 1783 a German entrepreneur by the name of Johann Brügelmann built the first cotton spinning factory in Ratingen, and called it "Cromford" after the original in England. Other factories based on Arkwright's factory were built in France and Bohemia. 

Since mechanisation in weaving came much later than in spinning, other countries were able to keep pace with Great Britain. Competitive weaving industries arose primarily in the New England states of the USA, in France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. These also contributed to further technical improvements. For example, a French man by the name of Joseph Maria Jacquard made possible the automatic production of pattern weaving by punching designs into pattern cards joined together to form a continuous chain. The weavers operated the first industrialised jacquard machines by foot. 

The industrial revolution in cotton processing had no fundamental repercussions on other branches of industry. But centralised manufacture in factories radically transformed economic and social life. Tensions between capital and labour now replaced an agrarian landowning system. 

Lanark | United Kingdom
A small village in the heart of a wild romantic landscape. There is nothing here to indicate that cotton was once manufactured here in large quantities. The fact of the matter is that New Lanark was created for this very reason alone. The powerful currents of the River Clyde were the driving force ...
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New Lanark World Heritage Site
New Lanark Mills
ML11 9DB Lanark, United Kingdom

Perth | United Kingdom
The noise of the web and carding machines thwart any normal conversation. That is why the women who operate the machines use their own sign language to communicate. This special language is also understood by the children, whose tasks include crawling under the running machines to clean them…Stanley ...
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Stanley Mills
Mill Square
PH1 4QE Perth, United Kingdom

Hejnice | Czech Republic
Hejnice is a small town on the River Smĕda in the Jezera Mountains in Bohemia, and was a municipality in the Sudentenland between 1938 and 1945. The museum is located at beautiful site of Jizera mountains landscape in former textile factory “Baumwollspinerei Karl Bienert und Söhne”, which is an ...
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Jizera Mountains Technical Museum
Jizerskohorské Technické Muzeum
Bily Potok 295
46362 Hejnice, Czech Republic

Tampere | Finland
The pioneer of large-scale manufacturing in the Finnish city of Tampere was the Scot James Finlayson (1771-1852) who, after a spell working in St Petersburg, established an engineering shop in the early 1820s using the water-power provided by the Tammerkoski river. He diversified into cotton ...
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Finnish Labour Museum Werstas
Työväenmuseo Werstas
Väinö Linnan aukio 8
33210 Tampere, Finland

Nowadays the River Wupper would be useless for bleaching yarn. It is simply not clean enough. Not like the old days when it gave rise to one of the oldest industrial regions in Germany. How the economic, social and cultural upheavals between 1750 and 1850 in the Wuppertal region all hang together is ...
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Historical Centre - Engels-House and Museum of Early Industrialization
Engelsstraße 10
42283 Wuppertal, Germany

Soufli | Greece
Soufli, a town 65 km north-east of Alexandroupolis and a short distance from the Turkish border, was celebrated for its wine, spirits and cooked meats, and for ox carts that were manufactured there for the whole of Thrace, but above all for its silk. Mulberry trees thrive in the region, and ...
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Silk museum
73 E Venizelou St
684 00 Soufli, Greece

Sjølingstad Woollen Mill was established in 1894 and produced yarn and fabrics sold in great parts of southern Norway until 1984. In 1986 the idea of reopening the mill as a „working textile museum" were launched. Government funds made it possible to purchase a majority of the shares, restore ...
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Sjølingstad Woollen Mill Museum
Vest-Agder-museet Sjølingstad Uldvarefabrik
Sjølingstad
4513 Mandal, Norway

Żyrardów | Poland
Friendly, hospitable Żyrardów invites you to stroll through the charming nineteenth-century streets of the only post-industrial settlement in Europe that has been 95% preserved. Żyrardów, Poland’s former flax capital, delights visitors with the richness unexpected in such a small town of its ...
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Zyrardow factory town
Resursa
1 Maja 45
96300 Zyrardow, Poland

The museum occupies the Dipòsits Vells (Old Cisterns) which collected and stored 12,000 m3 of water from the Sèquia canal and which were built by the civil engineer Marià Potó between 1861 and 1865. Nowadays, the museum has two permanent exhibitions spaces.The Sèquia and water: This exhibit ...
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Manresa Museum of Technology
Museu de la Tècnica de Manresa
Carretera de Santpedor, 55
08242 Manresa, Spain

Shrewsbury | United Kingdom
This is really an iconic building of the industrialisation and a must-have-seen for everybody who is interested in the history of the industry: The 5-storey 55 m long red brick building at the northern suburbs of Shrewsbury was the first iron-framed building in the world. Together with Abraham ...
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Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings
Spring Gardens Ditherington
SY1 2SX Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

Groß-Siegharts | Austria
Gross-Siegharts is a small town with a population of just under 3,000, which lies north-west of Vienna in the Waldwiertel region, not far from the border with the Czech Republic. In the eighteenth century a landowner, Johann Christoph Ferdinand Grav von Mollentheim (1682-1742), encouraged textile ...
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Living Textile Museum
Lebendes Textilmuseum
Museumgasse 2
3812 Groß-Siegharts, Austria

Haslach an der Mühl | Austria
The valley of the River Mühl around Haslach near Austria’s borders with Bavaria and the Czech Republic has been renowned for its textiles for many centuries. One of the most prominent companies was Vonwiller, established in 1819, which subsequently constructed a factory that is one of the most ...
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Haslach Textile Centre
Stahlmühle 4
4170 Haslach an der Mühl, Austria

The Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum is a very large institution whose statutes date from 1833. Since 1963 its headquarters and principal  displays have been in the Schloss (castle) which dominates the city of Linz and towers above the River Danube. The south wing of the Schloss was destroyed by ...
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Upper Austria Regional Museum
Schlossberg 1
4010 Linz, Austria

Weitra | Austria
The company Hackl und Söhne, which manufactured high quality clothing, was established in Vienna in 1843, and subsequently set up a factory around a manor house at Weitra in Lower Austria, 8 km south-east of Gmund. At its peak in the early 20th century the factory employed 500 people, as well as ...
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Old textile factory museum
In der Brühl 13
3970 Weitra, Austria

Kortrijk | Belgium
In the 19th century Kortrijk was one of the most important centres in Europe for the production of linen, in part because the waters of the River Leie (Lys) were particularly suited to retting and bleaching flax. The town was celebrated for high quality damask that was sold throughout Europe. The ...
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National Flax Museum
Nationaal Vlasmuseum
Etienne Sabbelaan 4
8500 Kortrijk, Belgium

Ronse/Rebaix | Belgium
Ronse or Rebaix (in French) is a village in Oost Vlannderen (East Flanders), 40 km south of Ghent, that has long connections with textile manufacturing. The cottage-based industry declined from mid-nineteenth century as workers migrated to nearby French textile centres, such as Lille and Tourcoing, ...
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MUST Musée de Textil
Parc de Bruul
9600 Ronse, Belgium

The buildings in Verviers are a dream for fans of industrial history. Even though they have been considerably renovated everywhere, the town on the River Weser still exudes the charm of its past industrial history. As early as the 17th century small family businesses were producing woollen cloth for ...
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The wool and fashion tourist centre in Verviers - Route du Feu
Rue de la Chapelle 30
4800 Verviers, Belgium

Gabrovo, ‘Bulgaria’s Manchester’, now a city with 67,000 inhabitants, became important for the manufacture of woollen textiles in the nineteenth century, but had long traditions of craft manufactures. Both aspects of its industrial past are illustrated at Etar, an open air museum 8 km south of the ...
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Etar Architectural and Ethnographic Museum
Architekturno-Etnograficzeskij Kompleks Etera
5300 Gabrovo, Bulgaria

Sliven | Bulgaria
The first textile mill in the Balkan peninsula was built in 1834 at Sliven by Dobri Jeliazkov (or Zhelyazkovac), who, with many other citizens of the town, had fled to Russia during the war between Russia and Turkey in 1828-29. During his exile he gained acquaintance with mechanised methods of ...
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National Textile Museum
Muzeina Textilenata Industria
Pl Stoil Voivroda 3
8800 Sliven, Bulgaria

Brno | Czech Republic
Brno grew from the late 18th century to be one of the principal industrial cities in Europe. The manufacture of woollen cloth was introduced by a state-sponsored company in 1764. The German Wilhelm Mundy set up a textile enterprise in 1774, and was followed by the Offermann-Thomann company who ...
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Technical Museum in Brno
Purkyñova 105
612 000 Brno, Czech Republic