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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. 

Szentendre | Hungary
The Szabadteri Naprajzi Múzeum is the most important open air museum in Hungary and extends over 47 ha. It was originally part of Museum of Ethnography, and opened in 1967, becoming an independent museum from 1972. It was originally intended to show the folk architecture of the Kisalföld and Tisza ...
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Naprajzi Open Air Museum
Szabadteri Naprajzi Múzeum
Sztaravodai utca
2000 Szentendre, Hungary

Prosperous | Ireland
Prosperous (An Chorrchoill) in County Kildare was a cotton-spinning settlement, established, with philanthropic motives, by Robert Brooke in 1780. It lies on the Bog of Allen, in the very centre of Ireland. Its inhabitants supported the cause of the United Irishmen in the rising against British rule ...
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Prosperous spinning settlement
Prosperous, Ireland

Waterford | Ireland
Portlaw lies on the River Clodiagh 20 km north-west of Waterford. It developed as an industrial community from 1825 when property in the vicinity was bought by David Malcolmson (1765-1844) a Quaker, descended from Scots who migrated to Ireland in the 17th century, who had prospered by working corn ...
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Portlaw Industrial Community
Information: South East Tourism Granary Building, The Quay Waterford Tel. +353 (0)875 788
Tannery: Factory Road, Portlaw
Waterford, Ireland

Capriate San Gervasio | Italy
Crespi d’Adda is a community where textiles were manufactured in a mill completed in 1878, but it is important chiefly as a model community, designed by Silvio Benigno Crespi n (1868-1944), who had studied the textile industry in Cologne and Oldham and in France. The village is one of the most ...
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Crespi d’Adda
piazzale Vittorio Veneto 1
24042 Capriate San Gervasio, Italy

Caserta | Italy
The Casino Reale de Belvedere, the former summer palace and hunting lodge of the Bourbon kings of Naples, built by King Ferdinand I in 1774 from plans by Luigi Vanvitelli, stands 3 km north-east of Caserta, and 33 km north of Naples. Ferdinand was traumatised by the death of his son and heir in ...
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Belvedere di San Leucio
81100 Caserta, Italy

The manufacture of silk was established at Como by the early 16th century, and the city has always been the leading centre for the industry, in which Italians made many important innovations. The museum shares the premises of the Setificio, the textile school, and includes sections, all with ...
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Muso didattico della Seta di Como
Via Castelnuovo 1
22100 Como, Italy

Garlate | Italy
Garlate lies 40 km north of Milan and 6 km south of the town of Lecco, just south of the border. The silk museum was established in 1953 in a seventeenth century lakeside reeling mill and has some claim to have been the first museum of industrial archaeology in Italy. It was established by the Swiss ...
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Abegg Silk Museum
Civico Museo della Seta Abegg
Via Statale 496
23852 Garlate, Italy

Italy’s largest felt hat factory was in Ghiffa, a resort village on the west short of Lake Maggiore, 4 km north of Verbarnia, known for its observatory, and for the sacred mountain of Ghiffa, which is one of the Piedmontese Sacred Mountains designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The factory of ...
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Museum of the Art of the Hat
Museo dell’Arte del Cappello
Corso Belvidere 279
128823 Ghiffa, Italy

Pordenone | Italy
The cotton factory and dyeworks, the Cotonificio di Torre at Pordenone, a port on the Noncello River, 55 km west of Udine and 90 km north-east of Venice, are now used as a science centre by Immaginario Scientifico from Trieste. The cotton industry was important in this part of Italy in the ...
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Immaginario Scientifico
Torre di Pordenone Viva Vittorio Veneto 3
33170 Pordenone, Italy

Schio, 26 km north-west of Vicenza, became one of the most important textile centres in Italy in the second half of the 19th century, although until the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 it belonged to the Habsburg Empire. The industrial monuments in the region are interpreted by the Open Air Museum ...
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The Schio & Vincentino open air museum of industrial archaeology
Laboratorio didattico di archeologia industrial di Schio
Palazzo Asilo Rossi Via Pasubio 92
36015 Schio, Italy

Kretinga | Lithuania
Weaving has a prominent place in the museum at Kretinga in north-west Lithuania. The collection originated in 1935, and the museum retained its identity during the Second Word War. It opened displays in a former monastery in 1977, but when Lithuania re-gained its independence the buildings were ...
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Museum of Folk Art & Weaving
Kretingos muziejus
Vilnius G 20
97101 Kretinga, Lithuania

Rumsiskes | Lithuania
The open air museum at Rumsiskes is based on the Skansen principle, displaying buildings, largely of rural origin, from every part of Lithuania, on a single site. It was established in 1966, and opened to the public eight years later. The 80 or so complete buildings include many where craft ...
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National Open Air Museum
Lietuvos liaudies buities muziejus
6S Neries Street
56336 Rumsiskes, Lithuania

Esch-sur-Sûre | Luxembourg
The former textile mill on the edge of the village of Esch-sur-Sûre in northern Luxembourg is both a museum of the woollen cloth industry in the vicinity and a visitor centre for the Upper Sûre Nature Park. Weaving for distant markets began in the Sûre Valley in the sixteenth century. In 1807 Martin ...
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Cloth museum
Musée de la Draperie Nature Park Centre
15 Rue de Lutzhausen
9650 Esch-sur-Sûre, Luxembourg

Tilburg | Netherlands
Tilburg in the Province of North Brabant has traditionally been an important centre of the Dutch textile industry. Its mills were one of the major employers in the region until the 1960s. After that thousands of workers began to lose their jobs, mainly because of foreign competition from outside ...
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Museum of Textiles
TextielMuseum
Goirkestraat 96
5046 GN Tilburg, Netherlands

Oslo | Norway
The Norwegian Folk Museum was founded in 1894 by Dr Hans Aall (1867-1946) and opened its collection of re-erected buildings on the island of Bygdoy, not far from the centre of Oslo, in 1902. It now contains more than 150 buildings. Houses are grouped by regions and the collections illustrates ...
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Norwegian Folk Museum
Norsk Folkemuseum
Museumsveien 10
0287 Oslo, Norway

Bielsko-Biala | Poland
The twin towns of Bielsko and Biala on either side of the Biala River, that make up the modern city of Bielsko-Biala both have medieval origins. They were part of the Habsburg Empire between 1772 and 1918, and ethnically were predominantly German until 1945. The cities lie at the point where the ...
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Old Factory
Stara Fabryka Plac Żwirki i Wigury 8 43-300 Bielsko-Biała Muzeum Techniki i Wlókiennictwa
Plac Żwirki i Wigury 8
43-300 Bielsko-Biala, Poland

Komorniki | Poland
Polands National Museum of Agricultural is located at Komorniki, 10 km south of Poznań. The collection was established in 1964 and the museum gained national status in 1974. Its collection includes steam ploughing and threshing sets, windmills, brewing equipment, harvesting tools ‘from sickles to ...
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National Museum of Agriculture
Muzeum Narodowe Rulnictwa I Przmystu Rulno
Dworcowa 5
62-052 Komorniki, Poland

Lódź | Poland
Textiles were produced in the Lodz region entirely on a domestic basis until the 1820s when the Congress Kingdom of Poland encouraged the building of factories, particularly for the production of woollens and linen. Cotton factories were built from the 1850s, many of them with capital from France ...
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Central Museum of Textiles
Centralne Muzeum Wlokiennictwa
ul. Piotrkowska 282
93-034 Lódź, Poland

Opatówek | Poland
Opatówek is a small town in central Poland where industrial development was fostered in the nineteenth century by government of the Congress Kingdom of Poland. The industrial museum was established in 1981 in a five-storey, wooden-framed textile mill built in 1824-26 by the brothers Fiedler. The ...
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Museum of Industrial History
Muzeum Historii Przemystu
ul Kościelnal
62-860 Opatówek, Poland

Covilhã | Portugal
The town of Covilha in east-central Portugal has been involved with the manufacture of woollen cloth for more than three centuries. An enterprise producing high quality fabrics was set up under the guidance of English manufacturers in 1667, but encountered difficulties after 1703 when English cloth ...
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Museum of Woollen Textiles
Museu de Lanificios
Rua Marques de Avila e Bolama
6200 Covilhã, Portugal