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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. 

Vila Nova de Famalicão | Portugal
The town of Vila Nova de Famalicao stands in the Vale de Ave (the valley of the bird), a heavily industrialised region 30 km north of Oporto, where cotton manufacture was important from the mid-nineteenth century.The museum, established in 1989, is located in a nineteenth-century textile warehouse, ...
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Textile Museum
Museu da Industria Textil
Rua Jose Casimiro da Silva Outeiro Calendario
4760 Vila Nova de Famalicão, Portugal

The tiny republic of San Marino is an enclave surrounded by Italian territory around the three peaks of Mount Titano in the north-eastern Apennine Mountains. It has a population of around 30,000. Tourism comprises a significant part of its economy and it has a variety of museums, some belonging to ...
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Museum of the Agriculture, Culture and Traditions of the Territory of the Republic of San Marino
Museo della Civiltà Contadina e delle tradizioni della Repubblica di San Marino
Strada di Montecchio 11
San Marino Citá, San Marino

Balmaseda (Bizkaia) | Spain
The factory called La Encartada at Balmaseda, 24 km south-west of Bilbao, was established in 1892 by a locally-born entrepreneur Marcos Arena Bermejillo, with capital he had acquired during a stay in Mexico. It continued in production for exactly a century, closing in 1992. Its principal product was ...
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La Encartada Museum
Boinas Encartada Museoa
Bo El Penueco 11
48.800 Balmaseda, Spain

Valencia | Spain
The Silk Exchange in Valencia is an evocative monument to the role of commerce in European civilisation over many centuries, and one of the most eloquent expressions of the late Gothic style. Its architectural qualities and historical significance were recognised in 1996 when it was designated a ...
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Silk Exchange
La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia
Plaza del Mercado
46002 Valencia, Spain

Boras | Sweden
Boras, in central Sweden, has been an important textile centre since the sixteenth century, and in the nineteenth century specialised in the production of cotton, but one of the principal themes of its textile museum, opened in 1992, is the production of garments. There are displays of sewing ...
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Textile History Museum
Textil Museet
Druveforsvagen 8
50433 Boras, Sweden

Göteborg | Sweden
The Remfabrik in Goteborg is one of Europe’s most perfectly-preserved time capsules of textile history. The 3-storey factory made heavy canvas of the kind used in conveyor belts and in belts transmitting power in line-shafting systems. It was opened in 1904 and the machinery installed up to 1917 and ...
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Göteborgs Remfabriken
Åvägen 15
41250 Göteborg, Sweden

Rydal spinning mill, the first in the Sjuharad region of Vastergotland, was built by Sven Erikson in 1853, and was powered by the waters of the River Viskan. Machines and cast-iron for construction were imported from England. The mill is a three-storey structure constructed from local boulder ...
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Rydals Museum and Spinning Works
Rydals Museum och Spinneri
Borasvagen 237
51170 Rydal, Sweden

Stockholm | Sweden
Karl August Almgren established a silk mill in Stockholm in 1833, and it subsequently grew into a sizeable manufacturing complex, with some four-storey buildings. Some of the Jacquard looms that he installed are still in situ and still working. Visitors to the mill are able to see all aspects of ...
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Silk Weaving Museum
Sidenvaven Museum
Repslagarg 15A
11846 Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm | Sweden
Skansen is the open air museum that has given its name to museums in many European countries. For 70 years it has attracted more than two million visitors per annum. It was founded in 1891 by the ethnographer Artur Hazelius (1833-1901) whose interests in folk lore had been aroused when he travelled ...
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Skansen
Djurgardsslatten 49-51
11593 Stockholm, Sweden

Bäretswil | Switzerland
The Swiss entrepreneur Johann Rudolf Guyer (1803-76), father of Adolf Guyer-Zeller (1839-99), the railway pioneer, purchased the Müedspach mill in the municipality of Bäretswil, on the road to Bauma in the in Zürcher Oberland in 1826-27. In partnership with Johnann Casper Reinhart he built a new ...
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Spinning Factory Museum
Museums-Spinnerei
Neuthal 6
8344 Bäretswil, Switzerland

Hofstetten bei Brienz | Switzerland
The museum at Ballenberg lies 6 km east of the town of Brienz with which it is linked by a regular bus service. It is a typical open air museum following the pattern set by Artur Hazelius at Skansen, Stockholm, and is managed by a charitable trust established in 1968. It opened with eighteen ...
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Ballenberg Swiss open air museum
Ballenberg Freilichmuseum der Schweiz
Museumsstrasse 131
3858 Hofstetten bei Brienz, Switzerland

Riggisberg | Switzerland
Riggisberg is a small town 25 km south of Bern, where, in 1961, the Zurich textile manufacturer Werner Abegg (1903-1984) founded the Abegg-Stiftung (the Abegg Foundation), which is an institute of Art History with a particular remit to research and conserve early textiles. The Abegg family factories ...
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Abegg foundation
Abegg-Stiftung
Werner Abeggstrasse 67
3132 Riggisberg, Switzerland

This is a Skansen type museum concerned with the history of the people of the Dnieper plains. It was established in 1969, opened in 1976 and now extends over 150 ha to the south-west of Kyiv. In common with most museums of its kind it displays numerous rural buildings – about 200 in all - which have ...
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The Museum of Ukraine Folk Art and Rural Life
Pyrohiv (Pirogovo)
Chrvonopramorna Street
Kyiv, Ukraine

Belper | United Kingdom
At Belper, 14 km north of Derby and 10 km south of Cromford, the Strutt family built textile mills from 1773, transforming a small town whose main manufacture had been nails into one of eighteenth-century England’s principal centres of cotton spinning. The drawing of the iron-framed North Mill from ...
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Belper North Mill
Bridgefoot
DE56 1YD Belper, United Kingdom

Benburb | United Kingdom
The most important industry in north-eastern Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries was the manufacture of linen, and one of the best monuments of that industry in the Bunburb Valley Heritage Centre, located in a former linen weaving mill alongside the Ulster Canal on the borders of counties Armagh ...
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Benburb Valley Heritage Centre
Milltown Road
BT71 7LZ Benburb, United Kingdom

Birmingham | United Kingdom
Many aspects of Birmingham’s industrial history are now illustrated in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. One of the most recent additions is the Coffin Works in Fleet Street, a three-storey factory  designed by Roger Hurley and completed in 1892. Two years later it was taken over by Alfred and Edwin ...
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The Coffin Works
13-15 Fleet Street
B3 1JP Birmingham, United Kingdom

Bolton | United Kingdom
The textile machinery collection is an extremely important one. The museum began collecting textile machines in the 19th century and amongst the items at the heart of this collection is the only surviving example of a spinning mule that was made by the inventor himself, Samuel Crompton of Bolton. ...
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Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Archive
Le Mans Crescent
BL1 1SE Bolton, United Kingdom

Bradford | United Kingdom
Manningham Mill on the north side of Bradford, with a floor space of 11 ha and a chimney 78 m tall, is one of the most imposing textile factories in Europe. It was designed in the Italianate style by the Bradford architects Andrews & Pepper for Samuel Cunliffe Lister (1815-1906), a powerful figure ...
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Manningham Mill
Manningham Mills Community Centre The Silk Warehouse
Lilycroft Road
BD9 5BD Bradford, United Kingdom

Bradford | United Kingdom
David Hockney painted Salts Mill in warm ochre tones. Today both the painter and the place are world-famous. Hockney was born in the Northern industrial city of Bradford. And Salts Mill, an old textile factory, was built in Shipley just to the north of Bradford. Something unheard of occurred here in ...
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Saltaire Village
Bradford Tourist Information Centre
City Hall
BD1 1HY Bradford, United Kingdom

Braintree | United Kingdom
Braintree was the home town of two companies famous in the 19th and 20th centuries; Courtaulds and Crittalls Windows. The Museum is the focus for this distinguished industrial heritage in both textiles and engineering. With creativity and skill, the people of the Braintree area shared ideas which ...
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Braintree Museum
Braintree Museum Industrial Collection
Manor Street
CM7 3YG Braintree, United Kingdom