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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. 

Braintree | United Kingdom
The Warner Textile Archive contains a vast selection of over 80,000 silk cloths, brocades and velvets, designs and point papers. It is the second largest collection of its kind in the UK, the largest being located at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Most importantly, virtually all the items ...
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Warner Textile Archive
Warners Mill
Silks Way
CM7 3YG Braintree, Essex, United Kingdom

Burnley | United Kingdom
A rare chance to re-live the days when steam ran the world! Whether you´re interested in local or social history, textiles and textile machinery or just looking for an afternoon out with a difference, the sights, sounds and smells of Queen Street help to bring history alive. There´s something to ...
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Queen Street Mill Textile Museum
Harle Syke
BB10 2HX Burnley, United Kingdom

Burnley | United Kingdom
The Weavers´ Triangle is a modern name for an area astride the Leeds and Liverpool Canal that was once at the heart of Burnley´s textile industry. The name was first used in the 1970s, as interest developed in preserving Burnley´s industrial heritage, and refers to the roughly triangular shape of ...
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Weavers´ Triangle
85 Manchester Road
BB11 1JZ Burnley, United Kingdom

Cardiff | United Kingdom
Situated on the outskirts of Cardiff at St. Fagan’s, is one of Wales’ major visitor attractions. An attractive range of historic buildings from all over Wales are gathered in a beautiful natural woodland setting. Among older exhibits can be found a preserved row of fully furnished Merthyr workers ...
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St Fagans National History Museum
St Fagans
CF5 6XB Cardiff, United Kingdom

Castle Cary | United Kingdom
Horsehair, a fabric made with a weft of combed fibres from the docked tails of horses and a warp of cotton or linen yarn, is very durable and has a unique lustre. It has been made in the Castle Cary district of Somerset since the early nineteenth century if not earlier. In 1831 26 people in the town ...
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John Boyd Textiles | Higher Flax Mills
Torbay Road
BA7 7DY Castle Cary, United Kingdom

Colchester | United Kingdom
In the second half of the 19th century the manufacture of many of the consumer goods that had previously been made by individual craftsmen in towns came to be concentrated in factories. One of the firms that pioneered the mass-production of clothing in England was Hyam Hyam of Colchester. The first ...
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Hyam Hyam Factory
Stanley Bragg Partnership
Abbeygate One, 8 Whitewell Road
CO2 7DF Colchester, United Kingdom

Cromarty | United Kingdom
Cromarty at the tip of the Black Isle peninsula between the Moray and Cromarty firths, is an example of how the doctrine of ‘Improvement’ was applied in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the more remote parts of the British Isles. Cromarty was established as a royal burgh (a town with a ...
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Cromarty Courthouse Museum
Church Street
IV11 8XA Cromarty, United Kingdom

The museum of industry in Derby stands on the site of a water-powered five-storey mill built circa 1721 by John and Thomas Lombe to accommodate silk throwing technology that they had observed in Italy. The mill, the first powered factory of its kind in England, prospered and was described by many ...
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Derby’s Museum of Industry and History
Silk Mill Lane Off Full Street
DE1 3AF Derby, United Kingdom

Dornoch | United Kingdom
The development in the late eighteenth century by Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-92) and others of factories in which textile yarns could be spun by machinery had repercussions in the remotest parts of the British Isles, as well as in continental Europe. Some entrepreneurs built factories in marginal ...
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Spinningdale Mill Ruins
Information: Dornoch Tourist Information Centre
The Square
IV25 3SD Dornoch, United Kingdom

Glasgow | United Kingdom
On Glasgow Green, not far from the People’s Palace, stands one of Europe’s most colourful industrial buildings. The firm of James Templeton & Son of Glasgow was founded in 1857 and became a large-scale manufacturer of Axminster-style carpets, which were used on ocean liners as well as in homes and ...
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Templeton on the Green
62 Templeton Street
G40 Glasgow, United Kingdom

Golcar | United Kingdom
The museum at Golcar provides many illuminating insights into the lives of nineteenth-century makers of woollen cloth, and into the ways in which domestic manufacturing gradually evolved into factory-based production. The museum occupies three of a terrace of four 3-storey cottages called Spring ...
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Colne Valley Museum
Cliff Ash
HD7 4PY Golcar, United Kingdom

Greenfield | United Kingdom
A powerful spring, that in the middle ages was credited with religious significance, bursts out of the hillside near the town of Holywell and flows 3 km down the Greenfield Valley to the estuary of the River Dee. For many centuries the stream powered industrial concerns concerned with textiles, ...
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Greenfield Valley
Administration Centre
Basingwerk House
SH8 7GH Greenfield, United Kingdom

Hawes | United Kingdom
The small market town of Hawes near the head of Wensleydale, through which the River Ure flows eastwards from the Pennines towards the sea, is the location of one of England’s most significant textile mill buildings.Gayle Mill, 2 km. south of the town, was built in 1784 by Oswald and Thomas Routh ...
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Gayle Mill
Mill Lane
DL8 3R2 Hawes, United Kingdom

Holywood | United Kingdom
The museum originated as a traditional open air museum following the pattern of Skansen, portraying chiefly the social life of the northern counties of Ireland in the early twentieth century. It was established in 1958 and opened in 1964 as the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra Manor, 8 km north-east of ...
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Ulster Folk & Transport Museum
Cultra
BT18 0EU Holywood, United Kingdom

Kidderminster | United Kingdom
The town of Kidderminster on the lower reaches of the River Stour in Worcestershire gave its name in the seventeenth century to ‘Kidderminster Stuff’, a fairly heavy woollen fabric used for curtains and for ‘carpets’ (in the sense of cloths laid on tables or chests). In the course of the eighteenth ...
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Museum of Carpet
Stour Vale Mill
Green Street
DY10 1AZ Kidderminster, United Kingdom

Leeds | United Kingdom
The huge building with Art Deco detailing built by Montague Burton in Leeds in 1934 shows the extent to which the making of garments had become, over the previous 60 years, a factory-based activity rather than the work of individual tailors. It is also evidence of the ‘retailing revolution’ of the ...
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Burton Factory
Arcadia Group plc
Hudson Road
LS9 7DU Leeds, United Kingdom

Leeds | United Kingdom
Leeds is well-known as the commercial centre of the Yorkshire woollen industry, and as the location of many woollen mills. It was also the principal flax-spinning town in England, and its mechanical engineering, tailoring, printing and leather industries were also of major importance.The city’s ...
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Leeds Industrial Museum
Armley Mill
Canal Road
LS12 2QF Leeds, United Kingdom

Llandysul | United Kingdom
Located in the heart of the west Wales countryside the National Wool Museum tells the story of the forty mills once clustered around Dre-fach Felindre. Cambrian Mills, the only mill left in the village, has remained in continuous operation since it was built in 1902. It now houses the Museum. ...
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National Wool Museum
Dre-Fach Felindre near Newcastle Emlyn
SA44 5UP Llandysul, United Kingdom

Macclesfield | United Kingdom
Silk Heritage Museum in Roe Street: This building was once The Macclesfield School of Art built in 1877 to train designers for the silk industry. It now houses exhibitions exploring the properties of silk, design education, Macclesfield´s diverse textile industries, workers´ lives and historic ...
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Macclesfield Museums Heritage Centre
Silk Museum Park Lane
SK11 6TJ Macclesfield, United Kingdom

Manchester | United Kingdom
There have always been ideas worth fighting for. Join a march through time at the People’s History Museum, a national museum telling the story of the development of democracy in Britain over two centuries. Meet the revolutionaries, reformers, workers, voters and citizens who fought our battle for ...
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People´s History Museum
Left Bank Spinningfields
M3 3ER Manchester, United Kingdom