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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. 

Manchester was one of the very first industrial cities in the world. It is a byword for unrestrained capitalism and appalling social poverty; but also for its pioneering achievements. One of these was the first passenger railway service in the world - and with it the world’s oldest existing station ...
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The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
Liverpool Road Castlefield
M3 4FP Manchester, United Kingdom

Matlock Bath | United Kingdom
Masson Mill was the second cotton spinning factory erected by Richard Arkwright (1732-92) at Cromford in what is now designated as the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. While the first Cromford Mills complex, begun in 1771, was built in local stone and drew its water power from reservoirs ...
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Masson Mills Working Textile Museum
Derby Road
DE4 3PY Matlock Bath, United Kingdom

Newby Bridge | United Kingdom
This extensive working mill was begun in 1835 to produce the wooden bobbins vital to the Lancashire spinning and weaving industries. Although small compared to other mills, some 250 men and boys (some drafted in from workhouses) worked here in often arduous conditions to produce a quarter of a ...
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Stott Park Bobbin Mill
Finsthwaite
LA12 8AX Newby Bridge, United Kingdom

The great medieval city of Norwich offers such a wealth of heritage that it is easy to overlook the variety of industrial buildings from all periods and particularly the nineteenth century that lie within the city centre. The industrial economy of Norwich was built on the diverse mixture of ...
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Bridewell Museum & Norwich Industrial Heritage
Bridewell Alley
NR2 1AQ Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Oldham | United Kingdom
One of the best-preserved landscape of the domestic system of textile manufactures is in the extensive parish of Saddleworth, comprising the ancient townships of Delph, Diggle, Dobcross, Denshaw, Greenfield and Upper Mill, that historically was part of Yorkshire, and looked to Huddersfield as the ...
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Saddleworth Museum
Upper Mill
High Street
OL3 6HS Oldham, United Kingdom

Rossendale | United Kingdom
Nestling side by side in the stunning Rossendale Valley are two of Lancashire´s original textile mills: Higher Mill and Whitaker’s Mill which, together, are Helmshore Mills Textile Museum. We are upgrading the Museum buildings, displays, information and facilities, as part of an exciting project to ...
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Helmshore Textile Mill Museum
Holcombe Road Helmshore
BB4 4NP Rossendale, United Kingdom

Ruddington | United Kingdom
Framework knitting was a characteristic industry of the English East Midlands. The knitting frame was invented in 1589 by the Rev William Lee of Calverton. It was at first a simple machine, but was steadily developed through the eighteenth century. The first cotton stockings were made on a frame in ...
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Framework Knitters’ Museum
Chapel Street
NN11 6HE Ruddington, United Kingdom

Stockport | United Kingdom
Opening in 2000, Hat Works is the UK’s only museum dedicated solely to the hatting industry, hats and headwear! The museum was developed in Stockport, one of Manchester´s leading hatting towns. We are an award winning interactive Visitor Attraction housed in a restored Grade ll listed Victorian ...
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Hat Works
Wellington Mill Wellington Road South
SK3 0EU Stockport, United Kingdom

Trefriw | United Kingdom
Woollen cloth was manufactured in cottages across large parts of North and Mid-Wales before the Industrial Revolution, and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century numerous small-scale water-powered mills were established to spin yarn, and in some cases to weave cloth. The Trefriw mills ...
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Trefriw Woollen Mills Ltd
Main Road
LL27 0NQ Trefriw, United Kingdom

Uffculme | United Kingdom
Coldharbour Mill, 12 km east of Tiverton, is one of the outstanding monuments of the textile industry of the West of England. The elegant mill in the classical style was built in 1799 by the Quaker entrepreneur Thomas Fox to spin woollen and worsted yarns, and was extended at various times in the ...
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Coldharbour Working Wool Museum
Coldharbour Mill
EX15 3EE Uffculme, United Kingdom

Whitchurch | United Kingdom
The silk mill by the clear waters of the River Test in Whitchurch, Hampshire, is one of England’s most attractive industrial buildings. It was built in 1815 by one Henry Hayter. It original purpose is uncertain but it was acquired in 1817 by William Maddick, a silk manufacturer, and has been used ...
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Whitchurch Silk Mill
28 Winchester Street
RG28 7AL Whitchurch, United Kingdom

Wigan | United Kingdom
Situated on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Wigan Pier is one of the northwest’s favourite visitor attractions.No visit to Wigan Pier would be complete without seeing the Trencherfield Mill Engine in action. Our Engine is the world’s largest original working mill steam engine and is located ...
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Wigan Pier
Wallgate
WN3 4EU Wigan, United Kingdom

Wilmslow | United Kingdom
Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate with Styal Village is the most complete and least altered factory colony of the Industrial Revolution. It is of outstanding national and international importance. Founded in 1784 by a young textile merchant Samuel Greg, Quarry Bank Mill was one of the first ...
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Quarry Bank Mill
Quarry Bank Road Styal
SK9 4LA Wilmslow, United Kingdom