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R. Arkwright



Sir Richard Arkwright

(23 December 1732 – 3 August 1792) was an Englishman credited with the spinning frame — later renamed the water frame following the transition to water power. The spinning frame — a quantum-leap forward from the spinning jenny of James Hargreaves — was developed in 1769, and the world's first water-powered cotton mill was built in 1771 at Cromford, Derbyshire, (now one of the Derwent Valley Mills) creating one of the catalysts for the Industrial Revolution. He was knighted in 1786.

He was born in 1732 in Preston in the county of Lancashire, England and was the 13th and the youngest child of Thomas Arkwright (a barber) and Ellen Hodgkinson. He worked as a barber until he was twenty-eight years old, he then became a dealer in
hair, and made money developing waterproof dye for use on wigs in the town of Bolton, Lancashire. He used his money to finance his early work on textile machinery.

He began working life as an apprentice barber and it was only after the death of his first wife that he became an entrepreneur. In 1768, he worked with a Warrington clockmaker called John Kay (not the John Kay who invented the flying shuttle) to make a cotton-spinning frame. Kay himself had previously assisted a Leigh reed-maker named Thomas Highs, and there is strong evidence to support the claim that it was Highs, and not Arkwright, who invented the spinning frame. However, Highs was unable to patent or develop the idea for lack of finance. Highs, who was also credited with inventing a Spinning Jenny several years before James Hargreaves produced his, probably got the idea for the Spinning Frame from the work of John Wyatt and Lewis Paul in the 1730s and 40s.


The machine used a succession of rollers rotating at increasingly higher speeds to draw out the roving, before applying the twist via a bobbin-and-flyer mechanism. It could make cotton thread thin and strong enough for the warp, or long threads, of cloth. Arkwright moved to Nottingham, formed a partnership with local businessmen Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, and set up a mill powered by horses. But in 1771, he converted to water power and built a new mill in the Derbyshire village of Cromford.

It soon became apparent that the tiny village would not be able to provide enough workers for his mill. So he built a large number of terraced cottages near the mill and imported workers from outside the area. He also built the Greyhound public house (Greyhound Hotel) which still stands in Cromford market square.

Arkwright encouraged weavers with large families to move to Cromford. He also allowed them a week’s holiday a year. However, this came on condition that they couldn’t leave the village. Later in life, he taught himself the simple branches of education.

Arkwright had patented the Water Frame in 1769 but in 1775, he took out another patent, this time for the complete process of cotton-thread production. In doing so, he attempted to extend the Water Frame patent by describing it as a new machine called a Roving Frame which performed a different part of the spinning process.

The 1775 patent sparked a major war between Arkwright and other cotton manufacturers, who were well aware of the question-mark over his claim to have invented the machinery.

A series of court cases followed as Arkwright attempted to prosecute rivals who had infringed his patents, culminating in an action brought by The Crown in 1785. A series of witnesses – including Thomas Highs – testified that Arkwright had systematically stolen their ideas. The result was that the patents were revoked and, when Arkwright appealed, the judge, Mr Justice Buller, insisted: "…the defendant had not a leg to stand upon."

The decision, however, had no material effect on Arkwright's prosperity. His first steam powered mill was opened in Manchester in 1781, although it was not immediately successful. He was knighted in 1786, and died one of the richest men in England in 1792. At the time of his death, his fortune was estimated to be in excess of £500,000.


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