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arkwright, sir

Richard Arkwright

[ahrk-rahyt]

Sir Richard Arkwright (Old Style 23 December 1732 / New Style 3 January 17333 August 1792), was an Englishman who is credited for inventing the spinning frame — later renamed the water frame following the transition to water power. Arkwright is considered one of the founders of the industrial revolution.

Life and work

Sir Richard Arkwright, the youngest of thirteen children, was born in 1732 in Preston, Lancashire, England. His parents, Ellen and Thomas, were very poor and could not afford to send him to school and instead arranged for him to be taught to read and write by his cousin Ellen. Thomas Arkwright was a tailor in Preston. Richard, however, was apprenticed to a Mr. Nicholson, a barber at nearby Kirkham. Richard, therefore, began his working life as a barber and wig-maker, setting up a shop in Bolton in the early 1750s. There he remained until 1768.

Arkwright married his first wife, Patience Holt, in 1755. They had a son, Richard Arkwright Junior, who was born the same year. In 1756, Patience died of unspecified causes.The descendants of this marriage are still around today. Arkwright later married Margaret Biggins in 1761. They had three children, of whom only Susanna survived to adulthood. It was only after the death of his first wife that he became an entrepreneur. Arkwright also had a mistress; her surname was Hodgkinson, but her first name is unknown. It has been suggested to be Ada as this is the name of the woman who features in Margaret Arkwright's novel 'Cotton Arkwright'. Arkwright and Hodgkinson had an illegitimate son called William, and descendants of the Arkwright-Hodgkinson family still exist today.

Arkwright's spinning frame, a significant advance 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.

Arkwright also created another factory, Masson Mill shortly after his first. The factory was made from red brick, which was expensive at the time it was built. In the mid 1780s, Arkwright lost many of his patents as courts ruled that they were essentially copies of earlier work. Despite this, he was knighted in 1786 and was High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787.

The Arkwright Society, set up after the two hundredth anniversary of Cromford Mill, now owns the site and works to preserve the industrial heritage of the area.

Arkwright died in 1792 and was buried at St. Giles Church in Matlock. His remains were later moved to St. Mary's Church in Cromford.

Inventions

In 1768, Arkwright 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 uneven 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. This hotel is planned to be turned into a museum of Rciahrd Arkwright. In 1776 he purchased lands in Cromford, and in 1788 lands in Willersley, on both occasions the vendor being Peter Nightingale, the great-great-uncle of Florence Nightingale.

In 1775, Arkwright took out a patent for a carding machine, the first stage in the spinning process, replacing the hand-carding that the factory used up till then. The high royalties that he charged on both inventions encouraged others to challenge his patents in court and the second patent was overturned, but not before he had become a very rich man.

His main contribution was not so much the inventions as the highly disciplined and profitable factory system he set up, which was widely followed. There were two 13 hour shifts per day with an overlap The bell rang at 5am and 5pm and the gates were shut precisely at 6am and 6pm. Anyone who was late not only couldn't work that day but lost an extra day's pay. Whole families were employed, with large numbers of children from the age of seven, although this was increased to 10 by the time he handed the business over to his son.

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 himself taught the simple branches of education. He was later known as the father of the industrial revolution.

Patent problems

In 1781, Arkwright went to court to protect his patents, but the move rebounded when they were overturned. Four years later, after seeing his patents restored temporarily, the truth finally came out in another, definitive court battle.

Highs, a remorseful Kay, Kay's wife and the widow of James Hargreaves all testified that Arkwright had stolen their inventions. The court agreed: Arkwright's patents were finally laid aside.

Memorials

  • Richard Arkwright's barber shop in Churchgate, Bolton, was demolished early in the last century. There is a small plaque above the door of the building that replaced it, recording Arkwright's occupancy.
  • Sir Richard Arkwright lived at Rock House in Cromford, opposite his original mill, but in 1788 he purchased an estate from Florence Nightingale’s father, William, for £20,000 and set about building Willersley Castle for himself and his family. However just as the building was completed it was destroyed by fire, and Arkwright was forced to wait a further two years whilst it was rebuilt. But he died aged 59 in 1792 and never lived in the castle which was only completed after his death. Willersley castle is now a hotel owned by the Christian Guild company.

Here is an obituary for Richard Arkwright written a few days after he died:

  • The youngest of thirteen children, Sir Richard Arkwright was born in Preston on 23rd December 1732. Arkwright will be remembered by most for his reformation of the way that people work. No one has had greater influence and indeed revolutionised industry than Sir Richard Arkwright. At 60 years of age, Arkwright died one of the richest men in England. It is estimated that his fortune amounted to something in the region of £500,000. In 1762 Arkwright started a wig-making business. This involved him travelling the country collecting people's discarded hair. While on his travels, Arkwright heard about the attempts being made to produce new machines for the textile industry. Arkwright also met John Kay, a clockmaker from Warrington, who had been busy for some time trying to produce a new spinning-machine with another man, Thomas Highs of Leigh. Kay and Highs had run out of money and had been forced to abandon the project. To Arkwright’s amazement, John Kay invited him to help produce this remarkable new machine. Arkwright accepted Kay’s offer and employed a local craftsman, and miraculously, it wasn’t long until the four actually produced the brand new “Spinning Frame”. Arkwright patented this and his “Water Frame” in 1769, which caused great rivalry between him and other cotton spinning entrepreneurs. In 1771 Arkwright invented the world’s first water powered cotton mill at Cressbrook in Derbyshire. 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. Surely, Arkwright’s contribution to the cotton industry entitles him to be referred to the father of the industrial revolution and will always be remembered for his great, albeit stolen, inventions.
  • There is an elementary school named after Arkwright in Glendale, NY.

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