Sir Richard Arkwright (Old Style 23 December 1732 / New Style 3 January 1733 – 3 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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is an obituary for Richard Arkwright written a few days after he died: