Page images

forrain parts, who have means, at far easier termes, to provide themselves of the said first materials.”—(Orig. Ed. p. 32.) It is true, indeed, that mention is frequently made by previous writers, and in acts of the legislature passed at a much earlier period, * of “ Manchester cottons," "cotton velvets,” “fustians," &c.; but it is certain that these articles were wholly composed of wool, and had most probably been denominated cottons, from their having been prepared in imitation of some of the cotton fabrics imported from India and Italy.

From the first introduction of the cotton manufacture into Great Britain, down to the comparatively late period of 1773, the weft, or transverse threads of the web, only were of cotton; the warp, or longitudinal threads, consisting wholly of linen yarn, principally imported from Germany and Ireland. In the first stage of the manufacture, the weavers, dispersed in cottages throughout the country, furnished themselves, as well as they could, with the warp and weft for their webs, and carried them to market when they were finished. But, about 1760, a new system was introduced. The Manchester merchants began about that time to send agents into the country, who employed weavers, whom they supplied with foreign or Irish linen yarn for warp, and with raw cotton, which was first to be carded and spun, by means of a common spindle or distaff, in the weaver's own family, and then used for weft. A system of domestic manufacture was thus established; the junior branches of the family being employed in the carding and spinning of the cotton, while its head was employed in weaving, or in converting the linen and cotton yarn into cloth. This system, by relieving the weaver from the necessity of providing himself with linen yarn for warp, and raw cotton for weft, and of seeking customers for his cloth when finished, and enabling him to prosecute his employment with greater regularity, was an obvious improvement on the system that had been previously followed. But it is at the same time clear, that the impossibility of making any considerable division among the different branches of a manufacture so conducted, or of prosecuting them on a large scale, added to the interruption given to the proper business of the weavers, by the necessity of attending to the cultivation of the patches of ground which

* In an Act of the 5th and 6th of Edward VI. (1552,) entitled, for the true making of WOOLLEN cloth, it is ordered, That all cottons called Manchester, Lancashire, and Cheshire cottons, full wrought for sale, shall be in length," &c. This proves incontestably, that what were then called cottons, were made wholly of wool.

they generally occupied, opposed invincible obstacles to its progress, so long as it was conducted in this mode.

During the earlier part of last century, the weavers of cotton, as well as those of wool, &c. were accustomed to throw the shuttle containing the weft from hand to hand, through the meshes of the web; and when the cloth exceeded three feet in width, two men were required for one loom--one to throw the shuttle from right to left, and the other from left to right. But in 1738, a person of the name of John Kay, a native of Bury in Lancashire, invented a new method of casting the shuttle, by an extremely simple and effectual mechanical contrivance, technically denominated a picking peg. This contrivance enabled a weaver to perform, on an average, twice the quantity of work he had previously been accustomed to perform, even on the narrowest webs; at the same time that it enabled him to weave cloth of any width without any assistance. The picking peg was first introduced into the manufacture of woollens; and it was not till after a lapse of nearly twenty years that it was made use of in the cotton manufacture; the latter being, at the time when this admirable little instrument was invented, so limited in its extent as hardly to excite any attention. In 1760, Robert Kay of Bury, a son of John's, invented the drop-box, a contrivance by means of which a weaver can at pleasure use any one of three shuttles; and can thereby produce a fabric of various colours almost with the same facility that he can weave a common calico.

Previously to the year 1760, the cotton stuffs manufactured in England had been used wholly for home consumption. But about that period, the Manchester merchants began to export them, in considerable quantities, to Germany and the West Indies. There were, however, very serious obstacles to the extension of the trade. It was easy to import whatever supplies of linen-yarn might be required for warp; but no additional supplies of cotton-yarn could be procured for weft, except by the employment of an additional number of spinners at home. In consequence, the price of yarn rose with every extension of the manufacture; and this rise not only operated as a check to its farther increase, but tended to contract the limits to which it had already attained. Under such circumstances, it is next to certain, that, unless the processes of carding and spinning had been facilitated, the manufacture could never have made any considerable progress, but must have continued to languish in the state of insignificance in which it was at the period in question,

But, at this epoch, improvements began to be attempted in the process of carding. The first was made, as almost all the

Lancashiredapted the stocotton, and to execute

improvements in the cotton manufacture have been, by a person in humble life,- James Hargraves, a carpenter at Blackburn in Lancashire. This illiterate, but most ingenious and inventive person, adapted the stock-cards used in the woollen manufacture to the carding of cotton, and greatly improved them. In consequence, a workman was enabled to execute about double the work, and with greater ease, than by means of hand cards—the only instrument previously in use. Hargraves' inventions were soon succeeded by the cylindrical cards, or carding engine. The inventor of this valuable machine is unknown, but it was first used by Mr Peel, the grandfather of the late Secretary for the Home Department. Mr Peel's carding engine was constructed, with the assistance of Hargraves, as early as 1762. Sir Richard Arkwright added, at a subsequent period, many improvements to the carding engine; and his apparatus for taking off the cotton from the cards, and giving continuity to the fleece, is the most perfect that can well be imagined.

But the tedious and expensive method of spinning by the hand, was the grand obstacle in the way of the extension and improvement of the manufacture. Insurmountable, however, as this obstacle must, at first sight, have appeared, it was completely overcome by the unparalleled ingenuity, talent, and perseverance of a few self-taught individuals. Hargraves, to whom we have already alluded, seems to have led the way in this career of discovery. In 1767, he had constructed a machine called a spinning-jenny, which enabled a spinner to spin eight threads with the same facility that one had been previously spun ; and the machine was subsequently brought to such perfection as to enable a little girl to work no fewer than from eighty to one hundred and twenty spindles !

With the exception of Sir Richard Arkwright, perhaps, there is no individual to whom the manufactures of this country are so largely indebted as Hargraves. Never was the maximc'est le premier pas qui coute-more completely verified than on this occasion. It is true that his machine was of very inferior powers to those by which it was immediately followed. But it is not, perhaps, too much to say, that it was one great cause of their being introduced. No sooner had it been seen what a simple mechanical contrivance could effect, than the attention of the most ingenious individuals was immediately drawn to the subject; and the path was opened, by following which so many splendid inventions and discoveries have been made.

But however much Hargraves' inventions may have tended to enrich others, to himself they were productive only of bankruptcy and ruin. The moment the intelligence transpired that he had invented a machine by which the spinning of cot

ton was greatly facilitated, an ignorant and infuriated mob, composed chiefly of persons engaged in that employment, broke into his house, and destroyed his machine; and sometime after, when experience had completely demonstrated the superiority of the jenny, the mob again resorted to violence, and not only broke into Hargraves' house, but into the houses of most of those who had adopted his machines, which were everywhere proscribed. In consequence of this persecution, Hargraves removed to Nottingham, where he took out a patent for his invention. But he was not, even there, allowed to continue in the peaceable enjoyment of his rights. His patent was invaded, and he found it necessary to apply to the courts for redress. A numerous association was in consequence formed to defeat his efforts; and being, owing to a want of success in an attempt to establish himself in business, unable to contend against the wealth and influence of the powerful combination arrayed against him, he was obliged to give up the unequal contest, and to submit to see himself robbed of the fruits of his ingenuity. He soon after fell into a state of extreme poverty; and, to the indelible disgrace of his age and country, was permitted to end his days, even after the merit of his invention had been universally acknowledged, in the workhouse at Nottingham !*

The invention of the spinning-jenny has been ascribed by Mr Guest, in his very meagre, prejudiced, and superficial work on the History of the Cotton Manufacture,t to a person of the name of Highs, or Hayes, a reed-maker in Bolton. But he has not produced a tittle of evidence to show that Hargraves knew anything of Highs; and as he is admitted on all hands to have been the first who made the invention public, we do not see the shadow of a ground for attempting to deprive him of the honour of the discovery.

The jenny was applicable only to the spinning of cotton for weft, being unable to give to the yarn that degree of firmness and hardness which is required in the longitudinal threads or warp. But this deficiency was soon after supplied by the invention of the spinning frame that wonderful piece of machinery which spins a vast number of threads of any degree of fineness and hardness,-leaving to man merely to feed the machine with cotton, and to join the threads when they happen to break. It is

* See the Case of Richard Arkwright and Company, in 1782.

+ Mr Baines has taken almost all his statements with respect to the history of the cotton manufacture from Guest-a circumstance that detracts considerably from the value of his work.

not difficult to understand the principle on which this machine is constructed, and the mode of its operation. It consists of two pairs of rollers, turned by means of machinery. The lower roller of each pair is furrowed, or fluted longitudinally, and the upper one is covered with leather, to make them take a hold of the cotton. If there were only one pair of rollers, it is clear that a carding of cotton, passed between them, would be drawn forward by the revolution of the rollers, but it would merely undergo a certain degree of compression from their action. No sooner, however, has the carding or roving, as it is technically termed, begun to pass through the first pair of rollers, than it is received by the second pair, which are made to revolve with (as the case may be) three, four, or five times the velocity of the first pair. By this admirable contrivance, the roving is drawn out into a thread of the desired degree of tenuity-a twist being given to it by the adaptation of the spindle and fly of the common flax-wheel to the machinery.

Such is the principle on which Sir Richard Arkwright constructed his famous spinning-frame. It is obvious that it is radically and completely different from the previous methods of spinning either by the common hand-wheel or distaff, or by the jenny, which is only a modification of the common wheel. Spinning by rollers was an entirely original idea ; and it is difficult which to admire most-the profound and fortunate sagacity which led to so great a discovery, or the consummate skill and address by which it was so speedily perfected and reduced to practice.

The extraordinary individual to whom we are indebted for this great and signal invention, was born at Preston, in Lancashire, in 1732. He was the youngest of thirteen children, and was bred to the trade of a barber. But the res angusta domi could not repress the native vigour of his mind, or extinguish the desire he felt to emerge from his low situation. In the year 1760, he had established himself in Bolton-le-Moors, where he exchanged the trade of a barber for that of an itinerant hair merchant; and having discovered a valuable chemical process for dyeing hair, he was in consequence enabled to amass a little property. It is unfortunate that very little is known of the steps by which he was led to those inventions that raised him to affluence, and have immortalized his name. Residing in a district where a considerable manufacture of linen goods, and of linen and cotton mixed, was carried on, he had ample opportunities of becoming acquainted with the various processes that were then in use; and being endowed with a most original and inventive genius, and having sagacity to perceive what was likely to prove the most advantageous pursuit in which he could em

« PreviousContinue »