A Potted History of Cotton Spinning in the North West of England

11.05.2016
English Fine Cottons

During the Industrial Revolution, the UK experienced huge growth in the cotton industry.

With an ever-increasing population and an ever-expanding British Empire, the market for cotton was massive, and cotton factories – or mills – became the dominant feature of the North West of England’s landscape.

BJW7RA industry, factories, industrial town, England, wood engraving, circa 1880, 1880s, 19th century, historic, historical, chimney, c

In Manchester alone, the number of cotton mills rose dramatically in a very short space of time, from two in 1790 to 66 in 1821.

From the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries, the main industry in Tameside, a borough south of Manchester, was textile production.  Dominated by cotton spinning, the textile trade led to the construction of hundreds of mills in the area, which directly led to the growth of a large urban population in the towns of Ashton, Dukinfield, Hyde, Mossley and Stalybridge.

Around 275 textile sites were established in Tameside between 1763, when Hodge Mill in Broadbottom is first mentioned, and 1908 when the last mill to be built in the borough – Ray Mill in Stalybridge – was completed.

DAHJ5G Textile workers Victorian period

While around 100 sites in the borough still have buildings standing on them, only a handful are still involved in the textiles industry.  Tower Mill’s 150-foot-tall chimney and water tower are still prominent in the local skyline of Dukinfield.

Now, 130-years after it was built to spin cotton, Tower Mill is poised to become home, again, to cotton spinning.

The advantages of working with cotton in our area

The region was perfect for developing the cotton industry

  • The climate in the North West provided the perfect environment, as successful cotton spinning relies on high humidity.
  • The original factories needed a constant power supply, provided by the fast-flowing rivers of the Pennines.
  • Later, large quantities of coal, also found in abundance in the area, provided the power for the cotton factories.
  • A densely populated area, there was a ready supply of workers.
  • The rapidly expanding port of Liverpool provided the region with the means of importing raw cotton and exporting finished cotton products.

The workshop of the world

Inventions that transformed the UK cotton industry

  • In 1733, John Kay invented the ‘Flying Shuttle’, which allowed wider cloth to be woven much faster.
  • In 1765, James Hargreaves invented the ‘Spinning Jenny’, increasing the number of threads one machine could spin from one to eight, and subsequently to 80.
  • In 1769, Richard Arkwright patented the ‘Water Frame’, which used water as a power source and produced a better thread than the Spinning Jenny.
  • In 1779, Crompton’s ‘Mule’ was invented, which could spin a cotton thread better than any other machine.
  • In 1781 Boulton and Watt invented a steam engine that was easy to use in a cotton factory. Instead of rivers and streams, factories were built nearer coalmines.
  • In 1812, the first decent weaving machine, Robert’s Power Loom, was invented and all stages in the cotton-making process could now be done in one factory.