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3 August 2011

On this day in history: Sir Richard Arkwright died, 1792

Richard Arkwright, pioneer of industrialisation, was born on 23rd December 1732 in Preston, Lancashire. The son of a poor tailor, Richard had no formal education and became an apprentice barber. At the age of eighteen, he moved to Bolton-le-Moors to work for a peruke (wig) maker. In 1762 he invested a portion of a legacy his second wife received to take over the Black Boy public house; however, when this venture failed he returned to wig-making and also branched out into dentistry and other medical services.

In 1767, Arkwright made the acquaintance of a clockmaker called John Kay, who had an idea about spinning cotton on rollers. Arkwright persuaded Kay to produce a model of the mechanism, which, Kay later admitted, was based on a system used by a neighbour who he had worked for. Nevertheless, it was Arkwright who took the design forward producing a prototype in 1767 that he tried to sell in Manchester and then Preston.

Since no buyers were forthcoming, Arkwright and Kay, who was now his employee, moved to the traditional textile producing town of Nottingham. To promote his machine, Arkwright secured investment and managed to patent the machine, albeit with a great deal of difficulty. In 1771, Richard Arkwright and Co. founded a factory beside the River Derwent at Cromford in Derbyshire.

Arkwright used the flow of the river to power the machinery, which consequently became known as the 'water-frame'. Despite its reliability and economy the water-powered machinery attracted little attention. Undeterred Arkwright continued to develop his machines and expand the business.

Because most of his designs were copies, Arkwright lost most of the patents; yet, he invested his profits wisely and achieved social acceptance in the East Midlands, making him one of the first gentleman industrialists. In 1786, he received a high accolade when King George III knighted him. Six years later, on 3rd August 1792, Richard Arkwright died leaving an immense fortune of around £500,000. has a collection of biographies of Arkwright.

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Anonymous said...

Re; Arkwright article; Arkwright never used the river Derwent in his first three Cromford mills, but actually used waters from water draining local lead mines, called 'soughs' locally, together with water from a local stream, Bonsall Brook. These sources of water were never known to have frozen and therefore provided constant water to power his spinning machinery (hence The WATERFRAME tag).
It was not until a much later date that he was able to use the river Derwent as a power source for a 4th mill at Cromford called Mason Mill and geographically in MAtlock Bath.