Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cromford Mill

Cromford Mill was the first water-powered cotton spinning mill developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771 in Cromford, Derbyshire, England, which laid the foundation of his fortune and was quickly copied by mills in Lancashire, Germany and the United States.

He chose the site at Cromford because it had year-round supply of warm water from the Cromford Sough which drained water from nearby Wirksworth lead mines, together with Bonsall Brook. Here he built a five storey mill, with the backing of Jedediah Strutt, Samuel Need and John Smalley. Starting from 1772, he ran the mills day and night with two 12 hour shifts.

The gate to Cromford Mill was shut at precisely 6am and 6pm every day and any worker who failed to get through it not only lost a day's pay but was fined another day's pay.
In 1779, Arkwright installed a cannon, loaded with grapeshot, just inside the factory gate, as a warning to would-be rioting textile workers, who had burned down another of his mills in Birkacre, Lancashire. The cannon was never used.

He started with 200 workers, more than the locality could provide so he built housing for them nearby, one of the first manufacturers to do so. Most of the employees were women and children, the youngest being only 7 years old. Later, the minimum age was raised to 10 and the children were given 6 hours of education a week, so that they could do the record keeping their illiterate parents could not.
The story of Arkwright is interesting. 

This is his obituary:
The youngest of thirteen children, Sir Richard Arkwright was born in Preston on 23 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 revolutionized industry than Sir Richard Arkwright. At 59 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 traveling 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.

In walking around the site of the factory, I was struck by the way his less than grandiose house was situated in overlook on the hilltop.  What kind of man was Arkwright to have come up with such a scheme?
I wonder how the children must have felt after working a 12 hour shift, looking up at the house.  The concept of shift labor was invented here.  This is where human and machine were first united socially and physically in an endless cycle of institutionalized repetition.  I don't think Arkwright was a selfish or cruel man, but a proud and arrogant man who thought of himself as a father to a large family.   In his mind, he was providing a life of stablity and security, by feeding, housing and clothing them.  He also built a public house for his workers in town called "The Greyhound".  Weaving was, in fact, traditionally, the job of women and children extending way back to the stone age.  Cromford Mill felt resigned and peaceful, exactly the way one would feel after a long day of hard work.   There was no mean spirited evil in the heart of the father of the Industrial Revolution after all...perhaps just paternalism to a fault.

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