Biography of Richard Arkwright

Portrait of Richard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright was an eighteenth century pioneer of industrial equipment.

When and Where was he Born?

23rd December 1732, Preston, Lancashire, England.

Family Background:

Richard Arkwright was the youngest of seven children born to the tailor Thomas Arkwright and his wife Ellen, who were working, but not poor, parents.

Stanley Arms Preston
The Stanley Arms, Lancaster Road, Preston on the site where 
Arkwright was born (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Education:

Arkwright was taught to read and write by his Cousin Ellen and was apprenticed to a barber.

Timeline of Richard Arkwright:

1748: Lewis Paul invents a machine for carding cotton, which was to influence Arkwright.

1750: Arkwright moves to Churchgate in Bolton, Lancashire and works as a barber in his own business. He was one of the first people to make a profitable business dyeing hair.

1755: He marries Patience Holt.

Arkwright House
House where Richard Arkwright lodged in Preston when he developed his cotton spinning machine (copyright Anthony Blagg)
Arkwright Plaque
Details of plaque

1761: He marries Margaret Biggens.

1762: Richard Arkwright starts his own wig-making business, which involved him traveling the country to collect people’s discarded hair. He opens his first tavern as a money spinner in Bolton. On his travels Arkwright met John Kay in Warrington who was a clockmaker and inventor. He had been working on a spinning-machine with Thomas Highs of Leigh but due to shortage of funds they could not continue their project. Arkwright took them on as he was impressed by their ideas for improving James Hargreave’s “Spinning Jenny”. In short the three rollers made threads far stronger than anything that had come before.

1767: Arkwright moves to Preston with John Kay and joins forces with John Smalley and David Thornley and takes out his patent on what has become known as the spinning frame. This was the first industrial scale spinner to give cotton thread weave strong enough to form the warp for commercial cloths. Arkwright realised that horse power was not enough to power his machinery and investigated water power.

1768: Arkwright moves to Nottingham in April to avoid the machine-breakers in Lancashire. There he sets up a small mill in Woolpack Lane near Hargreaves’s jenny mill.

1769: Arkwright approaches Ichabod Wright, a banker from Nottingham, in search of funds to expand his business. He in turn introduces him to Jedediah Strutt of Derby and Samuel Need.

1771: He forms a partnership with Strutt and Need and sets up a factory powered by water at Cromford in Derbyshire next to the River Derwent and the machinery became known as the water frame. He employs local families and while the women and children worked in the factories the men worked at home making the yarn into cloth.

1775: Arkwright takes out another Patent describing modifications to his carding engine machinery. Arkwright and his partners finally persuad the Government to remove the crippling import tariff on raw cotton, which had been imposed earlier in order to protect the woolen industry.

1779: His mill in Chorley, Lancashire is destroyed by a mob of labourers who burned it down as a protest against his machinery which reduced the need for manual labour.

1781: Several rival manufacturers were setting up using his ideas and he prosecutes nine companies for breach of his patents. Samuel Need dies in April and Jedediah Strutt decides to break up the partnership as he was worried that Arkwright was expanding his factories too fast. Arkwright goes on to build factories in Manchester, other parts of Lancashire, Staffordshire and Scotland.

1783: Arkwrigth builds Masson Mills at Matlock Bath in Derbyshire.

1785: His Patents are cancelled as it was proved in the Court of King’s Bench that the intellectual property for many of the inventions lay not with him but with a selection of his partners, friends and rivals. His talent, however, if not as an inventor was to turn these machines into practical reality. His main invention was to start the factory system.

Arkwright London House
Number 8 Adam Street, London where Arkwight lived 
for the last four years of his life (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1786: Arkwright  is knighted by King George the Third.

1787: He becaomes High Sheriff of Derbyshire.

1790: Always looking towards new technology he introduces the steam engine, originally developed by James Watt and Matthew Boulton, into his plant in Nottingham. Arkwright’s employees worked mainly from six in the morning to seven in the evening and unlike many other factory owners who used children of five he said that they should be over six years old. At this time nearly three quarters of his factory employees were children. At his death he was a very rich man and the “Gentleman’s Magazine” claimed that his fortune was well over £500,000 pounds which would be several hundred millions today.

When and Where did he Die?

3rd August 1792, at home at Rock House, Cromford, Derbyshire, England of natural causes.

Age at Death:

59.

Marriage:

  1. 1755 to Patience Holt.
  2. 1761 to Margaret Biggens.
Preston Museum
Preston Museum (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Site of Grave:

St. Mary’s Church, Cromford, Derbyshire, England.

Places of Interest:

DERBYSHIRE:

Cromford Masson Mills, Matlock Bath, (Still in existence but no longer a working mill).

LANCASHIRE:

Lewis Textile Museum, Exchange Street, Blackburn holds replica machine.
Preston Museum.
Bolton Museum.