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The Factory System

Welcome back. As we discovered in the last lesson, Richard Arkwright was the first entrepreneur of the industrial revolution. He developed the water frame for weaving and created an improved carding machine. But his contribution was much greater than those two inventions: he spread the concept of the factory system.

Richard Arkwright is often cited as the father of the factory system because of the huge mills he built first at Cromford and then elsewhere. In a sense, he was the first modern capitalist, and his business methods spread the concept of mass production in large factories. Arkwright was a great publicist and brilliant marketeer, but his wasn't the first factory. That credit probably goes to John and Thomas Lombe.

John Lombe was the younger brother of Thomas Lombe a silk merchant. At that time, Italy was the world centre for silk textile manufacture, and Thomas sent John out to Italy to learn their secrets.

John Lombe brought ideas, some Italian craftsmen, and, probably, designs for silk spinning machines back and, in 1718, Thomas Lombe was granted a patent for machines to wind, spin and twist raw silk.

John Lombe then designed a factory to house the machines, and it was built near Derby, opening in 1721. Lombe's Mill was the first mechanised factory in the world. The spinning machines were powered by water, and it employed up to 300 people.

The mill was five storeys high and housed eight spinning machines and four twisting machines on the lower floors, with 26 winding machines on the upper floors.

Working silk requires hot, humid conditions and, in the 1730s, a steam engine was used to pump hot wet air round the mill. Working in such conditions was not pleasant. An employee in the late 1730s or early 1740s described long hours, low wages, and beatings.

John Lombe sadly died in 1722, and the Thomas took over the management of the factory. He died in 1739, and the factory was sold. Nevertheless, silk production continued at the mill until around 1865, when the silk industry in Great Britain declined in the face of foreign competition. The factory had various other uses until 1910, when it was partially destroyed by fire. A power station was built next to the mill in the 1920s, and parts of the building were rebuilt as stores and workshops. It now houses Derby Industrial Museum (now called the Museum of Making)

The silk factory was famous in its day and visited by businessmen and learned gentlemen from its opening and throughout the 1700s. It is not known if Richard Arkwright visited the factory, but it is only 16 miles from Cromford, so it is certainly possible that he was inspired by this first example of factory production.

The Power Loom

Samuel Crompton took ideas from James Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and from Richard Arkwright's waterframe, and invented the Spinning Mule in 1779. Crompton's Spinning Mule was manually operated and had 48 spindles producing around 1 pound of thread per day. The thread was of such high quality that it sold for three times the price of hand-spun thread.

He couldn't afford to patent his invention and sold the rights to David Dale, who did patent it and profited handsomely.

Edmund Cartwright patented the first power loom in 1789. However, it was not commercially successful, and he seems to have gone bankrupt in 1793, although he was awarded a pension for his invention by parliament in 1809.

It was Richard Roberts who invented the first commercially successful power loom in 1822. These drove the growth of the textile industry. In 1803 there were around 2400 looms in the UK. By 1830 there were around 100,000

As an interesting side note, Richard Roberts became a partner in the firm of Sharp, Roberts, and Company in 1826. By 1833 the company was building steam locomotives. Roberts left the firm in 1843, and the new company, Sharp, Stewart, and Company, would become one of the largest manufacturers of steam locomotives in the world in the second half of the nineteenth century based at the famous Atlas Works at St Rollox in Glasgow.

David Dale

David Dale was another of the great entrepreneurs of the early industrial revolution. He was born in Ayrshire in Scotland in 1739. His family were humble farmers and traders. He was apprenticed to a weaver in Paisley and became involved in the textile trade, setting up business in Glasgow in the 1760s importing yarns from Europe. His business thrived, and by 1777 he was very wealthy. In 1783 he set up the first Glasgow branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In 1784, David Dale hosted Richard Arkwright on his visit to Scotland, and they created a partnership to build a cotton mill at New Lanark – about 30 miles down the river Clyde from Glasgow. It was around this time that Dale took over Samuel Crompton's licence for the Spinning Mule.

The mill at New Lanark opened in 1786. Richard Arkwright and another partner then withdrew from the venture, leaving David Dale the sole owner. The mill employed 1400 people and provided housing for its workers and education for their children. It became a famous model community attracting visitors from all over the world. At New Lanark, business, philanthropy, and education all came together for the first time anywhere in Britain. The working and social conditions provided at New Lanark were in advance of anything else provided in Britain at the time.

In 1799 Robert Owen married David Dale's daughter Anne Caroline. Owen bought New Lanark mill from David Dale at that time. There he implemented further improvements to workers' lives, including improved education and child-care. He implemented an eight-hour working day in 1810.

Owen spread his ideas widely and, in 1825, moved to the United States and spent much of his fortune setting up utopian communities there. Robert Owen sold his share of New Lanark in 1828 but continued to campaign for improved workers' conditions, child education, and social change. He is sometimes credited with coining the term "socialism."

David Dale continued in the textile industry, opening other mills and a dyeworks. He also set up an insurance company. He devoted much of his time and wealth to philanthropic works, including hospitals in the Glasgow area.

David Dale was friends with many of Glasgow's wealthy businessmen: men who owed their fortunes to slavery. Indeed, the raw cotton used in Dale's mills – and in every other mill in Britain – was harvested in America using slave labour. Nevertheless, Dale was one of the early campaigners for the abolition of slavery. He was the first chair of the Glasgow Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade established in 1791, and invested in an enterprise designed to help freed slaves.

David Dale took a public stand against slavery when many of his fellow entrepreneurs failed to.

David Dale died in 1806, one of the most important reformers of the industrial age.

The Next Steps in the Textile Revolution

Mechanisation spread slowly through the textile industry in the second half of the eighteenth century, and its most important catalyst was probably Richard Arkwright.

John Lombe built the first mechanised factory, but it was Richard Arkwright who kickstarted its widespread adoption and, therefore, started the industrial revolution and the mass production system. The spinning mule and the power loom facilitated the revolution, and it was to be James Watt's steam engines that powered the machinery in the factories – as we shall see.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In our next lesson, we move onto the development of steam power.

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Written by

Ross Maynard