Arkwright and Cartwright

Inventors of Important Textile Manufacturing Machines

Richard Arkwright and Edmund Cartwright are credited with inventing two of the most important devices of the Industrial Revolution — the mechanical spinning machine and the power loom. Along with James Hargreaves, who is credited with inventing the spinning jenny (see companion webpage), they developed the key ideas that made possible the mechanization of textile manufacture, one of the most important developments in the Industrial Revolution.

Connections of members of the Grimshaw family have been established to both Arkwright and Cartwright and are described on this webpage.


Webpage Credit

Grimshaw Connection to Sir Richard Arkwright, Mechanical Spinning Machine Inventor

Grimshaw Connection to Edmund Cartwright, Power Loom Inventor

Was Thomas Highs the Real Inventor of the Spinning Jenny and Power Loom?


Baines Historical Review of the Textiles Industry in Lancashire

Webpage Credit

Thanks go to Mavis Long for discovering, and providing the reference for, the connection of Nicholas Grimshaw of Preston to Richard Arkwright.

Grimshaw Connection to Sir Richard Arkwright, Mechanical Spinning Machine Inventor

The significance of Richard Arkwright’sinvention of the spinning machine for the Industrial Revolution is outlined in a companion webpage. A summary of Arkwright and his invention is given in Encyclopedia BrittanicaOn-line as follows:

Sir Richard Arkwright (born Dec. 23, 1732, Preston, Lancashire, Eng.; died Aug. 3, 1792, Cromford, Derbyshire):

Textile industrialist and inventor whose use of power-driven machinery and employment of a factory system of production were perhaps more important than his inventions.

In his early career as a wig-maker, Arkwright traveled widely in Great Britain and began his lifelong practice of self-education. He became interested in spinning machinery at least by 1764, when he began construction of his first machine (patented in 1769). Arkwright’s water frame (so-called because it operated by waterpower) produced a cotton yarn suitable for warp. The thread made on James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny (invented about 1767) lacked the strength of Arkwright’s cotton yarn and was suitable only for weft. With several partners, Arkwright opened factories at Nottingham and Cromford. Within a few years he was operating a number of factories equipped with machinery for carrying out all phases of textile manufacturing from carding to spinning.

He maintained a dominant position in the textile industry despite the rescinding of his comprehensive patent of 1775. He may have borrowed the ideas of others for his machines, but he was able to build the machines and to make them work successfully. By 1782 Arkwright had a capital of £200,000 and employed 5,000 workers. In 1786 he was knighted.

Nicholas Grimshaw, a prominent citizen and elected official of Preston (he served as mayor seven times), apparently provided assistance to Arkwright in the development of his invention, as described by Wright and Allen2 (p. 44):

So completely was the mechanist obstructed by poverty at every step, that when he had completed his great invention, he was unable to apply it either for the purposes of experiment or manufacturing profits; and, not being able to procure any further assistance in Liverpool, he removed to Preston, his native town, in search of friends. The great contested election which ended in the return of General Burgoyne, then agitated the inhabitants, and Arkwright was instantly canvassed, and obliged to select a candidate. So fragile, however, was the nature of his garments, so forlorn and neglected his whole appearance, that his friends felt it necessary to furnish him with a new suit of clothes, the expense of which was defrayed by a subscription on the spot. This was the first act of friendship which this “son of science” experienced in his native town; others, equally generous, soon succeeded. John Smalley, a liquor-merchant, obtained the use of a room in the Free Grammar School, for the erection and exhibition of the engine, and Mr. Nicholas Grimshaw generously supplied Arkwright with means to prosecute his experiments. Warned by the fate of Hargrave in 1767, and of others who had attempted to abridge human labour by the substitution of machinery, he now secretly withdrew from Preston, and, migrating to Nottingham, received some trifling assistance from Messrs. Wright, the bankers. These gentlemen becoming impatient at the delay attending the completion of the work, introduced the mechanist to Messrs. Need and Strutt, who declared the invention an admirable effort of genius, quickly foresaw its boundless capabilities, and, closing a partnership with the proprietor, terminated his painful anxieties and rewarded his meritorious labours.

(Underline added by webpage author)

Grimshaw Connection to Edmund Cartwright, Power Loom Inventor

The significance of Edmund Cartwright’sinvention of the power loom is also outlined in a companion webpage. A summary of Cartwright and his invention is given in Encyclopedia BrittanicaOn-line as follows:

Cartwright, Edmund (born April 24, 1743, Marnham, Nottinghamshire, Eng.; died Oct. 30, 1823, Hastings, Sussex):

English inventor of the first wool-combing machine and of the predecessor of the modern power loom.

Cartwright began his career as a clergyman, becoming, in 1779, rector of Goadby Marwood, Leicestershire; in 1786 he was a prebendary in Lincoln (Lincolnshire) cathedral. He probably would have spent his life as an obscure country clergyman had his attention not been turned to Sir Richard Arkwright’s cotton-spinning mills at Cromford, Derbyshire, which he saw on a visit in 1784. Inspired to construct a similar machine for weaving, he invented a crude power loom, first patented in 1785. That same year he set up a weaving and spinning factory in Doncaster, Yorkshire, but had to surrender it to creditors in 1793. In 1789 he had patented a wool-combing machine; although it lowered manufacturing costs, it did not benefit Cartwright financially. In 1809, however, the House of Commons voted Cartwright £10,000 in recognition of benefits conferred on the nation through his power loom. His other inventions included a cordelier (machine for making rope; 1792) and a steam engine that used alcohol instead of water.

Robert Grimshaw, who was from near Manchester, apparently made arrangements with Cartwright to use his power loom invention in a weaving mill (to be equipped with 500 looms) that was built in 1790. Unfortunately, the mill got “caught up” in the social reactions to the Industrial Revolution of the time and was burned down, apparently by an arsonist. Robert Grimshaw’s connection to Cartwright is described in Baines4 (1824, v. 1, p. 117):

The Power Loom is a modern invention of a clergyman of the name of Cartwright, resident at Hollander-house, Kent, or at least if the invention be not new, its practical application is so. It appears from a letter from that gentleman, that his attention was first turned to the subject, by a (sic) observation made in the company of a number of Manchester gentlemen, at Matlock, in the summer of 1784, to the effect, that as soon as Mr. Arkwright’s patent for frame spinning expired, so many mills would be erected, and so much cotton spun, that hands could never be found to weave it. Impressed with the idea of the practicability of weaving as well as spinning by machinery, Mr. Cartwright bent his faculties to the construction of a power loom; this he effected, and in the year following obtained a patent to secure to himself the benefit of his invention. The first attempt was so rude and incomplete that he found it necessary to construct another loom, and to obtain a second patent in 1787. To carry into effect his invention, he erected a weaving mill, at Doncaster, but with so little success that the mill was abandoned, and the projector sought and found a remuneration for his ingenuity and trouble from parliament. Mr. Grimshaw, of Manchester, under the sanction of Mr. Cartwright, erected a weaving factory at that place, in 1790, which he filled with 500 power looms, but before they had well got into motion the factory was burnt down, and the prospect of success had not sufficiently promising to induce its re-erection. In 1794, Mr. Bell, of Glasgow, invented another power loom, but with little better success. In 1801, Mr. John Monteith, of Glasgow, erected a weaving factory, containing 200 looms, which after contending some years with difficulties, he increased to 300…..

Members of the Grimshaw family were also involved in later social unrest, the Power Loom Riots of 1826, as described in a companion webpage. Additional detail on the burning of Robert Grimshaw’s spinning factory in 1790 are provided by Harland5 (1865, p. 272-275):


In 1790 Mr. Robert Grimshaw, of Gorton House, Gorton, near Manchester (having contracted with the Rev. Dr. Cartwright, the inventor of the power-loom, for the privilege of using 500 of his looms), erected, for their reception, a weaving factory at Knott Mill, with steam-power. The mill was finished, and the machinery, including 30 power-looms, had not been many weeks at work before the whole building was burned to the ground. As the proprietor had previously received several anonymous letters threatening destruction to the mill if he persisted to work it, there is every reason to conclude that the fire did not happen without design, but was the work of an incendiary. Mr. Grimshaw was about erecting another mill in Gorton, but this fire not only deterred him, but others, from bringing the invention into use; and the next attempt to introduce power-looms into Manchester was not made till sixteen years afterwards. About the time of the fire there lived up the Ginnel, near the Chapel-Houses, Gorton, a man named Lucas, a hand-loom weaver and crofter or bleacher. Though very illiterate, — not able to write, and scarcely to read, — he enjoyed considerable local fame as a rhymester. He composed a ditty on the destruction of Grimshaw’s mill, which was regularly set to music, printed, and sold by the ballad-dealers of Manchester. The entire song cannot now be recovered, but the following fragment has been orally gleaned from five old men, each of whom well recollects singing it at the time of its currency. It reveals the feelings of the working-classes of that day on the introduction of machinery and steam-power. For the above particulars we are indebted to Mr. John Higson, of Droylsden:–

Come all ye country gentlemen

Come listen to my story;

Its of a country gallant

Who was cropp’d in his glory,

All by a new invention,

As all things come by natur,

Concerning looms from Doncaster1

And weyvin’ done by wayter.

Chorus.- Then, eh, the looms from Doncaster

That lately have come down–

That they never had been carried

Into Manchester town.

For coal to work his factory

He sent unto the Duke,2 sir;

He thought that all the town

Should be stifled with the smoke, sir;

But the Duke sent him an answer,

Which came so speedily,

That the poor should have the coal,

If the Devil took th’ machinery.

Then, eh, etc.

He got all kinds of people

To work at his invention,

Both English, Scotch, and Irish,

And more than I could mention.

He kept such order over them,

Much more than they did choose, sir,

They left him land for liberty;

Please God to spare their shoes, sire.

Then, eh, etc.

The floor was over shavings,

Took fire in the night, Sir;

But now he’s sick in bed;

Some say its with affright, Sir.

[The rest wanting.]


Dr. Cartwright had erected a mill for power-looms at Doncaster, but with so little success that it was abandoned.


The Duke of Bridgewater, the great coal owner.

Was Thomas Highs the Real Inventor of the Spinning Jenny and Mechanical Spinning Machine?

The details of the roles of various individuals in the development of key inventions during the Industrial Revolution, and associated credit for the creative effort, are not always very clear-cut. A quote from Baines(1824, v. 1, p. 114-118) shown at the end of this webpage includes the following interesting points in this regard:

John Kay invented the fly-shuttle (“present mode of casting the shuttle.”)

Thomas Highs invented the spinning jenny, but it included only six spindles.

James Hargreaves improved upon Highs’ invention by making a modification “that would spin twenty or thirty threads into yarn.”

The spinning jenny is named for Highs’ daughter (“Attested statement of Thomas Leather, in the trial with Mr. Arkwright.”)

Highs was assisted in his invention by John Kay, although apparently not always without frustration! (“For some time their labours were unsuccessful, and one Sunday in the evening, having probably spent their Sabbath
in Highs garret instead of the church, they tossed the idol of their devotion, by mutual consent, out of the window, and Kay abandoned the whole scheme in despair.”)

Highs also invented the Water Frame, again with the assistance of John Kay.

Richard Arkwright got a model of Highs’ Water Frame from John Kay, and developed the spinning machine from it (“This was the germ of Mr. Arkwright’s future prosperity, and of the extension of the cotton trade.”)

Baines provides the following comment regarding Arkwright’s contribution relative to that of Highs:

This history of a machine so mighty in its effects, as it was afterwards doomed to prove, deprives Mr. Arkwright of the honour of the original invention, and subjects him to the charge of a want of fair dealing towards Highs, but it leaves him in possession of the merit of having perfected that which before had attained only an embryo state, and of having surmounted difficulties by the force of his own mind which hardly any other man in the same situation could have triumphed over. His capacity of combination, if not of invention, was of the highest order, and his manufactories in Nottinghamshire, and in Derbyshire, in the infancy of the cotton trade, manifested the intelligence of a presiding genius, to which the present age, and posterity will award the weed of their admiration.

As noted, the full quote from Baines on the historical development of these important inventions is presented at the bottom of this webpage.

Baines Historical Review of the Textiles Industry in Lancashire

The full quote from Baines4 (1824, v. 1, p. 114-118) historical review of the textiles-related inventions is shown below (including the partial quotes above). The quote is included because of the perspective that it provides on the development of the important inventions attributed to Kay, Highs, Hargreaves, Arkwright and Cartwright.

Till the year 1760, the sale of cotton goods had been confined principally to home consumption, but about that period considerable markets opened for these fabrics on the Continents both of Europe and America, and the supply became inadequate to the demand. The principal difficulty in meeting this demand arose from a deficiency of weft, and though 50,000 spindles were in motion daily in Lancashire, turned by as many individuals, the weavers, who were urged on by their masters, were frequently unemployed for want of weft. Unlike the Asiatic manufacturers, genius is always at work amongst our artizans, and the splendid period of invention in the cotton business was now about to commence. According to Mr. Richard Guest, who has written an interesting “History of the Cotton Manufacture,” till the middle of the 18th century, the weavers of cotton were accustomed to throw their shuttle from hand to hand through the meshes of the web, and when the cloth exceeded thirty-six inches in width, two men were required to one loom, one to pass the shuttle from left to right and the other from right to left. In the year 1738, Mr. John Kay, invented the present mode of casting the shuttle, by what is called a picking-peg, by which means a weaver was enabled to perform twice the accustomed quantity of work, and to weave, unaided, cloth of any width. This simple but efficient little instrument was first employed in the weaving of woollens, and did not come into general use in the cotton manufacture till about twenty years after its invention. The weaving department was, however, not the branch of the business in which facilities were then wanted, for iii proportion as the yarn was swallowed with rapidity, in the same proportion was the urgency of the demand for that article aggravated.

At this juncture Thomas Highs, a reed maker, residing at Leigh, in this county, induced probably by the double motive of serving his neighbours and benefiting himself, came to the resolution to construct a machine for the spinning of cotton, that should multiply the threads with greater rapidity than by the method then in use; and for this purpose he associated himself with one Kay, a clock-maker, in the same town. For some time their labours were unsuccessful, and one Sunday in the evening, having probably spent their Sabbath in Highs garret instead of the church, they tossed the idol of their devotion, by mutual consent, out of the window, and Kay abandoned the whole scheme in despair. In this compact, Highs appears to have been the genius; and recovering his spirits, he gathered up the dislocated wheels, replaced them in his garret, and finally surmounted the difficulties. The new machine, which at first gave motion only to six spindles, was named after the inventor’s daughter, Jenny.* In the year 1767, James Hargrave, of Blackburn, constructed a spinning Jenny, that would spin twenty or’ thirty threads into yarn; this machine occasioned a great alarm amongst the spinners, and because it was likely to answer the purpose proposed, a mob arose which burnt and destroyed his machinery, and drove him out of this county into Nottinghamshire**, where he was inhospitably received, and died in indigence.

*Attested statement of Thomas Leather, in the trial with Mr. Arkwright.

**The danger to be apprehended from improvements in machinery was then very prevalent, and it is recorded of Lawrence Earnshaw, of Mottram, in Cheshire, a man of universal genius, that in the year 1753, he invented a machine to spin and reel cotton in one operation, which he showed to his neighbours, and then destroyed it, through the generous apprehension that it might deprive the poor of bread.

Highs it appears employed himself after the invention of the spinning jenny in making these machines for hire, and in the year 1767, he invented a machine, called a Water Frame or Throstle, for the spinning of twist by rollers. After he bad conceived the intention, he employed John Kay, of Warrington, a clock maker, to make him a model of the machine. In the same year Richard Arkwright, or Preston, a barber by trade, but an active, enterprising, and intelligent man, had the address to possess himself of a model of High’s spinning frame from Kay. This was the germ of Mr. Arkwright’s future prosperity, and of the extension of the cotton trade. To supply his lack of pecuniary means, he effected a partnership with Mr. Smalley, of Preston; and in April 1768, he removed into Nottinghamshire, where he built a factory, and in 1769 obtained a patent for the exclusive benefit of spinning cotton by the new process. This history of a machine so mighty in its effects, as it was afterwards doomed to prove, deprives Mr. Arkwright of the honour of the original invention, and subjects him to the charge of a want of fair dealing towards Highs, but it leaves him in possession of the merit of having perfected that which before had attained only au embryo state, and of having surmounted difficulties by the force of his own mind which hardly any other man in the same situation could have triumphed over. His capacity of combination, if not of invention, was of the highest order, and his manufactories in Nottinghamshire, and in Derbyshire, in the infancy of the cotton trade, manifested the intelligence of a presiding genius, to which the present age, and posterity will award the weed of their admiration. The honour of public spirit does not however belong to Sir Richard Arkwright: he sought, unduly, to render the benefits of his skill exclusive, and after a protracted litigation he had the mortification, and the country the pleasure, to see his patent-right destroyed, and the privilege of timing the improved machinery thrown open to the trade, by a decision of the Court of King’s Bench, in the year 1785. Sir Richard is fairly entitled to rank amongst the worthies of Lancashire, and his history may be told in a few words:- He was born at Preston in the Year 1732. His father was in humble circumstances, and Richard being the youngest of thirteen children, was brought up to the trade of a barber, which business he followed both at Preston, and in Bolton. Subsequently he became a collector of human hair, which he dyed, and prepared for the peruke-makers. Having a mechanical genius he directed his attention to the improvement of the machinery used in the prevailing manufacture of the county, by what means, and with what success has been already seen. On the escape of his Majesty from the murderous attempt of the maniac, Margaret Nicholson, in 1796, Mr. Arkwright was charged with the duty of presenting an address of congratulation from the hundred of Wirksworth, on which occasion he received the honour of Knighthood. The following year he served the office of High Sheriff for the county of Derby; and having become one of the richest commoners in England, he died at his works, at Cromford, in Derbyshire, in the year 1792, in the sixtieth year of his age.

The art of carding cotton wool appears to have been a progressive invention. Hand cards borrowed from the woollen manufacture, were first used. It may be observed, that the inventions which have been applied to the woollen, have generally been soon after made applicable to cotton; and by a natural reciprocity any new machinery erected to facilitate or improve the fabrics of cotton, has in a similar manner speedily found its way into the woollen factories. Stock cards succeeded the hand cards, and they were succeeded by the cylindrical carding engine, an invention pretty nearly contemporary with the spinning jenny, which performed that labour by power that had hitherto been altogether manual. This invention does not strictly belong to any individual, but the father of Sir Robert Peel, and of course the grandfather of Mr. Secretary Peel, assisted by Mr. Hargrave, of Blackburn, was amongst the first to use the carding engine. The roving frame, which consists of a series of elongating rollers, is of the same date as the other inventions. The mule used for spinning is a compound of the jenny and the water frame, and from that circumstance it derives its name. The inventor was Mr. Samuel Crompton, of Bolton-le-Moors, and the invention was effected in 1775. In the infancy of the business the web of cotton was prepared for the loom, as the woollen web still continues to be in some places, by being wound on fastened into the wall; but the invention of the warping mill, which is a kind of upright wheel, revolving on vertical axes, and which was introduced about the year 1760, shortens and improves this operation. The process of the manufacture, and the application of the machinery is shortly this: The cotton being cleaned from motes, is first carded by the carding engine; it is then roved by the roving franc; it is next spun by the jenny, the water frame, or the mule; the twist is warped on the mill, and the weft wound on bobbins and they are finally heated in the loom, and made into cloth.

These mechanical facilities, combined with the application of Bolton and Watts rotative steam engine, which was first introduced into the manufactures of Lancashire, by Messrs. Puls, at Warrington, in the year 1787, removed completely the difficulties of obtaining warp and weft, and instead of receiving as formerly either of these commodities from abroad, the manufactures of France, Germany, and Switzerland, are now nurtured and upheld by supplies of English yarn, to the amount of several thousands of tons in the Year, as appears from the following parliamentary returns:-


In 1816

16,362,782 lbs.

In 1820

23,900,000 lbs.


16,106,000 lbs.


23,200,000 lbs.


19,652,000 lbs.


28,000,000 lbs.

It is estimated that the twist and weft spun in Great Britain amounts to 110,000,000 lbs. per annum, of which nearly one tenth is used in the lace, thread, and stocking manufacturer two-tenths is exported to the continent of Europe, in twist, and the remaining seven-tenths is manufactured at home.

The free introduction of mule twist, after the dissolution of Sir Richard Arkwrights patent enabled the manufacturers of Lancashire to produce muslin fabrics in all the varieties, and jaconet, book, mull, and lino muslins, with cotton cambrics partly used in a white, and partly in a printed state, now rank amongst the most considerable, and the most profitable branches of the manufacture. Before the introduction of muslins, calicoes, which were first made here in 1792, formed a principal part of the manufacture of some districts, and they still constitute an important branch of the cotton trade.

The Power Loom is a modern invention of a clergyman of the name of Cartwright, resident at Hollander-house, Kent, or at least if the invention be not new, its practical application is so. It appears from a letter from that gentleman, that his attention was first turned to the subject, by a observation made in the company of a number of Manchester gentlemen, at Matlock, in the summer of 1784, to the effect, that as soon as Mr. Arkwright’s patent for frame spinning expired, so many mills would be erected, and so much cotton spun, that hands could never be found to weave it. . Impressed with the idea of the practicability of weaving as well as spinning by machinery, Mr. Cartwright bent his faculties to the construction of a power loom; this he effected, and in the year following obtained a patent to secure to himself the benefit of his invention. The first attempt was so rude and incomplete that lie found it necessary to construct another loom, and to obtain a second patent in 1787. To carry into effect his invention, he erected a weaving mill, at Doncaster, but with so little success that the mill was abandoned, and the projector sought and found a remuneration for his ingenuity and trouble from parliament. Mr. Grimshaw, of Manchester, under the sanction of Mr. Cartwright, erected a weaving factory at that place, in 1790, which he filled with 600 power looms, but before they had well got into motion the factory was burnt down, and the prospect of success had not been sufficiently promising to induce its re-erection. In 1794, Mr. Bell, of Glasgow, invented another power loom, but with little better success. In 1801, Mr. John Monteith, of Glasgow, erected a weaving factory, containing 200 looms, which after contending some years with difficulties, he increased to 300. Four years afterwards Messrs. James Finlay and Co. erected a weaving mill, at Catrine, in Ayrshire, with better success. Afterwards other factories of the same description, and to a larger extent, were fitted up in Scotland; and in the year 1819, there were in Glasgow, or belonging to it, fifteen weaving factories, containing 2275 power Issues, and producing about 8000 pieces of cloth weekly. In England a factory for steam looms was’ erected at Manchester, in 1806, with two others at Stockport, and a fourth at West Houghton, and by the application of Mr. Johnson’s machine for the dressing of warps before they were put into the loom, many of the principal difficulties hitherto existing were removed. Before the invention of the dressing frame, one weaver was required to each steam loom, principally to carry on the dressing of the warp in small portions as it rolled from the beam, but at present a boy or girl of twelve or fourteen years of age call attend two steam looms, and can produce from these looms upwards of three times as much well woven cloth as the best hand weaver. Under these circumstances the number of power looms are naturally increasing; in 1818 there were in Manchester, Stockport, Middleton, Hyde, Stayley Bridge, and their vicinities, fourteen factories, containing about 2000 looms; in 1821, this number was increased to thirty-two factories, and 5732 looms; and at present there are not fewer than 10,000 steam looms at work in Great Britain. Each of the steam loom mills forms a complete manufacturing colony, in which every process, from the picking of the raw cotton to its conversion into cloth is performed; and on a scale so large that there is now accomplished in one single building as much work as would in the last age have employed all entire district. The steam looms are chiefly employed in the production of printing cloth and shirtings; but they also weave thicksetts, fancy cords, dimities, cambrics, and quiltings, together with silks, worsted, and woolen broad cloths.


1“Arkwright, Sir Richard” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <> [Accessed November 14, 2000].

2Wright, Geoffrey Norman, and Thomas Allen, date unknown, Lancashire, It’s History, Legends & Manufactures: London, Caxton Press, Volume 1 (of 2 volumes), unk. p.

3“Cartwright, Edmund” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. <> [Accessed November 14, 2000].

4Baines, Edward, 1824, History, Directory, and Gazetteer, of the County Palatine of Lancaster; with a Variety of Commercial & Statistical Information in Two Volumes, Illustrated by Maps and Plans: Liverpool, Wm. Wales & Co., two volumes (Republished 1968 by Augustus M. Kelly, Publishers, New York, NY), unk. p.

5Harland, John, 1865, Ballads & Songs of Lancashire, Chiefly Older than the 19th Century, Collected, Compiled, and Edited, With Notes: London, Whittaker & Co., ca. 282 p.

Webpage History

Webpage posted November 2000.