Innovations in Industry and Commerce









Society & Culture








This chapter considers the importance of technological and commercial invention and innovation, and responses to these during the period. The changing "fashionablility" of invention as a key explanatory determinant of the industrial revolution is shown, and consideration is given to the major innovations in each of the main sectors of the textile industries. This is no mere listing of inventions, as their importance in the changing Manchester economy and their appearance to the eyes of contemporaries are also shown. A central aim of the chapter is to chronicle the arrival and application of these innovations within the Manchester theatre of production.


Traditional economic historians regarded the mechanical inventions, which were made in increasing number from the 1760s, as the key dynamic of the industrial revolution. Toynbee "identified major landmarks of mechanical invention clustered in the 1760s and 1770s... The starting point of the industrial revolution was thus fixed around 1760 and the invention of the rotary steam engine, and new spinning and metallurgical technologies". [1] Later economic historians revolted against this facile perspective, which viewed the inventor as "The Unbound Prometheus", and the Industrial Revolution as a story of entrepreneurial heroism. They came to focus their efforts in generating tables of national aggregate data such as annual rates of economic growth, export growth, nominal and real wages and per capita income, etc. [2] The explanatory focus shifted to broader contemporary economic issues, especially that of economic growth. As a result, it became fashionable to berate the old technological-determinist school of economic history and the "old-fashioned textbooks which chronicle Britain's industrial Revolution as a sequence of inventions made in the late eighteenth century". [3]


In recent years, a revisionist school of economic historians has reopened the debate about the significance of invention in the Industrial Revolution. The emphasis has been less about explaining the Industrial revolution as a series of inventions, than in explaining the role of the diffusion of the new technologies in the promotion of the economic, social and cultural changes surrounding the Industrial Revolution: "towards the end of the eighteenth century a rapid process of technological change in selected key industries cemented a new regional and industrial dominance", such an acknowledgement facilitates the reconfiguration of the research agenda: "We must therefore examine the types of technological advance which corresponded with specific structures of industrial and work organisation; we must show how these structures adapted and developed their own technologies." [4]


This chapter engages to some extent with this new research agenda, and shows that the full consequences of industrial innovation cannot be understood, until the nature of those innovations is clear. This chapter details the main innovations which had an impact on the Manchester textile trades, and places these innovations into a chronological and spatial context. The work of previous economic historians, such as Chapman, have listed the main textile inventions, but did not have much evidence for their diffusion, or the scale and geographical place of their use. The work of Wadsworth and Mann developed this theme to some extent, but the industrial innovations which this chapter will suggest were crucial to the development and subsequent structure of the early nineteenth century textile industry, only became widespread after the end of the period of their study (1780).


The "textile industry" is a misleading phrase, at least in terms of the economy of later eighteenth century Britain. For several hundred years, the term had applied largely to the production of wool and woollen garments, but by the mid-eighteenth century, there were a number of different textiles, each with a more or less distinct "industry". Many branches of the textile industry were represented in Manchester, either being produced in the town, or being marketed there. Each of these different branches involved different processes and required different personnel. Velvet production required velvet dressers, fustian required calenderers and cutters, et cetera. However, basically, the production of all textiles followed a similar series of processes: preparatory processes took the raw material and cleaned it and made it ready for the second process, spinning, which produced a length of fibre ready for the third process, weaving. After weaving a variety of finishing processes were undertaken such as cutting, shearing, smoothing, bleaching, dyeing and printing. These processes, and the changes which took place within them, will now be discussed in detail and particular attention will be given to the use, in Manchester, of the important innovations in each process and the overall organisation of the industry.


The Preparatory Processes


Carding and cleaning had always been important preparatory processes for the woollen industry, it being wholly based on domestic raw materials, but probably became more important for the cotton industry after the introduction of the spinning jenny when pure cotton warps came to be produced around Manchester. Samuel Crompton, writing of his youth in the mid 1780s describes how cotton cleaning was done in the countryside: "My mother used to bat the cotton wool in a wire riddle. It was then put into a deep brown mug with a strong ley of soap and suds. My mother then... put me into the tub to tread upon the cotton at the bottom... [afterwards] the soapsuds were poured off, and each separate dollop (i.e. lump) of wool well squeezed to free it from moisture. They were then placed on the bread-rack under the beams of the kitchen loft to dry. My mother and grandmother carded the cotton wool by hand, taking one of the dollops at a time, on the simple hand cards." [5] These preparatory processes appear to have been performed by women and children, at least until the end of the decade. In the 1799 sample in Table 1 in the next chapter, which tabulates the occupational structure of Manchester at various dates, there were 3 carders (1.2% of the sample).


By the 1790s, the old methods of cottage preparation had begun to give way to new mechanical methods. Carding engines, which consisted of rotating, spiked cylinders, relieved the drudgery of manual carding. At a sale in 1791, two carding engines and eight roving billies were offered. [6] These carding engines could be either horse powered or, by the end of the decade, operated by steam engines which could work eight or more carding engines together.[7] Carding was integrated with spinning and both processes undertaken in the new spinning factories. The 1791 sale included spinning equipment, and in 1798 a spinning factory had a dedicated carding room . [8] Cotton factories offered for sale during the period invariably included mechanical equipment for carding.




In the 1750s, spinning was a primitive business, and in common with cleaning and carding, was largely undertaken by women and children. The occupational profiles in Table 1 in the next chapter show a single male spinster in the 1750s sample and no more until 1790, when a large number of male spinners appear in the figures. [9] Spinning was done on a one-spindle wheel, until the introduction of the spinning jenny in the 1760s. There was initially much concern on the part of spinners about the impact of the jenny on their employment, and the home of the machine's inventor, James Hargreaves, was attacked in 1768, causing him to leave the area. [10] Opposition to the jenny continued throughout the next decade, pamphlets being produced by both advocates and opponents of the jenny. After 1780, the opposition appears to have declined, Ogden attributes this to a pamphlet written by Dorning Rasbotham, a Bolton magistrate. [11]


Ogden goes on to write about their introduction. Jennies "were first used by the country people on a confined scale, twelve spindles being thought a great affair at first, and the aukward posture required to spin on them, was discouraging to grown up people, while they saw, with a degree of surprize, children, from nine to twelve years of age, manage them with dexterity" [12] The minor innovations, or micro-inventions continued until Ogden could eulogise "The improvements kept increasing till the capital engines for twist were perfected; and it is amazing to see what thousands of spindles may be put in motion by a water wheel, and managed mostly by children" [13] These jennies were certainly in use in Manchester in 1790 when 17 jennies of 100 spindles, and 1 jenny of 150 spindles were auctioned in the town. [14]


The most common machine used for spinning in Manchester during the 1790s appears to have been the mule, which, unlike the jenny, required a source of power greater than that which could be provided by the hand of the spinner. Of 55 spinning machines sold between January and November 1795, 35 were mules, 12 water frames and 8 spinning jennies.[15] One of the reasons for the predominance of the mule was its greater spinning capacity. Although by this period the most modern mules had 200 or more spindles, most of the ones sold in Manchester had fewer, 169 spindles being the mean of those sold in 1795. None of the water frames or jennies sold during the year had more than 100 spindles, 73 and 84 being the respective means. By the time Aikin came to write, a mere twelve years after Ogden, even greater advances had been made in the machines for spinning. As well as describing the machine for spinning cotton twist "of any fineness proper for warps", he describes the mule "being a mixed machinery between jennies and the machine for twisting, and adapted to spin weft as fine as could be desired". [16] James Doxon, a major cotton merchant, was seeking "Half a Dozen good Joiners, who understand making Jennys or Mules" [17] Clock makers were also in demand, their skills being useful in the construction of the new textile machinery: "Clock-Makers Wanted. Such Persons who have constant Employ in the said Business, or in the Mule Line connected with that Art. [18] 

Factories had appeared in the centre of Manchester. although they were not of the same size as those erected in the countryside during the previous decade or more. In December 1790 a newly built factory in Hanover Street collapsed while 22 people were working in it.  Indirect evidence suggests that some factories employed very many more people. The Manchester press frequently recorded runaway apprentices, the numbers involved sometimes suggesting a "mass break-out". One factory owner (a calico printer) had 56 apprentices on the loose, and a further ten had been captured and imprisoned.  The introduction of factories to the countryside and on the edge of Manchester, combined with the general population expansion of the town, gave rise to some problems of accommodation. At Holt Town, an "industrial colony" founded by David Holt, about half a mile to the south east of the town's centre, 32 houses were built, 22 of four stories and 10 of two "for the Accommodation of the People employed in the Works." [19]


Factories were relatively cheap to rent, and rental appears to have been a common form of occupancy, although some entrepreneurs might build or buy them. An average sized factory in Salford (20 yards by 10), was offered for the annual rent of 40 in 1795. [20] These improvised mule and jenny factories, which appear to be the ones used in the town itself by the close of the period, should be contrasted with the "Arkwright Plan" factories, which cost several thousand pounds to build. Oldknow's factory at Mellor cost 1,600 per annum to rent, and a further 1,600 was necessary to pay the loan on the machinery, which had cost 16,000 to build or buy. [21]

The Manchester factories used the very latest of the "portable" technology, and might combine the three different machines for spinning: "A Spinning Factory to be Let... in full work in the Jenny, Mule and Water Spinning Line, with every requisite convenience for carrying on the same". [22]   The factory of Joseph Houldsworth (or Hallsworth) was assessed at 18 15s in 1798. [23]  In July 1799, the contents were sold. They included "Twenty-three Mules, made on the most improved Plan, and in good repair, viz. One of 204 spindles, Ten of 192, Two of 180, Eight of 168, one of 132, and one of 108. Also the said Factory, being a good substantial Building, 22 Yards long by 8.5 Yards broad, and four Stories high." [24] If each spindle represented the work which could have been done by a hand spinner, the factory did the work of over four thousand hand spinners, and may have required fewer than thirty people to tend the machines.


Factories were also present in the town's near neighbour Stockport. In 1795 there were twenty three large cotton factories, four of which were worked by steam engines.  Comparable figures do not exist for Manchester, but there were probably fifty nine factories in the town in 1796, of which most, if not all, were dedicated to the spinning of cotton.  The apparent lack of continuity between firms between the dates 1797 (the Rate Book) and 1800 (the Manchester trade directory) suggests a high rate of business failure during the period. However, by 1801, there were 80 factories in the town, showing considerable growth as a result of new entrants to the market.  Once again, these factory owners were also cotton spinners.


To demonstrate the "victory" of factory spinning over domestic production, Radcliffe cites the case of the Tomlinson sisters of Mellor who, in 1788 determined to continue their trade of hand spinning and carding, and had maintained this resolve until 1822, when Radcliffe drafted his work. These were, of course, very much the exception to the rule, and were originally cited because they were an oddity, an aberration from the increasingly common practice of factory spinning. By the 1790s, the contest between domestic and factory spinning had been all but won.
























Table 2. Imports & Exports of Cotton Wool, 1781-1801 (millions lbs). [25]


Table 2 shows the enormous growth in the amount of raw cotton imported into Britain during the period. Much of this was destined for the Manchester region, and it was the innovation of textile machinery and probably the deployment of increasing numbers of migrants into the industry which created the capacity to meet the demand for cotton and generate the imports indicated above. A part of the reason for the increasing demand was that the mechanisation of spinning facilitated a huge reduction in the price of cotton yarn, making it a cheaper product and more accessible to a larger market (as well as being more durable and easily washable than the old coarser fabrics). This change in price is shown in Table 3. Relatively thick yarn, for making coarser cotton goods fell in price between 1781 and 1795 to almost 60% of its old price. The finer yarn of 50 hanks, fell more dramatically to 50% of its former value. This radical drop in price helps explain the development of the British muslin and calico industries, which depended on these fine yarns. Previously their production had been economically viable only in the East Indies, because of the cheapness of labour.



No 20

No 50

Index 20

Index 50


5s 2d

17s 1d




3s 11d

14s 4d




3s 10d

10s 7d




3s 3d

8s 8d






Table 3. Price of 1 lb of Yarn of 20 and 50 Hanks [26]


The section on spinning has been long because most of the technical innovations in the textile industry, and certainly in the cotton industry, occurred in this part of the production process during the period. If the textile industry was the "leading sector" of the industrial revolution, then spinning was the leading sector of the textile industry. The history of invention in this sector clearly illustrates the importance of the major technological changes being followed by Mokyr's micro-inventions which perfect a technology and facilitate its diffusion.



The Role of the Warehouse


The process of putting out came next. This process was controlled by the merchants and was based on the Manchester or local warehouse. Individual weavers would contract with the merchants, or their agents, to weave a certain amount of cloth by commission. Sometimes, the master might agree to provide the weaver with employment for a fixed period of time, possibly weaving the same pattern, especially in the 1790s when greater variety in patterns became more common: a Bolton weaver contracted with a master to weave a shawl pattern for a year. [27] Sometimes, especially in the countryside, the process would be sub-contracted to a middleman, who would act on behalf of the merchant and put-out and take-in from a number of weavers, perhaps in a discrete geographical area. In 1792 the house of Falkner and Birch, sought "A Steady, active Person, in a good manufacturing Country [i.e. area], to put out strong grey Goods by Commission. He must be able to command a Quantity of Weavers, and give Security for the Trust reposed in him." [28] Such an arrangement was in existence in Royton in 1795 where "A number of hands are also employed by the putters-out on account of the merchants in Manchester." [29] These rural putters-out may have had a steady arrangement with weavers in their areas, and might seek work for them as did "A Person that hath Command of from 50 to 100 Weavers, ...[who] is willing to engage with any respectable House, to make the aforesaid Goods on Commission".[30]


The merchant, or master manufacturer, would provide his weavers with warps, and weft. A cotton manufacturer from Romiley was asked "When you deliver out your Warps to be wove, do you not always agree with your Weaver for a fixed Price to be given for working them ?", to which he answered in the affirmative. [31]


There were a number of different "grades" of employment in the warehouse. Most warehouses were probably directly managed by the proprietor, but some Masters had more than one warehouse. William Radcliffe undertook most of his production in Mellor, but also had a warehouse in Manchester in 1794. [32] Warehouse managers were probably relatively rare, but they did exist, and the post may have appealed to those men, of whom there were probably many, whose own businesses had failed. One Master sought "A middle-aged Active Person, who is fully competent to manage a Fustian Warehouse, and who has been accustomed to purchase and sell in the Market." [33]


The actual process of putting-out was controlled by the warehouse book-keepers, advertisements for which frequently appeared in the Manchester press in the 1790s, but who were certainly present in the town in the 1750s: the marriages of 11 of them were recorded in the period 1754 to 1757. [34] The books which were being kept by these men recorded the comings and goings of the raw materials as well as the financial dealings of the warehouse. In the late 1790s, there was a dispute between a Master and a weaver and "the Weaver's Arbitrator went and examined the Master's Book, and found that Brown [the weaver] had received Sixteen Pounds Fourteen Ounces" of cotton. [35] Notwithstanding the obviously good practice of some warehouses, a contemporary was critical of the scant attention to record keeping by some, especially smaller traders: "The cash-book, where an exact and distinct account should be kept of every shilling received and expended, both for commercial and private purposes, is unknown in their counting-houses." [36] The division of labour may have been such that different individuals in the warehouse may have had the responsibility to put out to different groups involved in the production process. In 1790 "A Young Man, whose chief Employ has been to put out to Cutters, Dressers and Dyers" sought a place in a fustian warehouse. [37] The trade specificity of the advertisement was not uncommon during the period, and suggests that there was specialisation between the different branches of textile manufacture, even in this administrative aspect of production.


The job of warehouseman was less skilled, and one route into the job might be through weaving: James Holcroft, a Bolton warehouseman, explained in 1802 that he had been a warehouseman for 15 months, after 15 or 16 years of weaving. [38] In the opening decade of the nineteenth century, Samuel Bamford, who had also been a weaver, but for far less time than Holcroft, was employed by William Spencer, a cotton manufacturer in Cannon Street, in the heart of the town's commercial district. [39] "I was Mr Spencer's only warehouseman, and my duties were to sweep the rooms, to light the fire, to dust the counters, and to fodder my master's horse, which was housed in a small stable in the yard. I also gave out goods, and took them in from the bleachers when my employer was absent, and on like occasions when a buyer came round, it was my duty to show the goods and to sell them if I could... My hours of attendance were from eight in the morning to six in the afternoon in summer, and to five in winter, with an hour at noon for dinner." [40] The division of labour which was described above was probably a feature of the larger warehouses.


The contents of the warehouse of Robert Kenyon, a fustian and check manufacturer, of Mosely Street, were sold off in 1795. They consisted of "All the Counters, Presses, Desks and Drawers, Iron Book-case, Weigh Beams and Bottoms, Weights, Warping Mill, Tables, Boxes, Reeds and Shafts, Bobbins, Packing Paper & Cord, Yarn, Worsted, Cotton Weft, Warps, White Jeans, Callicoes, French Striped Cottons, Canvas and a Variety of other Goods." [41] This probably did not represent a significant investement in fixed assets on the part of the proprietor, and is suggestive of the relatively small capital required to set up in business.


In the 1750s, most warehouses were probably part of the homes of the merchants. Percival writes of the Manchester check masters in scathing tones, asking "what country gentleman has reason to envy the possessor of an house of four, five, or six rooms of a floor, with ware-houses under, and warping-rooms over, with a back-side equal in quantity of inches to the back-sides of the family." [42] By the 1790s it was much more common for the warehouse and the manufacturer's house to be separate. Of the warehouses in the 1801 Rate Book, about 13% were mixed properties. The following, offered for rent in 1795, was such a property "All that large commodious Shop and Warehouse, calculated for an extensive Business, with suitable Apartments for a Family... late in the Occupation of Mr Charles Needham." [43] By this time many warehouses were available for rent. One offered for rent in Water Street, close to the Irwell, with provision for goods to be loaded from the river, was four stories high (each room being 16.5 yards by 11), had a cellar (18 yards by 9), a six stall stable, and an open stable for eight horses. [44] By the 1790s most warehouses appear to have been four stories high, usually with cellars.


During this period, therefore, the main changes to this intermediate stage in the production process was a separation of home and warehouse, in contrast to the pattern of the 1750s, and increasing tendency to delegate supervision or management of the warehouse on the part of the proprietor. There was also an enormous increase in the number of warehouses in the town.




The next process in the production of textiles was weaving. The putting out of the raw material to the weaver, probably direct, has already been described. When he (or she) received the warp and weft, a number of preparatory tasks had to be undertaken before weaving began. These tasks incurred additional expense to the weaver, which it was his responsibility to pay. "We always paid one fourth for winding, dressing, and implements necessary; besides that we have candles to find, which cost us one shilling a cut [a quarter of a 24 yard length of cloth]... we have looming, and oil and tallow, which cost us about 10d per cut." [45] Winding was the process of winding the weft onto bobbins so that it could be used on the loom. It appears to have been a poorly paid part-time occupation, probably mainly done by women. Bamford describes his aunt who's "chief employment was to sit at the wheel winding bobbins for the weavers", a task with which he, reluctantly, helped before he was old enough to learn to weave. Indeed, "winding bobbins for the weavers", was a common task for women who were "displaced" during the period. [46] Dressing consisted of moistening the fibres on the loom to reduce the tendency to break, which was a constant problem for the weaver and could result in the loss of a great deal of weaving time. A regular source of dispute between Masters and weavers was the quality of warp and weft with which the former provided the latter. Bad warp, according to the weavers, might take double the time to weave as that taken by good warp, and as weavers were paid by the piece they complained when they felt they were being given bad warp.


The actual process of weaving required a loom, of which early ones were relatively simple to construct and were probably made by weavers themselves or by non-specialist carpenters. The process entailed stretching the warps lengthways in the loom, rollers at each end of the loom would, respectively, gather up woven cloth and provide more warp for weaving. The weaver would then pass a shuttle between alternate warps which would be raised and lowered, as required, by a comb-like reed. The weaving of broad cloths required two weavers, because one man (or woman) could not pass the shuttle the whole length of the warps.


Innovations in weaving were less dramatic than in spinning. Aikin wrote "As it was found that the Dutch enjoyed the manufacture of fine holland tapes unrivalled, plans were procured, and ingenious mechanics invited over to construct swivel engines at a great expense, which have been employed in most branches of small wares with success." [47] Dating this innovation is more difficult, but the Dutch or swivel loom was well established in the town by the start of the period. In 1756, Shuttle wrote "about thirty years ago... [was introduced] the Engine, or Dutch-Loom, and a great many considerable improvements made in the Method of working it, to the Weaver's Advantage... as in the Single-Loom they can work but one Piece at aTime, and in the Dutch-Loom, twelve or fourteen..." [48]


As with most innovations there was some fear of the consequences. A contemporary, describing the riots following the introduction of the flying shuttle, wrote "There was the same alarm among the workmen in the Small-ware Manufactory, about twenty years ago, upon the introduction of the Swivel-Loom." [49] John Kay's flying shuttle had been invented in 1733, and this device enabled the shuttle to be passed from one side of the warps to the other by using pegs which struck the shuttle, pushing it the length of the warps.  It also meant that broad cloths no longer had to be woven by two weavers, because the shuttle could be propelled a greater distance than by hand. The device was, however, little adopted until after 1760, when Kay's son Robert invented the drop-box which allowed different colours of weft to be woven by the flying shuttle without going through the cumbersome process of changing the shuttle after each colour. This, once again, demonstrates the importance of the micro-invention in the facilitation of innovation: Kay senior made the initial invention, which was not widely used because of the difficulty of weaving in different colours. His son introduced the micro-invention which remedied this defect, and the flying shuttle was subsequently widely innovated.


A significant breakthrough in weaving technology came in 1786-8, when Edmund Cartwright invented the power-loom. Messrs Grimshaws built a mill in Manchester to use Cartwright's looms. In this factory the looms were built "twelve of which were set to work at weaving check, and they worked exceedingly well; they wrought the work for half of the wages which they were then paying to hand weavers." [50] However, whilst the power-loom was a technical success, there were other pressures against innovation in weaving. Incendiary letters were sent to Robert Grimshaw, one of the mill's owners, shortly after which it was burnt down. This certainly strongly discouraged other manufacturers from using the power loom in their factories for a decade or more. The manager of the Grimshaws' factory said of the other manufacturers "I have heard them say they durst not use them, and it was the general opinion that if any new mills were erected upon the same construction they would be destroyed in the same manner." [51]


That appears to have been the end of dramatic innovations in weaving in the Manchester area until after the turn of the decade, and highlights the crucial significance of innovation: invention alone not being sufficient to guarantee the actual application of new technology. In this case, contemporaries attributed the "brake" on innovation to popular resistance, a brake which had conspicuously failed to halt the diffusion of new spinning inventions two decades earlier, but which had caused problems during the initial phases of innovation. Timmins, however, suggests that the failure of the power loom during the period was due to other factors, "Reasons suggested for Cartwright's failure include the crude construction of his looms, along with the lack of machinery in his mills for dressing the warps... and winding the warp onto a beam ready for the loom." [52] This demonstrates the importance of micro-inventions in technological diffusion: once the problems which made the macro invention cumbersome to use were resolved, by the "ingenious tinkering" of anonymous mechanics, the benefits of the invention could be reaped.


Good cloth of the standard 24 yards could be woven in just over a week. When it was completed the weaver would take it back to the warehouse. Once again, the book-keeper would probably receive and examine the cloth. A Romiley manufacturer explained how his book-keeper refused to receive a piece of badly woven cloth.  The cloth may be brought some distance into Manchester by those weavers who lived outside the town. Bamford describes this "bearing home", when the woven cloth was carried in large wallets on the shoulder of the weaver, to the warehouse of the Master, which was "furnished with a seat for weavers to rest upon when they arrived. Here we should probably find some half dozen weavers and winders, waiting for their turn to deliver in their work and to receive fresh material."


Finishing and Marketing Processes


From the warehouse it was again put out to be finished. If it were fustian it would be calendared, cut and sheared. It if were velvet, it would be dressed. The latter process involved a series of heatings and scrapings with a variety of sharp implements to take off loose fibres on the cloth and make it smoother.


The other finishing processes were bleaching, dying and printing. Ogden sang the praises of ingenious young dyers who made pattern cards such that Manchester's printing industry came to rival and supersede that of London.  This branch of the chemical  industry benefited from the growth of the textile industry in the town. Aikin relates the contribution of one manufacturer who had "a turn for chymical inquiries", and devised new methods of making cloth more suitable for receiving coloured patterns. "Resolving to give full scope to his improvements, he took a house and grounds at Ainsworth... and commenced a capital dresser, bleacher, and dyer, first and principally of his own goods, which he brought to such high perfection, as to acquire the highest character both at London and in foreign markets." It is probable that micro-inventions were more crucial to the finishing process than to either weaving or spinning. The knowledge of chemistry was rudimentary during the period but was advanced by dyers working with little or no formal training in the subject.


After finishing, the cloth was returned to the warehouse, from which it was sold. Bamford recalls the hectic warehouse scene on market day when goods would be snatched off the warehousemen carrying them by over-eager buyers. The open market was subject to the supervision of the Court Leet, and John Usherwood was fined two pounds in 1757 "for using a Cloath yard within this Manor one Inch short of Measure."  They could also be sold by public auction: on the 25th February 1790, 200 bundles of printed calicoes were auctioned. [53]   Goods could be sold in the town on commission, perhaps on behalf of country manufacturers who did not want to go to the expense of maintaining a warehouse, although in 1788 over 300 country manufacturers came into the town on market days and based themselves in a named public house, announcing their availability for business.  Jane Lowe of Market Street was one such commission agent, probably having taken over from James Lowe, described in 1788 as an auctioneer. [54] These distribution channels did not represent any significant change on those used during the 1750s. However, London-based commission agents began to take an interest in the opportunities arising from the Manchester trade. James Turner of the Coffee House in London's Cheapside offered "to sell any kind of Manchester Goods, by Commission" and was able to offer Manufacturer up to 4000 cash at 5% interest, as part of his service. [55]


Another method of selling goods was by sample. This method had been practised since before the 1750s: Percival wrote scathingly of the check manufacturers who "have the advantage of dispersing their stories, to almost every corner of the kingdom, by that respectable body of men the Riders-Out". [56]  These riders-out took samples of Manchester wares to a variety of markets. Aikin attributes the considerable growth of the Manchester mercantile economy to their success in expanding the market for Manchester wares. Manchester woollen goods and shalloons were sent to Coventry in 1756, and handkerchiefs and linens were sold at Chester Fair and transported on to Lancaster in 1754.  By the 1790s the market had become international with s a strong European focus, but also spanning the Atlantic. The partnership of Henry and Richard Mather, merchants, went bankrupt in 1790. [57]   The former lived in Manchester and the latter in Philadelphia.  There was also a group of travellers who had been engaged in selling Manchester wares on the continent: "A Steady Gentleman... who is acquainted with Business, has travelled thro' different Parts of Europe, understands perfectly well corresponding in English, French, and Dutch, is not a Stranger to the German and Italian Languages, would be glad to be employed in a Counting House." [58]


The Significance of Innovation


In summary, the main inventions in the preparation of raw materials were the carding engines; in spinning the spinning jenny, and the later powered mule; in weaving the hand loom created a large pool of skilled labour, especially as the introduction of power spinning ended the traditional raw material resource capacity constraints, the power loom had been invented, but was not used during the period; in warehousing there was an increasing specialisation of function; and in finishing the sophistication of local dyers, bleachers and printers helped wean the calico printing industry from London.


The experience in the Manchester theatre of innovation can be divided into three distinct phases. The first phase involved the importation of inventions, either from other regions or from other countries. The Dutch swivel-loom and the French jacquard loom both came to Manchester in this way. Conspicuously, by the end of the decade, Manchester manufacturers were trying to prevent the exportation of their inventions from Manchester to other countries. The second phase involved a run of local macro-inventions: Kay's flying shuttle, Hargreaves' spinning jenny, Arkwright's water frame and Crompton's mule were all invented and used within the broad perimeter of the Manchester region. The third phase involved the relocation of micro-inventors from other areas, as the region developed a "critical mass". The clearest illustration of this phase is in the calico printing industry which migrated from London and settled in Manchester, where printers and chemists had developed somewhat independently of the secrets of the London trade, and the cross-fertilisation of techniques helped the local development of this industry.


This chapter has consistently stressed the importance of the micro-inventions which accompanied the famous inventions. Mokyr is an important advocate of the importance of micro-inventions: "Any period of successful technological creativity requires both fundamental breakthroughs and small incremental improvements that take place within known techniques. The key to British technological success was that it had a comparative advantage in microinventions." [59] Manchester was the locus of the application of these inventions, and it was natural that those who worked with the machines every day, either in the capacity of machine operative, or as machine fixer, would see small ways in which these machines could be perfected and improved, ways which might not have been obvious to the original inventor. Contemporaries were certainly aware of the importance of the micro-inventions. Ogden wrote: "A peculiar felicity has attended the trade of this town... when any branch of it failed, the industry and invention of manufacturers have been so much the more excited to employ their capitals, and encourage the ingenuity of their workmen." [60] In reference to one anonymous microinventor: "nor did the invention of ingenious mechanics rest there... [new] engines were soon constructed... one in particular was purchased at a price which was a considerable reward for the contriver's ingenuity, and exposed at the Exchange, where he spun on it". [61]


There is, however, some difficulty in determining the difference between a macro- and a micro-invention, and this difficulty was largely ignored by Mokyr. The experience of the Manchester theatre of innovation suggests that an invention by someone who had access to literate elite culture and to the requisite money for the process, stood some chance of being patented, and therefore was likely to be a macro-invention. Such people would also have more access to leisure time which allowed the contemplation of more abstract problems, which might facilitate a greater technological leap The improvements made by "ingenious mechanics" were likely to be made during the course of their employment and were likely to be within the parameters of the existing technology. They were more likely to be defended by secrecy than formal patenting, and therefore less likely to result in recognition for the inventor. To some extent, therefore, the dichotomy between macro- and micro-inventions had its origins in social class.


The Response to Innovation


In the Manchester region, there were two main periods of violent opposition to the introduction of machinery: in 1779-80, and in 1792 and 1795. The former disturbances involved the destruction of mechanised spinning machinery, especially that which could not be used in domestic manufacture, and culminated most notably in the destruction and burning of Richard Arkwright's factory at Birkacre in 1779. The second set of disturbances involved the destruction of the first experimental power-loom weaving factory, and a number of other factories. The violence came during the early to mid 1790s, and whilst one of the most destructive actions, the burning of Robert Grimshaw's mill in Manchester, occurred in 1792, most other incidents took place after the outbreak of war with France had caused a serious depression in the trade, and there may even have been short-working and wage-capping to minimise the effect on the labouring poor. [62]


Timmins attributes the first round of violence thus "rioters [were] seeking to maintain employment levels, as well as traditional types of employment, by destroying machines they thought more suitable for use in factories than in domestic premises." [63] Aikin attributes the violence to a perceived threat to customary working practices : "The plenty of weft produced by this means [spinning jennies] gave uneasiness to the country people, and the weavers were afraid lest the manufacturers should demand finer weft at the former price, which occasioned some risings, and the demolition of jennies in some places by the uninformed populace." [64]

A Friend of the Poor, writing anonymously in 1780, just after the wave of jenny-burning, tried to assure the poor that the introduction of the new machines was to their advantage. He cited the increase in wages to machine spinners as being one of the consequences "how many men have left their looms, and become spinners? The reason was, because they could get more by spinning, than by weaving... for some years, a good spinner has been able to get as much or more than a weaver. For this reason, many weavers have become spinners..." [65] This pamphlet was probably the work of Dorning Rasbotham, a local gentleman, and Ogden attributes its influence to the cessation of the wave of violence.


The second main period of factory burning began in 1792, with the destruction of the factory of Robert Grimshaw in Manchester. This factory contained power looms "twelve of which were set to work at weaving check, and they worked exceedingly well; they wrought the work for half of the wages which they were then paying to hand weavers." [66]  The burning of the mill was preceded by a note which read "Sir, we have sworn together to destroy your factory, if we dye for it, and to have your lifes for ruining our trade" [67], the inference being very clearly that Grimshaw's factory was destroyed because of concern over the declining demand for skilled weavers. A contemporary song attributes the antipathy to Grimshaw's factory to a broader set of causes: to the encouragement of migration into the town ("He got all kinds of people,/ To work at his invention,/ Both English, Scotch and Irish,/ and more than I could mention."[68]), and to the unwelcome introduction of factory discipline ("He kept such order over them,/ Much more than they did choose, sir, [69]). The song ends rather dryly "The floor was over shavings,/ Took fire in the night, sir." [70] There is no doubt that contemporaries attributed the burning of Grimshaw's factory to the ending of major innovation in Manchester in the field of power weaving. The former manager of Grimshaw's factory asserted that he had heard manufacturers say, regarding power looms, "they durst not use them, and it was the general opinion that if any new mills were erected upon the same construction they would be destroyed in like manner." [71]


The early friendly societies took pains to distance themselves from such activity :"That if any Person or Persons belonging to the said Society shall assault or abuse any Master... or shall do any wilful Hurt or Damage to their Houses, Buildings or Property, on any account or Pretence whatsoever... such Person or Persons shall be immediately expelled from this Society..." [72] There was considerable doubt on the part of the middling sort about the sincerity of such a regulation. During the industrial disputed of 1759, several thousand men reputedly "entered into Combinations for raising their Wages... insulted and abused several Weavers... and had also dropt Incendiary Letters, with Threats to Masters that opposed their Designs." [73]

This is in contrast with the burning of Arkwright's factory and the subsequent violence at other local factories in 1779, which was a public spectacle, with community, and indeed, sub-regional, involvement. During this period "crowds, estimated at up to eight thousand strong, consisting not only of weavers and spinners, but also of colliers, nailmakers, joiners, and general labourers, made attacks upon machinery at Aspull, Westleigh, Worsley, Golbourne, Blackburn, Little Bolton,, Pemberton, Wensleyford and Balderstone." [74]


By 1792, the burning of factories was a covert affair, preceded by anonymous letters, such as that received by Grimshaw, in an effort to scare the master into meeting demands without having recourse to violence, and if that should fail, the flinging of a hot cinder through a factory window, to set alight flammable materials. [75] The riots of 1779 had been an attempt to preserve a "comfortable" way of life: that of domestic textile manufacture, involving the labour of most members of the household, half-mixed with the rhythms of the agricultural year, and with a procession of Saint Mondays, and as such, they won broad support amongst the labouring classes. The clandestine factory burnings of the 1790s were an attempt to maintain a standard of living, in the face of the possible disappearance of skilled domestic weaving, which employed perhaps a third of adult males in the Manchester region. [76] It was thus a qualitatively different form of protest, based on a desire to inhibit the labour market by maintaining a market position which would be superseded by the innovation of the new technology; the fact that it was clandestine, and not a communal affair, as the contemporary food riots were, and as the machine breaking of the previous generation had been,  reflects the status of the destruction as not being a cultural response, but a market response. The fact that it achieved its end is due partly to the fear of repetition on the part of factory masters, and partly to the fact that Grimshaw's results were far less conclusive than suggested by Taylor. Aikin says that Grimshaw's factory "was burnt down before any judgement could be formed how it would have succeeded." [77]


The factory burnings of 1779 were aimed at spinning factories, which provided a new form of work, initially for women and children, paid at relatively high levels. It was therefore in the economic interests of a section of the workforce (those whose wives and children worked in them) to accept the spinning innovations. The innovations in power-weaving represented a far more dangerous threat to (male and female) weavers, with no perceived benefits- there being a far lower labour requirement in the power-loom mills, and no increase in wages. There was therefore little incentive to acquiesce with innovations in this area during the closing decade of the century. Some historians might see this as the encroachment of Market Culture into popular culture, insofar as the workers were acting to bolster their market position (albeit not by using "market methods") but this would be mistaken: it reflects the manifestation of a culture of self-interest, which was common to both the manual labourers and, as a later section will show, the traders of the town. Rule has insisted that "in the context of the workplace, customary culture cannot be simply represented as the antithesis of 'market culture'." [78] A section below shows that, whilst some sections of the Manchester elite had come to use some of the language of the market (for example quoting Adam Smith), it is unrealistic to assume the existence of a market culture (or a 'political economy' based on free market philosophy) during the period.


This chapter has shown the main changes which occurred in the processes of production and distribution during the period, stressing the importance of the technical innovations which occurred in spinning and the sophistication of the marketing process. In comparison with these changes, the weaving process was relatively unchanged during the period, other than being provided with both a more secure source of supply for warp and weft, and a far larger market for the finished product than had existed in 1750. The contest between hand and machine spinning had unquestionably been won by the latter by 1800, but the failure to innovate a commercially successful form of machine weaving by that date resulted in an ever-growing demand for hand loom weavers, broken only by the downswings in the trade cycle, and external shocks such as market closure during war. The innovations took place against a fairly constant background of resistance from the labouring poor, although some groups were to benefit from the innovations and others were to suffer, especially those who persisted in performing tasks in the "old way" long after the economic rationale for such tasks had been superseded.







[1] -  Hudson, 1992, p 11.


[2] -  abstracted from the table of figures in Mokyr,  (ed.), 1993.


[3] -  Tosh, p 93.


[4] -  Berg, 1994, p 169.


[5] - cited in Chapman, 1904.


[6] - HMM  2110.


[7] - HMM 2117 3 Jan 1792 and HMM 2483  19 Mar 1799.


[8] - HMM 2422  23 Jan 1798.


[9] - The inclusion of the male spinster in the 1750s may have been the error of the clerk who wrote the entries in the parish register.


[10] - English, pp 48-9.


[11] - Ogden,  pp 28-9.


[12] - Ogden, p 28.


[13] - Mokyr, pp 18-20., Ogden p 29.


[14] - HMM 2018 9 Feb 1790.


[15] - This is extracted from a number of sale notices in Harrop's Manchester Mercury.


[16] - Aikin, p 173.


[17] - HMM 2030 4th May 1790.


[18] - HMM 2068 25th Jan 1791.


[19] - HMM 2297, 1st September 1795.


[20] - HMM 2298 7th Jul 1795.


[21] - Manchester Central Reference Library, MF 731. See also Berg, in Floud & McCloskey, p 133.


[22] - HMM 2173 29th Jan 1793.


[23] - Mancs. Central Reference Library, MFRB8, Manchester Rate Book, 1798.


[24] - HMM 2502 30th Jul 1799.


[25] - Baines, p 132.


[26] - Mercator, p 8. A hank is a single strand of yarn 840 yards long, therefore the more hanks per pound, the greater the fineness of the strands.


[27] - House of Commons, 1802, p 17.


[28] - HMM  2118  10 Jan 1792.


[29] - Aikin, p 239.


[30] - HMM  2237  6 May 1794.


[31] - House of Commons, 1802, p63.


[32] - Radcliffe, p 10.


[33] - HMM 2013  5th Jan 1790.


[34] - Marriage Register, Manchester Cathedral, MFPR 37.


[35] - House of Commons, 1802, p 21.


[36] - Fellow Townsman, p18.


[37] - HMM 2018  9 Feb 1790.


[38] - House of Commons, 1802, p 31.


[39] - Manchester directory 1800, Bamford, p187 ff.


[40] - Bamford, p187ff.


[41] - HMM 2278  17 Feb 1795.


[42] - Percival, p 9.


[43] - HMM  2274  20 Jan 1795.


[44] - HMM  2103, 5 Jan 1790.


[45] - House of Commons, 1808, p 21.


[46] - See settlement returns, Manchester Central Reference Library, examination of Nancy Pollard of Blackburn, 23rd Sept 1797.


[47] - Aikin, pp 162-163.


[48] - Shuttle, pp 3-4.


[49] - Friend of the Poor, 1780, p 10.


[50] - House of Commons,  1808, p 4.


[51] - House of Commons, 1808, p 4.


[52] - Timmins, in Rose (ed.), p 46.


[53] - HMM 2020 23rd Feb 1790.


[54] - HMM 2026 6th Apr 1790.


[55] - HMM 2013 5th Jan 1790.


[56] - Percival, p3.


[57] - HMM 2021 2nd Mar 1790.


[58] - HMM 2031 11th May 1790.


[59] - Mokyr, in Mokyr (ed.), p 33.


[60] - Ogden, p 26.


[61] - Ogden, p 29.


[62] - The evidence of James Atherton, a Bolton weaver, in the Report from the Committee on Petitions of Several Cotton Manufacturers and Journeymen Cotton Weavers, 1808, "in the year 1793, in Bolton, we were limited not to perform more work than would earn 10s a week in neat money" for a three month period.


[63] - Timmins, in Rose, pp 42-43.


[64] - Aikin, pp 167-8.


[65] - Friend of the Poor, 1780, p 14.


[66] - Evidence of Joseph Taylor, manager of Grimshaw's Mill, House of Commons, 1808, p 4.


[67] - Ibid, p 4


[68] - Harland, p203.


[69] - Ibid., p 204.


[70] - Ibid., p 204.


[71] - Report from the Committee on Dr Cartwright's Petition, p 5


[72] - Rules of the Cotton Spinners, 1792, p 11.


[73] - HMM 338, 29th August 1758.


[74] - Stevenson, p149


[75] - HMM 2300, In September 1795, an attempt was made to burn down the factory of Brotherton and Booth, by throwing a hot cinder and iron through the window.


[76] - See Table 1, in The Manchester Region, above.


[77] - Aikin, p 176.


[78] - Rule, in Harris, p 168.