Richard Arkwright, dances with the devil in Preston

Posted on - 26th September, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, People, Preston City Centre, Preston News
Richard Arkwright Pic: Science and Industry Museum
Richard Arkwright Pic: Science and Industry Museum

Richard Arkwright was born in Preston in 1732 and it was in the town that he developed his spinning machine. The Arkwright family had been living in the district since the middle ages. Richard became apprenticed to a wig maker in Bolton. In fact, he worked there until the family moved back to Preston, in 1768.


The locals suspect devil worship

Arkwright House
Arkwright House in Stoneygate Preston, where Arkwright developed the spinning frame

In Stoneygate, mysterious whirring noises persisted into the night as, in much secrecy, Arkwright and John Kay, a clockmaker, worked on a machine that would define the industrial revolution. The house still exists and has been restored. Two old crones living nearby suspected that Arkwright and Kay were ‘dancing a reel to the devil’s bagpipes’. Secrecy was demanded as it was not long since wreckers had attacked the earlier spinning jennies.

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The machine was perfected and patented in 1769, and a new factory was built in Nottingham. At first the spinning frames were horse powered, however this proved inadequate. Therefore another factory was built at Cromford where water power could be used.

The water frame

Note the similarity of the water frame to a clock mechanism. The three sets of rollers can be seen:

Water frame Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker
Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

The water frame used ideas from several people, and Arkwright was later accused of stealing them.


The rovings, on the reels at the back, are a weak mixture of threads that have to be stretched and twisted to make yarn. The rollers run at slightly different speeds stretching the thread:

Water frame Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker
Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

Next the twist is added and the yarn is wound on to reels. This was strong enough to be used as the warp. The weft is then woven between the warp using a shuttle:

Water frame Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker
Pic: Geoffrey Whittaker

The first industrial process

Cromford Mill
Cromford Mill

The mill at Cromford was the first to bring together the entire process of spinning raw cotton into yarn. This included carding and roving. The long thin format of the building was to become the pattern for most other spinning mills. Importantly, until 1785, Arkwright kept a monopoly on who could use his design. However, this was overturned in 1785. By this time Arkwright was a rich man.

The factory system

Richard Arkwright was the founder of the factory system. He was a less brutal employer than some of the later cotton magnates. However, strict timekeeping had to be obeyed. He brought together unskilled labour, power and machinery to create an integrated system in one building. This became the pattern for all future manufacturing. Cromford Mills stayed in operation for 200 years. Arkwright expanded the village and living conditions were good, compared to the big cities.

The Cromford Mills website states: “… the site grew rapidly, and Arkwright needed to attract more workers to the area; he expanded Cromford Village with the building of Derbyshire’s first row of planned industrial housing on North Street in 1776. Arkwright later built the marketplace, the Greyhound Hotel, and further housing for his growing workforce to create the village you see today.”

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