Cotton mill

Cotton mill

A cotton mill is a factory that houses spinning and weaving machinery. Typically built between 1775 and 1930, mills spun cotton which was an important product during the Industrial Revolution.

Cotton mills, and the mechanisation of the spinning process, were instrumental in the growth of the machine tool industry, enabling the construction of larger cotton mills. The requirement for water helped stimulate the construction of the canal system, and the need for power the development of steam engines. Limited companies were developed to construct the mills. This led to the trading floors of the cotton exchange of Manchester, which in its turn created a vast commercial city. The mills also created extra employment, leading to the expansion of local populations and the need for extra housing. In response, mill towns with municipal governments were created. The mills provided independent incomes for girls and women. Child labour was used in the mills, and the factory system led to organised labour. Poor conditions in cotton mills became the subject of exposes and the Factory Acts were written to regulate them. The cotton mill was originally a Lancashire phenomenon that then was copied in New England and later in the southern states of America. In the 20th century, North West England lost its supremacy to the United States, then India and then China. In the 21st century redundant mills have been accepted as part of a country's industrial heritage .

Cotton Manufacturing Processes (after Murray 1911)
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Bale Breaker Blowing Room
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Willowing FCIcon ovo.svg
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Breaker Scutcher Batting
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Finishing Scutcher Lapping
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Carding Carding Room
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Silver Lap FCIcon ovo.svg
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Combing FCIcon ovo.svg
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Roving FCIcon h.svg Fine Roving
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Mule Spinning - Ring Spinning Spinning
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FCIcon ovo.svg Reeling FCIcon a.svg Doubling
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Winding Bundling Bleaching
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FCIcon orh.svg FCIcon h.svg FCIcon 1vo.svg Winding
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Warping FCIcon vvo.svg Cabling
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Sizing/Slashing/Dressing FCIcon vvo.svg Gassing
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Weaving FCIcon vvo.svg Spooling
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Cloth Yarn (Cheese)- - Bundle Sewing Thread


Cotton processing


The English cotton mill, which emerged as an entity in 1771, went through many changes before the last one was constructed in 1929. It had a worldwide influence on the design of mills, and changed over time. The architectural development of the cotton mill was linked to the development of the machinery which it contained, the power unit that drove it, and the financial instruments used for its construction. In Lancashire England the industry was horizontally integrated, with carding and spinning only in south east Lancashire, while weaving was more evenly spread but more concentrated to the north and west of the county. In the USA in Pennsylvania, the process was mostly vertically integrated and led to combined mills where carding, spinning and weaving took place in the same mill. Mills were also used for finishing such as bleaching and printing.

First mills

Water (1770–1800)

The early mills were narrow and low in height, of light construction, powered water wheels [1] and containing small machines. Interior lighting was by daylight, and ceiling height was only 6–8 ft. Masson Mill in Derbyshire is a good example of an early mill. Mills were made by millwrights, builders and iron founders. These Arkwright-type mills are about 9 feet (2.7 m) wide.[2] Spinning was done with a spinning mule, which was not restricted by patent, so many engineers experimented with improvements which they then tested in their own establishments. These men became the successful mill owners.[3]

In the United States, the Beverly Cotton Manufactory was designed and pioneered by Thomas Somers, who started innovative construction and testing of the facility in 1787, finishing the factory's equipment in 1788. Research and development learned from this factory led Moses Brown of Providence to request the assistance of a person skilled in water spinning. Samuel Slater, an immigrant and trained textile worker from England, accepted Brown's proposal, and assisted the design of the construction of Slater Mill, built in 1790 on the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Slater managed to evade restrictions on emigration which were put in place to allow England to maintain its monopoly on cotton mills. Slater Mill resembled both the Beverly Cotton Manufactory, and a mill in Derbyshire that he had worked in.[4][5]

Atmospheric engines (1800–1815)

North Mill, Belper (1803), with the later East Mill (1913) behind. This is a fireproof, metal framed water mill.
Old Mill and Decker Mill (1901), Murrays' Mills, Ancoats

Water powered mills were common. The first steam mills used the engine to drive a pump to raise water in order to run a water wheel. Though water continued to be used to drive mills in the country, the next development was the small town mills, driven by steam, situated alongside a canal which provided water for its engine. Murrays' Mills alongside the Rochdale Canal, in Ancoats were powered by 40 hp Boulton and Watt beam engines.[6] Some were built as room and power mills which let space to entrepreneurs. These mills, often 'L' or 'U' shaped, were narrow and multi-storeyed. The engine house, warehousing and the office were in the mill, though stair towers were external. Windows were square and smaller than in later mills. The walls were of unadorned rough brick. Construction was to fireproof designs. They are distinguished from warehouses in that warehouses had taking-in doors on each storey with an external hoist beam.[7] Only the larger mills have survived.

Mills of this period were from 25 to 68 m long and 11.5 m to 14 m wide. They could be 8 storeys high and have basements and attics. Floor height went from 3.3 to 2.75 m on the upper storeys.

Boilers were of the wagon type; chimneys were square or rectangular, attached to the mill, and in some cases part of the stair column. The steam engines were typically low-pressure single-cylinder condensing beam engines.[8] The average power in 1835 was 48 hp.[9] Power was transmitted by a main vertical shaft with bevel gears to the horizontal shafts. The later mills had gas lighting using gas produced on site.[10] The mules with 250-350 spindles were placed transversely to get as much light as possible.

Remodelling and expansion (the rise of the factory) 1815–1855

From 1825 the steam engine was able to power larger machines which were constructed from iron using improved machine tools. Mills from 1825 to 1865 were generally constructed with wooden beamed floors and lath and plaster ceilings. William Fairbairn experimented with cast iron beams and concrete floors. Mills were of red brick or sometimes local stone, but there was a greater attention to decoration, with pilasters, and the main gate was often highlighted with stone decoration. The stair columns were still exterior to the main floors.[11] During this period the mules got wider and the width of the bays increased. Specialised mill architects appeared. In rural areas the mill and its associated village were often built together, but in the city the mill was built separately.[citation needed]

McConnel & Company mills, about 1820
William Fairbairn's Lancashire boiler

Mills of this period were still tall, narrow, and wide. They were commonly built with one or two wings to form an 'L' or 'U' shape. Brunswick Mill was a twenty eight bay mill, 6 storeys of 16 m by 92 m. Each self-acting spinning mule had 500 spindles.[11] Single storey north light weaving sheds were sometimes added to these mills. The looms often caused vibrations that would damage the structure of multi-storey buildings,[12] so specialised weaving mills became common. There would be a single storey weaving shed with the steam engine and offices, and preparation and warehousing in a two storey ancillary building.[citation needed]

This was a period when there were major advances in steam engine technology. The Lancashire boiler was patented in 1844, and the Economiser in 1845. This can been seen as a square brick structure between the boiler house and the chimney. The engine would be a double compound upright beam engine of the type patented by Mc Naught in 1845. Each room would have a line shafts suitable for the type of frame, connected by belt drives or gearing.[13]

In 1860, there were 2650 cotton mills in the Lancashire region, employing 440 000 people. They were paid in total ₤11,500,000 per annum. 90% were adults and 56% female. The mills used 300 000 HP of power, of which 18 500 was generated by waterpower. The mills had 30 387 467 spindles and 350 000 power looms. The industry imported 1 390 938 752 lb of raw cotton a year. It exported 2 776 218 427 yards of cotton cloth and 197,343,655 pounds (89,513,576 kg) of twist and yarn. The total value of its exports was ₤32,012,380.

Cotton Mills in 1860[14]
Lancashire Cheshire Derbyshire
Mills 1920 200 25
Workers 310000 38000 12000

Of the 1 390 938 752 lb of raw cotton 1 115 890 608 lb came from America.

Source of Raw Cotton[14]
Country Imports
America 1 115 890 608
East Indies 204 141 168
West Indies 1 630 784
Brazil 17 286 864
Other 52 569 328

1860 saw the end of this period of rapid growth. The Cotton Famine of 1861–1865 was a period when American long staple cotton became unavailable due to an American Civil War. After the war, the economics of the industry had changed, and a new larger mill was required.

New England

In 1814 the Boston Manufacturing Company of New England established a "fully integrated" mill on the Charles River at Waltham, Massachusetts. Despite the ban on exporting technology from the UK, one of its proprietors, Francis Cabot Lowell, had travelled to Manchester to study the mill system, and he memorised some of its details. In the same year, Paul Moody built the first successful power loom in the US. Moody used a system of overhead pulleys and leather belting, rather than bevel gearing, to power his machines.[15] The group devised the Waltham System of working, which was duplicated at Lowell, Massachusetts and several other new cities throughout the state. Mill girls, some as young as ten, were paid less than men, but received a fixed wage for their 73 hour week. They lived in company-owned boarding houses, and attended churches supported by the companies.[16][17]

In the 1840s George Henry Corliss of Providence, Rhode Island improved the reliability of Stationary steam engines. He replaced slide valves with valves which used cams. These Corliss valves were more efficient, and more reliable than their predecessors. Initially, steam engines pumped water into a nearby reservoir which powered the water wheel, but were later used as the mill's primary power source. The Corliss valve was adopted in the UK, where in 1868 more than 60 mill engines were fitted with them.[18]

Later generations 1855–1898 (the Golden Age)

Central office and warehouse block, Houldsworth Mill, Reddish

Just before 1870, a mill was built by a joint-stock spinning company and this financial structure led to a new wave of mill construction. The phrase Oldham Limiteds describes these companies. The family-run firms continued to build, but grouped into associations such as the Fine Spinners' and Doublers' Association. Joseph Stott of Oldham perfected a new method of fireproof floor construction using steel beams supporting brick vaults that in turn supported concrete floors that would support heavier equipment. Ring frames replaced mule frames; they were heavier and larger and must be placed transversely, the floors became larger (up to 130 feet (40 m) wide) and higher to provide the light. The bay size in a mill was important, as it defined the positioning of machines. In an 1870 mill the bay was 10 feet 6 inches (3.20 m), and the brick vaults 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m). though there were variations.[19]

Engines were run at higher pressures and from 1875, powered the horizontal shafts on each floor by means of ropes. This was a prominent change as a rope race had to be built running the whole height of the mill. The engine needed more space and the engine house, boiler house and economiser were built external to the main mill.[20] Mills continued to get bigger, and were often paired; two mills being driven by one engine. Another prominent change was the trend of having all the carding done on one floor. To achieve this, the ground floor was extended outwards behind the mill often a full mill width.[21] In a single mill, the crosswall was used to divide the blowing room from the rest, as it was here that there was greatest risk of fire.

Mills of this period became very much wider, Houldsworth Mill, Reddish (1865) was 35 m wide and would accommodate 1200 spindle mules. It was four storeys and had sixteen wider bays on each side of a central engine house; In fact a double mill. The central block provided for office and warehousing. A mill was accompanied by a complete range of ancillary building.[21] Stair columns were featured, often extending above the mill and housing a water tank for the sprinkler system. The floors became higher allowing for taller windows. Accrington brick was used from 1890, decorated with yellow sandstone with moulded brick and terracotta features. Etched and stained glass was used in the offices. Mills were designed by specialist architects and architectural quality became a major consideration.[22]

The power needed and provided to drive these mills was increasing. Beam engines were still installed until the 1870s when horizontal engines took over. Abbey Mill Oldham (1876) needed 700 hp, Nile Mill (1896) needed 2500 hp. By the 1890, boilers were producing 160 psi, and the triple expansion horizontals became standard. Chimneys were octagonal.[23]

American context

Following the American Civil War mills grew larger. They started to be built in the southern states of South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, where cheap labour and plentiful water power made operations profitable. Cotton could be processed into fabric where it grew, saving transportation costs. These were usually combination mills, (spinning and weaving) that were water powered and used a slow burn design technique. They used a belt and pulley drive system, and the heavier ring frames rather than mules. At this point they only spun and wove coarse counts. The mills were mainly in open country and mill towns were formed to support them.New England mills found it increasingly difficult to compete, and as in Lancashire, went into gradual decline until finally bankrupted during the Great Depression. Cotton mills and their owners dominated the economy and politics of the Piedmont well into the 20th century.

Edwardian mills (Indian Summer) 1898–1914

Kent mill, in Chadderton, in Greater Manchester.

Production peaked in 1912. The war of 1914–1918 put the Lancashire industry into reverse. The British government, starved of raw cotton established mills in south Asia exporting the spinning technology- which was copied, and became a low labour cost competitor. In Germany, Flanders and Brazil mills were built to the designs of the Oldham architects. The only new mills were very large to benefit from the economies of scale. Older mills were re-equipped with rings, and machines were powered by individual electric motors.

Mills of this period were large, their decoration was lavish reflecting Edwardian taste and prosperity.[24] Most mills were built for mules. Kent Mill Chadderton (1908) was a five storey, 11 bay mill, 84.6m x 43.9m. It had 90,000 spindles. Ring frames were smaller and heavier than mules so the mills were narrower with fewer storeys. Pear Mill Bredbury (1912) was planned to be a 210,000 spindle double mill.[25] Only the first mill was completed, it had 137,000 spindles. They had more stair columns than earlier mills, it had dust flues often built into the rope race. There were two or three windows per bay. Decoration was often in terracotta and the mill name displayed in white brick on the stir tower or chimney.[26] Stott and Sons employed Byzantine styling in Broadstone Mill, Reddish. Specialist architects built new mills and then created extensions. The last steam powered mill, Elk Mill, was built by Arthur Turner

Mules were built with 1300 spindles, but were gradually replaced by rings

The increasingly powerful engines required more boilers with economisers and superheaters.[27] Mills needed reservoirs to supply the boilers and condense the steam. The chimneys were round and taller. Three types of engines were used: triple expansion horizontal cross compound engines, Inverted marine type compounds which were more compact, and Manhattans with vertical and horizontal cylinders such as the 3500 hp engine at New Pear Mill. Rope drives were used exclusively. Electricity was gradually introduced firstly on group drives driving a shaft (Little Mill, 1908), and then later on individual machines.[28]

Economic cycles

The cotton industry was subject to cycles of boom and slump, which caused waves of mill building. There was a optimism that dictated that slumps had to be endured and then there would be a period of even greater prosperity.The limited companies took control of spinning, while the room and power system was the norm for the weaving sheds. One point of view in the 1880s was that vertically integrating the weaving sheds into new mills would reduce costs and lead to greater profits. This route had been followed in New England where it was successful, but not in Lancashire. The industry peaked in 1907. There was a severe slump between 1908 and 1911 which endured until 1918 when the years 1919 and 1920 were more profitable than the peak of 1907.[29]

American context

Mill constructed in South Carolina, increased in size. For example, at Rutledge Ford, on the Saluda River, the river was dammed and a power plant constructed. This was completed in 1904, as a prelude to the construction of a state-of-the-art textile mill in 1906. That power plant originally provided for 4,800 horse power. The mill contained 30,000 spindles. By 1916 a new mill was constructed, containing 70,200 spindles and 1,300 looms. The town was named Ware Shoals. Between 1904 and 1916, the population of Ware Shoals had grown from 2 men employed to maintain the newly constructed power plant, to 2,000. By the 1960s the mill was employing 5,000 people. It closed in 1985.

Consolidation (boom and bust) 1918–1950

Elk Mill, on the Chadderton-Royton boundary, in Greater Manchester, England

Though business revived in 1919, a shortage of building materials restricted the building of new mills, and activity was financial with the mills seeking recapitalisation. There is no clear concession on the reason for the final decline. Some say that the cotton men concentrated on making easy money ignoring the possibility of foreign competition best countered by larger mills by re-equipping the mills with more modern ring frames. Daniels and Jewkes argued the fundamental cause of the depression was a change in demand for cotton goods. J. M. Keynes suggested that there was over capacity, and the industry should be reorganised into larger units that would scrap the excess capacity.[30]

The Lancashire Cotton Corporation was a company set up by the Bank of England in 1929, to rescue the Lancashire spinning industry by means of consolidation. In merged 105 companies, ending up in 1950 with 53 operating mills. These were the later larger mills. It was bought up by Courtaulds in August 1964.

The later mills were on the fringe of the spinning area in Wigan and Stockport, Availability of labour was cited as a reason.The last mills were completed in 1926, these were Holden Mill. Elk Mill.[31]

In 1929, for the first time there were more spindles in the USA than in The UK. In 1972, India had greater spindleage than the USA, and it was in turn surpassed by China in 1977.[32]

The long decline in England (1950–2000)

End of spinning 1950–1960

Though there was a slight revival after 1945, mills closed. The most efficient mills had abandoned their steam engines, and were working the frames with individual electric motors. Broadstone Mills Stockport, was built as a double mill with 265,000 mule spindles, but by 1959 it was running 37,500 mule spindles and 70,000 ring spindles. It closed in 1959 taking advantage of the Cotton Industry Act 1959 and was then used by the John Myers mail order company. One mill was later demolished leaving the other to be used as a Shopping Outlet Centre and Craft Village. The reduction of capacity led to a legacy of redundant mills, which were readily reused for other industrial purposes.

Final days 1960–2000

Ring spinning technology had successfully replaced the spinning mule, with mills having been converted mules to rings. However in the 1970s, the depleted industry was challenged by a new technology open-end or break spinning. In 1978 Carrington Viyella opened a factory to do open-end spinning in Atherton. This was the first new textile production facility in Lancashire since 1929. Immediately Pear Mill, Stockport and Alder Mill, Leigh were closed. These were both Edwardian mills designed by Stott and Sons.[31]

Cotton mill design

The following had to be considered:

  1. The cotton count (the coarseness of the yarn)
  2. The type of machinery chosen
  3. The site
  4. The water supply
  5. Transport
  6. Building materials available
  7. Fireproofing and sprinklers
  8. Prime motor
  9. Class of gearing

Cotton mill and water

The earliest cotton mills were driven by water, so needed to be situated on fast flowing streams. The labour force, in the main had carding, spinning and weaving skills acquired by working with wool. The earliest mills were adjacent to streams flowing off the open west facing moors where the rainfall was the highest. As capacity grew, navigable waterways were needed to bring in the raw materials and take away the finished yarn or cloth. Rivers were canalised and a network of canals was dug to penetrate further into the hills to service the mills.

From about 1820, the stationary steam engine became the normal form of power for a cotton mill, water was still needed to produce the steam and to condense it, to maintain the humidity, for many of the finishing processes and for firefighting. The water was extracted from rivers and canals, then later mills requiring ever more water, built and maintained their own reservoirs. Mills were built away from the hills, and clustered around watercourses, developing into mill towns. Mills were also used for wet finishing processes such as bleaching, dyeing and printing- these were very water intensive.


Mills were very prone to fires. The original floor structure was one of wooden beams, supporting a double layer wooden floor, the underside being protected with lath and plaster. When a fire started the laths provided kindling, the void enabled the fire to spread rapidly, and the flooring provided the fuel. The British endeavoured to build a fireproof mill, and the Americans experimented with slow burn techniques, essentially using more massive timbers.[33]

In a fireproof mill the wooden frame was encased in brick or the wooden floor beams replaced with cast iron. An early fireproof mill is Strutt's North Mill, Belper. Between the cast iron beams one, two, or three layer brick vaults were constructed. These were smoothed off at the top with an infill of rubble to form the floor. Like everything in the cotton industry, each innovation was covered by patents and each architectural practice had its own unique system. As the floor increased in weight, the supporting walls must become stronger. The cast iron beams were supported at each end by the walls, but need more support mid-span, and this was provided by cast iron columns. An alternative was to use iron beams, and span between them using cast concrete, then the next technological advance was the use of rolled steel beams that had greater strength and flexibility and were usable for longer spans.[34]

The floor must support its own weight and the weight of the machines placed on it. In time the size and weight of the machines increased but not necessarily the weight per unit area. When a mill was upgraded from spinning mules to ring frames, the floor had to be strengthened.

The early mills in Europe and America were driven by water, and needed a location adjacent to a flowing stream. Streams were normally in narrow valleys where land was scarce, consequently mills (For example Masson Mill) were built with many storeys and a small footprint. Later, when mills were powered by steam, proximity to coal and transport routes became important. In America where land was relatively plentiful, single storey mills became common, while in Lancashire land was still scarce within the towns, and the multi-storey mill remained the norm. (For example Murray Mills, Ancoats.) Weaving sheds were built away from the large towns and were usually single storey.[35]


In the 18th century mills were powered by the use of a Water wheel, but the need for a constant source of water meant that mills were generally built only alongside rivers and streams. To supply a constant speed, mill machinery required a reliable source of power. Traditionally, speed was governed by using a heavy fly wheel with a governor.[citation needed]

An animation of a Newcomen engine

In 1712 Thomas Newcomen built an atmospheric engine while trying to pump water from Cornish tin mines. The engine worked by filling with steam a cylinder which contained a piston, then spraying in cold water so that the steam condensed, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure pushed the piston down, providing power, which could be used to operate machinery. Such engines were used for pumping out mines,[36] or pumping water back to above a waterwheel. In 1781 James Watt of Birmingham marketed his rotary-motion steam engine. The earlier steam engine's vertical movement was ideal for operating water pumps but the new engine could be adapted to drive all sorts of machinery, Richard Arkwright was to later pioneer its use in his cotton mills. Possibly the first engine to be used in a Cotton Mill, was 'of old construction' - evidently a 'common' (or Newcomen) engine - which was used at Shudehill mill in 1783 to raise water from one artificial storage pond to another so it could drive a water wheel and thus the mill. Other mills followed. Joshua Wrigly made his engines self acting by using the motion of the water wheel to open and close the steam cocks. By 1795 most of common engines around Manchester had been replaced by the Watt's separate condenser models manufactured by Boulton and Watt or Bateman and Sherratt.[37] Shudehill Mill bought a 6h.p. model in 1790. By the mid 1790s there were in excess of 500 Boulton & Watt steam engines in British factories and mines.[38]

Single cylinder horizontal engine with slide valves, with a rope drum.

In 1843 James Joule had measured and shown that 838 ft lbs of work was needed to raise the temperature of water by 1 degree F, and from this, it was deduced that heat and mechanical energy are mutually convertible. Watt measured the heat entering and leaving an engine and showed the heat loss was equivalent to work the engine was doing.[39] As knowledge of thermodynamics increased, engines were improved by raising the temperature and operating pressure. At 60 psi (0.41 MPa), exhaust from such a cylinder was still at sufficient temperature to work a second cylinder. This was a compound engine. Ultimately four cylinder, quadruple compounds were produced. Slide valves became impractical and were replaced by drop valves, and later the Corliss valve.

Electricity was introduced into mills in 1877. At first a small steam engine would drive a generator and the electricity was used to provide electric lighting. By the 1890s this was common.[40] Electricity started to be used to drive the mills machinery around 1906. It was generated in the engine house, and one group-drive electric motor was placed on each floor to drive the shafts. They were placed exterior to the mill as it was thought that they were a fire risk. Examples of this type would be the Welkin Ring Mill (Ark Mill) Bredbury, and the Kearsley Mill, Kearsley. Mains driven mills (Brunswick Mill) started about 1907, but they were restricted by the lack of mains. They used group drives. Later mills used individual electric motors to power the machines.

Transmission methods

A weaving shed, showing how all the looms were powered from overhead shafts

The early mills, used a vertical shaft to take the power from the flywheel. On each floor horizontal shafts engaged with the main shaft using bevel gearing. American mills rejected this approach and used thick leather bands instead of shafts. There was a lot of friction and power wasted. A new approach was to use thick cotton ropes. A rope drum was attached to the flywheel with a channel cut for each rope. The profile was such to give maximum adherence.[41]

Other factors

Cotton is sensitive to both temperature and humidity. To heat the mill a heating system is provided, wrought iron pipes are suspended at a height of 7 feet (2.1 m) and carry steam under pressure, heating to 100 °F (38 °C). Rules of thumb suggest that 1 square foot (0.093 m2)of heating surface was needed to heat 100 cubic feet (2.8 m3). In summer the system was barely used but in winter the boilers would be fired up two hours before the shift started so the mill would have time to warm up. As heat was applied the humidity dropped, so a system of humidifiers were employed. There were two types of atomisers; which played an air jet against a jet of water in the room and the type that injects a stream/air mixture into the room.[42]

The other service that is required in a mill is a fire fighting system. Many methods were used to drive a sprinkler system throughout the mill, in later mills the roof would be flat and waterproofed to form a shallow tank. Other later mills used the top of each stair tower as a location for enclosed tanks and supplemented the supply with water from the town mains. Water for the sprinklers had to be protected from freezing and evaporation. The water pressure needed to be above 7 psi, and the header tank at least 15 feet (4.6 m) above the highest sprinkler.[43]

The provision of light, water tanks and heating system defined the structure and shape of the mill.



A spinning mill took raw cotton bales and opened them and cleaned the cotton in the blowing room. The cotton staples are then carded into lap. This is straightened and drawn into roving. The roving is now spun using one of two technologies: a mule or ring frame. The yarn can be doubled and processed into thread, or prepared for weaving.Minerva Mill, Ashton-under-Lyne was designed by P. S. Stott and equipped by John Hetherington and Son, it produced 40's twists and 65 wefts. It was typical of a mill of the 1890s.

Number Machines Ratio
2 Vertical Openers and scutchers 1 : 43,434
4 Intermediate Scutchers 1 :21,717
93 Carding Engines 1 :934
63 finishing deliveries of drawing 1 :1,380
792 Slubbing spindles 1 :109.7
1716 Intemediate spindles 1 :50.6
6680 Roving spindles 1 :13
86,868 Mule spindles 1 :1


Self acting mule frame (Roberts 1830) was an improvement on Crompton's Mule (1779) which derived from earlier inventions.[45] Mules were used in the 19th century mills for the finest counts, these needed skilled workers to operate them.

Ring frame (1929) developed out of the Throstle frame (19th century) an improvement on the Arkwright's Water frame. Originally rings were only suitable for coarse counts, they were lower and heavier than mules so needed stronger floors but lower rooms. Over time, rings became suitable for finer counts and because of cheaper labour costs they replaced mules. By 1950 all mills converted to the Ring frame.[46]


A weaving mill needed yarn suitable for the warp and the weft. The warp had to delivered on the beam, or was wound on the beam from cheeses by a beamer. To obtain the extra strength needed, the yarn was sized on a sizer. The weft was wound onto the pirns for the shuttle on a pirner. These preparatory processes completed the yarn was woven on a loom. One weaver would operate 4 or six looms. A self-acting loom would stop when any thread broke, and the thread had to be retied or pieced. The process required greater levels of light than spinning, and weaving sheds would often be single storey, with overhead north facing lights. Placing a loom onto the ground also reduced the problems caused by the vibrations of operation.

The Cartwright's powerloom (1785) was made reliable by Robert's cast iron power loom (1822) and became perfected by the Kenworthy and Bullough Lancashire Loom (1854). The Northrop or Draper Loom (1895) replaced these older designs.[12]

Number of Power Looms in Britain 1803–57, and 1926[47]
Year 1803 1820 1829 1833 1857 - 1926
No. of Power Looms in UK 2,400 14,650 55,500 100,000 250,000 767,500
Comparison of output of 24 yard shirtings 1823–1833[47]
Year 1823 1823 1826 1833
good hand loom weaver power weaver power weaver power weaver
Aged 25 Aged 15 Aged 15 Aged 15 with 12yr old helper
Looms 1 2 2 4
Pieces woven per week 2 7 12 18


During this time, the success of cotton mills gave birth to Mill towns, which became significant settlements, following the foundation of mills in them. First constructed in England, cotton mills facilitated huge and rapid economic expansion for many parts of Britain, particularly in North West England, for example Manchester, Oldham, Bolton, Bury, Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Ashton, Rochdale and in Stockport, and other towns and cities. The model of the milltown was also exported to the United States where it can be found both in New England and the southern states.[48]

Spindleage of major mill towns between 1830 and 1962

Date 1883 1893 1903 1913 1923 1926 1933 1944 1953 1962
Accrington 590 438 467 660 191 718 469 287 152 92
Ashton 1,574 1,731 1,781 1,955 1898 1,144 644 633 182
Blackburn 1,671 1,398 1,321 1,280 1,224 1,071 672 451 309 103
Bolton 4,086 4,770 5,457 6,797 7,371 7,842 7,507 6,204 4,886 1,772
Burnley 1,126 734 667 563 538 507 240 182 144 14
Bury 875 899 833 955 1050 1000 745 630 524 268
Chorley 552 527 541 856 838 837 739 491 397 122
Farnworth 557 779 966 1,485 1,478 1,484 1,344 1,237 1,104 162
Glossop 1,106 1,158 968 882 821 839 524 204 154 10
Heywood 660 887 836 1,070 1,100 1,096 864 545 533 68
Hyde 590 499 533 741 793 696 475 366 337 58
Leigh 1,337 1,514 1,679 2,445 2,761 2,925 2,891 2,615 2,336 548
Manchester 2,445 2,353, 2,225 3,703 3,307 3,439 3,417 2,974 1,934 271
Middleton 498 494 645 1,278 1,268 1,252 1,041 1,193 923 161
Mossley 1,153 1,217 1,033 1,288 1,297 1,289 371 264 256 -
Oldham 9,311 11,159 12,230 16,909 17,231 17,669 13,732 8,948 7,621 2,478
Preston 2,146 1,883 2,074 2,161 1,997 1,965 1,592 1,146 1,024 278
Rochdale 1,627 1,835 2,422 3,645 3,749 3,793 3,539 2,459 1,936 983
Stalybridge 1,083 1,157 1,027 1,236 1,104 1,103 801 483 426 122
Stockport 1,601 1,742 1,568 2,266 2,382 1,924 1,427 1,141 154
Wigan 864 775 888 1,085 1,123 1,141 922 681 575 352

In thousands of spindles. Reference Williams Farnie p=46

Labour conditions

The mills were notable in employing women, giving them an independent income. In Lancashire and Piedmont, South Carolina child labour is well documented.

Child Labour

The Lancashire and Derbyshire mills needed a pool of cheap labour. Pauper children were boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 21, who were dependent on the Poor Law Guardians. Mill owners made contracts with the guardians in London and the southern counties to supply them paupers, in batches of 50 or more, to be apprenticed. Living condition were poor in 'Prentice Houses', and the children who were paid 2d a day worked 15 hour shifts, hot bedding with children on the other shift.

Robert Owen, the millowner, New Lanark never employed children under the age of ten, and opposed physical punishment in schools and Factories, he lobbied for parliamentary action. This resulted in

The Health and Morals of Apprentices Act 1802
  • Limited hours of work to twelve a day.
  • Boys and girls to sleep in separate dormitories with no more than two to each bed
  • Compulsory education to be provided in the arts of reading writing and arithmetic
  • Each apprentice to be provided with two suits of clothes
  • On Sunday children to be instructed in Christian worship
  • Sanitation to be improved

Regulation was ineffective until the mills were subject to inspection in 1833. This did not reduce the number of children, half-timers worked mornings in the mill and spend the afternoon in the school room. While the number of children working in spinning as tenters did decline, more were employed in weaving because weavers were expected to tenter extra looms.

Percentage of children below 13 in cotton factories 1835–78[49]
Year 1835 1838 1847 1850 1856 1862 1867 1870 1874 1878
amount 13.2 4.7 5.8 4.6 6.5 8.8 10.4 9.6 14.0 12.8

From the Factory Act of 1844, until 1878 records do not distinguish between full time and half-times. In 1851 a sizeable number of children were working the mills. For Example, In Glossop, there were 931 children (out of 3562) between 5 and thirteen working in cotton mills. In one mill in 1859, 50.2% of the workforce were women, 24.2% were girls, 19% were men and 6.6% were boys.[50]

A little spinner in the Mollahan Mills, Newberry, South Carolina. She was tending her 'sides' like a veteran, but after I took the photo, the overseer came up and said in an apologetic tone that was pathetic, 'She just happened in.' Then a moment later he repeated the information. The mills appear to be full of youngsters that 'just happened in,' or 'are helping sister.' December 3, 1908. Witness Sara R. Hine. Location: Newberry, South Carolina"

The Carolinas mills developed from 1880, and would employ children in preference to adults. At Newton Mill, North Carolina, in 1909, twenty of the 150 workers observed, appeared to be twelve years old or less. As well as the usual report of hands and fingers getting severed by the machinery, and insufferable heat- the dust inhaled caused a fatal condition known as brown lung.[51] Laws were rarely enforced, and the presence of small children in the factory was explained away to the inspectors saying they were visiting the mill to bring meals to their parents (meal totters), or helping but not on the payroll (helpers).[52] Wages were good for the workers who could earn 2$ a day in the mill against 0.75$ on a farm. In the segregated south, 'Blacks' were not allowed to work inside a mill; had they been the need for child labour would have been eliminated.[53] Child labour stopped here not only because of new laws but the change in the type of machinery caused by the Great Depression, which required greater height and skill.[54]


In 1926,the Lancashire cotton industry worked 57.3 million spindles and 767,500 looms. It imported 3.3 million bales and exported 80% of its production. This was the peak. 61% of the 575,000 cotton operatives in Lancashire were women, of which 61% were unionised in 167 different unions[55]


The 18th century woollen industry of small producers in southern England was far different from the Yorkshire based worsted industry where the clothier imported and owned the raw material and sold the cloth. He put out work to small weavers, in effect, employing them. Worsted was more capital intensive. The small weavers banded together to form self help guilds. When Lancashire adopted cotton, the same process occurred. But in Lancashire cotton mills, spinning became a male occupation, and the tradition of unions passed into the factory. As spinners were 'assisted' by several 'piecers' there was a pool of trained labour to replace any spinner the owner cared to dismiss. The well paid mule spinners were the 'barefoot aristocrats' of labour and became organised in the 19th century. They paid union dues, and were well placed to finance themselves should a strike be needed. The Yorkshire worsted industry, adopted the ring frame which required less skill. Worsted spinning was an occupation for young girls. Unionism did not develop in Yorkshire until 1914. In, 1913 figures show 50% of cotton operatives were unionised while only 10% of wool and worsted workers.

In Lancashire there were:

Occupation Union members
Weavers 182,000
Cardroom Operatives 55,000
Spinners 23,000
Piecers 25,000

The spinners union, the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners had a federal structure with strong central leadership where control was in the hands of a small group of paid officials. Their dues were high, so the fighting fund was large and the officials were skilled in defending the complex wage structures.[56]

Health of the workers

A cotton mill was not a healthy place to work. The air in the mill had to be hot and humid to prevent the thread from breaking. 65 F to 80 F and 85% humidity was normal. The air in the mill was thick with cotton dust and this could lead to byssinosis - a lung disease.

Although protective masks were introduced after the war, few workers wore them as they made them uncomfortable in the stifling conditions. The same applied to ear protectors. The air led to skin infections, eye infections, bronchitus and tuberculosis. The noise levels in a weaving shop, where the shuttles in 500 plus looms were being thumped 200 times a minute lead to levels of deafness in all who worked there. The lubrication was carcinogenic and led to cancers of the mouth and cancer of the scrotum; known as mule-spinners cancer.[57]

A mill worker could expect to work a thirteen hour day, six days a week with two weeks off for the wakes week holidays in summer. Unsurprisingly, a series of Factory Acts were passed to attempt to ameliorate these conditions.

In the early days when the cotton towns were expanding rapidly, living conditions for the workers were poor. Badly planned housing was seriously overcrowded. Open sewers and shared privies led to diseases such as cholera. In 1831, Manchester was hit by a cholera epidemic which claimed hundreds of lives.[57]

Art and literature


  • Some early attempts at building cotton mills had been made in the 1740 but all were unsuccessful and had no influence on the Cotton mills as we know them. Paul and Wyatt had a patent for a spinning device in 1738, and built a mill to test it.[58] Three other mills were set up using the Paul-Wyatt machinery in the following years. Edward Cave in 1742 had set up 250 spindles in a watermill in Northampton. This was the first cotton mill to be driven by water power. One was set up in Birmingham and one mill was established by Daniel Bourn in Leominster. It is first mentioned in 1748, when both Bourn and Paul patented machinery for carding cotton. It burnt down in 1754.[59]

See also



  1. ^ Note on animal power: It is unfair to say that there were no animal-powered mills in the UK, but with exception of 1791 Dale St, Yellow Factory in Preston, none were used for production.Dickenson 2002, p. 5 Arkwright did also use a horse to power an early prototype of a spinning frame; this was abandoned, and the improved form was the Water frame, which was put into production Harling 2008 in 1771 at Cromford Mill. Horse wheels were found in later manufactories in two areas of Yorkshire, where they were used to run the carding machines, while the spinning was done by hand jennies. There is a reference in "Made In Beverly-A History of Beverly Industry", by Daniel J. Hoisington. A publication of the Beverly Historic District Commission, 1989, of experimental facilities being powered by horses
  2. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 49.
  3. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 51
  4. ^ Quayle 2006, p. 38
  5. ^ Bagnall, William R. The Textile Industries of the United States: Including Sketches and Notices of Cotton, Woolen, Silk, and Linen Manufacturers in the Colonial Period. Vol. I. The Riverside Press, 1893.
  6. ^ Miller & Wild 2007, p. 69
  7. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 56
  8. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 69
  9. ^ Hills 1989, p. 116
  10. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 73
  11. ^ a b Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 74
  12. ^ a b Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 11
  13. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 89
  14. ^ a b Arnold 1864, pp. 37
  15. ^ Suffolk Mills Turbine Exhibit
  16. ^ Dublin, Thomas (1975). "Women, Work, and Protest in the Early Lowell Mills: 'The Oppressing Hand of Avarice Would Enslave Us'". Labor History. Online at Whole Cloth: Discovering Science and Technology through American History. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved on August 27, 2007.
  17. ^ Hamilton Manufacturing Company (1848). "Factory Rules" in The Handbook to Lowell. Online at the Illinois Labor History Society. Retrieved on March 12, 2009.
  18. ^ Hills 1989, pp. 178–189
  19. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 104
  20. ^ Hills1989, p. 211
  21. ^ a b Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 94
  22. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 101
  23. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 114
  24. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 120
  25. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 121
  26. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 124
  27. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 131
  28. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 135
  29. ^ Holden 1998, pp. 165–168
  30. ^ Holden 1998, pp. 168
  31. ^ a b Holden 1998, pp. 169
  32. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 18
  33. ^ Nasmith 1895, p. 35
  34. ^ Nasmith 1895, pp. 22–33
  35. ^ Nasmith 1895, p. 38
  36. ^ L. T. C. Rolt & J. S. Allen, The steam engine of Thomas Newcomen (Landmark, Ashbourne 1997)
  37. ^ Hills 1989, pp. 42–45,61
  38. ^ "Matthew Boulton". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  39. ^ Hills 1989, p. 169
  40. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 119
  41. ^ Nasmith 1895, pp. 233–254
  42. ^ Nasmith 1895, pp. 87–95
  43. ^ Nasmith 1895, pp. 58–75
  44. ^ Nasmith 1895, p. 113
  45. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 9
  46. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 8
  47. ^ a b Hills 1989, p. 117.
  48. ^ Simpson, William Hays (1941), Life in Mill Communities, Political Science Department Duke University, Clinton, South Carolina: P.C.Press 
  49. ^ Chapman 1904, p. 112.
  50. ^ Quayle 2006, pp. 42–46,53
  51. ^ "Child Labor: The Mills". Universitry of North Carolina. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  52. ^ "Child Labor: The Workers". Universitry of North Carolina. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  53. ^ Hindman 2002, p. 181
  54. ^ Hindman 2002, p. 183
  55. ^ Williams & Farnie 1992, p. 16
  56. ^ Fowler, Alan (2004), "British Textile Workers in the Lancashire Cotton and Yorkshire Wool industries", National Overview Great Britain, Textile Conference HSH,, retrieved March 2009. 
  57. ^ a b "A Factory Worker's Lot - Conditions in the Mill". BBC Television. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  58. ^ Mantoux, Paul (2006) [1928], "Machinery in the Textile Industry", The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century: An Outline of the Beginnings of the Modern Factory System in England, tr. Vernon, Marjorie, London: Taylor & Francis, p. 212, ISBN 0-415-37839-7,, retrieved 2009-01-03 
  59. ^ "The Mills of Leominster - Pinsley Mill or Etnam Street Mill". Herefordshire Sites and Monuments Record. Herefordshire Council. Retrieved 2009-01-04. 


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