Textiles: Spinning.

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Textiles: Spinning.

The textile industries were the one to be affected.

In a sense, they had already made a start with the flying shuttle of 1733, introduced to escape pigeon-chest tuberculosis; but they badly needed a counterbalancing improvement on the spinning side.

They offered, in fact, an example of the way in which one invention is apt to lead indirectly to another; if technical improvements speed up one stage of an industry the stages before and after are bound to find an extra strain thrown upon them, and the need for a corresponding improvement is thrust on the minds of the business men concerned.

This is what happened in cotton.

In 1764 the needed invention came in the shape of Hargreaves' spinning jenny, which multiplied the spinner's output first eightfold, then, after improvement, a hundredfold.

The spinning jenny, like the old spinning wheel which it gradually superseded, was worked by hand, and for the moment the industry continued to be carried on mostly in the workers' own cottages.

But only four years later, in 1768, came the first application of power to textile manufacture, with the invention of Arkwright's water frame, on which the thread was spun between rollers worked by water power.

With the coming of power spinning the cottage industry was doomed.

The changes took time, for the home workers hired jennies and put up a good fight against the competition of the factories; but as the technique of power spinning improved, with Crompton's invention in 1779 of the mule, which spun muslin thread, and the application of steam power from 1785 onwards, cottage industry went steadily downhill.

More and more spinners abandoned their jennies to go into the factories, and the industry by degrees took on the structure which we know to-day.

Earnings were high; passable even for these days, magnificent for those.

We read of weavers walking about with a five-pound note stuck in their hat-bands.

But the good days were not to last for long. For one thing, the whole advantage of the weavers' position depended on a definite lack of balance in the textile industry, a lack of balance which someone was bound to remedy before long; for another, as always, good earnings brought new-corners into the industry.

In 1787 the end of their prosperity came in sight; for in that year Edmund Cartwright invented the power loom.

The first power looms were failures in practice, but improvements followed rapidly.

Within a generation a new and flourishing factory industry had sprung up, and the old hand-weaving industry had been wiped out, to the accompaniment of terrible unemployment and suffering, and vain rioting and machine breaking, of which we shall have more to say later.

By this time all the processes of cotton manufacture from carding and roving, spinning and weaving, to bleaching and dyeing, were being carried on in factories and by the help of machines.

In 1783 the prohibition of all-cotton cloth manufacture, imposed over a century earlier in the interests of the all-important woollen industry, was withdrawn, and during the last two decades of the century the new machine-worked cotton industry became the most important in the country.


You could be interested in - The Rise Of Markets; Commutation.

The Great Inventions

Having seen how eighteenth-century England conquered the worst of its transport difficulties we can turn to the spectacular progress of industry which that conquest helped to make possible.

It has been said that the most important invention of the eighteenth century was the process of invention itself - the application of scientific knowledge to practical ends; and though many of the early inventions were the work of men without scientific training, and very rule-of-thumb affairs, this i perfectly true.

Any individual invention might be very imperfect and be taken up very slowly; but each fresh... see: The Great Inventions


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