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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
Sir Richard Arkwright
Samuel Slater was employed in one of Sir Richard Arkwright's mills

© Courtesy of Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Lancashire County Museum
Industrial espionage

Textile boom

The English textile industry underwent a transformation in the late 18th Century. From a small cottage industry it developed into mass organised employment in the country’s first factories. Derbyshire was heavily involved in this transformation. Key figures in the textile world opened mills in the Derbyshire towns of Cromford, Belper and Matlock. Now a World Heritage Site, the Derwent Valley Mills are referred to as the 'Cradle of the Factory System'.

The textile industry’s technological revolution took place on the doorstep of Samuel Slater. Born in 1768, Samuel was the third of local farmer Mr Slater’s five sons. In 1782, Jedediah Strutt, former partner of Richard Arkwright, opened a mill just a mile from the Slaters’ farm in Derbyshire. As a friend of Mr Slater, Jedediah Strutt offered an apprenticeship to one of his sons. Samuel was chosen and at the age of 14 he began to work in Milford South Mill. Within eight years he had been promoted to the rank of supervisor. Little did Jedediah Strutt know how the knowledge gained by Samuel would jeopardise their livelihood.

Arkwright’s machines

The nature of England’s textile success meant that industrial knowledge was the key to good and successful businesses. England’s role was that of a processor, not a producer of cotton, and it was the knowledge of how to produce goods on a mass manufacturing scale that was crucial to England’s continued supremacy.

The Water Frame
Sir Richard Arkwright's famous water frame machinery
© Courtesy of Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, Lancashire County Museum
Machines, and comprehending how to work, and improve them, were at the heart of England’s textile success. Before machines, such as Richard Arkwright’s water spinning frame, were invented, cotton was processed by hand in people’s homes. These machines made it possible to centralise production, churning out huge quantities of cotton 24 hours a day.

It was particularly important that machines such as the spinning frame never reached America. As the world’s largest exporter of cotton, but with no manufacturing industry of its own, America posed the greatest threat to England’s domination of cotton production. The only thing that America needed to develop its own cotton manufacturing industry was machines.

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Your comments

1 Mary Smedley from Derbyshire - 5 January 2004
"Samuel Slater was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt. The partnership between Strutt and Arkwright had been terminated before Samuel Slater was indentured. The Belper Strutt Mills were built by Jedediah Strutt himself without Arkwright. "

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