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The Water Frame

Richard Arkwright

This image was provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project: www.cottontown.org

In 1769, a wig maker and perrucier, Richard Arkwright, had observed that, even with these improvements, the hand loom weavers could not keep up with the demand for cloth. He therefore set out to design and produce a much larger spinning machine that would be able to cope with the increased demand. His design became known as the water frame. It was given this name because it needed energy from a watermill to power it. It was therefore too large for cottage work and, consequently, had to be placed in a large building known as a factory.

This meant that, for the first time, a family involved in the production of woven cloth were now split up. The women of the family, whom, you will remember, were the traditional spinners, now had to leave their cottages and work in a large building where the water frames had been installed. Since these factories used water as their power source, they tended to be built in areas where a good supply of fast flowing water was available.

These early water powered factories, because they looked like large watermills, became known as mills. They were mainly concentrated in the mountainous areas of Britain where water was plentiful.

For the first time men and women were separated in their work. The man stayed at home to produce the weaving and the women left home each day to work in the factory, producing the yarn for their menfolk to weave into cloth.

The Water Frame

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