Sir Richard Arkwright 1732 – 92

Sir Richard Arkwright by Joseph Wright of Derby (1789)

Richard Arkwright was born in Preston, Lancashire, a self-educated man whose career began as a barber and wigmaker, for which he was reputed to use genuine human hair. His industrial knowledge led him to adopt the idea of a water-powered spinning machine that he patented in 1769. Called the water frame, the machine allowed mechanisation of what had previously been a cottage industry and brought spinning into the factory age. By 1782 he employed more than 5,000 workers in his cotton mills.

In 1775 he patented a carding engine, based on a hand-worked machine that had been invented earlier by Lewis Paul. Arkwright’s machine incorporated a crank and comb mechanism that drove the comb up and down and lifted the combed fibres onto a cylinder to create a continuous fleece for spinning.

Cromford

His first mechanised mill was built at Cromford, south of Matlock in Derbyshire. The site was developed only two years after the patent for the water frame was taken out and was the first water-powered mill in the world. The complex of workshops was powered by wheels driven by the Bonsall Brook, which flows into the River Derwent close to the site.

Arkwright was also generous to his workers, in common with other industrialists of later times, and built a number of houses in the nearby village for his staff. North Street is one of the best-preserved terraces, built in approximately 1777. One of the homes is now preserved as a Landmark Trust property and is available for holiday lets.

Moira Furnace

In 1792 a plan was launched to build a canal near Ashby de La Zouch, although the cut never actually reached the town. In 1800 the local land was enclosed and the mineral rights granted to Francis Rawdon Hastings, 2nd Earl Moira. Four years later he sank the first coal mine on his land and built a lime kiln. Work began on constructing a blast furnace. The combination was the ideal way of using all the local minerals, ironstone, limestone and coal.

However, the furnace was never a success and worked for only a total of a few months before being finally closed in 1811 after a disastrous fire that reached temperatures high enough to melt the brickwork. The associated iron foundry was a huge success on the other hand and remained in operation producing smallware until the 1850s.

The lime kilns were also a commercial success, producing quicklime for the building industry and agriculture until the 1850s. Coal mining continued in the area until the 1980s.

Moira had a brief spell as a spa in 1812 when it was decided to exploit the salt water from down the mines but the site proved unpopular so the water was later shipped to the Ivanhoe Baths in Ashby by canal and tramway.
Moira Furnace is now a listed building and preserved as a museum at the centre of a heritage park in the National Forest.

Gladstone Pottery Museum

Gladstone Pottery Museum is in Stoke on Trent, housed in a former pottery works and featuring some of the town’s few remaining bottle ovens.
The factory was originally built in the late 18th century after the sale of the old Longton Manor Estate allowed potters to expand out of neighbouring Burslem – the centre of the pottery industry at the time.

Brick bottle ovensLocal family the Shelleys took over a site adjoining the new turnpike road to Uttoxeter and the present day museum is on part of that site. As well as producing their own earthenware the Shelleys carried out contract work for Josiah Wedgwood’s Etruria factory. By 1789, however, their business was in trouble and the site was bought out by William Ward.

He split the area into small plots where a number of potters could work alongside each other. The whole was sold in 1818 to John Hendley Sheridan who let out the site to tenant potters. He also erected new kilns.

One of the tenants was Thomas Cooper who in turn employed other potters and by 1851 he had 41 adults and 26 children working for him. In 1853 he bought the master’s house and began developing the rest of the site.
In 1876 the site was sold on to Hobson and Co who renamed it after the Victorian politician who had visited the Potteries in 1863 to lay the foundation stone of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute.

The site later passed into the hands of Procter, Mayer and Wooley and eventually, in 1939 became Gladstone China (Longton) Ltd.
Mixed fortunes saw the site closed during world war two and in various hands until 1960 when the kilns were closed down. Decorating and packing continued on the site until 1970 when the site was again put on the market.
By that time it was already realised that much of the Potteries heritage had been lost and that an intact factory needed to be preserved. It was one of a number of sites considered for development as a museum.

The Staffordshire Pottery Industry Preservation trust was formed in September 1971 and later the Gladstone Pottery Development Trust was set up to raise funds for the scheme. Phase 1 was officially opened in April 1975.

Black Country Living Museum

The Black Country Living Museum is a 26 acre site on the edge of Dudley, West Midlands that houses a collection of buildings and structures from around the Black Country.

Where is the Black Country? Well, experts have failed to agree on exactly what its boundaries are in spite of generations of arguments. Some say it is the area that used to be coloured black on geological maps of the Midlands, indicating the presence of coal. Others say it was the traditional iron working area to the north west of Birmingham. Perhaps the best definition is that it is certainly NOT Birmingham but is wherever a Black Country person says it is. For the purposes of this site it is the four boroughs of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley.

The museum has a fascinating collection of items that were manufactured in the Black Country, now housed in a building that used to be a swimming baths. Each small town and village in the area was famous for its own trade. There were leatherworkers in Walsall, brickmakers in Aldridge, enamellers in Bilston, glassmakers in Stourbridge, chain makers in Netherton, the list is huge. The museum also has an open-air section that takes the form of an early 20th century industrial village, with a picture house, a chip shop, a pub, chapel, cake shop, sweet shop, lots of workshops and all the other necessaries of living.

During a visit to the museum the Anorak decided to take a different view of the site and explore it with one material in mind – iron. It was mostly cast iron, though forges of various kinds can be found there. And it is amazing how much of life involved cast iron in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That picture above left, for example is the inside of the exhibition hall, the former Rolfe Street Baths building. The roof trusses, or supports,  are made of cast iron. But a look around the site showed that humankind has never really left the Iron Age.

On the Streets, for example, cast iron could be found everywhere. Lamp posts were made from it, as were the traditional red pillar boxes. Roadsigns were also made from cast iron. Even the window frames were iron.

Bridge parapets and boundary fences were also made from the ubiquitous material. It was simple to create elaborate designs by making a mould in sand with a former or pattern. Molten iron was then poured into the mould and left to cool. Repeating patterns could be made in modular form then fixed together.

Everyday items were all made from iron. The bootjack by the door that helped a miner take off his dirty footwear before he went into the house was made of cast iron. The one on the left is shown still in its sand former after manufacture. Chimney pots on top of houses, guttering and down-pipes were made of iron. Even the straps around the barrel that helped to make it waterproof were iron bands.

Hinges to work the gate, latches to open the door, almost everything was made of iron. And even after it had served its original purpose, some iron found a new lease of life. A discarded horse shoe was nailed over a cottage door to bring luck. Sometimes even the houses themselves were made from iron.

In the 1920s, when bricks were in short supply, Dudley Council tried an experimental form of construction as a way to clear old slum housing quickly. The walls consisted of 600 plates that were bolted together to make pairs of semi-detached houses. Only a very few were built because the cost proved prohibitive, but two are preserved at the museum.

Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet

single storeyindustrial building with chimneysAbbeydale is an 18th century industrial works – one of the first working museums in the UK. It is the site of a former steel blade factory; its main product being agricultural scythes, although other bladed implements were made there.

It is on the outskirts of Sheffield, on the banks of the River Sheaf, which was the water source that drove the mill wheels that powered the machinery.
The site houses the only intact crucible steel furnace remaining in the world. It was built in around 1830 and was the source of Abbeydale’s steel for manufacturing the various tools and implements. During a visit to the site it is possible to see the associated pot shop where the clay crucibles that held the raw ingredients for steel were made.

The crucible furnace reached temperatures in excess of 1600 degrees Celsius. Making steel was hot, hard work.

The crucibles full of molten metal were lifted from the furnace by a “puller out” and then poured from the crucibles by a “teemer” to form ingots.
In turn, the ingots were forged under the site’s tilt hammers to create blank blades before they were sent on to the grinders to be given a sharp edge.

The grinding workshop, or hull, contained six sandstone grind stones and two polishing wheels, all powered by a waterwheel. The stones were huge – taller than many of the workers – and suspended with their lower edges in a trough of water to keep the surface wet while the grinders worked. The grinder sat astride the trough and held the blade against the rotating stone to give it an edge.

The work was hot, hard and dangerous with many hazards. The fine dust thrown off the stone during the process got into workers’ lungs, causing silicosis, a debilitating and usually fatal disease. But there was also risk of parts of the grindstone breaking away and causing injury or blindness. On some occasions the whole stone shattered, killing anyone close to it.