Lancashire and its Historic Influences

Cotton Mills in Lancashire

The mechanised spinning and weaving of cotton fibre into fabric began in Britain and spearheaded the industrial revolution. By 1860 there were 2650 cotton mills in Lancashire, employing 440 000 people and producing half of the world’s cotton. At the turn of the twentieth century things were still going strong and the Lancashire cotton mills produced 8 billion yards of cloth a year which were exported all over the world. Then came the First World War and cotton could no longer be exported to the foreign markets. This led to countries such as Japan weaving their own cotton, and by the 1930s 800 mills had closed and 345,000 workers had left the industry.

Although some were driven by animal power, most early mills were built in rural locations near to fast-flowing rivers and streams and had water wheels to power them. The development of viable rotative steam engines by Boulton and Watt led from 1781 to the growth of larger, steam-powered mills and allowed them to be concentrated in urban mill towns. The cotton mill, originally a Lancashire phenomenon caught on around the world after the First World War.

Handloom weaving lingered into the mid-19th century but cotton spinning in mills relying on water power and subsequently steam power using fuel from the Lancashire Coalfield began to develop before 1800

Cotton mills were not confined to Lancashire but were built in northeast Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottingham, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Bristol, Durham and the west of Scotland. The availability of streams or rivers to provide power determined the location of the early mills some of which were in isolated areas. In Lancashire they were built on the rivers and streams descending from the Pennines and Rossendale moorland. In some places quite small streams powered a string of small mills such as in the Cheesden Valley between Ramsbottom and Heywood. Where 14 mills and their associated leats and ponds were concentrated along a four-mile stretch of the brook. Mills were built around Rochdale and Littleborough. North of Bury, ten mills occupied a mile long stretch of a stream in the Shuttleworth Valley. Other mills were built north of the River Ribble and a cluster of five mills in Caton near the port at Lancaster, one of which belonged to Samuel Greg who built Quarry Bank Mill at Styal in Cheshire. Not all water-powered mills were in rural areas, after 1780 mills were built in Blackburn and Burnley.

Before 1780, only water power was available to drive large mills, but they were dependent on a constant flow of water and built in rural locations, causing problems of labour supply, transportation of materials and access to urban merchants for large mill-owners. Steam engines had been used to pump water since the invention of the atmospheric engine by Thomas Newcomen in 1712 and, starting with the engine installed at Arkwright’s Haarlem Mill in Wirksworth, Derbyshire in 1780, were used to supplement the supply of water to the water wheels of cotton mills.

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

John Kay, a Lancashire born man was responsible for revolutionising the speed cotton was spun; in 1733, he received a patent for his most revolutionary device: a “wheeled shuttle” for the hand loom. It greatly accelerated weaving, by allowing the shuttle carrying the weft to be passed through the warp threads faster and over a greater width of cloth. It was designed for the broad loom, for which it saved labour over the traditional process, needing only one operator per loom (before Kay’s improvements a second worker was needed to catch the shuttle).

Kay always called this invention a “wheeled shuttle”, but others used the name “fly-shuttle” (and later, “flying shuttle”) because of its continuous speed, especially when a young worker was using it in a narrow loom:

Sir Richard Arkwright (23 December 1732 in Preston, – 3 August 1792 in Cromford) was an inventor and a leading entrepreneur during the early Industrial Revolution. Although the patents were eventually overturned, he is credited with inventing the spinning frame, which, following the transition to water power, was renamed the water frame. He also patented a rotary carding engine that transformed raw cotton into cotton lap.

Arkwright’s achievement was to combine power, machinery, semi-skilled labour and the new raw material (cotton) to create mass-produced yarn. His skills of organization made him, more than anyone else, the creator of the modern factory system. Later in his life Arkwright was known as ‘the Father of the Industrial Revolution’.

The Lancashire Coalfield in North West England was one of the most important British coalfields. Its coal seams were formed from the vegetation of tropical swampy forests in the Carboniferous period over 300 million years ago.

The Romans may have been the first to use coal in Lancashire and its shallow seams and outcrops were exploited on a small scale from the Middle Ages and extensively after the start of the Industrial Revolution. The coalfield was at the forefront of innovation in coal mining, prompting the country’s first canals, use of steam engines and creating conditions favourable for rapid industrialisation.

The pits on the coalfield were at their most productive in 1907 when more than 26 million tons of coal were produced. By 1967 just 21 collieries remained. Parkside Colliery in Newton-le-Willows, the last deep mine to be sunk on the coalfield, was closed in 1993.

This image is of an old cotton mill I feel there are some interesting architectural feature in this image, such as:

  • the beams across the ceiling
  • the wheels used to turn the looms

I wish to be able to incorporate these features into my design.

I want to use the cotton as an influence towards my design as that is the foundation that Lancashire was built on, producing half of the world’s cotton in the mid nineteenth century creating towns and cities for the county to hold within it. A local parliament building for the county of Lancashire therefore stands to reason to encompass the very reason for it to be necessary in the first place; without the cotton mills and trade many of the towns and cities within Lancashire would not exist today. I particularly like the cast iron ceiling beams that were very popular around this time; however I wish to add a modern twist to this concept. Almost like a spider web affect.


The traditional nature of the cotton production with the use of water turbines is another aspect I wish to consider when designing my parliament building; is it possible to make it environmentally friendly by using a water wheel to power some aspects of structure.


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