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Manchester Engineers & Inventors

Samuel Crompton

Samuel Crompton
The Crompton Monument in Nelson Square, Bolton

Samuel Crompton is perhaps best known as the Bolton born inventor of the famous "spinning mule" which was to play such an important role in the 18th and 19th century development of Manchester's textile industry and in the foundation of mass-production techniques which were pioneered here.
Born on 3rd December 1753 at Firwood Fold, a quaint thatched cottage in Bolton, quietly tucked away in a modest and hidden alley (or "fold"), just 100 yards from Crompton Way, one of Bolton's busiest thoroughfares. Firwood Fold is now privately owned, but a wall plaque marks Crompton's birthplace. Although a great inventor, and the results of his work made fortunes for those who used them, Crompton himself was no businessman, and he failed to patent his invention, selling his invention for only �60, and he was to die in poverty.
There are models of his Mule at Hall I' Th' Wood, the nearby historic house where he and his family lived for 20 years, and where the Mule was invented.
It was believed until recently that the only surviving genuine production model of Crompton's Mule was to be found in The Bolton Museum in Le Mans Crescent in Bolton town centre - however, we have recently received an email from a Mr E Oddy, informing us that this was

"...not entirely correct. In Bramsche, Germany, near to where we live is also a working "Mule" that was used in the then East Germany up until 1988".

Samuel Crompton died in 1827 and is buried in St Peter's, Bolton's Parish Church. The monument to his memory was erected in Nelson Square in Bolton town centre in 1862, having been paid for by donations from textile engineering workers. The statue shows Crompton, the dreamer, gazing into the distance, his head supported on one arm. The violin, which he enjoyed playing, stands beside him.

Richard Arkwright

Richard Arkwright

Sir Richard Arkwright probably did more than any other to establish the dominance of the cotton manufacturing industry in Manchester and its surrounding townships. Born of poor parents in Preston, he had very little education, and as a young man was apprenticed to a local barber, after which he set up his own barber shop in Bolton. His association with John Kay (see below), a local clockmaker, encouraged him to take an interest in engineering and mechanics. With the growing demand for yarn production, he and Kay set about developing a machine which could spin yarns very quickly and continuously - this resulted in the invention of a revolutionary spinning frame. Increasing mechanisation was greeted with a great deal of local hostility, as it threatened jobs, and Arkwright was forced to move to Nottingham, where he set about installing a horse-driven spinning mill.
Later he built another mill at Cromford in Derbyshire, where in 1773 he was most successful in the production of cloth calicoes - the first time it had been produced in England. It was this Cromford mill which really set out the pattern for a factory manufacturing system which was to catch on not only all over Britain, but abroad as well. Although he patented the system, it was plagued by constant infringements, and his ideas were widely pirated, though this did not prevent him from making a personal fortune.
In 1783 he built his first mill in Shude Hill, Manchester (on the site of the present Miller Street), which was the first to use steam power. There was great opposition and even threats to his factories, though they were highly successful, and the march of progress could not be halted - soon other manufacturers copied his processes and systems, for they self-evidently were good for business. He was made High Sheriff of the the County of Derbyshire and in 1786 he was given the ultimate accolade by being knighted by King George III.
In his later years he lived at Rock House opposite Cromford Mill, though he began work on building a new house at Willersley Castle in Derbyshire, but died a year before it was completed.

Sir William Fairbairn

William Fairbairn

Sir William Fairbairn was one of Britain's great 19th century engineers, and was one of the primary forces in the development and introduction of mechanised manufacturing processes during the Industrial Revolution.
Born in Kelso, Roxburghshire, in Scotland, into a farm-working family, he exhibited mechanical skills at a very young age. Working, among other various things, as a bookkeeper, he eventually became apprenticed as a young man to a millwright in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, while avidly reading anything he could find on scientific matters, a habit he continued throughout his life.
After completion of his apprenticeship, he took on many small engineering commissions, broadening his knowledge and experience, and eventually settled in Manchester in 1813 in the employment of 2 local engineers, Adam Parkinson and Thomas Hewes, the latter already a celebrated engineer. By 1817 he had established his own partnership with James Lillie - the two produced advanced mill machinery, which soon earned them the reputation of being both innovative and forward looking. Many large contracts followed, and his reputation grew, and in 1830 he was made a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.
Later, as a result of cotton speculation, his business took a downturn, and he had to diversify into the building of ships. This business later moved to Millwall where he continued to build many great iron ships. As business picked up, his Manchester works began producing steam boilers and engines. Several of his inventions were patented, including a riveting machine. Fairbairn was also a prolific bridge builder, with over a hundred to his credit, the most famous being the tubular metal Menai Bridge which joins the island of Anglesey to the mainland of Wales near Bangor - a project in which he collaborated closely with another great engineer, George Stephenson.
A frequent lecturer and writer on historical, scientific and philosophical themes, his works were much published. He was made President of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society from 1855-1860. He was created a baronet in 1869. From 1840 he lived at the Polygon, in Ardwick, Manchester. A marble statue of Fairbairn stands in Manchester Town Hall.

John Kay

John Kay

John Kay was born at Park, just North of Bury, in June 1704. Details of his life are sketchy, but he is believed to have spent some time in France before returning to his native Bury where in 1730 he had patented a thread twisting machine. In 1733 he was to invent and introduce to the world his now-celebrated "flying shuttle". This, probably more than any other single invention, was to make the Industrial Revolution possible.
Hitherto, weavers had to physically throw a shuttle loaded with cotton from one side of the loom to another and then back again between alternating threads - a long, laborious and consequently inefficient process usually taking two men. Kay's design was to change that process forever - his flying shuttle moved from one side of the loom to another by little more than a flick of the wrist of one hand, and one man could fully operate a loom adapted to accommodate the flying shuttle. Weaving output more than doubled overnight, industrial mechanisation had begun, and the factory mass production process had begun.
Although welcomed by textile manufacturers (who perceived it as a means of increasing output and profits), Kay's invention was despised by textile workers who saw it as a threat to their livelihood. His flying shuttle was eagerly taken up by woollen manufacturers, though they were rarely so eager to pay their bills and Kay constantly teetered on the edge of financial ruin. Moreover, the fear of unemployment prompted a mob to storm Kay's property in 1753 and to ransack his house.
The invention of the flying shuttle caused many other problems for Kay, who constantly found himself in court defending his invention against its many illegal copiers. Heartbroken and disillusioned, Kay fled and disappeared into oblivion.
It is thought that he died in France, a pauper around 1780. Kay is celebrated in Bury as a local hero - Kay Gardens is named after him, and there are several local pubs named "The Flying Shuttle".

Rev George Garrett

George Garrett

George William Garrett was born in 1852 in Moss Side, Manchester, where is father was the vicar of Christ Church. This would seem to be a very unlikely origin for the clergyman who invented the world's first mechanically driven submarine. Garrett was a gifted boy who had attended Manchester Grammar School, and by the age of 17 he had already taught at the Mechanic's Institute and studied chemistry at Owens College (now the University of Manchester). At the age of 25 his father made him a curate.
Garrett's belief in steam as a motive force prompted him to found the Garrett Submarine Navigation and Pneumataphore Company in Manchester's Deansgate in 1878 having raised £10,000 for the project.
With these funds he had arranged for the building of the 38 ton, 45 foot long "Resurgam" (meaning: "I shall rise again") at Birkenhead.
The submarine was launched in 1879, and soon after set sail for Portsmouth with a crew of two, and a promise of further funding by the Royal Navy if he succeeded in completing the trip.
However, bad weather dogged the voyage, and, having moored for shelter in Rhyl in North Wales for several weeks, Garrett impatiently accepted a tow from an obliging steam yacht. Unfortunately, the towing cable snapped and the submarine sank. Despite other submarine projects that were to follow, particularly in Sweden and Turkey, Garrett never managed to regain public confidence in his ideas. Disenchanted, he emigrated to America and lost all of what little money he still had in farming projects. He died in poverty in the New York in 1902.
The wreck of the "Resurgam" was discovered in Colwyn Bay in 1995, became the target for looters, and has subsequently had a Preservation Order applied to it as a Historic Monument by local authorities. Estimates for raising the wreck are around £12 million, but eventually, it is hoped to raise the ill-fated submarine.

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This page last updated 20 Dec 11.