Biography of Richard Arkwright, the Founder of Cromford Mill

Richard Arkwright

Sir Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the so-called water frame or water-driven spinning frame and one of the leading entrepreneurs during the Industrial Revolution was born on 23 December 1732 in Preston, Lancashire, England as the youngest of 13 children to Sarah and Thomas Arkwright. He was taught to read and write by his cousin Ellen and apprenticed as a barber.

He started his career as a barber and wig maker. In 1750s, he opened his own shop in Bolton where he invented the first waterproof wig dye which brought him a substantial profit and allowed him to finance his interest in cotton spinning and carding technology. In 1767, he started working with clockmaker John Kay who helped him build the famous water frame which he patented in 1769.

After he connected with Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, Arkwright built the first water-powered mill at Cromford in 1771 which began operating one year latter. By 1775, he made improvements in the carding machine that was invented by Lewis Paul in 1748 and patented the improved carding machine which effectively converted raw cotton into yard. This machine was installed into the second Cromford Mill which was built between 1776 and 1777 by a lead merchant Peter Nightingale who bought the Cromford Estate and built Arkwright’s residence the Willersley Castle overlooking the Cromford Mills.

The success of the Cromford Mill made Arkwright and his partners wealthy men and encouraged Arkwright to set up mills elsewhere. In 1777, he leased the Haarlem Mill in Derbyshire where he put into operation the first steam engine in cotton industry and turned Chorley into the most industrialized town at the time after he leased the Birkacre Mill. However, the success of the Cromford Mill also encouraged other entrepreneurs to follow his example which caused him difficulties with the 1775 patent rights for the improved carding machine. His monopolistic patent was finally rejected by the Lancashire court in 1785 because he allegedly borrowed ideas for the machine from reed manufacturer Thomas Highs. He was later also denied the right to a number of other patents, however, a large part of his fortune cam from his intellectual rights. And despite the court’s decisions, he was knighted in 1786 and become High Sheriff of Derbyshire one year later.

Richard Arkwright was married twice. He married his first wife Patience Holt in 1755. She gave birth to a son, Richard Arkwright Junior in the same year but she died for unknown reason one year later. In 1761, he remarried with Margaret Bigging who bore him three children, however, only their daughter Susanna survived to adulthood. Richard Arkwright died at his residence on 3 August 1792 at the age of 59 years. He was buried at St. Giles Church in Matlock but his remains were later transferred to St. Mary’s Church in Cromford. After his death, his son Richard Arkwright Junior sold most of his father’s mill interests outside Cromford and Marlock Bath.