Richard Arkwright and the Factory System (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Richard Arkwright and the Factory System

Q1: Who is the "silly, talkative clockmaker" referred to in source 2? It will help you to read source 3 before answering this question.

A1: John Kay is the "silly, talkative clockmaker" referred to in source 2.

Q2: Study source 10. Whereabout in the house do you think the weavers worked? Explain your answer.

A2: The weavers worked on the top floor of their houses. The extra windows on this floor provided them with the light they needed to do their work.

Q3: Compare the information in sources 2 and 5. Give possible reasons why these two historians disagree about the invention of the water-frame.

A3: Paul Shuter in source 5 asserts that Richard Arkwright invented the water-frame. Richard Guest in source 2 argues that Arkwright was not telling the truth when he claimed that he invented the water-frame. Guest believed that John Kay and Thomas Highs were the real inventors of the water-frame. Arkwright often gets the credit because he was the first person to use the water-frame. He also used his power and influence to publicise his role in the invention of this machine. However, the investigators who looked into the matter in 1785 (source 3) came to the conclusion that the real inventors were Kay and Highs and Arkwright lost his patent for the water-frame. The author of source 16 says it is still unclear how much Arkwright contributed to the invention of the water-frame.

Q4: Why did Arkwright build his textile factory in Cromford?

A4: Arkwright's machine was too large to be operated by hand and so he had to find another method of working the machine. After experimenting with horses, it was decided to employ the power of the water-wheel (source 9). Therefore he needed "a strong and regular flow of water to power his factory" (source 11). In 1771 Arkwright set up a large factory next to the River Derwent in Cromford. Arkwright later that his lawyer that Cromford had been chosen because it offered "a remarkable fine stream of water… in a an area very full of inhabitants".

Q5: (i) What kind of people did Arkwright employ in his factory? (ii) Why did Arkwright prefer to employ certain types of workers? (iii) Describe some possible consequences of this employment policy.

A5: (i) Two-thirds of Arkwright's factory workers were children. Arkwright also employed a large number of women. (ii) Arkwright preferred employing children because they could be forced to work long hours for low wages. Their size also made them ideal for repairing broken threads on the machine and collecting waste cotton from the factory floor. (iii) The tendency of textile factory owners to employ children in factories meant that a large number of adults could not find work. The increase in unemployment resulted in a fall in adult wages.