Documents and Sources II
CHRISTOPHER ASPIN (Editor)
New Evidence on James Hargreaves and the Spinning Jenny

ALTHOUGH fairly exhaustive researches have been made into the career of James Hargreaves and the circumstances in which he contrived the spinning jenny, no eye-witness accounts of the inventor's life have come to light until now. The most authentic record was that provided by Edward Baines, who obtained information from John James, son of Thomas James, one of Hargreaves's later Nottingham partners. The discovery of a statement by Mary Burgess, one of Hargreaves's twelve children, recalling the details of her father's life, provides new evidence of significance to the economic historian. The statement has turned up at Peel Park Library, Salford, in a collection of papers made by Joseph Brotherton MP for the town, in connection with a public appeal for the three surviving daughters of Hargreaves in 1822. Mrs Burgess's statement probably underrates the part that Robert ('Parsley') Peel contributed towards the development of the jenny, but apart from this it appears to be an accurate record, in so far as one can judge of this from other evidence. (C. Aspin and S. D. Chapman, James Hargreaves and the Spinning Jenny), (Helmshore Historical Society, 4 East St, Helmshore, Rossendale, Lancs, 12S).

The Burgess letter contributes additional material to our knowledge of Hargreaves at three important points. It clarifies his relationship with Peel and other Blackburn calico printers, though it is still not clear why Peel did not attempt to protect the inventor's and his own interests by taking out a patent. Secondly, it leaves no doubt that Hargreaves built a considerable number of jennies before the riots of 1768, thus weakening the legal status of his patent of 1770. Thirdly, the statement introduces the names of Hargreaves's first partners at Nottingham (Rawson, Heath & Watson, merchant hosiers), and clearly shows that Hargreaves was invited to go to Nottingham, rather than being driven to take refuge there from the depredations of the machine smashers.

Statement by Mary Burgess, daughter of Hargreaves

No 4 Wickham Street, Bank Parade, Salford
28th August, 1822


Mr. Joseph Brotherton.
Sir,
In compliance with your request I shall endeavour to give you a correct account, to the best of my recollection, of the inventions of my late father, James Hargreaves, relating to cotton spinning. In the early part of his life my father resided at Stannet Gate, in Church parish near Blackburn, and having a large family my brothers were employed in weaving; but not having full employment for them for want of weft, in the year 1766 or thereabouts, he invented a machine called the Spinning Jenny: the first which he constructed, consisted of eight spindles, and he set it up in a chamber of his house. By means of this machine he was enabled to do so much work that he could dispense with several spinners he at that time employed, who spun only on one spindle each. This caused his employers Messrs Howarth and Peel to enquire of him how he could bring in more Goods than usual, of a superior quality, and with fewer hands: and they wished him to let them see the spinning machine; but my mother dissuaded him from letting them see it for some time, and it was kept private about a year after it was completed. At length, however, that is to say, in the year 1767, my father permitted Mr. Jonathan Howarth, Mr. Robert Peel (father of the present Sir Rob. Peel) Mr. Hindle, Mr. Pollard and two other gentlemen of Blackburn to see the Machine. When they saw my father spin upon it Mr. Peel said, "James if you do not make this public, we shall": though he had previously pledged his word and honour he would not make the invention known, if he might be permitted to see the machine. My father replied, he had made it solely for the use of his own family and therefore did not wish it to be made public. I was in the room at that time, and the gentlemen each threw down sixpence on the floor for me and the other children. Soon after this I began to spin on the Machine, being then about 14 years of age, and my father made two more, one for my brother George and another for a Mr. Kenyon. In a little while afterwards we removed to a house at Ram's Clough, about a mile and half from our former residence at Stannet Gate. It now began to be rumoured in the neighbourhood that these Machines would ruin the country; which caused a great number of people to assemble together in a tumultuous manner: and they came to our house and burnt the frame work of 20 new machines which were in the barn, and all the working implements: they likewise broke all the windows of the house, and destroyed most of the furniture. My father being now in a manner ruined, and not wishing to run further risk by making any more machines, he bound my brothers apprentice to Mr. Peel to learn the printing business, and engaged himself to him as a book-keeper. In a short time after these circumstances occurred (in the year 1768), a Mr. James Shepley came from Nottingham and inquired of my mother, who was sat spinning on one spindle, if the good man of the house was in, She said "why, what do you want? We have had enough of such men as you ." He said "I hope what I want will be for the good of both of us." My father being then at the print works, and Mr Shepley being very desirous of seeing him, my mather sent my brother Jonathan down to the Works to let him know that a person wanted to speak with him. It was settled for them to meet that day at Blackburn and the result of their interview was that my father agreed to go to Nottingham, He accordingly went in about a month afterwards, and engaged with Shepley, Rawson, Heath & Watson to make and manage the machines for three years; and he took out Letters patent for this Invention. When the term of his engagement with Messrs Shepley & Co. expired, he entered into partnership with Messrs Thomas James William Saddler and - Marley of Nottingham. About the year 177 lor 1772 while he was with Mr. Shepley, he invented the crank or doffer, which he applied to the cylinder carding machines he had invented before he left Lancaspire. Mr. Arkwright was very intimate with my father and visited him very often and he being of an easy turn of mind let Mr. Arkwright see the crank, for which and other improvements of his own, he afterwards took out a patent, but it was proved by my mother and brother George on Arkwright's Trial, 25 June 1785 that the crank was my father's invention. My father died at Nottingham on Saturday, April 18th 1778, aged 60 years.


X Mary Burgess
(her mark
)

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