At the peak of the cottage industry for the manufacture of cloth there was a problem in that demand was outweighing production. A spinster could only spin one thread at a time and it required 7 or 8 people to keep one weaver busy. A new invention was needed to make the spinning process faster.

The Spinning Jenny had already been invented, but this could only spin about a dozen threads at once and still demanded a skilled spinster to work it by hand.

Then, Richard Arkwright's Spinning Frame came into production. This became known as a water frame because it was a large machine requiring a water wheel for power. With the introduction of the import of raw cotton from America about 1785, the cotton industry in this part of Lancashire began to flourish. This coincided with Richard Arkwright's invention and so began the era of the spinning mill and the demise of the hand spinster.



The early cotton industry was centred around Manchester, and as a new turnpike road had been built between Todmorden and Manchester, the entrepreneurs of Todmorden were easily able to switch from wool to cotton, and it wasn't long before they saw the advantage of investing in small water mills in which to install the new type of machinery for carding and spinning.

Some of the men who had started as yeoman clothiers and "putters out" began to take over old corn mills or other buildings suitable for conversion to the preparation and spinning of cotton. These men now became cotton spinners. The mills were small places located near to a water supply, which powered the great water wheels. The presence of a suitable water supply was of far more importance than accessibility. The mills were built along the course of the river in the valley bottoms, and higher up along the banks of the small but fast flowing tributary streams. It was essential that before a mill could be built, the lease of the land included the water rights and the right to divert the water to the mill.


The outer casing of the old water wheel of

GORPLEY MILL , Dulesgate


LUMBUTTS MILL was taken over by the partnership of Thomas Hughes, Robert Law, Samuel Law and Abraham Crossley in 1783. Over the following months they converted it from corn to a cotton-spinning mill. The following year Thomas Hughes and Robert Law sold their shares to Samuel Fielden of Platts House, Todmorden, and John Tattersall of Lumbutts.


John Fielden of CLOUGH FARM, Walsden, built a small mill at Clough in 1786 for carding and spinning cotton. He had partly furnished it with machinery when he entered into a partnership with John Travis of Royton. John Travis and his son Joseph had a putting out shop at Gauxholme Fold in Walsden. They had been travelling over the hills twice a week bringing the raw cotton to their shop, returning with the finished pieces. John Travis and John Fielden put their eldest sons, Samuel Fielden and Joseph Travis, in charge of the new mill. The firm was known as Fielden and Travis, CLOUGH MILL, Todmorden.


This mill was amongst the first to be built. It was about the size of 4 dwellings of 3 storeys. At one end was the dwelling occupied by the partners. The cotton and willowing rooms were on the ground floor with the warehouse, the carding machinery and stretching frames were in the chambers above with the spinning jennies, winding and warping machines.

In 1782 Joshua Fielden, a Quaker and fustian manufacturer of Edge End Farm, began a spinning business with hand operated jennies in three converted cottages at Laneside in Todmorden. Within 2 years he had acquired the leasehold on the property and a supply of water from Swineshead Clough with which to power the new machinery. The family occupied one of the cottages and the other two were work places. Within months Laneside employed 300 workers, most of them handloom weavers working from home. The third storey was added later, about 1800.

Laneside Cottages


Knowlwood Bottom Mill

Shortly afterwards Abraham Crossley, Thomas Lord of KNOWL FARM and Moses Dawson of Knowlwood built a small mill known as KNOWLWOOD MILL, and commenced the business of carding and spinning. This was positioned in the valley where there was a waterfall of about 6 or 7 yards. Part of the mill is still there, now a pair of cottages.

John Fielden, known as Little Quaker of Bottomley, was a woollen clothier at BOTTOMLEY FARM. When cotton began to arrive in the area in serious amounts he built a small cotton spinning mill at Bottomley Fold. This was powered by a water wheel that had previously been used at WATERSTALLS MILL lhigher up on the moors. He was successful enough to find work for his large family and the people in the neighbouring cottages.


Others were built at BIRKS, Ragby and STRINES, all in Walsden, and dozens of others were dotted about in the cloughs. The old fulling mill at INCHFIELD was converted to cotton spinning by THOMAS BOTTOMLEY who later built a new mill at Ramsden above that of the Law brothers. Anthony Crossley of Todmorden Hall built one at RIDGEFOOT near the centre of Todmorden. This was first run by Buckley and Sandersons, and later just known as John Buckley & Sons and was probably the first mill to be operated in the village of Todmorden. By 1805 there were at least 57 spinning mills on record.

These early cotton spinners still travelled to Manchester for the raw cotton. The only way of transporting goods backwards and forwards to Manchester was by horse and cart along the turnpike roads. However, by 1794 Parliamentary approval was given to build a CANAL to link the Calder Valley to Manchester. The local mill owners weren't best pleased by this proposal, despite the obvious transportation advantages. Water was essential to the runnning of the mills and they were terrified that the water requirements for the canal would reduce the already sparse supply. Petitions were sent in to the effect that even without the canal the mills suffered from lack of water in times of drought, at which times the mills were inoperable for parts of the day. Eventually, the Canal Company was restricted to the amount of water it could take from the streams, and was obliged to build its own reservoirs on Blackstone Edge. The mill owners were still unconvinced, but the canal was built, opening in 1798.

In these mills the people worked from 14 to 17 hours a day Monday to Friday, and were allowed home at twilight on Saturdays. Most of the operators were women and children and they earned up to 7 shillings a week. Some of the masters said they would never pay more than 7 shillings to a woman or a lass in a factory as this sum was quite enough.

On the other hand, a vast quantity of yarn was available to the domestic handloom weavers who, now in short supply, could demand top prices. The weavers began a period of great prosperity. They were paid according to how many "pieces" or "cuts" of cloth of a certain length they produced. In other words, Piece Rates. Most masters were paying 2 shillings and 6 pence a piece.

The accounts book from SMITHYHOLME MILL covering the year 1816 shows us which weavers attended the mill on taking in and putting out days, how much by weight they were given of warps and wefts, and how much they were paid for the returned cloth.


August 1816


At this stage their rural way of life wasn't greatly affected, and at the end of the day the spinning mills were still water powered and clean, and made the process of spinning much less arduous. The weavers still worked at home and in their own time at their own pace, attending the shops on putting out and taking in days as before.

However, for the women and children who did the carding and spinning, it was the start of the factory system and was the first time that Todmorden people had any form of organised employment whereby they had to start and end work at a given time and had to attend every day except Sunday.


The age of the steam-powered engines and huge weaving sheds were

about to arrive in Todmorden