Silk Throwing

wantingcaution !! this is an initial draft ... these notes are on my server for safe keeping !!

 

 

 

 

Silk WormsThe First Manufactories

Stockport along with Macclesfield & Congleton, played a crucial part in the industrial revolution and birth of modern industrial Britain ... some even suggest that the world's first factories were built in East Cheshire on the fast flowing streams from the Pennines. But more precisely, in 1704, Thomas Cotchett set up a water powered silk throwing mill to produce organizine in Derby on the River Derwent ... but the mill failed ... at this time only the Italians possessed the appropriate technology.

In the 18th century, silk entrepreneurs powered their mills with the streams from the Pennines, mills that were the forerunners of all the great mills of the cotton industry, and ultimately of factories the world over ...

There are many species of silk moths but they are fussy and feed exclusively on the leaf of the mulberry bush. The moths use an excretion, fibroin, cemented in place by a gum, a protein called sericin, to spin a closed cocoon to protect the larvae.

Silk CocoonsSilk throwing was the first process in the manufacture of the raw reeled silk. It corresponds to the carding, combing & spinning of wool and cotton into yarn. In silk manufacturing it is called throwing. When the silk arrives at the throwing mills it can be as the raw cocoons of the silkworms or as a mass of extracted fibres or skeins, just as it arrived from China, Japan or Italy. Throwing does not include the common processes of carding and combing because the silk is already in the form of threads. The good news is that the sericin gum is readily soluble in hot water and the fibres easily released, the only difficulty is that the fibres are too fine and delicate for use. Throwing is essentially the process of twisting and doubling the single fibres into usable thread after reeling and cleaning. The process involved about a dozen steps, most of which required different machines ... the product organizine was then strong enough to form the warp for the weavers. And the weavers of Spitalfields were demanding customers ...

Clearly silk throwing was considerably easier than cotton spinning where short fibre lengths and enmeshed seeds made both hand and machine processing into usable yarn problematic.

Silk FibresSilk processing skills were established in England by French Protestant Huguenots refugees after they had been kicked out of France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Huguenots or 'strangers' arrived in East Kent, and were encouraged to settle in Canterbury and then some 13,000 moved to Spitalfields in London. Some moved on to Macclesfield. In both Spitalfields and Canterbury, French speaking communities were formed. Their importance lay not in numbers but the important weaving skills that they introduced.

They prospered in Spitalfields where there was soon a cluster of 11 Huguenot churches. Outside the bounds of the City of London, they avoided the restrictive legislation of the City Guilds and got on with the job. However hand throwing of silk skeins produced a thread which was only strong enough for the fabric wefts, the stronger warp threads required machine throwing, expertise which had developed primarily in Italy. The Genoese and Venetians had been immersed in the silk trade with China from way back, ever since Marco Polo's silk road was superseded by the sea routes ...

The Allure of SilkSignificantly for industrialisation, the spinning of wool & linen by hand was straightforward if slow but silk was different ... it was the girls who demanded the fine quality of silk, after they had experienced the exotic imports from the east ... does the photo of a young girl explain industrialisation in Cheshire? ... what was the allure of fine silk on bare skin? ... feeling is believing? ... crucially the quality now demanded by the Spitalfields craftsmen required the fine quality of thread which could only be achieved with machines ... messing in the back parlour with distaffs was not good enough ...

Around 1700 imports of silks from Europe & Asia were prohibited to protect the Spitalfields enterprise. This was the spark which ignited the silk throwing industry in England.

Six significant men with intertwined fortunes were involved in the initiatives which culminated in the successful industrialisation of this ancient craft in England ... Sir Thomas Lombe, John Guardivaglio, Nathanial Patterson, John Clayton, Rev Joseph Dale and Charles Roe ... a progression of profitable enterprise led from the first mill in Derby (1721), to silk throwing at the Logwood Mill in Stockport (1732), and then the Park Green Mill was erected in Macclesfield (1744) and then fourthly the Old Mill was built in Congleton (1753). These three Cheshire towns became established as the centres of the English silk throwing industry. Tony Boson tells of the significance of this network of entrepreneurs, partners and centres of activity in Stockport, Macclesfield & Congleton in his book 'Driven by the Dane', ... 'these partnerships and the new methods & techniques were to prove immensely significant for the development of the towns and for the whole process of industrialisation in the country' ... the industrial revolution was under way ...

In 1717 John Lombe (1694-1722), sponsored by his brother, a London merchant, travelled to Italy intent on industrial espionage and contrived to copy the local designs for silk throwing machinery. John had been involved as an apprentice in Cotchett's earlier failed initiative with Dutch machinery in a mill on the River Derwent in Derby. On his return to England, with the help of his father's money, the Lombes obtained a patent on the machine designs, took over the failed mill and went into production.

Two Italians returned with Lombe as paid experts to exploit his English patent. What an opportunity! Then the intrigue started ... powerful men in Italy were naturally peeved ... who'd blame them they were losing a lucrative monopoly!

An interesting article from 1843 paints a fascinating picture. The theft of intellectual property, sexual blackmail and murderous poisoning maybe elaborations but they add excitement to the story of England's first successful factory ... a project which involved both risk capital and new technology ... this was not really a matter of life & death ... it was more important than that ... the industrial revolution was underway ...

George Sorocold (1668-1738) had engineered the first silk mill in Derby in 1702 for Thomas Cotchett. John Lombe's eldest brother, Thomas, had worked with the silk weavers of Spitalfields, and realised the benefit of applying power to the spinning process and invested in the project. George welcomed the idea and copied Dutch machines but the project failed. The idea was then taken up by the Lombe brothers who engaged Sorocold to build a new, larger mill, based on the Italian pattern, on the site of the old one.

Thus the first successful manufactory in the world was recognised as John & Thomas Lombe's new silk mill in Derby, constructed in 1721 to house new patented silk throwing machines. The patent claimed -

'three sorts of engines never before made or used within this our Kingdom of Great Britain, one to wind finest raw silk, another to spin and the other to twist the finest Italian raw silk into organzine (the strong warp thread) in great perfection which was never before done in this our Kingdom, by which means many thousand families of our subjects may be constantly employed in Great Britain, be furnished with silks of all sorts of the manufacture of our subjects, and great quantities exported into foreign parts by being made as good and cheap as any foreign silk can be'. All the machines were powered by an external undershot waterwheel, 7m in diameter and 2m in width. The axle entered the mill through a navel hole at first floor level and drove a vertical shaft which was 0.45m square & a horizontal lay shaft that ran the length of the mill.

Although not a primary source, an interesting article appeared in the Derby Daily Telegraph in 1934 ... and again in 1949 ... and a note on George Sorocold in 1936 ... the Manchester Courier reported the final collapse of the old mill in 1890 ...

But the Lombes in Derby were not alone ...

Stockport MillsStockport commanded an important strategic position in North East Cheshire on the confluence of Goyt & Tame into the Mersey and was a fortified burg in Anglo Saxon times. The chief road from Manchester to London ran through Stockport. Unsurprisingly Stockport, only seven miles from Manchester, became an important town, 2nd only to Chester in the Cheshire Shire.

John Aitkin summarised in 1795 -

'In Stockport were erected the first mills for winding and throwing silk, on a plan procured from Italy; and the persons concerned in the silk factories were reckoned the principal people in the place; but on the decline in the trade the machinery was applied to cotton spinning'.

When Lombe's patent ran out in 1732, the idea was quickly was taken up in Stockport. Silk spinners from towns including Stockport & Macclesfield successfully petitioned parliament to stop renewal of the patent. There was money to be made supplying the London silk weavers in Spitalfields. Eventually the Lombe family were paid off with a £14,000 cash award, and in 1732 Stockport's first silk mill (the first water powered textile mill in the north west of England) was erected on a bend on the Mersey confluence by the ancient corn mill. The partnership, effectively a joint stock company, was a model for the future which included many recurring elements of success -

removal of legal entanglements the government restrictions, in this case the expiry of a patent, more often tax reductions - partner Alexander Elcocke of Stockport was Attorney-at-Law.

existing land owners seeking increasing returns from their assets - Talbot Warren of Poynton, a landed Gent, owner of considerable estates including land along the banks of the Mersey in Stockport.

existing merchants, the nouveaux riche with accumulated capital from trade - Thomas Eyre of Stockport was a successful Manchester merchant. John Dickenson of Manchester was a linen & cotton merchant.

investors, financiers and providers of capital from London - Jonathan Gurnell, a merchant of the City of London.

innovative technology & organisation from inspired individual risk takers - Ignatius & John Guardivaglio, Lombe's technical resource, constructed the mill.

availability of skilled managers, artisans, apprenticeships & trainable labour to keep the wheels turning, the Italian machines boasted 45,000 motions ...

The partnership proved resilient over the years as a vehicle for cementing the cooperation of differing interest groups with 'shares' bought & sold as individuals died, retired or moved on ensuring continuity of production.

Tony Bonson tells the story of the Stockport textile entrepreneurs who recruited Lombe's mate from Italy, John Guardivaglio to manage the technology in their new mill. John Clayton was the mayor of Stockport at the time and was the partnership leader actively promoting silk throwing in Stockport. The Park Mills, as the investment was known, was a resounding success. In 1769 Defoe confirmed the industrial revolution there was well underway ... silk was in Stockport long before cotton, the first cotton mills did not appear in Stockport until 1775 ... but water power, buildings, services and a trained labour force were readily switched to cotton ... there was inertia in the system as Peter Mathias pointed out -

'A factory trained labour force, of semi skilled women and adolescents, was an immense local advantage by the second generation. Another very important external economy was the convenience of specialised service industries - bleaching, machine shops, machine servicing, which all grew up in the shadow of the mills'.

It was wool and woollen cloth that were the first great trades of England. It was the silk throwing mills that ushered in factory production but it was cotton that built the industrial revolution. Wool was a delicate complicated fibre with varying quality characteristics and a fickle supply system. Silk was always an expensive luxury with an exclusive inelastic imported supply. Flax was stiff and unmanageable but cotton fibres lent themselves to the machine automations of mass production and once the plantation production was underway in America, supply responded easily to increasing demand as fashionable, washable cotton sales grew, unhindered by the restrictive practices of the guilds ... the original miracle fibre ...

Samuel OldknowSamuel Oldknow (1756–1828) was one of the first to join the great cotton boom in Stockport on July 21st, 1784 . Silk was in decline and a succession of technical advances had made cotton production profitable ... Hargreaves, Crompton, Arkwright ... and the steam of James Watt ... cotton, and especially fashionable muslin for the girls, became all the rage ... Oldknow opened a warehouse on Hillgate and recruited cottage weavers to turn his purchased cotton yarns into cloth. The spinning of the yarn was done in the mills but weaving was still a domestic industry. This was the putting out system. Soon Oldknow had recruited 100 weavers in the Stockport district and two years later he had become the foremost muslin manufacturer in Britain employing over 3000 trained weavers who possessed among them at least 500 looms. Oldknow's profit was £17,000 in each year of production and his status grew to such an extent that he moved into the factory manufacture of muslins and calicoes ... the putting out system was under pressure, this was mass production ... more and more of the weaver's trade was slowly moved into the factories - bleaching, printing, warping, sizing, trimming, cutting, winding ... and eventually in 1790 Oldknow built a cotton spinning mill of his own in Stockport ... Oldknow employed the first Boulton and Watt steam engine in Stockport for turning his winding machine and he started his factory supervised 'loom house' ... it was not all plain sailing and his grand new Mellor Mill Marple broke the bank and his was forced into an ignominious bailout by Richard Arkwright ... nevertheless Samuel Oldknow was a successful pioneer of the ubiquitous factory system of mass production ...

... and eventually weaving itself moved into the factories with Cartwright's power loom ... interestingly William Ratcliff who had been a supplier yarn to Oldknow worked hard to improve the power looms when he took over Oldknow's Mill around 1800 ... but his own mercantilist views compelled him to support the cottage weavers and delay the introduction of fully mechanised weaving in factories ...

Productivity improvements from factory weaving were interrupted by a traumatic sequence - Stockport's favourable location, close to water power & imports of American raw cotton through Liverpool, was eroded as international trade collapsed and jobs were destroyed during the Napoleonic troubles from 1795 - the situation was exacerbated by The Corn Laws which pushed up the price of food leading to the Luddite assaults on Ratcliff's machines in 1812 and eventually the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 ... significantly it was Stockport's MP, Richard Cobden, who promoted trade recovery with his Anti Corn Law rhetoric which eventually bore fruit with the repeal in 1836 ... only then could the factories take full advantage of mechanisation and mass production which benefitted everyone ... slowly the mills moved from their original locations close to water power to new site on the Lancashire coalfields during the halcyon days of steam power. By 1838 of the 1600 mills in England, 1200 were in Lancashire.

The Old Mill, CongletonCongleton was on the pure flowing Dane, a beautiful spot, in the parish of Astbury, in the Northwich Hundred and the diocese of Chester. Sheltered by large local woods, but far from the sea and the south, it hosted only six houses at Domesday, maybe forty folk. Its reputable church at Astbury was close by. Congleton land was fertile and when cleared, like most of Cheshire was enclosed for pasture. Hugh Lupus and his mob controlled operations from Chester and by 1282 Congleton had an enviable charter with immunities for its freemen. Now the freemen were enabled for arts, manufactures and commerce. Far away from Welsh intrusions and political convulsions in London there was relative tranquillity for hard work. A weekly market on Saturday and an annual, three day fair held on the Festival of Holy Trinity encouraged local endeavours. Things went well with a grammar school founded in 1589 ... but unexceptionally well ... in 1642 the town was depopulated by plague but escaped the ravages of the civil war ... for sure, like most places there were linen & wool weavers and tanners & glove makers but the only specialisation of note was of tag leather laces or 'Congleton Points'. The 'points' were made from tough white leather cut into small thongs and pointed at the ends with tags of tin or silver, they were very fashionable ... and functional, all men's garments were tied with them ... and the girls too, until the advent of buckles & buttons ... unexceptional ... that was until the auspicious & prosperous era of enterprise & adventure in silk ...

In 1752 John Clayton (-1758) left his silk throwing enterprise in Stockport and formed a partnership with Nathaniel Pattison (1726-84), a silk merchant from London who was well aware of the profits made by his friend, Sir Thomas Lombe, and arranged for his son, Nathaniel, to be trained in the celebrated mill in Derby. The Clayton Pattison duo built The Old Mill at Mill Green, Congleton, for water powered silk throwing, at a cost of over £5,000. Hoping for economies of scale the five storied mill was far larger than the previous silk mills. James Brindley, a local millwright from nearby Leek who later became the most famous of the canal engineers, designed the state of the art machinery and included many of his own improvements ... there was much excellence to copy in the Congleton Mill as other future textile manufactories proliferated around Manchester ...

Significantly the Derby Corporation did not support the renewal of the Lombe patent on the dubious grounds that it both undermined employment in the wool industry and stopped the exodus of the poor thus increasing the poor rate costs! Short sighted anti-business sentiment was rife right from the start of the industrial revolution, achieving nothing but the destruction of productive potential and unintended assistance to competitors elsewhere ... on the other hand the Congleton authorities were supportive of Clayton & Pattison ...

John Corry in his history of macclesfield described how John Clayton & Nathaniel Pattison secured the essential water rights for their throwing mills in Congleton in 1752 and guaranteed that their workers from other towns would not become a burden on the corporation. The Rev Joseph Dale, also from Stockport, was a silent investor in the venture, he had some insight into the profits that could be made as his son-in-law Samuel Lankford was a business partner of Charles Roe who had been throwing silk in Macclesfield since 1844 (see below).

Once again a reduction in taxation spurred development. A reduction in duty on imported raw silk in 1749 helped John Clayton put Congleton on the map. The original town specialisation in gloves and 'Congleton points' gave way to silk. In 1834 it was said, 'the first silk mill was established here in 1754, and the trade has wonderfully increased since'.

This success induced others to engage in the same business, and in a few years others erected their silk mills, although on a smaller scale, on the Dane and the local tributary Howty Brook ... the weaving of silk ribbons became an new Congleton speciality ... by 1771 The Old Mill employed over 600 and by 1790 it dominated employment in the town. Immigration followed and the industrial revolution had begun ... without doubt Congleton was now on the map ...

Yates's history of congleton described the elaborate technology at The Old Mill in 1820 ...

Not only silk but also cotton spinning; the earliest cotton mill was on the Dane, Shaw Mill, at Buglawton which was owned by Richard Martin (1760-95) and started up in 1784 ...

A quaint & interesting article on the mills of Congleton has been written by Karen Briddock.

After the Napoleonic wars the silk industry declined and the Pattison family sold the Mill to Samuel Pearson in 1830. Steam was introduced and there was hope for a return to the halcyon days but Chartist riots started and many mills closed. Economies of scale kept the Old Mill going but it never recovered its former pioneering glory 'comparative advantage' in silk had been lost ...

Of course fortunes ebbed and flowed and in 1836 Sandbach was expanding production.

Congleton was at the centre of the demise of silk & cotton and working folk didn't like it, who can blame them, they lost their livelihoods and they had a wife and two kids to support. By the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 'down with free trade' was the slogan of some of the Chartist mobs who ransacked the mills and blamed the powers that be for their reckless abandonment of protective import tariffs. But free trade benefitted everyone and 'protected' farming was no different from 'protected' manufacturing, both impoverished everyone ... the Chartists had to think it through ... one man one vote was a good idea but arbitrary protection one one group at the expense of another was anathema ...

But the corrupt & extravagant powers that be had no choices; they were in a cleft stick, without their earnings from English imports, the strange foreigners would have nothing to exchange for the output of the Congleton mills ... the economy was a complex adaptive system, physically impossible to manage & control ... taxes & tariffs were mirages ...

Nevertheless comparative advantage was very difficult to explain and nobody in Congleton believed David Ricardo. The manufacturing expertise in Congleton remained second to none but the bankers in London were earning much more money financing manufacturing projects overseas ... it was just too difficult ... & too depressing ... to understand ...

Inevitably, eventually the terminal decline of the silk industry followed the free trade agreement of 1860 between the United Kingdom & France, the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty ... the Congleton silk industry could not compete with French imports, real wages were too high. Unsurprisingly the advantages of free trade were little understood as unemployment rose and Congleton lost its glorious silk industry.

But Richard Cobden was a smart cookie -

'The progress of freedom depends upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce and the diffusion of education, rather than upon the labours of cabinets and foreign offices'.

Macclesfield Silk MillMacclesfield had a proud tradition of Royal patronage as the host of one of Cheshire's extensive & magnificent hunting forests. A Charter from the Earl of Chester in 1261, was the first of several favours from English Sovereigns which bestowed on the town considerable peculiar immunities and the privilege of a Merchant Guild. There was an earned reputation for horse breeding at the local stud; primarily working horses but, to the consternation of some, race horses soon followed. A flash of enterprise occurred in 1502 when Sir Jon Percival founded his 'Free Grammar School'. Henry VIII suppressed the school during the Reformation but it was re-endowed by Edward VI in 1552. Elizabeth bestowed a new Macclesfield charter in 1595 which consolidated the position as an independent Corporation. During the Civil War Sir William Brereton was the local commander of the Parliamentary forces and the Royalist strongholds didn't stand a chance in East Cheshire. Yet in spite of these advantages the town continued in relative obscurity until stirrings as the 18th century approached.

John Aikin in 1795 wrote -

'With respect to the trade of Macclesfield, that of wrought buttons in silk, mohair & twist, is probably its staple. The use of them may be traced 150 years backwards; and they were once curiously wrought with needle, making a great figure in full trimmed suits. Macclesfield was always considered the centre of this trade and mills were erected long ago both here and in Stockport for winding silk and making twist for buttons and trimming suitable to them'.

'No biographer has perpetuated the name of the ingenious artist who first began the manufacture of silk in Macclesfield' ... but after the war the Pickford family made a splash in tanning, the local textile trade and malting ... they had family connections in Derby and at the time the principle trade of Derby was malting, supplying Staffordshire, Lancashire and much of Cheshire ... the Earl of Derby had estates in Macclesfield ... its seems there were early commercial connections with Derby as towns began to specialise and one thing led to another as it always did ... 

The Corporation of Macclesfield was active & innovative and proud of their independent charter. Hunting, horse breeding, malting and buttons; Monday markets and great fairs; and goodish roads linking Derby to Chester and London & the south to Manchester on on to York. In imitation of Liverpool they reduced the costs of free trade and 'ingenious strangers were encouraged to come hither and contribute by their skill to the prosperity of the community'. Restrictions were relaxed on 'persons skilful in handicraft arts, from settling amongst them and practicing their trades' ...

There must have been a pattern here; it seemed trade and technology prospered through synergies of specialisation & scale and not from protective laws and prohibitive taxes ... there was lively trade around Macclesfield at this time ...

John Corry told the story of the innovations of the freemen of Macclesfield which were helped by competitive Huguenot 'strangers', who established a formidable trade in silk buttons from around 1650 ... unfortunately parliament got in on the act in 1722 with some well intended 'protective' regulations which prohibited the wearing of buttons made from the same material as the coat; vainly hoping that only silk buttons would to be used. This intrusion & interference in free trade produced nothing but general 'popular odium' and was 'injurious to the manufacture it was intended to protect'; it went against the grain of the 1688 'Glorious Revolution'. Perversely the legislation merely hastened the switch to buttons of metal & horn! Around 1717 the metal bashing innovators waxed in Birmingham and started to produce excellent metal buttons, both plated and gilt; this new fangled competition stole the show, and the silk button trade in Macclesfield went into decline.

 But the Macclesfield merchants were unbowed -

 'the time was approaching which was to be a distinct era in the history of Macclesfield by the establishment of the silk manufacture to an extent and perfection formally unknown in England' ...

The time was ripe for silk throwing in Macclesfield, there were already silk button trade connections with London, a skilled labour force existed, the technology was close at hand in Stockport and there was power from the River Bollin. Charles Roe

Charles Roe (1715-81)

By 1744 charles roe had started to build his first silk throwing mill by the side of the fast flowing Bollin, at Park Green. His project was inspired by the profits earned by the Lombes from their mill near Roes' old home in Castleton ... and from Guardivalio's success with Park Mills in Stockport, both of which used the machinery model from Italy.

Charles Roe had an enviable pedigree. Reverend William Roe (-1669) of Wem, after a propitious marriage, invested his settlement in the beer brewing industry of Hadley. Perhaps helped by James I's thirst for money, William may have obtained the freehold of his investments in return for ridiculously meagre funds, in the same way as the gandys did in Sevenoaks in 1612. In 1628 the Manor of Arleston came into Williams possession. The Rev William Roe (1618-80) of Arleston had a son Rev Robert Roe (1646-1717) of Hadley who was the last of the Shropshire Roe's to sire a pious man of the church; the Rev Thomas Roe (1670-1723) of Castleton who was Charles Roe's dad ...

Another Thomas Roe was possibly related; Sir Thomas Roe (1581-1644) was friend and associate of Prince Rupert, and in 1615, after negotiations, he triumphantly established The East India Company as a trading company in India; a win win deal which brought trade riches to England in the same way the earlier Dutch East India Company had for the Netherlands.

The Roes were Royalists and suffered fines and were banned from teaching during the Commonwealth, but in 1660 the joy and elation of the restoration fired enthusiasm and The East India Company flourished. Prince Rupert returned to help hold off the Dutch in the trade wars and significantly he sponsored the Royal African Company. Prince Rupert also became Governor of The Mines Royal and helped the early metallurgists get to grips with brass production. Shortly after Rupert's death and as a consequence of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 The Mines Royal monopoly in precious metals was broken and the flood gates opened for copper, tin, lead & iron. A enormously wealthy merchant class emerged on the back of these trading giants ... but the most enterprising of the old guard aristocrats also did well as long as they developed and invested in the resources under their land ... lead, copper, coal, iron, clay ...

Things started to move after 1688 but as Dorothy Bentley Smith suggested the new entrepreneurs needed help -

'Connections in the City of London would be needed for success. It is important to appreciate the enormous influence which the city exerted on the rest of the country at this period, it was like a giant octopus drawing into itself everything it could find, and as the population of the city increased it was necessary to reach further and further along the communications network for sufficient food to supply its swelling numbers'.

Funds for new profitable investments were now available and exploitation of the new technologies became feasible. This was the breakthrough which launched the Industrial Revolution. Investment no longer depended on the good fortune of family accumulations nor dependent on confiscatory tithes & taxation, the latter had long since ceased to be a fair contribution to the local community. The investment funding problem had been solved by folks like john freame in London. The Quakers, like the Jews, were hard working business enthusiasts ...

Revenues from the Roe estates at Wem, Arleston and Hadley ebbed and flowed and in 1710 Hadley manor was seized by creditors. Before this financial crisis young Thomas Roe (1670-1723) left Shropshire around 1695 for ... Macclesfield.

By 1698 Thomas Roe (1670-1723) had married Mary of Knutsford, and they immediately set off for Castleton in Derbyshire; lead mining country. Charles Roe (1715-) was born in Castleton, into a period & place dominated by his father's ministry; where everyday life was one great economy where nothing was wasted -

'The most important over riding factor was to be able to feed the family and the whole of life revolved round this basic necessity. A rural England where in spite of bull baiting & cock fighting, the people respected their animals and appreciated the role they played in the teamwork required to harness nature. Many clergymen's sons became important people'.

A useful addition to Thomas' stipend was a lead tithe from the odin mine on the Glebe lands and further personal investments in mining followed on Eyam Edge ... the children's education was secure!

Significantly in 1723 when Thomas Roe died the family with young 8 year old Charles moved to stockport, where his elder brother was at school ... but mother died in 1724 and eldest brother William of Macclesfield died in 1730 ... young Charles, then 15, was understandably desperate to find some security for the family. Stockport and then Macclesfield both were close to Manchester and appeared to have intense interconnections with everywhere ... the port of old Chester & new port of Liverpool, and also Hull via the Derwent & Trent; roads from Derby to Chester and roads from London & the south to Manchester and on to York and also the routes up North to Carlisle & Scotland ...

But in 1730 Macclesfield was 'in retrogression in between the cottage industry and the mills' ... trade with China was difficult, importation of raw silk by the East India Company was not on, by 1730 hardly any raw silk was imported from China and in 1736 none at all .... and high risk projects like the Macclesfield copper mine came to nought ... failures were everywhere ... folk only remembered the successes ...

1736 was a turning point for East Cheshire trade; not only was the Witchcraft Act repealed but Chienlung of China (1736-95) started to encourage overseas trade for an extended period (the snag was, of course, the British paid for this trade with opium from India ... it was very difficult to find anything from England that the self sufficient Chinese wanted to buy!) also by 1750 the English Parliament had reduced duties on Chinese raw silk ... in 1732 the Lombe silk patents expired and had not been renewed ... in 1734 the Weaver Navigation had opened ... the Port Liverpool was taking over from Chester ... and in 1736 Charles Roe was 21 years old and had to earn a crumb, he worked hard, travelled widely and was dedicated to business & trade. He followed go getters like daniel whittaker who was another successful merchant from Macclesfield who would have been trading in not only buttons but also cottage thrown silk, Irish linens from Chester and cottons, mohair & horse hair ... a very general and diversified trade. Daneil Whittaker left Macclesfield for Manchester when things got tough in 1730 but Charles Roe was just starting out and caught the upswing in trade from 1736. By 1742 Charles had been successful enough to be admitted a freeman of Macclesfield, 'Gratis' ... and then in 1743 he receive a generous settlement from a propitious marriage to Elizabeth Lankford of Meerbrook !

  The Roe investment project was ambitious. The Park Green Silk Mill was on a scale hitherto unknown in Macclesfield, as folk were to work together in large numbers in purpose built buildings ... a workshop, twisting and doubling rooms, the compting house and a warehouse ... also stables, a singeing room, boiler room and drying shed ... the size of the project and the constant problem of providing sufficient water to drive the gigantic wheel involved the recruitment of investing partners. In addition to father-in-law Samuel Lankford (and perhaps a tenant Rev John Robinson), a trio of merchants joined the team; Samuel Huxley, Samuel Glover & William Greaves. Once again profits from trade were invested in manufactories ...

And Charles Roe was also trading in lead; he never forgot the success of his dad in Castleton and knew of the smelters on the Derwent. And he watched the developments of the London Lead Company and the enviable copper initiatives not only at Bank Quay but also at Middleton Tyas up north, and in Derby close to the silk mill. Then in 1752 following the death of his first wife Elizabeth Lankford in 1750, he married Mary Stockdale and ended up with a second marriage settlement to invest! He bought chestergate house (Charles Roe House) and watched Thomas Patten's Warrington business expand rapidly to feed the West African trade.

Charles Roe & Co was the name of the merchant business which was kept separate from the silk mill partnership.

In 1756 an off shoot of Charles Roe & Co called The Macclesfield Copper Company invested in copper mining in Coniston; family links as ever played their part in the 18th century, and this venture involved brother-in-law Rowland Atkinson. The Macclesfield company worked the rich bonsor vein at Coniston until 1769. The deal was not to supply ore to principal Thomas Patten at  Bank Quay but to supply Roe's new smelter on Macclesfield Common built in 1758! The ore from Coniston involved a tortuous supply route by sea from Ulverston and up the Weaver to Northwich and on to Macclesfield by pack horse ... oh dear ... and efficient smelting required mixture of different qualities of ores ...

From about 1756 Charles was also working the Alderley Edge ores in the engine vein mine until floods in 1764 ... ores were also mined from the Duke of Devonshire's veins on ecton hill, Staffs from 1761 until 1771 ...

Burdett Mapp 1777In 1758 Charles went into smelting on Macclesfield Common ... the local coals were insufficient for the voracious appetites of the smelters and Charles went into partnership with Brian Hodgson, who had coal interests at Disley; Brian became a trusted colleague for life ... also involved was Edward Pitts, a pin maker ... and John Walker, a Liverpool Merchant, who handled all the business to & from the thriving port ...

The long tortuous tentacles of interconnections spread further & wider and men 'in the know', like Charles Roe, heard of interesting mining developments in North Wales, Anglesey, Scotland & there was a big Cornish supply. We don't read of the many speculations which failed but the Weaver Navigation records indicated that The Llanberis Mine Company supplied the Macclesfield smelter in the 1760s and rich ores came from Middleton Tyas from 1764 to 1767 and some supplies came from Blackcraige, Kirkcudbrightshire ... 

Much of the market for copper was in brass production and brass was an inevitable development for Charles. In 1760 five more silk mills had mushroomed in Macclesfield but there was a shortage of raw silk from China ... and silk men were up in arms blaming, 'clandestine importation of French silks' for their demise ... Charles started to move out of silk to release capital for brass. In 1763 The Havannah Works, a brass foundry was built at Eaton, Astbury near Congleton; it comprised a rolling mill, wire mill, annealing house & oven together with water from the River Dane for five wheels ... rolled copper for sugar refiners and wire for the pins of Edward Pitts ... business was good and in 1766 a second manufactory was opened, Just up the Dane at Bosley ...

William Roe (1746-1827), Charles's eldest son, at 21 years of age, in 1767, was destined to head up a new smelter in Liverpool, on the industrial South Shore, and with John Walker's connections, the coal supply from St Helen's via the Sankey Canal was contracted for ... but what about copper ore?

Parys CopperOres from Cornwall were purchased from 1765 as initially other suppliers in Penrhyn-Du (calamine) and Parys Mountain on Anglesey were diminutive ; Thomas Pennant suggested -

'ore was discovered but the expenses overbalanced the profits'!

But in 1768 mining in Anglesey struck rich; Parys Mountain was full of copper! Pennant again -

'at the depth of seven feet from the surface, the solid mineral, which proved to be the vast body of which has since been worked to such advantage'.

Charles Roe's 'Paris Mountain Company' was formed in 1768.

Cheshire was renowned for salt & cheese and then silk but unbelievably Charles Roe succeeded in introducing Anglesey copper ore into Macclesfield for smelting and fabrication which lasted from about 1764 to 1800 ... but the transportation economics were impossible ... the Duke of Bridgewater was successful with his canal for coals to Manchester & Runcorn; Josiah Wedgwood had a scheme for Cornish clay to the Potteries and pottery returning to Liverpool ... but a Macclesfield canal connection to the Weaver and on to Liverpool and to Stockport & Manchester, via Sir George Warren's coal pits in Poynton, was Roe's dream ... but the Duke of Bridgewater opposed the scheme (surprise, surprise!) ... 

It was rumoured that it was the Duke who also made trouble for the new Liverpool smelter, 'emitting poison of a most acrimonious nature', when the other South Shore industries were acclaimed differently; the sugar house was 'balsamic, the salt house, 'antiseptic', the glass works, 'nothing obnoxious' the iron foundry, 'virtues of chalybeate water' ... trouble brewed ... the smelters were moved to Toxteth during 1771 ... no wonder every partnership included a lawyer!

The advantage of the Toxteth operation was a big improvement in logistics and costs; the copper ore was now smelted at the waterside complex at Toxteth and only the much smaller tonnages of copper bars were sent on to Macclesfield for refining. Further savings were made by dressing and roasting the ore to remove sulphur impurities (calcining) at the Parys mine site. The improved logistics at Toxteth and the rich Parys ores gave the business a massive boost but an over complex organisation needed simplifying and in 1774 a new partnership was formed; The Macclesfield Copper Company.

In 1775 some of Charles Roe's considerable fortune was invested in the local community; the elegant Christ Church, complete with a spire, ten bells, a handsome organ and a cemetery.

In 1777 there was a further simplification of the Macclesfield Copper Company - Charles Roe was appointed Director to Superintend the works at Macclesfield; Robert Hodgson likewise at Havannah; Edward Hawkins likewise at Bosley and William Roe confirmed at Toxteth. In spite of some disruption to trade from the American War of Independence the company progressed well, and there was a spur to business through the copper sheathing of ships which 'became imperative for gaining an advantage over the enemy'. Charles Roe died in 1781.

In 1792 Roe & Co moved from Toxteth to Swansea. The Liverpool Corporation needed land at Toxteth for expanding the docks, coal supplies were difficult, labour costs high and Thomas Williams was controlling prices copper prices. They flirted with Chester and expanded at The River Bank Works at Bagillt but settled for new smelters on the River Neath in South Wales where agreements with the Cheadle Company could confront Thomas Williams.

thomas williams (1737-1802) grew into the copper space vacated by when Charles Roe and Thomas Patten died.

Williams started mining the other half of Parys Mountain as The Mona Mine Company. He used gunpowder effectively and built access roads to Amlwch Port where they were shipped to the smelters on the coalfields at Ravenhead and Stanley, St Helens and The Middle Bank Smelting Works, Swansea. Supreme confidence and perhaps, personal greed, combined and Thomas Williams tried to corner the copper market with cut price strategies to secure supplies to the East India Company and exploiting deals with the respected, Boulton & Watt and John Wilkinson of Bersham. He claimed to have solved the corrosion problems associated with the iron bolts which were needed to attach the copper sheathing to the Admiralty ships. Then the greatest confidence trick the industry had ever been subjected to as Williams promoted a scheme for control of the Anglesey and Cornish output which was to supply smelters at Swansea.

But the halcyon days of innovation and profit were coming to an end; Thomas Williams was playing an end game. The mines themselves were getting deeper, flooding was interminable and ore quality deteriorating; Roe & Co didn't renew the Parys lease in 1784. Smelting technology was well understood and available to overseas competitors with cheaper labour costs. The logistical nightmare of bringing ores, coals and customers together had been solved ... but the high value innovations were now in the fabrication of artefacts in the copper and brass manufactories ... mining and smelting were old hat and could be done anywhere ... and to cap the lot war with France made all trade fearfully difficult ... Thomas Williams died in 1802 ...

Enclosure of Macclesfield Common and, at last, the Macclesfield Canal, didn't help and Macclesfield Common, Havannah & Bosley were put up for sale in 1801; there were no buyers, brass production was abandoned. The Neath Abbey smelters were transferred to Edward Hawkins and William Roe made money from property development in Liverpool ... and as a Commissioner for Customs ...

Macclesfield Common was eventually sold, Havannah became a silk mill, Bosley a cotton mill and Neath Abbey works were taken over by the Cheadle Company but they too were doomed ... although vivian & sons were supremely successful after 1810 just down the road at Hafod ...

Macclesfield had certainly continued to welcome commerce & industry and cotton manufactories followed silk in 1785 by 'men from Lancashire' ... Stella  Davies suggested the textile industry 'invaded' the agricultural town -

 'The number and extent of the industrial encroachments, the development of Macclesfield as a textile centre and the character of the award indicate the dominant motive for enclosing the commons was to regulate the existing  building development and to provide room for its extension' ...

Silk weaving followed in 1790 with an influx of skilled men from London & Dublin. Silk handkerchiefs, shawls and other kinds of broad silk became the staple trade of Macclesfield. The influx of new wealth did not amuse the locals who noted it seemed to be accompanied by moral decay ...

Silk fell on hard times after the Napoleonic wars as the industry was hit by a dramatic increase in taxation, the odious Corn Laws which kept the price of bread high and the resuscitation of imports as hostilities ceased ... cotton became all the rage ... silk was always a more fashionable up market fabric ... the final death of the industry came in 1860 with a free trade agreement with the French ... protectionism was finished the French were buying novel English mass produced manufactured goods from the 1851 exhibition ... in 1860 a treaty with France allowed its silk to be imported duty free and the English silk trade began its terminal decline and the industry suffered accordingly ... the fortunes of the Cheshire textile industry were revived temporarily when fustian and velvet cutting were introduced in 1867 ... artificial fibres followed ... but the mills were closing as the services grew ... especially financial services ... silk was old hat ... the silk industry decline was the subject of an inevitable enquiry which was noted in The Derby Telegraph in 1884 ...

From around 1775 more and more effort & investment went into cotton which was cheaper to produce and had mass market appeal ... the beautiful printed cottons imported from India were easily washable and emphatically 'the' fashion for elegant clothes as silk and linen lost their prime position ... and ingenious folk were discovering the techniques of mass production of quality cotton prints ...

Northwich was quick to get in on the cotton act as William Cockshott from Macclesfield set up his mill on the Weaver as early as 1780 ... and the northwich mill inspired Daniel Whittaker's project ...

Clearly the East Cheshire towns and Northwich & the River Weaver played an important role in the industrial revolution in England ...

 

'A Georgian Gent & Co - the Life & Times of Charles Roe' by Dorothy Bentley Smith, 2005.

Any corrections and additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall

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