Power Learning Journey
The most important element of the Cotton Industry's development from the 18th century onwards was the mechanisation of processes formerly carried out by hand. With the development of the Water Frame, Mule and Power Loom, the power required to drive ever larger and more complex textile machines became greater than human muscle could easily apply. In the steps that follow, we outline the principal forms of power employed in the cotton industry during the various phases of its development.
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Power Learning Journey Step 4: Steam Power
With the development of Crompton's Mule, natural sources - horse and water power - became inadequate to drive the new textile machinery. Horse powered mills were limited in size by the number of horses that could be used at any one time, and water power required physical location on the rapidly diminishing sites by rivers and streams.
Until around 1780 the steam engine was only used to pump water, and had changed little since Newcomen's pumping engine of 1712. Even the 1780 engine built by James Watt was still primarily a pumping engine, and was expensive to build and buy. Early steam engines were only of real use as a supplementary power source to water; being used to pump water from a lower mill pond into an upper mill pond so that it could run back downhill to drive the waterwheel.
It was realised that this was an inefficient way to power a mill, requiring both waterwheel and steam engines to be installed at the mill. The first recorded application of steam power in the Lancashire cotton industry was the atmospheric engine and waterwheel set up at the Shudehill Mill in Manchester in 1783, owned by Arkwright in partnership with two local men, Simpson and Whittenbury. Soon after 1790, other manufacturers began to make different types of steam engine that did not infringe Watt's patent, and these soon became popular. The first Boulton and Watt engine used in a textile mill was at the Robinson's mill in Papplewick, Nottinghamshire, ordered in June 1785.