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Arkwright, Sir Richardfree

  • J. J. Mason

Sir Richard Arkwright (1732–1792)

by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1789–90

private collection; photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

Arkwright, Sir Richard (1732–1792), inventor of cotton-spinning machinery and cotton manufacturer, was born on 23 December 1732 at Preston, Lancashire, the sixth of the seven children of Thomas Arkwright (1691–1753), a tailor, and his wife, Ellen Hodgkinson (1693–1778). The family was rooted in Lancashire, in or close to the Fylde; the occupations of Sir Richard's ancestors from at least the mid-seventeenth century—yeoman, innkeeper, husbandman, saddler, shoemaker, tailor—and the public duties of some place them in the lower-middling ranks. Thomas Arkwright, judging by his widow's poverty and the absence of a will, left little to his seven children. Arkwright's elder brother, William, became a tailor at Manchester. Of the five sisters, Ann married a Preston tailor, Mary a Manchester surgeon, Jennet a reed maker (two of her sons attended Manchester grammar school), and Ellen a peruke maker; Elizabeth's son became an attorney's clerk. Arkwright himself received little formal education. Family tradition recounts a night school, but it is likely that he picked up the rudiments from within the family. Two of his sisters attended the Bluecoats School; Ellen, the daughter of his uncle Richard, claimed 'she encouraged him in studying, and inventing any little sorts of machines etc.' (Fitton, 7). He was apprenticed to a barber, at Kirkham, west of Preston, until 1750, when he moved to Bolton-le-Moors.

The small tradesman

Arkwright spent eighteen years at Bolton. He worked first for Edward Pollit, a peruke maker, until the latter's death, and then remained for a while with his widow. By 1755 he had branched out. He reputedly set up in small rooms off a passage leading to the White Bear and shaved chins for a penny. On 31 March 1755, described as a peruke maker, he married Patience, the daughter of Robert Holt, a property-owning schoolmaster and Presbyterian. Their only child, Richard Arkwright, was born on 19 December 1755 and baptized at Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel. The Arkwrights were members of the Church of England; perhaps these contacts facilitated Arkwright's later dealings with the nonconformists of the east midlands. Robert Holt initially favoured Arkwright, lending him £60, but when Patience died, on 6 October 1756, she was interred with her mother, and the gravestone omitted her matrimonial name.

Arkwright was at this time credited 'with some success … he had a decent House … and his friends and acquaintances were persons … in Superior Station to himself' (Fitton, 7). On 24 March 1761 he married Margaret Biggins (1723–1811) of Pennington, near Leigh. They had a daughter, Susanna, born on 20 December 1761, also baptized at Bank Street Chapel, and two other daughters who died young. From an £80 legacy of Margaret's, Arkwright repaid Holt; the remainder probably went towards his new venture as a publican. In 1762 he took the Black Boy, upon which he 'expended much money', sought out 'a better class of customers', but 'became necessitous' and 'was obliged to leave … which left him very low in every sense of the word'. He returned to his trade, in a shop opposite the Man and Scythe in Churchgate, taking as his assistant John Dean of Leigh, a skilled wig maker. Arkwright 'was always thought clever in his peruke making business and very capital in Bleeding & toothdrawing and … [a] very ingenious man' (Fitton, 8). His business plate suggests a man conscious of fashion and ready to push a remunerative line. He was not afraid to try new ventures; in 1767 he told John Kay: 'I was a barber, but I have left it off, and I and another are going up and down the country buying hair and can make more of it' (Trial of a Cause, 63). He reputedly had a valuable method of dyeing hair for wig making.

Arkwright as inventor

Living in Bolton, Arkwright must have been aware of the increasing use of cotton yarn. Lancashire knew of the failed Paul and Wyatt machinery, and its craftsmen and cotton workers were experimenting with and making spinning machines. Legends abound concerning Arkwright's 'invention' of spinning by rollers. There is no reason to doubt tales of 'His genius for Mechanics' (Fitton, 7)—displayed in a love of gadgetry during his time at Bolton—but the secrecy shrouding his machine was intentional. In September 1767 Arkwright met John Kay, a clockmaker whom he had first encountered six months earlier at a Warrington public house, and Kay agreed to turn some brass for him. Further meetings soon followed, and over a glass of wine the talk turned to spinning by rollers, which, Kay claimed, he could bring to bear; the next morning he awoke to find Arkwright at his bedside, and, at his urging, agreed to 'make him a small model, at a small expence' (Trial of a Cause, 63). Arkwright took this model to Manchester.

Kay later admitted to having obtained the idea of roller spinning from a neighbour, Thomas Highs of Leigh, for whom he had worked and whose machine he had seen. Highs claimed that he knew Arkwright from 1764 or 1765—perhaps through Arkwright's Leigh contacts, his wife and her family, and his assistant, John Dean—the time that Highs, with Kay's help, was working on a roller spinning machine. Highs was to recount meeting Arkwright at Manchester in 1771: 'I told him, he never would have had the rollers but through me'; 'Suppose', Arkwright replied, 'if any man has found out a thing, and begun a thing, and does not go forwards, he lays it aside, … another man has a right to take it up, and get a patent for it' (Trial of a Cause, 59).

Highs, as he later admitted, did not take it forward; Arkwright took it up. Along with Kay, he visited the Warrington machine maker Peter Atherton, and asked him to build a machine; Atherton refused but agreed to provide a smith and a watch-tool maker, Kay being responsible for the clockwork. In late 1767 Arkwright took the machine to Manchester and then, in early January 1768, accompanied by Kay, now employed as his servant, to Preston. Arkwright, his resources running low, and anxious to keep his activities secret—Kay put forward the idea that they were 'making a Machine to find out the Longitude' (Fitton, 15)—was, apparently, seeking to perfect the machine. His device included two features which did not appear in the Paul and Wyatt frames—the placing of rollers to take account of the fibres' length, and, to prevent twisting in the drawing space, the weighting of the top rollers. In April 1768 Arkwright and Kay, now indentured to Arkwright, apparently for twenty-one years at half a guinea a week, left Preston for Nottingham. Arkwright, in need of capital, had drawn into the enterprise two relatives, John Smalley, landlord of The Bull inn, Preston, a sometime grocer and painter, and David Thornley, a merchant, of Liverpool. Within a short time they and Thornley's brother-in-law Henry Brown, probably included for his skills as a watchmaker, also left for Nottingham.

Richard Arkwright & Co.

In moving to Nottingham, Arkwright, like James Hargreaves, was choosing an established centre for textiles. On 14 May 1768 Arkwright, Smalley, and Thornley formed a partnership to exploit Arkwright's machine. Arkwright, 'clockmaker of Nottingham', presented his petition on 8 June 1768, but the patent—it has been suggested that the partners lacked the fee—was not granted until 3 July 1769. On 29 September premises were taken, near those of Hargreaves, in which to build and work the machine. By June 1769 Thornley's resources were gone and he assigned a third of his share to Smalley, who later claimed he 'found the first money' (Fitton, 42), and may also have been stretched. Arkwright apparently approached the Nottingham bankers Ichabod and John Wright, but they, seeing 'little prospect of the discovery being brought into a practical state' (ibid., 27), passed him to Samuel Need, a nonconformist, wealthy hosier, and partner of the inventor and businessman Jedediah Strutt. On 19 January 1770, for £500, Need and Strutt joined the partners; Arkwright and Thornley were to manage the works, each having £25 a year. Financially secure, the partners commissioned Samuel Stretton to convert the premises into a horse-powered mill.

Arkwright's later claim that he made little money in the early years is probably correct, for, problems with the pre-spinning handling of cotton apart, a factory version of the model had to be constructed and then built in numbers; the Nottingham mill was reputedly not at work until Christmas 1772. It is a measure of their confidence that, on 1 August 1771, the partners leased land at Cromford, near Matlock, Derbyshire, on which to 'Erect and Build one or more Mill or Mills for Spinning Winding or throwing Silk Worsted Linen Cotton or other Materials' (Fitton, 28). The assertion that Arkwright selected Cromford because it would meet his social aspirations cannot be taken seriously. His 20 per cent share of the business at that time would hardly have permitted such a decision. He told his lawyer in 1780 that Cromford had been chosen because it offered 'a remarkable fine Stream of Water … in a Country very full of inhabitants'. Arkwright's letter of March 1772 records him still developing the machinery, being astonished at its labour-saving potential: 'wee shall not want 1/5 of the hands I First Expect.d', and the product's qualities 'soft and as Even as silk' (ibid., 32). His reference was to cotton yarn, which was originally intended for stockings, but its possibilities as warp for the loom led, in 1773, to the manufacture of calicos; by February 1774 the partners could, according to Elizabeth Strutt, 'Sell them … as fast as Cou'd make em' (ibid., 37). Strutt's successful lobbying of parliament for the reduction of excise duties on British-made cotton goods cleared the way, in 1774, for the development of a new industry. By then £13,000 had been spent on the business.

Despite the company's success, Arkwright's was a minority interest. From the mid-1770s he sought to dominate the trade. In 1775 he successfully applied for a patent for certain instruments and machines for preparing silk, cotton, flax, and wool, for spinning. Covering a range of preparatory and spinning machines, it was an attempt to extend the length and terms of his monopoly to the whole cotton industry. The rights to the 1769 patent were shared with his partners; those of the 1775 patent, excepting machinery already used by his partners, were his alone. He also set about eliminating his partners. Thornley had died in 1772—Henry Brown's death and Kay's dismissal in unpleasant circumstances in the same year removed two others of the original Lancashire five—and Arkwright had bought out (a lawyer later asserted 'frightened out') his widow (Fitton, 42). In November 1774, in a change of policy, Arkwright agreed with Need and Strutt for them to take all his share of the business for £1000 per annum, but the agreement was not implemented. It seems that under the 1769 partnership Arkwright would not have been able to spin on his own without Smalley's agreement. Smalley had returned to Cromford, in 1773, to serve as mill manager, but relations with Arkwright were bad. Smalley seems to have suggested to Strutt that Arkwright be forced out, but Strutt, who wrote of Arkwright, 'We cannot stop his mouth or prevent his doing wrong', could not agree, arguing, 'it is [not] in our power to remove him … for he is in possession & as much right there as we' (ibid., 39). The matter went to arbitration and Smalley left; he died in 1782, shortly before Arkwright was to commence action for breach of patent. The partnership between the three continued until its termination, shortly after the death of Need, in 1782.

From the mid-1770s the company expanded rapidly. A new mill was opened at Cromford in 1776, and in 1777 Arkwright, Need, and Strutt, in partnership with Thomas Walshman, a Lancashire attorney, and Thomas Cross, commenced construction of the ill-fated mill at Birkacre, near Chorley. Between 1777 and 1780 mills were commenced at Bakewell, Wirksworth, Alport (unsuccessfully), Litton, Rocester in Staffordshire, and Manchester, where Arkwright failed in an attempt to obtain rotary power from a Newcomen engine. The factory communities at Belper and Milford were begun in 1776–7. When the partnership was dissolved, Strutt took these latter and Arkwright the remainder. Perhaps they had previously agreed to go their separate ways; certainly Arkwright alone in 1780 purchased the land alongside the Derwent where he was to build his masterpiece, Masson Mill. In 1778 he set out to further his personal earnings by licensing the use of machines. There is no list of licensees; suffice it to say that, by 1780, they were probably outnumbered by unlicensed users. Arkwright was determined to squeeze the maximum income from his patents, and in 1781 he decided to enforce them at law.

The patent trials

The trials were to be turning points in Arkwright's career, the development of the cotton industry, and the making of patent law. After initial success in enforcing the 1775 patent, Arkwright was confronted by Lancashire and the Manchester committee of trade, unprepared to accept his stranglehold and the block placed upon the technical improvements the industry was generating. Arkwright took nine infringers—some had already submitted—to court in July 1781, but against Colonel Mordaunt, the weakest, the carding patent was overturned following a plea that the specification was obscure and incomplete. With the 1769 patent due to expire in the summer of 1783, Arkwright faced losing his hold on the spinning and preparatory processes. In February 1782 and February 1783, evidently hoping, like Lombe in 1731 and Watt in the 1775, for an extension of his rights, he petitioned parliament that his patents be consolidated and the 1769 patent extended to 1789. He also published and distributed to MPs his Case. He failed though, probably because of the petitioning campaign launched by the emerging cotton towns. In the summer of 1782, with Strutt as plaintiff, Arkwright successfully defended his 1769 patent, but problems of evidence made the recovery of damages unlikely.

In autumn 1783 Arkwright instructed lawyers to recover his carding patent; this time the case was better prepared, and, in February 1785, won. Lancashire was alarmed, for old interests were now threatened, and likewise some £300,000 of capital invested since the Mordaunt trial. A writ of Scire facias was granted, and in R. <i>v.</i> Arkwright the 1775 patent was again challenged. Arkwright marshalled the finest lawyers and an array of witnesses. For the crown, Bearcroft brought forward Highs, Kay, and Kay's wife, and cited Arkwright's own Case against him. Arkwright's case fell on doubts concerning the originality of the invention as much as inadequate specification; on 14 November 1785 the letters patent were cancelled. Arkwright's claim to be the inventor of the spinning machine had not been disproved; nevertheless, accusations, Bearcroft's pointing finger, and his words to the jury, 'Behold there stands the thief', had been devastating.

Arkwright's rage during the patent trials ('he will take the Cotton spinning abroad, & … ruin those Manchester rascals' (Fitton, 98), his efforts to advance the cotton-spinning industry in Scotland, and a rumoured plan—possibly from this time—to buy up the world's cotton crop, probably rooted in his partnership in Clegg & Co., cotton merchants of London, have been seen as a response to his disappointments. In fact a substantial reorganization of his cotton-spinning interests was in process. Birkacre, destroyed by Lancashire handworkers, was abandoned, and the mills at Bakewell, Rocester, Litton, and Manchester were made over to his son. Left with Cromford, Wirksworth, Nottingham, and Masson, Arkwright consolidated his interests. He continued Masson's development, added a new mill at Cromford, and at Nottingham, in 1790, put aside his distrust and erected a Boulton and Watt steam engine. He had a warehouse at Manchester, set prices for the trade, counted the muslin manufacturer Samuel Oldknow among his customers, and had dealings with the London linen drapers and nonconformists the Salte brothers.

Arkwright's machines had been introduced to Scotland in the mid-1770s by local adventurers, and, in the autumn of 1784, the guest of prominent landed and commercial interests, he visited Glasgow, Lanark, Perth, and Stanley and entered into partnerships and agreements with George Dempster, David Dale, the duke of Atholl, and the Buchanan brothers to establish, and train the workforces, for mills at New Lanark, Stanley, and Deanston. By 1787 Arkwright had abandoned these interests; yet he had helped launch a major Scottish industry.

Arkwright's losses from the trials should be kept in proportion. He had lost the prospect of licence fees but was still the country's largest cotton spinner; he made huge gains in the 1770s, and even in the early 1780s his profits from the industry seem to have been at 100 per cent per annum. Despite past hostilities the trade looked to Arkwright: in 1788, at the time of the Livesey, Hargreaves collapse, he was to chair the creditors, and in 1791 he was among those campaigning to end the East India Company's monopoly. However, the industry created in the 1780s was beyond an individual's control, and the technical advances associated with Crompton's mule were soon to break the hold of the Arkwright water frame.

Social acceptance

Arkwright's success established him with the business community of the east midlands. In 1780 his daughter Susanna was married, with a dowry of £15,000, to Charles, the son of Francis Hurt of Alderwasley, a lead merchant and iron manufacturer; in the same year his son, apparently against Arkwright's wishes, married Mary, the daughter of Adam Simpson of Bonsall. The Strutts were probably Arkwright's guide to society, as was Erasmus Darwin, who was to eulogize Cromford's spindles and serve as a witness in the patent trials; then there were the politicians who were to advance his spinning interests, and the bevy of lawyers, first to break the partnership agreements, then to advance his patents. The trials seem to have introduced Arkwright to a wider community; besides Darwin, James Watt and Samuel More, of the Society of Arts, were among his witnesses. He joined Watt to prepare a bill to codify the patent laws, and, at Josiah Wedgwood's bidding, gave serious consideration to a statutory monopoly, supported by Sir Joseph Banks, for wool spinning. Arkwright's interests in the Sierra Leone Company, an attempt to establish cotton plantations in Africa, and other contacts with government departments and trading groups, brought further links. From the 1770s Arkwright was purchasing land in the Cromford area. In 1782 he bought Willersley manor and in 1789 the manor of Cromford. These acquisitions established him more firmly with the local gentry, including the Gells and Nightingales, with whom he was already connected through business. In December 1786 he was deputed to convey a loyal address to the king and was knighted; in 1787 he was made high sheriff of Derbyshire. Society sneered at his extravagance and ridiculed his gauche behaviour—before the king, declared Wilhelmina Murray, 'the little great Man had no idea of kneeling but crimpt himself up in a very odd posture which I suppose His Majesty took for an easy one so never took the trouble to bid him rise' (Fitton, 184)—but accompanied him in his office and enjoyed his lavish entertainments.

Arkwright's residence at Cromford was Rock House, perched high and overlooking the mills. In 1786 he began the construction of a more stately home, Willersley Castle. Built at great expense on the north side of the Derwent, with parkland sweeping down to the river—the mills, albeit easy to reach, were concealed by a rock face and the bend of the river—the house was based on a design by William Thomas. From Edward Wilson in the Strand, Arkwright bought furniture and, then a luxury, French plate glass. Byng, not surprisingly, scorned house, site, library, music room, and man: 'Sir Rd has honourably made his great fortune; and so let him live in a great cotton mill' (Torrington Diaries, 2.48). Though fire and reconstruction prevented Arkwright's enjoyment of his creation, from 1792 until 1925 it was to be his descendants' principal home. In 1789 he purchased an Adams house, the Adelphi, London, and similarly commenced its furnishing. About this time his portrait, along with other commissions, of George III, political allies, and classical scenes, was painted by the American artist Mather Brown. In 1789–90 Joseph Wright of Derby painted the better-known likeness, with the subject's left hand resting alongside a model of his 1769 frame and its set of rollers. Wright painted local landscapes for the Arkwright family, but his famous images of the Cromford mills were his own fancy; the first, of the mills at night, was sold to Daniel Parker Coke MP.

In 1788 Arkwright's position as a landowner was to draw him into probably the best documented of his business engagements, the proposed Cromford Canal. Local gentry were among the principal supporters, Jessop the surveyor, and Arkwright empowered to call a meeting. Whether Arkwright was losing his ability to make decisions, or merely playing a cunning game, is not clear; he first supported, then opposed, then qualified his position. Whether concerned for his water supply, his planned gardens, his mineral rights, and the anticipated enhancement of his riverside land into water meadows, or attempting to cream future profits, he led the promoters—at one point he appointed six lawyers to do the work of one—a merry dance. In 1789, to prevent an Arkwright monopoly, the bill was amended to limit subscribers to ten shares each; the promoters feared him, but 'he might be the greatest use to us particularly among the Scotch Peers as they all know him & esteem him much' (Fitton, 194).

Arkwright and his contribution

The divided opinions of contemporaries, early eulogies, controversy—particularly relating to the patents—generalizations drawn from limited periods, and, not least, Arkwright's personality have compounded the problems facing his biographers. That so much is known of him is a tribute to the diligence of business historians of the Manchester school. Arkwright stood, and still stands, as the archetypal self-made man. Research on the origins of the period's textile entrepreneurs, generally drawn from the industry's traditional leaders, suggests his atypicality. Atypical too was the tradition on which he drew; not the Lancashire cotton industry that spawned Hargreaves, Crompton, and others, but personal ingenuity and gadgetry. Still unknown are the means by which he, or Highs, stumbled upon the spinning by rollers that clearly originated with Paul and Wyatt. Research has confirmed the contemporary awareness of Arkwright's ruthless borrowing, be it of ideas or capital, from others; it has also revealed his ability, perhaps originating in the years of deference and service as a barber, to move within ever higher ranks and degrees of society. The complexity of his career is now evident: in the 1750s and 1760s progress, setback, and progress at Bolton; in the 1770s struggle and achievement; in the 1780s public humiliation and social recognition. While he was condemned for avarice in the 1780s, his efforts to confirm his patents make sense when set against his early career, and the fact that, until 1782, his was but a minority share in the business he had inspired. Other issues—the craftsman, mechanic, small-dealer culture from which he and his partners emerged, and the combination of factors, perhaps unique to the proto-industrial north and midlands of that time, that made his progress possible—are still barely explored. The study of Arkwright and his partners has brought a considerable understanding of the midland cotton industry—for the later marginalization of which he can hardly be blamed—but perhaps at the expense of work on eighteenth-century Lancashire; the last major study was by Wadsworth and Mann in 1931.

Arkwright's defeat in the patent trials should not detract from his skills as a businessman and an innovative production manager. The surviving Cromford machines are testimony to Arkwright's perseverance and the machine maker's art; experimentation was also required with the materials and the uses to which the yarn could be put. The use during the nineteenth century of the throstle, a modified water frame, and its development in North America into ring spinning, testifies to the fundamental achievement. The mill style Arkwright adopted, became, for a time, the industry's pattern. He was a master of water power, and, as Masson and his insertion of a primitive convector heating system at Cromford in 1789 indicates, an imaginative builder.

Arkwright's method was dogged empiricism and a readiness to learn; his experiments with steam power at Manchester led him to lecture Boulton and Watt, his failure to a justified wariness of a then new technology. Success lay as much in his recruitment and close supervision of labour as in the expensive fixed capital. For twenty-two years his mills worked around the clock—to Byng their appearance at night, captured in Joseph Wright's magnificent landscape, was as 'a first rate man of war' (Torrington Diaries, 2.195)—and, as the Derby silk mills, in thirteen-hour shifts. The system of mill management based upon room overseers became the standard for mills working the water frame and the model for the industry until the abandonment of night working and the introduction of urban steam-powered mule mills brought changes. The model factory villages established by Arkwright and Strutt were to have their imitators, but the shift of cotton manufacture to urban areas was to render them, and their relatively high standards, archaic. Arkwright's achievement was to combine power, machinery, semi-skilled labour, and a new raw material to create, more than a century before Ford, mass production. Contemporaries may have been envious, but their readiness to imitate, in Britain, in 1783 at Kromford in Germany, and by the 1790s in New England, demonstrates their appreciation of his achievements.

The drama of Arkwright's life conceals the private man. His first wife died before their child was a year old, and even then he was apparently estranged from his father-in-law. He seems to have had little to do with his mother—from 1767 to 1773 she was in receipt of charity at Preston—and while at Cromford, if not earlier, lived apart from his second wife; in the 1780s there was reputedly a substantial rift with his son. A capacity for vicious quarrels with his contemporaries, whether partners or rivals, is evident, yet others, such as the gentle Jedediah Strutt—their families became friends—and Erasmus Darwin, were attracted. Arkwright was in generally good health, though he suffered from asthma all his life; his working day lasted from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. There was another side. He told Wedgwood in 1785 that 'he shuns all company as much as possible' (Fitton, 210). Arkwright's explanation that 'it robs him of his time' gains some confirmation from Archibald Buchanan, who lived with him and found him 'so intent on his schemes' they 'often sat for weeks together, on opposite sides of the fire without exchanging a syllable' (ibid., 210). Was this the 'bringing low in every sense of the word' of the early 1760s—perhaps a reaction to the periods of intense, sometimes obsessive activity that characterized his life (ibid., 7)? Little can be gained from the two portraits of 1789, though Thomas Carlyle, despite his bizarre denunciation of Wright's 'gross, bag-cheeked, potbellied Lancashire man', did notice 'the air of painful reflection' (DNB) that was also evident in the Mather Brown work. Arkwright died on 3 August 1792 at his home in Cromford, after a month's illness. On 10 August, watched by two thousand people, his body was interred at Matlock church; later it was placed under the altar of Cromford Chapel. His total wealth was rumoured at the time of his death to have been 'little short of half a million' (GM, 1st ser., 62, 1792, 770–71).


  • R. S. Fitton, The Arkwrights: spinners of fortune (1989)
  • R. S. Fitton [and] A. P. Wadsworth, The Strutts and the Arkwrights, 1758–1830: a study of the early factory system (1958)
  • S. D. Chapman, The early factory masters: the transition to the factory system in the midlands textile industry (1967)
  • Arkwright and the mills at Cromford (1971)
  • J. Tann, ‘Richard Arkwright and technology’, History, new ser., 58 (1973), 29–44
  • J. Tann, The development of the factory (1970)
  • J. Tann, ‘Arkwright's employment of steam power: a note of some new evidence’, Business History, 21 (1979), 247–50
  • A. J. Cooke, ‘Richard Arkwright and the Scottish cotton industry’, Textile History, 10 (1979), 196–202
  • R. L. Hills, ‘Hargreaves, Arkwright and Crompton: why three inventors?’, Textile History, 10 (1979), 114–26
  • G. Unwin [and] others, Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights (1924)
  • F. Espinasse, Lancashire worthies, 1 (1874)
  • S. Smiles, Self-help: with illustrations of character and conduct (1859)
  • A. Ure, The cotton manufacture of Great Britain, 1 (1836)
  • E. Baines, History of the cotton manufacture in Great Britain (1835)
  • R. Guest, A compendious history of the cotton manufacture: with a disproval of the claim of Sir Richard Arkwright to the invention of its ingenious machinery (1823)
  • ‘Cotton manufacture’, Encyclopaedia Britannica: supplement to the fourth, fifth and sixth editions (1824)
  • The Torrington diaries: containing the tours through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng (later Viscount Torrington) between the years 1781 and 1794, ed. C. B. Andrews, 4 vols. (1934–8)
  • The trial of a cause instituted by Richard Pepper Arden, Esq., … by writ of Scire facias; to repeal a patent granted on the sixteenth of December 1775 to Mr Richard Arkwright (1785)
  • The case of Mr. Richard Arkwright and Co. (1782)


  • BL, papers mainly relating to Derbyshire estates, Add. MSS 6668–6697
  • Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, deeds and papers relating to mill at Bakewell
  • Col. U., Rare Book and Manuscript Library, corresp. and papers
  • priv. coll., family MSS
  • JRL, Oldknow collection


  • J. Wright of Derby, oils, 1789–90, priv. coll. [see illus.]
  • M. Brown, oils, 1790, New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut
  • T. O. Barlow, mezzotint, 1862 (after Gainsborough), BM
  • J. Jenkins, stipple engraving (after J. Wright of Derby), BM
  • J. Wright of Derby, oils, replica, NPG

Wealth at Death

approximately £500,000: Fitton, The Arkwrights, 182; GM (1792), 770–71

, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)