Fascinating Discovery at Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills

Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Newsletter August 2005

Recent research into the archives at Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills, in conjunction with the ongoing building of water frames, (see DVMP Newsletter Issue 3), has resulted in the discovery of an original copy of the famous Arkwright Patent Trial of 1785. The full title of the document is “The Trial of a Cause instituted by Richard Pepper Ardern, Esq; his Majesty’s Attorney General, by writ of Scire Facias, to repeal a Patent granted on the sixteenth of December 1775, to Mr. Richard Arkwright, for an invention of certain instruments and machines for preparing silk, cotton, flax, and wool for spinning..1785”.

The publication contains large engraved drawings of machine parts and perhaps most interestingly there are detailed and extensive comments pencilled in the margins. Research is continuing to ascertain if these are indeed the writings and comments of Sir Richard Arkwright himself.

Sir Richard Arkwright revolutionised the cotton industry with a series of machines which mechanised cotton spinning. In 1769 he patented his spinning machine and in the same year established his first mill in Nottingham. Two years later he built his next mill in Cromford, followed by numerous mills all over Britain. His showpiece Masson Mills were constructed in 1783 when Arkwright was at height of his entrepreneurial power. Arkwright mechanised the processes of carding, drawing and spinning, taking out a further patent in 1775. These developments were however not achieved without considerable difficulties and opposition from other textile manufacturers, especially in Lancashire. In 1781 Arkwright successfully sued nine firms for infringement and in 1785 won a further case validating his 1775 patent. Since by now there were about 30,000 infringements, several manufacturers grouped together and obtained a writ of Scire Facias for a new trial to repeal the patent. This newly uncovered document is a verbatim report of the proceedings.

The discovery of this document, along with the building of water frames, will greatly enhance the story of Sir Richard Arkwright and the Arkwright Legacy, to be told in its perfect setting at his showpiece Masson Mills.