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Saturday, 16 December 2017

University of 3rd AgePicking Sticks, Patents and Power Looms

Speaker: Ian Gibson

On Thursday 16th November, 132 members of the now 497-strong U3A Todmorden enjoyed a stimulating talk by Ian Gibson about key developments in the machinery that drove the UK textile industry forward.  

Ian hooked us with some opening slides showing ancient textiles from before 1800 BC. A Greek vase depicting a loom took us neatly onto William Lee’s unpatented knitting frame of 1589.

This led to an unexpected and revelatory tangent on patenting. The first patent was issued in 1617 and of the first 1000, 150 were related to textile production, highlighting the importance of textiles in the UK’s economic growth as an industrial power.

John Kay’s Flying Shuttle (Patent No 542) of 1733 advanced the profitability of a single loom operator’s labour by enabling him to weave cloth that was much wider than his personal reach. This process was improved by William Horrocks whose patents of 1803 and 1805 for mechanized picking sticks helped to accelerate the speed of weaving.

Ian drew an unusual link between weaving and the development of the Japanese car industry. In the 1920s, Platt Brothers of Oldham bought the patent rights to the Toyoda Type G High Speed Shuttle Changing Loom from Japan. The enormous sum they paid for this was used to kickstart the Toyota motor vehicle company.

Ian was equally interesting on spinning, describing with clarity the complicated process of drawing out yarn. We’ve all heard of Arkwright’s water frame, but I doubt many of us knew of Lewis Paul, inventor of its predecessor, (or that Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks suggest he may have got there first). 

Paul invented the use of rollers in producing finer and finer yarn, but didn’t do it very well. Arkwright did, and created machines that were 30 feet wide which in turn influenced the width of weaving sheds. 

Then James Hargreaves developed the Spinning Jenny enabling yarn to be spun, drawn and twisted faster than on a water frame. And Samuel Crompton improved on that with his spinning mule which combined features of Arkwright’s and Hargreaves’ machines. 

Ian was passionate about retaining museums that house the machines that established the wealth and character of the industrial north, and highlighted the plight of Queen Street Mill in Burnley, currently looking for a new operational manager.  We were lucky to have such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable speaker.

We were equally lucky to hear from Campbell Malone representing the Art Appreciation group who talked of its wide-ranging scope. They discuss painting, sculpture, knitting, glass and photographs, for example, enjoy outings and encourage intellectual openness and honesty. 

U3A Todmorden’s next meeting will be held on Thursday, 21st December in the Central Methodist Hall in Todmorden at 1.45.  This will be our Christmas meeting with a festive fruit punch, a quiz and a presentation of light-hearted Christmassy entertainment by ‘Peter Sheldon Productions’ with monologue, story and song.

Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk, or (phone) 01706 812015.

Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report


Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

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HebWeb News: Old Flames and Steamy Memories. With speaker Granville Dobson (9 April 2017)

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