Page:English Historical Review Volume 37.djvu/215

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1922
207
TRANSITION TO THE FACTORY SYSTEM

This cotton mill, which passed into the hands of the Arkwright family, was destroyed by fire in 1892, and has since that date been a picturesque and interesting ruin. A detached portion, however, lying by the river-side and within a stone's throw from the residence built by Oldknow, was not burnt down, and, though in a dilapidated condition, has been used in parts for stabling or for minor industrial purposes. A body of Austrian prisoners was set to work there during the late war. The distribution of some eighteenth-century weavers' pay-tickets by an adventurous boy scout to casual passers-by, led one of the recipients who is much interested in local history to obtain permission to explore the upper floor of this building, and here on 1 January 1921, when he was accompanied by the present writer, there were found a great number of letters, papers, account-books, and other business records of every kind and size, covering the whole floor of a large room and partly hidden from sight by several inches of dirt and debris. To all appearance the records had lain there for a century, and as the room since the fire had lost its windows they had suffered much from the weather and were in many cases indecipherable. The recovery, cleansing, and classification of the remainder, which filled several sacks, was the work of many week-ends on the spot, and has occupied the leisure of the discoverers ever since.[1]

From the first it was clear that, by a piece of almost inconceivable good fortune, the records of Oldknow's previous business as a muslin manufacturer at Stockport had been deposited at Mellor, so that the documents afforded a unique illustration both of the final phase of the 'domestic industry' and of the earliest phase of the factory system. A long and vain attempt to interpret the factory records on the assumption that the fragmentary time-books, wage-sheets, &c., related to the Mellor mill alone, ended in the discovery that part of the records were those of a mill simultaneously erected at Stockport, whilst others concerned a bleach and print works previously established by Oldknow at Heaton Mersey.

Further inquiries in Mellor and Marple, where the tradition of Oldknow's achievements is still very much alive, showed that our interest in the factory and its records had naturally been anticipated by some of those whose fathers or grandfathers had been concerned in its working and management, and who kindly

  1. I am indebted to Mr. Arthur Hulme of Marple, who discovered the records and placed them at the disposal of the University of Manchester, for the classification of an immense number of documents, for the transcription of a great many letters, and for active co-operation in every part of the investigation. Mr. Hulme is using the material for a social and economic history of Marple and Mellor. We are both under great obligations to Mr. E. Furniss, agent of the Arkwright estate in Mellor; and to Mr. J. Taylor of Marple Ridge and Mr. H. Wheeldon of Didsbury for the loan of records.