Radcliffe, William (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


RADCLIFFE, WILLIAM (1760–1841), improver of cotton machinery, was born on 17 Oct. 1760, at Mellor, Derbyshire. His father was a weaver, and he learned carding, spinning, and weaving at home. In 1785 he married Sarah Jackson of Mellor, and four years later began business in his native place as a spinner and weaver. His chief trade at first was in muslin warps and in the manufacture of muslins for the market at Manchester, where he afterwards opened a warehouse. He also bought premises at Stockport for the extension of his manufacturing operations, and in 1799 took Thomas Ross of Montrose as partner. In 1801 he settled at Stockport, became captain-commandant of the local volunteers, and in 1804 mayor of the town. He had previously (in 1794), from a patriotic sentiment, declined to sell his cotton yarn to foreign merchants who were desirous of buying it for exportation to the continent, where it was to be made into cloth. This attitude he always strenuously maintained, speaking in support of it at public meetings, and publishing in 1811 a pamphlet entitled ‘Exportation of Cotton Yarns the real Cause of the Distress that has fallen upon the Cotton Trade for a series of years past,’ Stockport, 8vo.

The great invention with which Radcliffe's name is associated is the ‘dressing machine,’ which was, however, originated by an ingenious operative machinist in his employment, named Thomas Johnson, who lived at Bredbury, near Stockport. It had previously been only possible for a weaver to dress, or starch, so much of the warp as lay between the healds and yard beam, or about 36 inches, necessitating a frequent stoppage of the loom. By this invention the operation of dressing was done before the warp was put into the loom, thus effecting a great saving of the time and labour of the weaver. By the aid of Johnson he also brought out three other patents, two of them for an improvement in the loom, namely the taking up of the cloth by the motion of the lathe. The patents were taken out in Johnson's name in 1803–4. Radcliffe did not, however, reap any profit by them; the great expenses he incurred in his experiments, and the time wasted in his pertinacious opposition to the exportation of yarn, bringing him to bankruptcy in 1807. Soon after that date he was helped by four friends, who lent him 500l. each, with which he began business once more, carrying it on until 1815, when he became embarrassed again. The Luddites in 1812 broke into his mill and residence, and destroyed both his machinery and furniture. His wife was so alarmed and injured by the rioters that she died a few weeks later. His life afterwards was a continued struggle with adversity. He published in 1828 an account of his struggles, under the title of ‘Origin of the New System of Manufacture, commonly called Power-loom Weaving, and the Purposes for which this System was invented and brought into use fully explained, &c.,’ Stockport, 8vo. The great invention with which Radcliffe's name is associated is the ‘dressing machine,’ which was, however, originated by an ingenious operative machinist in his employment, named Thomas Johnson, who lived at Bredbury, near Stockport. It had previously been only possible for a weaver to dress, or starch, so much of the warp as lay between the healds and yard beam, or about 36 inches, necessitating a frequent stoppage of the loom. By this invention the operation of dressing was done before the warp was put into the loom, thus effecting a great saving of the time and labour of the weaver. By the aid of Johnson he also brought out three other patents, two of them for an improvement in the loom, namely the taking up of the cloth by the motion of the lathe. The patents were taken out in Johnson's name in 1803–4. Radcliffe did not, however, reap any profit by them; the great expenses he incurred in his experiments, and the time wasted in his pertinacious opposition to the exportation of yarn, bringing him to bankruptcy in 1807. Soon after that date he was helped by four friends, who lent him 500l. each, with which he began business once more, carrying it on until 1815, when he became embarrassed again. The Luddites in 1812 broke into his mill and residence, and destroyed both his machinery and furniture. His wife was so alarmed and injured by the rioters that she died a few weeks later. His life afterwards was a continued struggle with adversity. He published in 1828 an account of his struggles, under the title of ‘Origin of the New System of Manufacture, commonly called Power-loom Weaving, and the Purposes for which this System was invented and brought into use fully explained, &c.,’ Stockport, 8vo.

Radcliffe gave valuable evidence in 1808 in the inquiry which resulted in a parliamentary grant of 10,000l. being made to Dr. Edmund Cartwright [q. v.] for his inventions. Efforts were put forth in 1825 and 1836 to obtain similar public recognition of Radcliffe's services, but in vain. In the memorial to the treasury in 1825 it was claimed that his invention, ‘by removing the impediments to weaving by power, may be considered as the cause of the rapid and increasing growth of that system of manufacturing cotton goods.’ In 1834 an unsuccessful appeal was made to the trade to raise a fund to aid Radcliffe in his declining years. Several firms paid him a royalty for the use of his patents. A small grant of 150l. was eventually made to him by government, but the intimation came only three days before his death, which took place on 20 May 1841, when he was in his eighty-first year. He was buried in Mellor churchyard.

His portrait was engraved by T. Oldham Barlow, from a painting by Huquaire, and published by Bennet Woodcroft in his collection of ‘Portraits of Inventors,’ 1862.

[Radcliffe's pamphlets; Blackwood's Mag. January and March 1836, pp. 76, 411; Baines's Hist. of the Cotton Manufacture, p. 231; Memoirs of Edmund Cartwright, 1843, pp. 218, 230; Woodcroft's Brief Biographies of Inventors, 1863; Barlow's Hist. of Weaving, 1878, p. 399; Heginbotham's Hist. of Stockport, 1892, p. 324; Marsden's Cotton Weaving, 1895, p. 328.]

C. W. S.