Boy's Own Paper,  3 (1880–81), 157–58.

Some Boys Who Became Famous. The Barber's Apprentice



Regular Feature, Essay

Relevant illustrations:



H J R, pseud.  [Henry J Rhodes]


Industry, Invention, Manufactories, Machinery, Endeavour, Patenting, Commerce, Controversy, Class, Patronage, Heroism, Alchemy

    An account of Richard Arkwright whose life represents 'one of the most brilliant examples on record of what patient industry can and will accomplish in the face of every difficulty'. Insists that despite being a 'genuine young dunce' whose first employment was in a Preston barber's shop, Arkwright would rise to become 'a man of much consequence, a High Sheriff of Derbyshire'. (157) Details his early career and his development from a barber to a hair dealer and wig maker who invented a 'secret' dyeing process and his fruitless pursuit of building a perpetual motion machine—part of the '"Perpetual Motion" craze which has done for mechanics what the "Philosopher's Stone" has done for chemistry'. Proceeds to describe how Arkwright explained to an astonished Lancashire farmer that he could build a machine for spinning yarn 'if he had the money', and then described the water-powered machine for driving the machine. Notes that his preoccupation with his invention diverted him from his business which prompted his desperate wife to destroy the models of his machine—a move prompting Arkwright's separation from his wife. Notes Arkwright's increasing confidence in the need for a 'machine such as he had in mind', a machine that would 'spin a thread long enough to enable the weavers to use it as warp' and which would solve the burgeoning demand for calicoes. Notes that shortly after John Wyatt's unsuccessful spinning machine, Arkwright gained a poor reception for his model when he displayed it in Free Grammar School, Preston. Emphasises Arkwright's impoverished state during this time and the hostile reception by 'ignorant workpeople' of his 'labour-saving apparatus', a response suffered by John Kay's fly-shuttle and James Hargreaves's spinning-jenny. Describes how Arkwright secured the partnership with Jedediah Strutt which resulted in Arkwright's invention being patented and the establishment of spinning mills in Nottingham and, later, Derbyshire. Stressing that 'there is no such thing as idle satisfaction' to the 'genuine inventor', stresses that Arkwright struggled on with his work despite the lack of profit from his mills and attacks on his establishment by Lancashire manufacturers. Owing to fierce opposition to Arkwright's process of spinning cotton, the courts withdrew his patent. However, relishes Arkwright's determination and the fact that the opposition to his system from other mill-owners prompted him to establish more manufactures and 'seemed to increase his wealth'. Again, notes the legal and financial hurdles that stood in his way and his successful campaign against paying more tax than other mill-owners. Emphasises his ability to 'overcome prejudices, difficulties, fear, and factions' and the fact that his industry was eventually rewarded by King George III with a knighthood and appointment as High Sheriff of Derbyshire. Concludes by attributing Arkwright's rise to 'courageous perseverance' and to the 'noble industry which has so enriched our land, and has brought so many of England's poorest sons from obscurity to sit among princes'. (157) The illustration shows a young Arkwright showing models of his machine to a delighted domestic audience.

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