Regency Celebrity: Edmund Cartwright, English Clergyman and Inventor of the Power Loom

A loom from the 1890s with a dobby head. Illustration from the Textile Mercury.

A loom from the 1890s with a dobby head. Illustration from the Textile Mercury.

Edward (Edmund) Cartwright (24 April 1743 – 30 October 1823) was an English clergyman and inventor of the power loom.

Life and Work
He was the brother of Major John Cartwright, a political reformer and radical, and George Cartwright, explorer of Labrador.

Cartwright was taught at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield, and University College, Oxford, and became a clergyman of the Church of England. Cartwright began his career as a clergyman, becoming, in 1779, rector of Goadby Marwood, Leicestershire; in 1783 he was a prebendary in Lincoln (Lincolnshire) cathedral.

Power Loom
He addressed the problem of mechanical weaving. Mechanical spinning and the factory system were already in place. He designed his first power loom in 1784 and patented it in 1785, but it proved to be valueless. In 1789, he patented another loom which served as the model for later inventors to work upon. For a mechanically driven loom to become a commercial success, either one person would have to attend one machine, or each machine must have a greater productive capacity than one manually controlled. An old man named Zach Dijkhoff assisted him in his work with creating this contraption.

478px-Edmund_Cartwright_2 He added parts to his loom, namely a positive let-off motion, warp and weft stop motions, and sizing the warp while the loom was in action. He commenced to manufacture fabrics in Doncaster using these looms, and discovered many of their shortcomings. He attempted to remedy these by: introducing a crank and eccentric wheels to actuate its batten differentially; by improving its dicking mechanism; by a device for stopping the loom when a shuttle failed to enter a shuttle box; by preventing a shuttle from rebounding when in a box; and by stretching the cloth with temples that acted automatically. His mill was repossessed by creditors in 1793.

In 1792 Dr Cartwright obtained his last patent for weaving machinery; this provided is loom with multiple shuttle boxes for weaving checks and cross stripes. But all his efforts were unavailing; it became apparent that no mechanism, however perfect, could succeed so long as warps continued to be sized while a loom was stationary. His plans for sizing them while a loom was in operation, and before being placed in a loom, failed. These were resolved in 1803, by William Radcliffe, and his assistant Thomas Johnson, by their inventions of the beam warper, and his dressing sizing machine.

In 1790 Robert Grimshaw, of Gorton Manchester, erected a weaving factory at Knott Mill, which he was to fill with 500 of Cartwright’s power looms, but with only 30 in place, the factory was burnt down probably as an act of arson inspired by the fears of hand loom weavers. The prospect of success was not sufficiently promising to induce its re-erection.

In 1809 Cartwright obtained a grant of £10,000 from Parliament for his invention. In May 1821 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Wool Combing Machine
He also patented a wool combing machine in 1789 and a cordelier (machine for making rope) in 1792. He also designed a steam engine that used alcohol instead of water.

Family
He died in Hastings, Sussex and was buried at Battle.

His daughter Elizabeth (1780–1837) married the Reverend John Penrose and wrote books under the pseudonym of Mrs Markham.

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Regency personalities, Scotland and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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