Wednesday, 29 February 2012

29th February 1812: The West Riding manufacturer William Cartwright, takes up residence in his Mill at Rawfolds

William Cartwright
In 1812, William Cartwright was a relative newcomer to the area of the Spen Valley, having occupied the Mill at Rawfolds, near Cleckheaton, for the past 3 years. He was a manufacturer or, more accurately, cloth finisher.

The Mill itself had stood well before Cartwright had taken his tenure there. It had been built by Benjamin Broadley, after he became the owner in 1774 and had previously functioned as a Scribbling Mill, although the Mill itself was only part of a complex of buildings at Rawfolds which eventually included private residences, a workshop and a chemical factory. Surrounding the complex were plots of private land, an Orchard to the South and the Spen Beck, which powered the Water Wheel on the Mill via the Mill Pond and Weirs.

At some point during his tenure, Cartwright had begun to use shearing frames in the Mill, and his large establishment was the only one of its kind in the immediate surrounding area, which was populated with small cropping shops, employing 3 or 4 croppers who used hand shears. According to Frank Peel (1968, p.10), the arrival of Cartwright and his use of the new technology changed all that, with even the much larger cropping shop belonging to John Jackson at nearby Hightown suffering. In the midst of this hardship, Cartwright was prospering, having done well enough to buy 425 yards of land in a field called Broadroyd, which was opposite Rawfield House in 1810. Hall & Kipling (1984, p.10) describe Cartwright as a Whig, opposed to the war and the Orders in Council. But his political values went hand-in-hand with a belief in an aggressive and ruthless capitalism that had no qualms about undercutting his rivals still using a domesticated system, deploying machinery that could be operated far a less skilled, and cheap, labour force. We can also surmise he must have not lacked a certain amount of arrogance, employing these business methods in an area where the Clothdressers' proto-trade union, the Brief Institution, had been so prevalent.

For a physical picture of Cartwright, we have to turn to Elizabeth Gaskell who supplies a pen portrait of him in her by the subject about, in her book about Charlotte Brontë, an author who was later to romanticise Cartwright as the fictional Robert Moore, in her book Shirley:
"Mr. Cartwright was a very remarkable man, having, as I have been told, some foreign blood in him, the traces of which were very apparent in his tall figure, dark eyes and complexion, and singular, though gentlemanly bearing. At any rate, he had been much abroad, and spoke French well, itself a suspicious circumstance to the bigoted nationality of those days. Altogether he was an unpopular man, even before he took the last step of employing shears, instead of hands, to dress his wool. He was quite aware of his unpopularity, and of the probable consequences."
At the end of February 1812, Cartwright was so aware of his unpopularity that he was not even sleeping at his home a quarter of a mile away. Instead, he had set up a bed in the Counting House in the Mill, at this stage being the only occupant outside of normal operating hours. Although it's likely that Cartwright had already received anonymous threatening letters that were doing the rounds among the hated manufacturers in the West Riding, none have survived. How much his constant presence at his Mill was from an obsessive concern to guard it from anything untoward that may occur or, instead, to draw attention away from his home where his wife and small children lived is not clear. But Cartwright would be resident here from now until eventually something did occur in due course.

For the history of Rawfolds Mill around this period, I have used James Lister Summerscales' brief research document which can be downloaded here (opens PDF). Details of Cartwright's sleeping habits at this time are taken from the evidence he gave at the York Special Commission in January 1813, fwhich appeared in the Leeds Mercury of 16th January 1813.

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