Local cotton industries in Greater Manchester

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Souvenir cotton bale, 1884, Gallery Oldham

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Throughout the 1800s most of Oldham's cotton came from the southern states of America. Raw cotton was processed and packed in large bales for shipping. This cotton bale is from the World Exposition Trade Fair held in New Orleans in 1884-85. Cotton was one of America’s most important and well recognised export products. The cotton bale is labelled 'A souvenir of the sunny south'.

Slavery was abolished in the USA at the end of the American Civil war in 1865 but cotton continued to be exported, grown by the descendants of enslaved Africans.

With the mechanisation of the cotton spinning industry in and around Manchester throughout the 1700s and 1800s, more raw cotton was needed from the plantations. Slave-grown cotton from the southern states of America provided 70% of the raw material fuelling Britain's Industrial Revolution at its height.

Manchester’s cotton mills produced 'coarse checks' (cloth or fabric with a pattern of crossed lines) and silk handkerchiefs. These were sent to Africa and traded for enslaved Africans, completing the triangle of trade between Britain, Africa and the Americas.

This cotton bale was donated to Gallery Oldham in 1942, by Councillor E Henthorn, whose grandfather Thomas Henthorn was a cotton dealer in the 1880s, and later the manager of a group of Oldham cotton mills.