Why was cotton so important in north west England?

Crompton's Mule

Made by Samuel Crompton, about 1802
Wood, iron

Object number 1886.50
Given by Dobson and Barlow of Bolton

See this object at Bolton Museum and Archive Service This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.

Crompton's Mule

This is arguably one of the most important objects in any museum in the north west. It is the only surviving spinning mule made by its inventor, Samuel Crompton. Crompton developed the mule in 1779, so called because it combined two previous spinning machines, the water frame and the spinning jenny. It was capable of producing high quantities of fine, strong cotton yarn, and during the early 1800s revolutionised the British cotton industry, heralding the start of the cotton boom.

The application of the mule to industry massively increased the amount of cotton yarn manufacturers could produce, which in turn increased demand for raw cotton to supply the mills. This led to an increase in cotton production by the slave system, and a parallel boom developed in the plantations of the southern states of America. During the period 1781-1791, the first decade of the mule’s use, the amount of raw cotton supplied to Britain more than tripled.

Despite the success of the mule, Samuel Crompton was unable to patent his design and made very little money from it. He eventually died in poverty in 1827. This mule was made by Crompton in about 1802 and ended up in the possession of the Bolton firm of Dobson and Barlow, manufacturers of cotton machinery. Dobson and Barlow exported machinery all over the world, and employed large numbers of local people.

It was not until after his death that Crompton's contribution to industry was recognised. The expansion of cotton production across Lancashire provided work for thousands of people and generated a huge amount of wealth. Crompton gained the status of a local hero in Bolton and this machine was displayed in Bolton Museum for the education of local people, many of whom themselves worked in the cotton industry. Its connection to the history of slavery, however, was not fully recognised until the commemoration of the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007.

This information was provided by curators at Bolton Museum and Archive Service.