Why was cotton so important in north west England?

Horizontal condensing engine

Made by Earnshaw & Holt, Rochdale, 1864
Iron, brass, copper, wood and rope

Object number 1975.2

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Horizontal condensing engine

Horizontal engines began to replace older beam engines in cotton mills from the 1850s, having first proved their worth in ships. They required less space than the older beam engines and could be freestanding, as they were mounted on a base rather than supported by a frame or a building as beam engines were.

This single-cylinder slide-valve condensing engine was built towards the end of the Lancashire cotton famine, caused by the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the blockading of southern cotton ports by the north. The war brought genuine hardship to the cotton workers of Lancashire, as the severe reduction in supplies of raw cotton impacted on production levels, resulting in mass unemployment and reduced working hours.

This engine was installed at Durn Mill in Littleborough, which was owned by Alfred and William Law. It powered spinning mules and weaving looms producing Scottish tartans, flannels and baize blankets. Power was transmitted from the flywheel via a series of gear wheels and vertical and horizontal shafts to all floors of the mill. Machines were connected to the line-shafting by pulleys and drive belts. The engine continued in use until the 1950s.

This information was provided by curators at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI).