Why was cotton so important in north west England?

Two cotton cops

Made in Lancashire, 1735 and 1885
Cotton, paper and card

Object number 1885/8
Given by William Mannock, 1885

See this object at Gallery Oldham This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.

Two cotton cops

These framed cotton cops were given to Gallery Oldham by William Mannock, owner of Marsland Mill in Oldham, for inclusion in the opening display of Oldham's Free Library, Museum and Art Gallery in 1885. The opening displays reflected the wealth brought to the town by the flourishing cotton trade and this object still bears the original labels from that time.

Although made 150 years apart, both yarns are made to the same fineness and from the same raw material, American cotton. The cop on the right was made at Marsland Mill in 1885. The earlier cop and receipts on the left were discovered when an old warehouse in Manchester was redeveloped in 1882. The two were framed together to celebrate the long history of cotton spinning in the north west of England.

In 1735, before large-scale mechanisation, spinning was 'put out' and people did the work at home. By 1885 there were hundreds of mills across Lancashire. Marsland Mills alone contained mules spinning on over 40,000 spindles and employed over 400 people. The early cop is spun from cotton that will have been picked by enslaved workers. The raw material probably came to England as part of the triangular trade pattern associated with slavery. The later cotton will have been picked by free men. However these men will have been the descendants of enslaved people and will have worked under a white overseer.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.