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Why Cotton Mills

Up to 1770 cotton was spun as individual threads by hand on a very simple spinning frame, this was a very slow process and would never have been able to satisfy the demand that would develop over the coming years. Then in 1771 Richard Arkwright who had invented the Flyer Spinning Frame, a machine to spin many cotton fibers into thread simultaneously, opened his first water powered cotton mill at Cromford, Derbyshire. This location on the banks of the River Derwent was chosen to enable constant power from the fast flowing river to drive the machinery of the mill. This event is considered to be the begining of the industrial revolution, and 16 years later the mill at Catrine was built on the banks of the River Ayr.

 

The modern history of Catrine begins in 1787, not long after the Ballochmyle estate changed hands from the Whiteford (sp. Whitefoord) family to Claud Alexander, who bought the estate on his return from serving as paymaster-general in Bengal for the East India Company. Senior employees of that company were typically able to enrich themselves during their sojourn in India and Claud Alexander was no exception. He was concerned that he should not return to Scotland and drink away his fortune and sought investments to secure his money.

 

His brother urged him to get into the lucrative slave trade, on the basis that he had just as much brains as the merchantmen of Liverpool. Instead, chance and circumstance took him into the cotton business. The cotton baron, Richard Arkwright, enraged at his Manchester colleagues who kept challenging his patents in court, essentially franchised out his cotton business and created a major industry in Scotland from scratch. Arkwright provided machinery, building designs and technical expertise during the construction stage, and then took an annual royalty payment on each spindle in the mill. A series of massive cotton mills were built in this way, beginning with New Lanark. Stanley in Perthshire followed then Deanston, Catrine and Blantyre. These new mills were far bigger than the typical English mill and benefited from significantly lower labour costs in Scotland.