Robin Longbottom examines the construction of a new spinning frame – and how mill workers and bosses celebrated its completion

ON Thursday, September 13, 1832, John Hartley – a worsted spinner of Greenroyd Mill, Sutton-in-Craven – bought five gallons of ale from the King’s Arms Inn at the top of the village.

The ale was delivered to the mill to celebrate the completion of a new spinning frame.

Such events were known as ‘footing the frame’ and took place in early mills so that master and mill hands alike could toast the success of a new machine and mark the start of its working life.

The spinning frame was built by William Longbottom, a machine maker who lived in the village, assisted by his two sons, John and William junior.

William, known as Willie, was born in Steeton in 1786, the son of a carpenter and joiner. He had followed his father into the trade at a time when joiners were in demand to make the sturdy wooden frames for spinning machines, before wood was replaced by cast iron. Joiners familiar with making the frames were much sought-after by both cotton and worsted spinners and many became experts in the construction of machinery and eventually turned to making complete machines. Willie followed this route and is first recorded in 1818 making spinning frames for William Clough at Grove Mill in Ingrow, Keighley.

He and his sons spent ten days making the new machine for John Hartley. They worked out of the mechanics' shop at the mill where they forged nuts and bolts, and fine tuned the steel drawing rollers, spindles, flyers and cast iron gear wheels so that the finished machine ran smoothly. When his final account was submitted, it was discounted by 9 shillings and 2 pence to cover the cost of taking power from the mill’s waterwheel.

By 1832 machine frames were no longer made of wood and this new machine was supported by cast iron ends and spacer frames. These, together with the gear wheels, were probably supplied by Samuel Hill, an iron founder in Colne with whom Willie is recorded doing business. The drawing rollers, flyers and spindles would have been bought from a supplier in Keighley and they ran on brass bushes, or bearings, that were most likely purchased from Robert Brook, a Keighley brass founder with whom he also dealt.

The machine was assembled in its permanent position in the spinning room and had 112 spindles, 56 down each side. The gearing was at one end of the machine and a cast iron support frame was inserted after every row of eight spindles; these supported the weight of the rollers and kept the machine rigid. Each section was known as a box and this new machine consisted of seven boxes.

Willie also supplied and fitted a length of shafting weighing 49lbs together with the pulleys, or drums, to drive the machine. Two were fitted onto the shaft side by side – one was fastened on to drive the machine and the other spun idle on the shaft. A third drum was fitted to the machine to drive the gearing and a leather drive belt ran from the drum on the machine to the pulley on the shafting. To stop the machine running, the belt was simply knocked onto the idling wheel with a wooden sprag.

The new machine was completed and up and running at a total cost of £107 18s 10d, the equivalent of something in the region of £15,000 today. This also included the five gallons of ale for ‘footing the frame’.

Willie was an enterprising man and had opened the King’s Arms Inn following the coronation of William IV in 1830. The ale was brewed at the inn in a brewhouse to the rear. In the 1850s the King’s Arms was relocated to its current site.