New Church Worthies

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley


Inventor of the Wonderful Machine for Spinning Cotton, called the Mule

WHEN the immense increase of this country in wealth, population, and influence among mankind arising from the stupendous cotton trade is considered, connecting us with America, giving the nation capacity to bear its burdens in the warlike troubles of the early part of the century, and maintaining at the present a population four times as great as it possessed a hundred years ago, it is interesting and suggestive to know that this vast growth of trade was largely owing to the inventions of three humble New Churchmen: Hargreaves, of Standhill, near Blackburn; Highs, of Leigh; and Crompton, of Hall-i'th'-Wood, the latter an old mansion in a beautiful and romantic region near Bolton.

Hargreaves invented the Spinning Jenny, Highs the Water-frame, and Crompton the Mule, which combined the excellences of the other two. It is with this Crompton especially, a humble, spiritually-minded, excellent, and most ingenious man, with whom we have at present to concern ourselves. He was born at Firwood, lived afterwards at the picturesque old house called Hall-i'-th'-Wood, in which he was making his marvellous inventions, and cultivating his music, in his days of early manhood. There is a fine picture of him with his violin in hand, and his thoughtful face absorbed in meditation.

He received the doctrines from his friend Samuel Dawson of our previous sketch, in early middle life, for at his death, June 26th, 1827, he had been over forty years a New Churchman. His knowledge of the doctrines of the New Jerusalem was obtained from his friend, who was then rejoicing in their full and glorious light, and he at once began practically to carry them out. He made an organ for the little Society at Bolton, of which he was an early member, and composed many beautiful tunes. He was a man of strict integrity, ardent in his attachments, and persevering in all he undertook. His religion was seen in his daily life, which was one ever seeking to perform uses, directed by profound thought. His portrait shows the face of a man deeply meditative, but also a man of order and peace.

From indifference to the attainment of riches, he did not obtain a patent for inventions which have increased the wealth of the country to an incalculable extent. He probably had no idea of the astonishing growth of commerce that would follow in time from his improvements. He had been for some years a worker on Hargreaves' jenny.

Greedy watchers were hanging about when Crompton was known to be scheming his more perfect machines, although he commenced doing so when he was only twenty-one, and it took him five years to complete his mule. The work he produced was so superior, and the wages of those who employed his methods were so increased, that he had to guard his plans from being caught up and carried out before he had matured them himself. In a letter to a friend he says, in regard to the mule, "The date of its being first completed was 1779. At the end of the following year I was under the necessity of making it public, or destroying it, as it was not in my power to keep it (for myself) and work it, and to destroy it was too painful a task, having been four and a half years at least, wherein every moment of time and power of mind, as well as expense, which my other employments would permit, were devoted to this one end, the having good yarn to weave; so that to destroy it I could not."

Being of a retiring and unambitious disposition, he only regretted that public curiosity would not allow him to enjoy what he called his little invention to himself in his garret, and to earn by his own manual labour undisturbed the fruits of his ingenuity and perseverance. The very superior of his yarn drew persons from all quarters to ascertain the means whereby he produced it. His first machine was almost entirely of wood, and it had only about twenty or thirty spindles; all the parts of the work were comparatively heavy, but he and others continued to improve, making the several parts in metal, until one machine at the beginning of this century would work 400 spindles, and in 1835 mules of eleven hundred spindles each, or two thousand two hundred the pair, and self-acting, only requiring young girls to join the broken threads, annonced its wonderful perfection in its maturity.

The mule, and the other inventions of which, after the steam engine, it may be considered to be the chief, have increased the population of Lancashire from 297,300 in 1750, to three millions and a half of people, and Yorkshire nearly as many, at the present day. And these people have comforts and advantages of which their forefathers little dreamed. In Crompton's time our manufacturers consumed three millions of pounds of cotton; in 1881 the enormous amount had been reached of fifteen hundred millions; and our readers may conceive faintly the wonderful effect this extent of peaceful, useful trade must have, in inducing friendly feeling and enlarged prosperity all over the world. Although Crompton took out no patent, the gratitude of the manufacturers benefitted was early acknowledged by a present, in the form of a subscription amounting to a hundred guineas. About twenty years afterwards there was another subscription of £400; and in 1812 the manufacturing public petitioned Parliament to recognise the merits of Mr. Crompton, and a grant was made of the sum of £5,000. It was then stated that 70,000 persons were employed on his machines, and they found work for 150,000 weavers. The capital then employed in factories, machinery, and mule-spinning was said to amount to four millions sterling, and in 1825 the amount was said to be four-fifths of the whole capital of the kingdom.

Mr. Crompton's busy, useful life was not without considerable vicissitudes and sorrows. His excellent wife died early, and left him with a numerous small family, and many cares. He embarked in business, and did not succeed; but he paid his creditors every farthing. Inventors are not always successful in the commercial circle. During the remainder of his days he struggled with losses and disappointments; bearing them, however, with Christian patience and fortitude, acknowledged by all who knew him. Chequered by prosperity and adversity, he rejoiced to confess he found the doctrines of the New Church his constant and peculiar support. His only daughter kept his modest house in King Street, Bolton, where he died, leaving her but very poorly provided for. His own means were small, though he had always kind friends who delighted to show how much they appreciated him, and he had always the contented air of being in comfortable circumstances.

His orderly life prevented him probably from having any active illness in his old age. He gently decayed and without pain faded away. Sustained by the truths he had so long embraced and loved, and which had consoled and strengthened him in all previous trials, he passed away quietly to heaven, almost unnoticed in the town, on Tuesday, June 26th, 1827, in the 74th year of his age.

Soon after his departure, a feeling sprung up in Bolton and the manufacturing districts generally that his genius, his ability, and his worth had not been honoured as they ought to have been, and a desire was felt that something more should be done. This sentiment increased with the growth of the trade which his ingenuity had so much promoted; and at length it was determined there should be a statue erected to his memory. This was at length carried out. A life-size figure, in a sitting, thoughtful posture, on a square stone pedestal, the pedestal about six feet high, was erected in Nelson-square, fronting Bradshaw-gate. One side of the pedestal has a representation of the Hall-i'-th'-Wood, where Crompton lived when he invented the mule; and on the opposite side he is seen as himself working at the mule. It is a fine memento of their townsman, and Bolton now regards his name with homage and respect. September 24th, 1862, when the statue was unveiled, was a great day in Bolton. All the town was en fête, and there was a grand procession. Everybody strove to do honour to Crompton. Bands of music played, the trades walked, and the chief people of the town led the procession. The New Church people joined, and testified their respect and love for their brother just gone before.

Little did that modest, excellent man dream that the time would come when his name would be echoed on all sides with acclamation. But, still better than the applause of thousands, was the assurance in his loving Christian heart that his name was written in heaven, and the sweet well-done of his Saviour would be his—"Well-done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord."

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