Reeds, Clocks & Wigs

“My father told me, never have partners.”

Howard Hughes

Lancashire

Lancashire Countryside

The Richard Arkwright narrative integrates many themes, from innovation and development to human rights and international trade.   But it is first and foremost a story about people who lived within a time of unprecedented growth and expansion.  What were their thoughts, their responses, their hopes and dreams?  How did they participate within their work environments and social structures? These were the generations that offered the world a new reality and prepared the way for the Information Age.  Change thrives on human endeavour, which includes both individual and collective effort.  It was the interaction between these two forces that supplied the drama, as well as the driving force behind the Industrial Revolution.

Richard Arkwright, the Wig-maker from Preston Lancashire needed hair, in large quantities, to make his wigs.  He travelled throughout England collecting discarded hair.  His business was thriving, but the fickle tide of fashion was working against him.  In the early 1700’s, wearing a wig was the unquestionable mark of acceptable elegance, but by the 1760’s when Richard Arkwright entered the industry, more men were turning to their own hair. This caused a great deal of anxiety amongst the established wig-makers; they responded by asking the King to introduce a law requiring men to wear a wig.  Richard Arkwright was one step ahead of his peer group.  Men may not need wigs, but they needed clothes for themselves and their families.

Richard Arkwright had heard rumours that it was possible to invent machines to turn raw cotton into thread.  He was ready for career shift and had money to invest.  By the year 1763, weaving had benefited from advancements in automation.  Spinning, however, still relied on the hand wheel. While there had been attempts to use mechanical rollers, more work had to be completed to make it a profitable venture.

Meanwhile, in another part of Lancashire, Thomas Highs a reed maker and John Kay, a clockmaker had joined forces to construct a cotton-spinning machine.   Each man brought essential skills to the project.  Thomas Highs made reeds, a weaver’s instrument for separating the warp-threads (more on this later); John Kay applied his knowledge of small gears and fine clock mechanisms.  Between the years 1766 – 1767, Thomas Highs found a method of spinning by rollers, which John Kay developed into a trial machine.  Their problem – they ran out of money and had to abandon the project.

The pairing of innovation and money brings together unlikely partnerships. There is a caveat. Even with the most excellent of ideas, partnerships are subject to the risk of personal ambition and incompatible goals.  So it was with the Reed-maker, the Clock-maker and the Wig-maker.

“The poor man who enters into a partnership with one who is rich makes a risky venture.”

Titus Maccius Plautus, Roman Playwright

111 thoughts on “Reeds, Clocks & Wigs

    • A very, very good question!!! Which reminds me – how much money have I wasted on fashion choices, simply because I wanted to be in “style.”

      “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Oscar Wilde

      Like

      • Oh dear … “how much money have I wasted on fashion choices, simply because I wanted to be in “style.””” A good reminder so think seriously about what I prefer to wear! Thank you, Rebecca! 🙂
        Lots of hugs from us all,
        Dina xo

        Like

      • Thank you for giving breadth and depth to our conversations. There is a great freedom when we see that being is style is not dependent on $$$. Lots of hugs coming back to my dear fabulous four!!!

        Like

  1. Beautiful Lancashire scenes, Rebecca. i had to smile, imagining Arkwright travelling around the English countryside, “collecting discarded hair.” He had a very interesting career progression, and it was fortuitous that fate threw these three men together to make history.

    Like

    • Thank you!!! You have come to the very heart of the matter: “it was fortuitous that fate threw these three men together to make history.” I have given this idea much thought, and will be putting some ideas down in future posts. Does randomness control outcomes? A couple of years ago I read, Leonard Mlodinov’s book “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” which speaks to this very thing. What if these men never met? Would there have been others to take their place? Something to think about…

      Like

    • I am so glad that you stopped by! I loved the cow scene! When we travel, we always take public transit – trains, buses etc – which allows us to walk through the countryside. There are so many more things to see when you take a more leisurely approach. My thought for this post was to highlight the beauty of nature, which would come into sharp contrast, when I include the photos of the factories in future posts.

      “The poetry of the earth is never dead.” John Keats

      Like

    • Believe it or not, I was thinking of that very same thing when I took this photo. But it was in the context of “Pride and Prejudice.” Do you remember when Miss Bennett and her Aunt and Uncle visited Pemberley and met Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy asked her uncle to go fishing with him. I thought as clicked the camera – this would be the perfect place for them to fish!!!

      “The conversation soon turned upon fishing, and she heard Mr. Darcy invite him, with the greatest civility, to fish there as often as he chose while he continued in the neighbourhood, offering at the same time to supply him with fishing tackle, and pointing out those parts of the stream where there was usually most sport. Mrs. Gardiner, who was walking arm in arm with Elizabeth, gave her a look expressive of her wonder.” Jane Austin

      Like

  2. Reading about how men wore wigs as a sign of elegance and class suddenly had me thinking of women today and how many of them, according to what I see and read in the media, where hair extensions. Perhaps not exactly as an aspiration of class but as a way to “defy” age, I don’t know. Sorry, I’m going too off topic here and letting my mind wander today…..

    Like

    • I have the same tendency to go off topic. For example, did you know that men and women of ancient Egypt shaved their heads and then wore wigs made from human hair, sheep’s wool or vegetable fibers, depending on their position on the status ladder? I didn’t!!! It seems that baldness kept the ancient Egyptians cool in their hot climate and avoided an infestation of lice, which was a common problem. There is so much more to the “wig” story, that I had to remind myself that I was still working on the Arkwright narrative. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Like

  3. I appreciate the connections you make. Earlier in the post you had a line about the change into the industrial revolution prepared the way into the information age. I agree – yet so many people don’t see it, thus can’t get past their narrowsightedness of “the jobs going to China.”

    Like

    • A very, very good point. We live in a complex world where problem resolution is difficult because we are faced with incomplete and contradictory information. We forget that “finding” a solution for one situation may reveal or create others that are even more problematic.

      Like

  4. Very interesting connections of these men and all that sprung forth from them. The watershed moment in history for technology and all that it brings, good, bad, and whatnot. Today the idea of wigs brings forth people getting haircuts so wigs can be made for cancer patients… The marriage of technology and advancements and the common sense practices ideas that spring from the ethers. All so fascinating. Happy weekend, my friend.

    Like

    • The more I research this narrative, the more I realize that it was the connections made between individuals that formed the basis for the technological advances.The Industrial Revolution did not happen overnight; rather it was a series of innovations. This included advances in social norms and human rights. The more I read about the men and women who fought for fair and equitable outcomes, the more I realize that we have huge shoes to fill. My hope is that we all have big feet.

      BTW, I finished your wonderful book – you have filled the shoes and are carrying on the legacy of compassion and tolerance! 🙂

      Like

    • Thank you dear Rebecca for your very kind words. And, for your heart which is grounded in humanity, that the toils of others spring into your communications and remind me/us of truly what’s important in this whole crazy/wonderful scheme of life, all the people, the good decent hard working ethical people, who give such much for the betterment of all. Yes, let us hope we fit those shoes.

      Like

      • Well said! The benchmark of success is generally measured in wealth, position, or fame. The better measurement systems include compassion, generosity, kindness, which is alive and well in our world. There are many people who strive for peaceful outcomes, for fair and equitable distribution, for the health of our environment. It gives me hope that we will fit those shoes. 🙂

        Like

  5. Since beautiful, pastoral photographs. What really jumped out for me in the story of the unfortunate wig maker was his attempt to have the wearing of wigs legislated. Oh dear imagine if that had succeeded. Might the law still be on the books today?

    Like

    • Legislation has a hard time surviving against the power of the people. Fashion reflects society. You would be interested to know that King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) started the wig-wearing craze. It seems he went “bald” at a young age. Fast forward to the French Revolution – wigs were associated with the excess of the French monarchy. That’s when they started to lose their fashion charm. I never knew that the history of wigs could be so complex and political!!!

      Like

    • You are so right – there is always the risk/reward trade-off. The real issue of course is whether the reward outweighs the risks. There are no certainties, even with the best statistical measurements systems. An adventure without risk is not an adventure!!! 🙂

      Like

    • Thank you so much for your consideration – I am honoured by your nomination. The best award is that we are connected and are sharing an ongoing dialogue. All the very best!!! 🙂

      Like

  6. At one time I was working on creation of a cotton-spinning machine based on use of static electricity. It was supposed to be revolution in spinning. I proved that the theory was wrong.

    Like

  7. Clan, As soon as I opened this post I thougth of Harru Potter, the Arkwrights founding bldg just pushed that thought into my head. But having said that you have again taught me a most valuable lesson in such an easy manner. Thank you, Bill

    Like

    • Thank you!!! I have wanted to go back to this time in history because it gives me a greater understanding of what we are experiencing in our reality. To be honest, I am learning as I go and I’m finding that there are many twists and turns to a narrative. We live with uncertainty, risk and complexity, as did all those who came before us. Your presence and comments are very much appreciated.

      Like

  8. Isn’t it typical that in the 1760s most of the wig makers responded to the change in fashion by asking for a law requiring all men to wear wigs? But one man accepted the reality of change and looked for an appropriate business opportunity. It’s hard for anyone to imagine a world that will be different tomorrow than it was yesterday.

    Like

    • How well said – “it’s hard for anyone to imagine a world…” Which is rather surprising considering that our very existence is about change. It seems that we accept change more than we anticipate it. I can’t imagine life without a cell phone, computer connection. 🙂

      Like

    • Oh, Dina! I loved walking through the countryside. It was one of those perfect late summer days. I was thinking of your most recent post this morning about “slow.” So very, very true, which is why I prefer walking adventures.

      Like

  9. Hi Rebecca, would you be interested in guest blogging on my blog? You wrote a comment on my post on Revisiting the Jefferson Bible a while ago about reading a biography of George Washington and I just loved the story so much that I thought it would make a great post on my blog.

    Here is your comment to refresh your memory: I read, His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis, via audio-book. (When I walk I always take a book with me.) When I came home one night, I was crying. My husband asked – “What’s wrong?” I said that George had died. “George who,” he asked alarmed. George Washington. “but you knew that he would die when you read the book, didn’t you?” he asked. Yes I replied, but wish he hadn’t!

    I don’t know if you do guest blogs. If you don’t, don’t worry about it, but I just thought I’d ask in case. If you’re interested, you can email me at Letizia@readinginterrupted.com and we can discuss dates and such (no rush or anything!) Hope you’re having a good week and sorry for the long comment – I couldn’t find a Contact page on your blogs 🙂

    Like

  10. Ein wunderbarer Beitrag, danke vielmals Rebecca. Ich frage mich; wohin führt die Zukunft die jungen Generationen hin?, was wissen sie for Exempel noch alles über die industrielle Entwicklung, über die Geschichte der grossen europäischen Kriege? und so weiter.
    Meine Generation kannte in der Schweiz noch die Arbeiterschaft, musste neben der Schule auch arbeiten, etwas tun. Meine heutigen Enkel sind nur noch mit “modernster Technik” unterwegs – wo führt das alles hin?
    Ich freue mich, bei Dir lesen zu dürfen 😀 Ernst

    Like

    • Sie fragen tiefgreifende Fragen. Unsere Technologie ist die Erhöhung der Geschwindigkeit der Aktivität und der Entwicklung, aber es funktioniert nicht für tiefe Denken zu ermöglichen. Die nächste Generation wird schwierige Entscheidungen stellen. Wer wird das Essen, das saubere Wasser, die frische Luft zu teilen? Vielen Dank für Ihre Gedanken. Ihre Anwesenheit und Kommentare werden sehr geschätzt. 🙂

      Like

  11. You do a nice job of writing and thinking not to mention nice photos!I believe it was Forbes who said the harder he worked the luckier he got.Thanks for the recent like!td

    Like

    • Thank you!!! Your visits are always welcomed and appreciated. The story becomes even more complex as new players are introduced. But then, when was life simple? Humanity seems to thrive on challenges.

      Like

  12. This is truly intriguing. I love the way you write every different things. I have an FB friend from Lancashire. He works at a hospital as a wig specialist for their patients.suffering from head skin disorder but the most interesting thing is that he has never wear a wig for his own baldness.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your comments. It seems that baldness is being embraced by more and more men and women. When I was reading about wig-making in history, one of the reasons for wigs was to protect the head for those who suffered from skin disorders. Wig-making is an art form!!!

      “I don’t consider myself bald, I’m just taller than my hair.”
      Lucius Annaeus Seneca

      Like

    • What a remarkable TED talk – much to think about, especially given the emerging technologies that require engagement over individual success. The Industrial Revolution was merely the prelude to what we are experiencing today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and adding to my understanding. 🙂

      Like

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging comments! I went back to the Industrial Revolution – the stories are but a foreshadowing of what we are experiencing today. The comments have added depth and breadth to my understanding. We are facing difficult questions: who will share the clean air, water, fresh and nutritious food? There were many people who fought for social justice during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Now it is our turn to make a difference!

      Like

  13. So interesting, you always have the most interesting post, they always make me think. Sometimes two heads are better than one, one of my favorite inventions is the Walkman, and it derives from two ideas. One man had the earphones and the other the cassette player and they combined the two. But, now with all the new technology they are a thing of the past, but I still have mine I am so old school I don’t own a smart phone pretty bad at embracing the new phones.

    Like

  14. Dear Rebecca, I saw your comment to JJ over at his site and that you’ve been tending to your mother. I just wanted to pop in to say I hope she recovers from whatever is happening. Holding you in my heart and sending your mother good thoughts to get well. Love, Paulette

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful, heartwarming comments, Paulette. I have been giving the concept of “time” a great deal of thought these past weeks. We live in a finite existence, yet we understand and recognize the infinite. Perhaps it is looking more closely at the concept of “enough.” Think of the quote by Rabindranth Tagore: “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” We must celebrate that we have been given time – that is enough in and of itself. Perhaps this is when we can fully experience the joy of the moment. Many hugs and love coming back to you!!!

      Like

  15. “The poor man who enters into a partnership with one who is rich makes a risky venture.

    Hello… Nice to read your post… Very enlightening!!!…
    I agree with you when you held that partnerships are subject to the risk of personal ambition and incompatible goals. It is always easy to stick out one’s neck… As a matter of fact Life is a sort of challenge … If you don’t risk anything you will never win, right… But there is also the possibility of loosing… And the percentage is high .. Despite it, the venture is worthwhile, mainly for the reasons enunciated above…

    Great post… Thanks for sharing.
    Best regrads, Aquileana 😛

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Aquileana, for adding depth to this conversation. I agree – there is always that tenuous balance between risk and reward. Without risk, we cannot grow. Is there a way of choosing the “optimum risk”” Looking back allows me to contemplate all of the sides to the situation. Nothing is a simple as it seems.

      “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, with Annotations – 1841-1844

      Like

    • Thank you!!! You just made my day. The story isn’t finished yet – lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. It seems that life is complicated no matter the century.

      Like

Comments are closed.