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Doncaster News and Features: Famous Doncastrian: Edmund Cartwright
Nottingham-born, Edmund Cartwright invented , in the face of much mockery, what he called the power loom, an automated machine to improve the speed and quality of weaving.
His first power loom, patented in 1785, was extremely crude but improvements were made in subsequent versions. Two years later Cartwright established a factory or mill in Doncaster for his looms, initially powered by a bull! Two years later the bull retired and they began using steam engines produced by James Watt and Matthew Boulton, to drive his looms.
He also invented a wool-combing machine here in 1789. His ideas and tests run here in Doncaster were sensational. He sold a licence to Robert Grimshaw to build 500 of the new looms in a weaving shed at Knott Mill in Manchester. The locals saw this as a threat and after 24 were installed, it was burnt down. The deal then fell through and the orders cancelled. Cartwright's never recovered and in 1793, he went bankrupt and closed the factory.
His siblings rallied round him and agreed to sell the family estate at Marnham to pay off his debts. He then moved to London in 1796 and worked on other ideas, including interlocking bricks and incombustible floorboards, but none proved very workable.
Ahead of his time he designed a steam engine that ran on alcohol and in 1797 a machine for making rope. He also aided others, including Robert Fulton and his steamboats.
In 1800 the Duke of Bedford made him manager of an experimental farm on his estate at Woburn in Bedfordshire, where he could indulge his ideas and also as the Duke's chaplain.
His work on artificial manures here was considered so important that in 1805, he was awarded a gold medal by the Board of Agriculture for an essay on the subject.
In 1809, however, the House of Commons awarded Cartwright £10,000 in recognition of his ingenuity with his power loom. This allowed him to retire to a small farm at Hollander, near Sevenoaks in Kent. Cartwright died on 30 October 1823.
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