A Character in Cromford

As part of an ongoing project at the World Heritage Site at Cromford Mills, we’re working on a character vignette of Sir Richard Arkwright, inventor of the waterframe cotton spinning wheel.

Far from being a dry story of spinning cogs and machine components, Arkwright’s tale is one of colourful characters, intrigue and incredible vision. This is a self-made man who blustered and innovated his way into history.

Portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright beside a modle of his waterframe
Sir Richard Arkwright portrait by Joseph Wright (c. 1790). This painting can be found in the Derby Art Museum

As we research the piece, draft a script and plan the 3D and CG elements, we’ve come across a gem of an anecdote that’s just too fun not to share here on the blog. Here it is.

Richard Arkwright was the son of a tailor. The 13th son, to be exact. And with a dozen siblings to contend with, he learnt at an early age to fight his corner and speak loudly for what he wanted.

As a young man, Arkwright worked as a wig maker and barber. But he soon tired of these trades and began tinkering with inventions instead. After inventing the waterframe cotton spinning wheel, he went on to found the world’s first full-scale textile factory, creating consumer cloth goods for the first time in history. He became enormously wealthy as a result, but despite his fortune never lost the plain speaking, fight-your-corner attitude he had learnt as a boy.

In 1786, Arkwright drew the attention of royalty and was knighted by King George III. Apparently during the ceremony he managed to offend the courtiers with his rough and inappropriate manners (we would love to get a full description of that!) and some noblemen began “trash talking” behind his back.

The story goes that when the recently-knighted Arkwright overheard the remarks, he turned to the courtiers and exclaimed, “Gentlemen, can YOU pay off the national debt? No? Well I can!”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re dealing with a sassy character here.

Pre-production on Arkwright’s vignette continues though the rest of this month. Meanwhile we are creating touchscreen interactives and other AV pieces for inclusion on the site. Stay tuned for more!