Robin Longbottom on how one firm, from cautious beginnings, went on to become a hugely successful worsted spinner

IN 1935, Robert Clough (Keighley) Ltd, of Grove Mill at Ingrow, was the biggest worsted spinner in Keighley.

The founder, Robert Clough, was born in 1781 at Bent Farm in Sutton-in-Craven where his family had had a long association with the worsted trade.

On December 31, 1818, he leased the two top floors of Grove Mill to spin worsted yarn by water power.

The lease permitted him to install 12 spinning frames of 72 spindles each and he contracted three brothers, Titus, William and John Longbottom, to build the machines. They were the elder sons of John Longbottom senior, of Steeton. By trade they were carpenters and joiners and had long been in demand to build the sturdy wooden frames to support the spindles, rollers and gearing of spinning machines. As they became more familiar with the construction of machinery, they began making complete machines and were now in business as machine makers.

Titus, the eldest of the brothers, set up on his own in 1810 in a room at North Brook Mill in Keighley that he rented from Richard Hattersley. In 1816 he built his own machine shop in South Street. The building was three storeys high, with the workshop extending the full length of the top floor, and with two cottages below. To power his lathes and machinery he bought a steam engine that stood outside and transmitted power to the workshop via an external crank. His brother, William, started his business in Sutton and John had a workshop in Steeton. Robert Clough probably approached William first, as both lived in the same village, and after a discussion with his two brothers they decided to split the contract. Titus would make six spinning frames at his works in Keighley and William and John would join forces and make the other six.

By 1818 spinning frames were being made from cast iron (there were at least two iron foundries in the town). The machines were assembled onsite and in sections known as boxes. Each box had eight spindles and was separated by a spacer frame. The 72-spindle frames built for Clough consisted of nine boxes and were powered from a drive and gearing at one end of the machine. The cost of each spinning frame was £75 12 shillings.

The machinery was phased in and the first four were built by William and John and running by May, 1819. Robert Clough was clearly proceeding cautiously and getting his first machines running and generating income before installing the others. A further four spinning frames, built by Titus, were installed in September and the final four were not completed until late summer 1820, two by William and John and two by Titus.

In addition to the spinning frames, Titus also supplied a 16-spindle drawing frame and two roving frames of 16 and 12 spindles each – combed wool was first drawn out by the drawing machine and then twisted into a ‘roving’ on the roving frames before finally being spun into yarn.

Prior to going into production, Clough needed a large quantity of bobbins. He bought these from Christopher Wharton, a bobbin manufacturer at Ing, near Kendal. By May 1819 Wharton had delivered 24 gross (3,456) of spinning bobbins and 42 gross (6,048) of roving bobbins.

At the close of 1820 Robert Clough was spinning worsted yarn on a total of 864 spindles. The small mill was extended over the years and a century later the complex was running a total of 21,000 spindles. From a cautious beginning, Robert Clough’s business went on to become one of the most successful worsted spinners in Keighley. The company was eventually taken over by British Mohair Spinners and finally closed in 1999.