Cartwright, Edmund 1743 - 1823


Edmund Cartwright was a Church of England clergyman and inventor of a power loom. He was born on 24 April 1743 at Marnham in Nottinghamshire, the fourth of five sons of William Cartwright (d. 1781).

In his early career he was a respected poet, publishing Armine and Elvira in 1770, which was thought highly of by Sir Walter Scott. His most important work was Prince of Peace, published in 1779, deploring the war in America.

In 1772, Cartwright was presented to the perpetual curacy of Brampton near Wakefield, and in 1779 he became rector of Goadby Marwood, Leicestershire, an office which he held until 1808.

In 1784 Cartwright proposed the mechanisation of weaving during a casual conversation, as a way of restricting the export of British yarn to foreign competitors. He obtained a patent for his design in 1785. It was a primitive machine, but it established the feasibility of power-loom weaving and the underlying principle remained little changed until the development of the Sulzer loom in the twentieth century.

In 1785 the family inherited property at Doncaster. Cartwright was then able to work with skill mechanics to develop the Doncaster loom, and to establish a power-loom mill in the town. Twenty looms were initially powered by a bull, which was replaced by a steam engine in 1788–9.

Though successful in promoting the principle, the concern was not a success. Cartwright faced powerful opposition from competitors, his patents were infringed, and he rapidly began to run out of money. In 1793, facing losses in excess of £30,000, he assigned his patents to his brothers to pursue in the courts, and gave up the Doncaster works.

In 1806 Cartwright discovered that his loom had come into widespread use around Manchester. His debts had continued to rise after 1793, and friends in Manchester presented a petition to parliament on his behalf in 1807, signed by fifty of the largest firms. It was claimed that his loom had benefited Britain to the amount of £1.5 million, which accordingly had been successful in keeping the textile trade. Parliament recognized his contribution, and in 1809 voted him a grant of £10,000.

After the failure at Doncaster, in 1793 Cartwright moved to London and continued to invent over a wide range of schemes including building, boat propulsion, steam engines and agriculture. He died in Hastings on 30 October 1823, and was buried at Battle, Sussex.