Kay, John 1704 - 1781

Inventor of textile manufacturing machinery, was born at Park Farm in the township of Walmersley in the parish of Bury, Lancashire, on 16 July 1704. He originally started as a clockmaker working in Leigh, Lancashire. Working alongside an inventor Thomas Highs and between them collaborated on a few ideas for machines relating to the production of textiles. John Kay had taken an idea of Thomas Highs and developed it further. They had originally come up with the idea of using rollers to spin the yarn. However, Highs stopped working on the idea and moved on to other projects. When Arkwright and Kay used the idea in their machine Highs accused Arkwright and Kay of theft, this was later to be the subject of a court case.

Arkwright and Kay began working together in 1767. He was initially engaged to manufacture brass wheels but, 6 months later Arkwright engaged him to build a roller-based spinning machine. The following year, in 1768, Kay and Arkwright moved to Preston to develop the original spinning machine further. By this time Kay had become indentured to Arkwright for 21 years at half a guinea a week. Shortly after this they moved to Nottingham, at the time an established centre of the hosiery industry, in England.

Arkwright and two others formed a partnership in order to exploit Arkwright’s spinning machine. It took until 3 July 1769 for the patent to be granted. When Kay heard about this, he was not happy with the situation. Later legal cases brought by Arkwright to settle his claim as being inventor of the machine, with Kay, his wife and Thomas Highs as witnesses against Arkwright. The jury sitting in the case decided to set aside the earlier patent granted to Arkwright.