McConnel & Co.

McConnel & Kennedy was founded in 1795 by James McConnel and John Kennedy, both originally from Scotland. McConnel trained as a machine maker, and had manufactured two mules for a customer who didn’t pay. He was therefore left with the machinery, and decided to use it. Initially Kennedy and McConnel rented space at Shooters’ Brook, but by 1797 they purchased land next to the Rochdale Canal, at Union Street and Henry Street. New buildings were built at the site in 1805 and 1818. They also bought another existing building in 1817.

Part of the firm’s success was due to the fact that they could build and maintain their own machinery. They also got into cotton spinning early, before much start-up capital was needed. They also focussed on producing higher thread-count cotton to provide to manufacturers producing quality garments, importing high-quality Sea Island cotton from America.

By the start of the 19th century the business was focussing on cotton spinning, rather than machine making, and by 1812 McConnel & Kennedy ran largest cotton mill in Manchester. The firm was an early adopter of new technology, acquiring a steam engine and a fire extinction system from Boulton & Watt of Birmingham, and installing gas lighting in 1809.

By 1802 they employed 302 people, and by 1816 this had reached 1020 employees. The company paid some attention to employee welfare, paying for some medical treatments for example, and providing some with housing. The company also donated to the St Clements Sunday School and to local hospitals.

McConnel & Kennedy traded with manufacturers and agents in Glasgow, Paisley, Ireland, Lancashire. In time, the business’ main British customers were involved in the Nottingham lace industry. The business also exported to Europe, using agents during the Napoleonic wars to get around trade blockade. After 1820 they became more focussed on the domestic market, as competition increased from Continental manufacturers.

John Kennedy retired from McConnel & Kennedy in 1826, at which point McConnel’s eldest two sons, Henry and James, became partners and the business was renamed McConnel & Co. When James McConnel senior died in 1831, a third brother, William McConnel, joined the partnership.

The business suffered in the depression of 1837-1843, and again during the American Civil War, when the Cotton Famine hit all manufacturers in the region.

Technology continued to underpin the company, and in 1851 the business bought the patent rights to a new combing machine made by Heilmann. This revolutionary device enabled cotton spinners to separate the long threads they needed for high count yarn.

Henry McConnel retired 1860 and James in 1861. William was left in command and retained an interest until his death in 1902. His son John took over the running of the business in 1878.

McConnel & Co became a Limited Company in 1865.

In 1898 McConnel & Co, alongside several of its competitors, joined the Fine Cotton Spinners & Doublers Association. Initially the business retained an independent identity, but was fully merged into its parent company after the First World War.