Cockerill, William

Cockerill, William
SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. 1759 Lancashire, England
d. 1832 near Aix-la-Chapelle, France (now Aachen, Germany)
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English (naturalized Belgian c. 1810) engineer, inventor and an important figure in the European textile machinery industry.
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William Cockerill began his career in Lancashire by making "roving billies" and flying shuttles. He was reputed to have an extraordinary mechanical genius and it is said that he could make models of almost any machine. He followed in the footsteps of many other enterprising British engineers when in 1794 he went to St Petersburg in Russia, having been recommended as a skilful artisan to the Empress Catherine II. After her death two years later, her successor Paul sent Cockerill to prison because he failed to finish a model within a certain time. Cockerill, however, escaped to Sweden where he was commissioned to construct the locks on a public canal. He attempted to introduce textile machinery of his own invention but was unsuccessful and so in 1799 he removed to Verviers, Belgium, where he established himself as a manufacturer of textile machinery. In 1802 he was joined by James Holden, who before long set up his own machine-building business. In 1807 Cockerill moved to Liège where, with his three sons (William Jnr, Charles James and John), he set up factories for the construction of carding machines, spinning frames and looms for the woollen industry. He secured for Verviers supremacy in the woollen trade and introduced at Liège an industry of which England had so far possessed the monopoly. His products were noted for their fine craftsmanship, and in the heyday of the Napoleonic regime about half of his output was sold in France. In 1813 he imported a model of a Watt steam-engine from England and so added another range of products to his firm. Cockerill became a naturalized Belgian subject c. 1810, and a few years later he retired from the business in favour of his two younger sons, Charles James and John (b. 30 April 1790 Haslingden, Lancashire, England; d. 19 June 1840 Warsaw, Poland), but in 1830 at Andenne he converted a vast factory formerly used for calico printing into a paper mill. Little is known of his eldest son William, but the other two sons expanded the enterprise, setting up a woollen factory at Berlin after 1815 and establishing at Seraing-on-the-Meuse in 1817 blast furnaces, an iron foundry and a machine workshop which became the largest on the European continent. William Cockerill senior died in 1832 at the Château du Behrensberg, the residence of his son Charles James, near Aix-la-Chapelle.
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Further Reading
W.O.Henderson, 1961, The Industrial Revolution on the Continent, Manchester (a good account of the spread of the Industrial Revolution in Germany, France and Russia).
RTS / RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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