Lombe, John

Lombe, John
b. c. 1693 probably Norwich, England
d. 20 November 1722 Derby, England
English creator of the first successful powered textile mill in Britain.
John Lombe's father, Henry Lombe, was a worsted weaver who married twice. John was the second son of the second marriage and was still a baby when his father died in 1695. John, a native of the Eastern Counties, was apprenticed to a trade and employed by Thomas Cotchett in the erection of Cotchett's silk mill at Derby, which soon failed however. Lombe went to Italy, or was sent there by his elder half-brother, Thomas, to discover the secrets of their throwing machinery while employed in a silk mill in Piedmont. He returned to England in 1716 or 1717, bringing with him two expert Italian workmen.
Thomas Lombe was a prosperous London merchant who financed the construction of a new water-powered silk mill at Derby which is said to have cost over £30,000. John arranged with the town Corporation for the lease of the island in the River Derwent, where Cotchett had erected his mill. During the four years of its construction, John first set up the throwing machines in other parts of the town. The machines were driven manually there, and their product helped to defray the costs of the mill. The silk-throwing machine was very complex. The water wheel powered a horizontal shaft that was under the floor and on which were placed gearwheels to drive vertical shafts upwards through the different floors. The throwing machines were circular, with the vertical shafts running through the middle. The doubled silk threads had previously been wound on bobbins which were placed on spindles with wire flyers at intervals around the outer circumference of the machine. The bobbins were free to rotate on the spindles while the spindles and flyers were driven by the periphery of a horizontal wheel fixed to the vertical shaft. Another horizontal wheel set a little above the first turned the starwheels, to which were attached reels for winding the silk off the bobbins below. Three or four sets of these spindles and reels were placed above each other on the same driving shaft. The machine was very complicated for the time and must have been expensive to build and maintain.
John lived just long enough to see the mill in operation, for he died in 1722 after a painful illness said to have been the result of poison administered by an Italian woman in revenge for his having stolen the invention and for the injury he was causing the Italian trade. The funeral was said to have been the most superb ever known in Derby.
Further Reading
Samuel Smiles, 1890, Men of Invention and Industry, London (probably the only biography of John Lombe).
Rhys Jenkins, 1933–4, "Historical notes on some Derbyshire industries", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 14 (provides an acount of John Lombe and his part in the enterprise at Derby).
R.L.Hills, 1970, Power in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester (briefly covers the development of early silk-throwing mills).
W.English, 1969, The Textile Industry, London (includes a chapter on "Lombe's Silk Machine").
P.Barlow, 1836, Treatise of Manufactures and Machinery of Great Britain, London (describes Lombe's mill and machinery, but it is not known how accurate the account may be).

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

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