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Samuel Oldknow business records

Identifier: MS-HUT-009

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Scope and Contents

The records, dating from 1787 to 1811, which form this collection consist of approximately 75 items which include correspondence, pay-tickets, receipts, ledgers, account and memorandum books, shop-notes, and documents.

Oldknow's methods for paying employees are represented by examples of pay-notes and shop-notes (1790-1794). Documents include an apprentice contract and material related to service in the Napoleonic Wars: separation allowance and exemption from a duty on hair powder. A memorandum book (1797-1798) describes Oldknow's estate plans: fences, tunnels, ploughing and sowing. Final items include Manchester tax bills and timber receipts.

Samuel Oldknow rose to an eminent position as a British manufacturer early in his career at Anderton and Stockport. After 1790, he concentrated his personal and business interests in Derbyshire. The collection contains material which describes his efforts in business and estate-planning. The company records in Series 1 are especially useful for understanding the pay system in the cotton industry. The records in Series 2 concern his efforts to build an estate and community in the manner of other 18th century industrialists.


  • Creation: 1787 - 1811


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

Samuel Oldknow was the first successful maker of British muslin in the 18th century. He introduced new ideas in the factory system, and also in agriculture and road and transport improvements. He was born at Anderton in Lancashire, October 5, 1756. Oldknow served as apprentice to his uncle, Thomas Oldknow, a manufacturer in Nottingham. In 1781, when his apprenticeship expired, he returned to Anderton and set up as manufacturer of cotton goods and fustians. It had long been the ambition of British manufacturers to succeed as producers of fine muslin which, until Oldknow's achievement in this enterprise, had been imported primarily from East India. The introduction of mechanized carding and spinning in the cotton industry helped to create conditions favorable for the production of muslin in English mills. Oldknow began producing muslin products at Anderton in 1781, and in 1784, he erected a factory at Stockport. By 1786, Oldknow was recognized as the foremost muslin manufacturer in Great Britain. Oldknow opened a warehouse and salesroom at Manchester before 1788 where he supplied small traders and private customers. Oldknow specialized in material for ladies' gowns, handkerchiefs, and aprons. He also supplied shawls, cravats, and waistcoats. In 1790, Oldknow laid the foundation for a larger mill at Mellor on the Goyt River. At the same time, he began to acquire most of the land between the villages of Marple and Mellor to form his personal estates. Oldknow became the employer of hundreds of men, women, and children working at either the Mellor mill or in service at his estates. Part of his ambition was to influence and direct the life of a community. By 1795, Oldknow gave up the manufacture of muslin and concentrated on his investments at Mellor. He became a scientific and experimental agriculturist. He opened the lime kilns on his land, and his use of lime for agricultural purposes is one of the earliest recorded. He became the chief promoter of the Peak Forest Canal (completed around 1804) and planned for the construction of stone bridges and for extending roads and turnpikes in Derbyshire. Aside from works of general utility, Oldknow supported other restorations in the community, including the chapel of All Saints Chapel in Marple. During the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1814), Oldknow was appointed Major in the North High Peak Volunteers and later, Lieutenant- colonel. Samuel Oldknow died at Mellor, Derbyshire September 18, 1828. Source: Unwin, George. Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights. Manchester: The University Press, 1924.


0.24 Cubic Feet (1 legal half-size document box) : 75 items

Language of Materials



Samuel Oldknow was the first successful maker of British muslin in the 18th century. The records, dating from 1787 to 1811, consist of approximately 75 items which include correspondence, pay-tickets, receipts, ledgers, account and memorandum books, shop-notes, and documents.


The records are separated into two series: Company Records and Estate Records.

Custodial History

The Samuel Oldknow business records remained at Oldknow's cotton mill in Mellor, Derbyshire until 1921 when they were discovered by Arthur Hulme and George Unwin. Using these records, Unwin produced his study of Oldknow's companies in Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights. At the time of the publication in 1924, Mr. Unwin deposited the records in the Lewis Library of the Department of Commerce at the University of Manchester, England.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Broadus Mitchell, professor of Economics at Hopkins, purchased the Oldknow papers for the Hutzler Collection from Arthur Hulme in 1929. (See the Broadus Mitchell Collection MS.HUT.015). They were of particular interest to Mitchell because of his research for his published volume, William Gregg, Factory Master of the Old South.

Related Materials

The bulk of Samuel Oldknow's papers are at the Manchester Reference Library and the John Rylands Library, Manchester England. The Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman Manuscripts, which are on deposit at Columbia University, include material of Samuel Oldknow.

Processing Information

Processed by Joan Grattan. The items were de-acidified and encapsulated March 1990. The Hutzler number was 2891. The Accession number is 89-90.47. The collection was cataloged as a Hutzler Manuscript, May 1990.

Guide to the Samuel Oldknow business records
Joan Grattan
1990 May
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA