Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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John Kay

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John Kay was a clockmaker from Warrington, Lancashire.

He is known by association with Richard Arkwright for the invention of the Water Frame in 1767: an important stage in the development of textile manufacturing

c.1758 Married Sarah

Kay originally helped Thomas Highs (who may have been the true inventor of the spinning frame)

1763 Built a model of the roller spinning machine which later became the Spinning Jenny of Thomas Highs

1767 Richard Arkwright met John Kay in a Warrington public house; 6 months later Kay agreed to turn some brass for him. Further meetings followed; they discussed spinning by rollers which Kay claimed he could deliver; the next morning he awoke to find Arkwright at his bedside; he agreed to "make him a small model, at a small expence". Arkwright took this model to Manchester.

Arkwright, along with Kay, visited the Warrington machine maker Peter Atherton and asked him to build a machine; Atherton refused but agreed to provide a smith and a watch-tool maker, Kay being responsible for the clockwork.

1767 Late that year, Arkwright took the machine to Manchester.

1768 January: Kay was employed as a servant of Arkwright's and in this role went with him to Preston. His device included two features which did not appear in the Paul and Wyatt frames — the placing of rollers to take account of the fibres length, and, to prevent twisting in the drawing space, the weighting of the top rollers.

1768 April: Kay, indentured to Arkwright, apparently for twenty-one years at half a guinea a week, left Preston with Arkwright for Nottingham. Arkwright, in need of capital, involved two relatives, John Smalley and David Thornley. Within a short time they, and Thornley's brother-in-law Henry Brown, set up business in Nottingham.

1772 John Kay was dismissed by Arkwright with claim of theft which were denied by Kay and never tested in court.

1785 John and Sarah Kay testified at one of the later court cases about Arkwright's patents


NB This John Kay should not be confused with the John Kay (1704-1780) who invented the Flying Shuttle. The two men worked separately and were not related.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia
  • Biography of Richard Arkwright, ODNB [2]
  • A compendious history of the cotton-manufacture: with a disproval of the claim of Sir Richard Arkwright to the invention of its ingenious machinery, by Richard Guest, 1823 [3]