A Forgotten Factory Port-e-Chee Cotton Mill, 1772-1780


FEW of us think, as we cross the Quarter Bridge and head for Kirk Braddan, that in the pleasant stretch of meadowland on our right there once stood a factory which might, had things gone differently, have been the beginning of a great industrial settlement. But such is the fact, for in Port-e- Chee there was, towards the end of the 18th century, a small works for the printing of cotton goods. Attention was first drawn to this factory by Mr. William Cubbon, M.A. in brief notes in the Journal of the Manx Museum for December, 1935, and September, 1939, in which he states that he had found it mentioned in the mass of Quayle family papers obtained from Bridge House, Castletown. Being one of the first Manx manufacturing ventures some further details of it may be of interest, and these are now presented with apologies for the unavoidable gaps and the assumptions which have here and there to be made, as the papers concerning it, and the books of account which accompany them, are incomplete. This makes it difficult to compile a full account of the company and impossible to discover whether it made a profit for its owners, or a loss, though the latter was almost certainly the case.

Of when the factory first started there is no evidence, nor can it be said to whom it originally belonged. But whoever it was they appear to have parted with their business in 1772 to two gentlemen of Castletown, John Quayle, Clerk of the Rolls, and John Taubman, of the Bowling Green, a well- known merchant, who paid £99 14s. 9d. for the stock of dyes which "the late Printing Factory " had on hand. These two gentlemen (here we are on more solid ground) started to get the buildings put in order, and on the 9th October, 1772, they signed an agreement with one Nicholas Grimshaw, of Manchester, by which Quayle and Taubman subscribed £250 each as capital and engaged Grimshaw as manager, at a salary of £25 per annum, plus a third of the nett profits and a free house near the factory. The new firm was to carry on the business of spinning, weaving and printing cottons and linens under the style of " The Manx Printing Company," and the partnership was to be binding for fourteen years, but might be dissolved by mutual consent if affairs did not prosper.

Two of Grimshaw's brothers would appear to have been already in the Island, for John, who seems to have managed the Company from which Quayle and Taubman purchased, signed the agreement as a witness, while another brother, William, retained his job as dyer. A third brother, Thomas, kept a shop in Douglas, in which, as will later appear, he sold the products of the factory, as well as odds and ends of groceries; so that tea and cheese, Manx butter and sugar struggled for space on his counter with velvet waistcoats for the man-about-town, gay printed cottons for the farmer's wife and buttons, ribbons and staylaces for those who needed them. It was said that the Grimshaw 1 family, originally of Manchester, had been involved in bankruptcy and possibly as a result of this Thomas, john and William, with their father, also named Nicholas, had come to the Island, leaving Nicholas Jr. in Lancashire. In any case Nicholas jr. made his agreement with Quayle and Taubman, and after a four month's visit to Lancashire to make contacts, engage staff and buy stores, returned about the 18th February, 1773, bringing with him an assistant named Josh. Wroe who was to have a yearly salary of £31 10s. 0d. Local staff was started with the engagement of Molly Haking who made her mark (for she could not write) to an agreement to serve for three years as "an instructor " on the spinning machine, or to do anything in the cotton way," for the sum of seven shillings a week. Wroe, however, did not last long. He was paid off thirteen months later, and probably left the Island in a bad temper, for the management refused to pay his travelling expenses from Manchester or back to that city.

The factory having been overhauled and new windows put in and glazed, Grimshaw went ahead, buying raw cotton, cotton cloth, stores and dyes. These were obtained mostly from Wm. Hardman, of Manchester, while Wm. Leece of Liverpool acted as shipping and forwarding agent and now and again did some buying as well. The raw cotton was spun and the yarn woven in the Island, either in a factory in Douglas or in the homes of those concerned, and was then brought to the Port-e-Chee factory to be dyed. The spinning and weaving was done on a piecework basis, and the books for 1774 show that there were three regular spinners, two men and a woman, and ten weavers, all men. There were also four winders, two warpers, two women employed on pencilling, two men printing, and William Grimshaw who did the dyeing at 1/- per piece. The business of the firm, as distinct from technical matters, was handled by Mr. Robert Heywood at the counting house in Douglas. His salary was £31 10s. od. per annum.

The completed goods were sold to shops in the Island or sent to England for disposal. It proved difficult to obtain payment for the latter, and when Hardman in Manchester was asked to assist he was not at first very helpful, saying in effect, and with reason, that he was a merchant and not a bill collector, and that in any case the bill he was most anxious to see paid was his own which was considerable and much overdue. He went on to lay the blame at Grimshaw's door, accusing him of having entrusted goods to be sold on commission to people whom he must have known to be untrustworthy, one of them was already in the Fleet.

Grimshaw was alleged by his partners to be unsatisfactory in other ways also, and in September they brought actions in the Chancery Court against both him and his brother Thomas, the shopkeeper, who was said to owe them money. Quayle and Taubman asserted that Nicholas had been acting in a fraudulent and improper manner, and that an examination of his books"seized without warning ""showed him to have been retaining money for his own use and sending goods to relatives and friends, including his brother Thomas, who never made payment for them. Their money, they said (the original capital had been increased by subsequent advances to nearly £3,000) was lost, and as they believed him to be about to leave the Island they had Nicholas arrested and sent to join Thomas who had already, at their instigation, been flung into prison at Castle Rushen.

Without further ado Thomas's small stock of cloth, handkerchiefs, ribbons and buttons, etc., was sold at auction and produced only £91, though his books showed that he also had debts amounting to £50 owing to him. These debts were mostly in sums of a few shillings and were due not only from people in the Island but from places as far apart as Liverpool, Whitehaven, Manchester and Anglesey, where a dancing master in Beaumaris owed him 18/-. One wonders how business was ever carried on under such conditions. In Castle Rushen he lay unable to help himself, and from it, on the 20th March, 1775, he sent to Messrs Quayle and Taubman a piteous plea for release in which he says "my being so long confined to this most dismal place has brought my health and constitution to so low an ebb as now to render even my life very I have particularly for this week past kept my bed chiefly without having taken anything to support nature, and I am not able to take any sort of nourishment from the weakness of my constitution. I most earnestly request you'll consider the miserable state me and my family are in and let it intercede for my enlargement. I hope I have not behaved in such a manner but that I may be entitled to some sort (of) lenity and compashion and not be suffered to draw my last breath in a Dungon. I never meant you should lose a shilling by me and offered to return what goods I had by me, which was very considerable, and to pay the Ballence. If you think me deserving of Humane Treatment I hope youl do what lays in your power to preserve my liberty on condition of delivering up my all or making any other amends in my power."

Nicholas however fought back and, as might be expected, his story was a very different one from that of his two partners. To the allegation that he had taken small sums of money for his own use he replied that of course he had "how else was he to live" - but this was with Taubman's knowledge, and he regarded them as drawings against his share of the profits of the partnership. If some of the money did not appear in his books the reason was the manner in which those books had been seized before he had had a chance to make the entries, as he had meant to do. He had sent goods to be sold in England. Certainly he had, not only with the knowledge of his partners, but actually on their direct instructions in the hope of opening up a trade. He denied that more than a reasonable proportion of these goods were unpaid for, and in any case the responsibility was not his. The goods entrusted to his brother Thomas had been given on the distinct understanding that he was to act purely as an agent and might return any he could not sell. Yet, when he had wished to do this, Quayle and Taubman had refused to receive them, and it was for the value of them that they had so unjustly arrested him.

Nicholas told the Court that the accusations of dishonesty were merely an excuse to get rid of him. The partners having got him to do all the work of starting the factory, training staff, and devising machines"he had spent much time and ingenuity, he said, in contriving new ones "-now felt that they could run things without his assistance and take for themselves all the profits which were beginning to appear and of which, by the terms of their agreement, he was entitled to a third part. Was it not most suspicious, for instance, that only a month ago Taubman had asked him how many years it would take to train a printer "in the art and mystery of mixing colours?" He, in his innocence, had replied that he had put the whole matter into a writing with the help of which the job could be learned by anyone within a week. What was the result? He was arrested on a trumped-up charge; his house was entered and this writing, as well as other private papers, was seized; while his wife and two children were evicted in the dead of night and left with no place to which to go.

Which tale was true, Grimshaw's or his partners', cannot now be said with certainty, but the Court appears to have believed him, for, while leaving his brother in prison, they ordered that Nicholas should be released. (He, indeed, says that they commended his good management.) At the same time they directed that the books should be examined and the factory valued with a view to winding up the partnership, though this did not actually take place until March of the next year (1775). After this Nicholas is no more heard of in the Isle of Man, for he sought refuge in Ireland. Nine years later he started in partnership with Nathaniel Wilson, the first mill in Ireland for spinning cotton-twist by water power, at Whitehouse near Belfast.2

In the meanwhile the stock which Nicholas had at Port-e-Chee was sold by auction. The inventory of the house shows that it had a kitchen, diningroom, parlour and bedroom, with a larder and a closet. This was probably the old portion of the farmhouse, subsequently enlarged and still standing, which the 4th Duke of Atholl used for a summer residence in the 1790's.

The factory consisted of a colour and drug room, a dye house, a callendaring room, a wash house, spinning room, printing shop and various small rooms. In Douglas there was a counting house and a warehouse of two floors.

Including the Douglas premises, the total value of the factory and its contents was £1,116 3 5¼ being, roughly,

Finished goods £417
Goods in process... 400
Dye Stuffs ... 125
Fittings, machinery etc. 175

In addition there were certain articles such as dyestuffs and looms in private hands, which they did not feel themselves competent to value.

There were nine looms, six being at that time out on loan and three in stock. Spinning machines numbered four with a total capacity of 106 spindles, The largest, of 46 spindles, was at Port-e-Chee, while one of 24 and two of 18 spindles each were in private hands.

Before proceeding further let us look at a rough statement which shows the amount of work which was being done.

H'chief material
Imported from Blackburn 1773
3,282 yds.
do. 1774
Local purchase
Local manufacture to March 1775
Printed into H'chiefs

Remaining unprinted

and in addition 457 yards of Linen cloth were handled and 58½ yards of velvet.

The material for making handkerchiefs was bought in yards, and it was estimated that the 13,470½ yards printed should have made 1,465 doz. of these but the books showed only 860 doz. sold and 360 doz. in stock. The missing 245 doz. were claimed to be a sample of Grimshaw's defalcations, but he said it was due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the jurymen, who, not being practical printers did not understand the process. He also claimed, incidentally, that for the same reason their valuation of the machines and stores was much too low.

HAVING rid themselves of Grimshaw, the two partners, John Quayle and John Taubman took steps to obtain another manager for their Port-e-Chee cotton factory. The Manchester man not having been to their liking, the partners thought they would try a Scot. After advertising in the newspapers they got into touch with Richard Williamson of Perth, who, on the 23rd November, 1775, in Glasgow, signed an agreement to serve for a year at a salary of £60 per annum with free house, coals and candles.

At the end of January, 1776 the old accounts were closed and a new set of books opened with Williamson as manager and printer, although he did not take up the work until March, when he arrived bringing with him an assistant named Andrew Watterson who was to receive 16/- a week, later increased to £50 a year.

One of the first charges in the new account is for thatching the premises at Port-e-Chee. One presumes the factory is meant though the word actually used is "houses", The job took four men seven days. They were paid rod. a day each and used 342 bundles of thatch at 3d. per bundle. With small charges for rope, etc., and 1/2d. for a drink with which to celebrate the completion of the work, the total cost came to £5 17s. 0d.

Overheads could hardly be considered heavy, even for those days. In addition to the salaries, already mentioned; there were wages for two men at 1/- a day each and one at 10½d., and for a couple of boys who each received 5½d. a day. Rent for the premises, paid to Mrs. Charlotte Teare, was £22 19s. 5d. per annum, plus 17/2d. for the Lord's Rent. The warehouse and office in Douglas, rented from Mrs, Barbara Killey, cost seven guineas. There was also a cellar somewhere in Douglas for which 15/-, and later a guinea, a year was paid. Coal cost between 14/- and 16/- a ton at the Douglas quayside. Current prices for stores of various kinds will be found in Appendix B.

Now let us look at the manner in which operations were conducted. Raw cotton from Jamaica was bought in bulk in England. This varied greatly in price, even over the short period with which we are dealing, and must have made costing difficult. In 1773 it could be bought for 10¼d. to 1/- a pound, next year it was 1/8d. and two years after that had reached 1/11d., but fell again to 1/8d. in 1778. These were the English prices to which, of course, had to be added freight and other charges for bringing it to the Island.

The machines for spinning this cotton were operated in 1774 by John Fallows (or Fallas); Mary Hacker and Sam. Sunderland. Where is not known, but it was not at the factory, although there was one there also. Shortly after this date Fallows (described both as of " Bridgehouse " and of " Kew Hague") was operating two of them, while Geo. Booth was using the other for spinning flax. Yarn from private spinning wheels would also appear to have been taken, the rate paid varying between 1/44d. and 1/10d. per pound spun. Four people were regularly employed in winding.

The raw article having been spun, the resulting yarn was given out to various weavers who seem to have had the looms, which belonged to the factory, in their homes in Douglas. Between six and nine of these looms were in operation, working on a piece work basis, and the names of operators occur regularly in the books. Other names also occur irregularly, which indicates that cloth from private looms was also taken when offered. There are records of its coming from Peel and Castletown, where several of the soldiers in the garrison appear to have augmented their scanty pay in this manner.

The linen handled by the factory was obtained from Ireland, both yarn and cloth being bought, and a trial was made of cloth from Perth. - There is no record of Manx grown flax being bought, although W. Kissack, writing from Ramsey in 1777, offered to sell his crop of between two and three thousand hanks which he expected to be ready about the middle of August. This offer was not accepted.

All this, of course; was leading up to the main business of the factory, which was the printing of the material. This was done in one, two, or three colours, the patterns, already cut, being obtained from England. The colours used were mainly red, chocolate, purple, indigo and blue. Some quaint materials were used in the dyeing process; for in addition to normal colours and chemicals there is mention of old iron, sour beer, cow dung and old hats. The main product was handkerchiefs, which left the factory priced from 11/- to 21/- per dozen. A sideline was the weaving of stockings which was done at the rate of 14/- per dozen for women's and 16/- for men's. They were sold at 20/- or a guinea a dozen.

Williamson, in the factory at Port-e-Chee, seems to have received poor support from the two partners in Castletown, and from Heywood, their representative in Douglas. He complained continually that he could not get the coal, stores, etc., which he required to keep the place working. In one letter he says "... it is no detriment to me whether I work or stand still, only I wish to do everything that will be beneficial to my employers... " Heywood kept him short of working funds and sometimes refused to pay the bills he passed. On one occasion he went into Douglas to obtain money which was urgently required, but Heywood was at Castletown; and when Williamson called at his house he got no satisfaction. As he wrote to the absent man of business ". . . I called at your house but was told your wife was not at home. I called again some time after and received the same answer although I saw her sitting at the window with the child at her breast... ". This kind of thing could not continue, and before he had been a year on the job, the Scot and his Manx employers decided to part company.

Williamson disappears from the scene in February 1777; and in his place we find his former assistant, Andrew Watterson, under whose supervision it would appear that the factory carried on until it stopped working somewhere about the end of 1779, when some of the carding and spinning machines were sold and others removed for storage to the cellar in Douglas, while the dyestuffs and utensils were sold to Watterson.

An interesting aspect of the business is the effort which was made to export goods abroad. This eventually involved the firm in considerable losses and may have been the reason why the enterprise was abandoned. Five shipments in all were made between 1774 and 1779 to Funchal; in Madeira, where they were consigned to a Mr. T. E. Watts. Details of these shipments are given in Appendix C but it may be said here that they ranged from a trial shipment of one case containing 122 dozen handkerchiefs and 1,110 yards of cotton goods by the Young Will, to one of 2,309 yards of cottons, 4,286 yards of linens, and various muslins and handkerchiefs of a total value of nearly £900 which was shipped aboard the Bella.

Mr. Watts did not like the first shipment and said that the goods were not packed as he wanted them nor were the patterns suitable for the local market, where the demand was for something brighter and gayer. He found, however, that although he could not sell them for local use they were being bought for re-export to the Brazils, and this business he proposed to encourage to the best of his power. The fact that such exports from Madeira were forbidden caused him no concern at all, and he wrote to Douglas suggesting that the goods be made up in small packages which could be easily and unostentatiously handled.

Unfortunately, while Messrs. Quayle and Taubman wanted remittances for their goods, Watts rejected this idea and insisted that they accept instead Madeira wines which he would ship to them. When they agreed to this method of doing business, he sent many promises but no wine. The vintage was poor; or, when it was good, the price was too high and there were no casks in which to ship it; the war made things difficult, and the peace made them worse. In 1784, in a nicely worded and reasonable letter, he was asked to ship wine to the value of what he owed, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Mr. J. J. Bacon's little brig, the Anne. But nothing came of that either. He, on his part, made some bright suggestions to the partners. He proposed, for instance, that a ship be sent from England with general cargo to Madeira, from where she was to load wines for St. Petersburg and return with provisions, flax, timber, etc. On another occasion, he suggested the export direct from the Isle of Man of wheat; peas, flour, butter, pickled or red herrings, and (if the ship could take them) half a dozen of the " little, stout, well-made Manx horses." which, he understands, can be obtained cheaply.

So far as can be discovered, the Manxmen never saw their money, but they did not abandon the matter easily, for in 1793, long after the factory had closed, they gave their Power of Attorney to one J. Christian, who was going to those parts, to try to collect for them the debt, which, adding interest, had by then grown to £1,076. But he reported that Watts had gone to Lisbon and that he saw no no prospect of their ever recovering anything.

Whether these losses were the cause of the enterprise being abandoned, or whether there were other reasons, we have yet to find out; as we have likewise the precise spot in Port-e-Chee on which the factory stood; for the buildings have vanished and left no trace. The last entry in the Day Book is dated 8th March, 1786, but it had obviously been kept open to that date only to get in outstanding items. Heywood, who presumably kept it, drew no salary after the 12th February, 1780. It has been suggested that the business ceased because of the imposition of an English import duty on its products. But this duty was not imposed until 1791, and the letter dated 10th April, 1792, from the Duke of Atholl to the Home Office, on which this theory was based, refers to "a small cotton mill erected in the Island about twelve years ago", or just about the time at which it appears that the one under consideration closed its doors. Moreover, it refers to a "cotton mill" whilst this was a cotton printing works. Possibly a new company was started with the spindles from the old one, and any evidence which might be forthcoming to prove this would be of interest.


1 Wm. Leece, the well-known Liverpool merchant of Manx birth, giving evidence later on Taubman's behalf, stated that he heard on good authority that Grimshaw's father, Nicholas Grimshaw Sr., had at one time been a woollen draper in Blackburn, and subsequently a manufacturer of cotton greys, but failed in this business. At a later date the father and sons started printing cottons and linens in or near Manchester, the results of their labours being sent to London where one of the sons acted as agent for the sale of them, but this business also ended in bankruptcy.

2 In November 1778 " Mr. Nicholas Grimshaw, cotton and linen printer from England, who had some time before settled in this country" (Belfast News-Letter, 1 May, 1805} successfully urged upon the Belfast Charitable Society the great advantage to the country of the establishment of the cotton manufacture (D. J. Owen, History of Belfast, 1921, p. 149). Machinery for carding and spianing was thereupon supplied by Grimshaw, labour being provided by pauper children at the Poor House. A well-informed Irish contemporary declared that (B.NV.L., 1 May, 1805) "To the practical knowledge, genius, and industry of [Grimshaw], this country stands very highly indebted," and added that "the Irish Cotton manufacturers were considered firmly established" from the time of the erection of his spinning mill at Whitehouse, financed by Nathaniel Wilson, in 1784. So Grimshaw and his family flourished in Ireland, after their unhappy beginnings at Manchester and Port-e-Chee. B.R.S.M.



Inventory of the plant, 1774.

in Dye House

1 Lead pan £4 0 0
1 Copper pan £12 12 0
1 Large lead pan with copper bottom £14 0 0

1 Callendar by water, with 4 wheels, etc. £25 0 0
1 Washing wheel, gudgeons and band, etc. £6 0 0

in Printing Shop
2 Stone blocks, etc. ...... £2 15 0

in Spinning room

1 Carding machine (with cards) £3 3 0
1 Spinning machine Room with 46 spindles ......... £2 6 0


in stock 3 with fly shuttles @ 30/- each
J. Kelly (Douglas) 1 _ -do-
W. Currin ,, -1 do-
J. Corkill 1 6 -do-

H. Shimmin .,,1 with yelds and reeds @ 31/-
H. Rowley _,, 1
J. Williamson ,,3

Spinning machines :
Geo. Booth 1 of 18 spindles. 15/- (spinning linen)
J. Fallows (Bridgehouse) 1 of 18 spindles 20/-
-do- 1 of 24 ,, 31/6


Prices of sundry materials, 1773/4.

Shuttles 19/-per doz.
Spindles 2/9d. per doz.
Pickers 4d. each
Bobbins 5d. per doz.
Bran 2/6d. per cwt.
Bremen Yarn 6/4d. per bundle
Madder £5 to £6 per cwt.
Logwood 10- per cwt.
Sumack 17/6d. -do-
Pearl Ashes 48/- -do-
Black Ashes 15/- -do-
Galls 67/- -do-
Tumerick 1/4d. per Ib.
Sugar of Lead 1/2¼d. -do-
Tin Shavings 1/2d. -do-
Ground Allum 20- per cwt. to 25/-
Saffron 25/- -do-
Verdigris 1/4d. per Ib.
Coal 14/- per ton to 16/-


Goods shipped to Madeira

Per the Young Will Aug. 1774
122 doz. H'chiefs value £101 6 2
1,110 yds. Cottons 100 16 0
202 2 2 Pack:ng & loading charges 10 0 0
Insurance 5 6 6

Per the Boston Packet Feb. 1775.
134 doz. H'chiefs 109 0 0 :
492 yds. Cottons 42 18 10
151 18 10
Packing & Loading etc. 115 6
Freight 15 0
Insurance 4 10 0

Per the Diana March 1776.

330 doz. H'chiefs 262 13 7½
Packing & Loading etc. 2 4 9½
Freight 0 15 0

Per the Bella Apl. 1779

4,286 yds. Linen
2,309 yds. Cottons
360 yds. Muslin
7 doz. Linen H'chiefs
20 doz. Cotton -do- 872 17 10
Packing & Loading etc. 5 12 10
Freight 9 5 6
Insurance 24 14 6

Per the Countess of Sutherland June 1779

Linens 175 10 10
Packing & loading etc. 4 0 8
Freight 2 4 0
Insurance 24 14 6

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