A Case of Industrial Espionage

GEORGE ARCHER, my 5th Great Grandfather, was born est. 1752 and died sometime after 1803 (possibly even after 1813). George’s baptism has not been found, but we know that he married Rachel DEWS, daughter of John Dews and Mary Wilby, on the 25th Dec 1775 in Dewsbury.

George & Rachel had 3 children, all of whom were baptised at Ossett Green Congregational Chapel, John [1776], Hannah [1778] & George [1782]. Young George was buried at Dewsbury less than a month after he was born. It appears there were no further live births to the couple after 1782…by which time Rachel was 28 years old. In July 1800, Rachel died and was buried at Dewsbury, at the age of 46. We know that George, now 48 years old, married widow Elizabeth Sargeant, on the 11th May 1801 at Thornhill Parish Church, by license. Elizabeth had a daughter, Maria, from her first marriage and Maria appears to have witnessed the marriage document.

Rag or Shoddy Picker machine. The machine pulls to shreds old woollen rages, hosiery, yarn, wool waste, old carpet fibres etc. and reduces them to staple fibres ready to re-make into new and inexpensive cloth.

George was the son and grandson of Blacksmiths in Ossett (John Archer the Elder and John Archer the Younger) and he had turned his hand to textile machine making. During the 1700s, Britain dominated the textile industry and George and his family were now in the centre of a revolution happening in textile manufacture.

The 18th century brought the Industrial Revolution. There was a move away from working on the land. John Kay had patented his flying shuttle in 1733. The steam engine invented by James Watt and patented in 1775 was first used for pumping out mines, but from the 1780s was also used to power machines, enabling the development of factories on a previously unimaginable scale. Coal could power mills and mills could hold many textile machines that could, in turn, each do the work of many men.  Throughout the north of England, the manufacturing of cloth was moving out of the cottages and into these coal-powered mills.

In Ossett came the rise of the shoddy and mungo industries, which involved extracting fibres and weaving cloth from re-cycled wool and other fabric. This process required the design of new rag grinding machines, which would efficiently shred the old cloths and create fibres for weaving the new cloth into military uniforms and blankets. The fabric so produced would be affordable by the working classes and its poor quality gave rise to the word "shoddy" which now generally means poor quality applied to any product or workmanship.

Wool scribbling machines were also needed for the carding of the wool. In 1786, Leeds Woollen Workers had petitioned clothiers to stop the use of scribbling machines, saying

The number of Scribbling-Machines extending about seventeen miles south-west of Leeds, exceed all belief, being no less than one hundred and seventy! and as each machine will do as much work in twelve hours, as ten men can in that time do by hand and they working night-and day, one machine will do as much work in one day as would otherwise employ twenty men.

Ossett is about 10 miles south of Leeds. Here, clothiers were building their empires and the desire for machinery was on the increase. The Archer family became designers and makers of textile machines as George began to cash in on this revolution. But, at the turn of the century, many other textile machine makers were springing up, also determined to benefit from the demand for new machines and, by 1802, George's business was not doing well. Maybe he wasn't a very good designer of machines…was competition too fierce?…or was it that he just wasn't a very good businessman?

Carding or Scribbling machine

It was when Elizabeth's brother, Henry Dobson visited Ossett from his home in France, that George became embroiled in the court case below. Early in 1802, Henry Dobson visited his sister Elizabeth Archer and his new brother-in law, George Archer, in Ossett, and things went from bad to worse for George.

In 1802, England was experiencing a period of peace in the Napoleonic Wars. From 1799 to 1815, Britain was involved in a coalition with Russia, Austria, Portugal, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Naples, against the French. Napoleon had beaten the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 and, after other countries succumbed to Napoleon's power, soon only Britain stood against Napoleon. In 1802, Britain made peace with Napoleon, a peace which was to last until 1805. "A Case of Industrial Espionage?" a paper written by John Goodchild & held in his collection at his office in the basement of Drury Lane Library, Wakefield, includes the following:

A citation was lodged in 1802 by John ARCHER, son of George ARCHER [textile machine maker], by his first wife, to the effect that his step mother's brother (Henry Dobson) was gleaning information re machine making, with the intention of using said information in France. The document refers to John as George's only son. It was claimed that George found that the number of machinery manufacturers had rapidly increased during the previous three or four years and that business was increasingly difficult. He found time to accompany Dobson on visits to view the wool-scribbling machinery in the area. Dobson made drawings and had a notebook in which there were sketches of and notes on various machines. George was accused of allowing Dobson see drawings and models of machines which he and others were developing. Dobson was committed on the count of having notes and models and of trying to persuade George to go to France. Dobson was found guilty and fined £700 and committed to York Castle for two years. As a reward John Archer was awarded £100. George was found not guilty. There is also a comment that George had become insolvent by the time of the court hearing and fled from his home "To avoid his creditors".

"A Case of Industrial Espionage?" by John Goodchild
An index to records held in York Reference library of prisoners brought to trial at York Assizes 1785—1851
Reference: York Assizes ID 2244 Dobson Henry Aged 46 Date brought to trial: 23 July 1803

Insolvency and bankruptcy

George may have been desperate to find some way to make money, possibly by being tempted into involving himself in Dobson's activities. Once he was arrested, that would probably be the last nail in his business's coffin. The newspaper reported on 8th April 1802:

George Archer's Assignment

Whereas George Archer, of Ossett, in the Parish of Dewsbury, in the County of York, Machine Maker, hath by Indenture bearing Date the First Day of April Inst. assigned over all his estate and Effects unto certain Trustees therein named, IN TRUST, for the benefit of such of the Creditors of the said George Archer as shall accede to and execute the said Assignment on or before the Fifth of June next.

NOTICE is therefore hereby given,

That the said Assignment is lodged at Mr Rylah's Office, in Dewsbury, for the Inspection and Execution of the Creditors of the said George Archer; and such of them as shall not execute the same within the Time aforesaid, will be excluded the benefit thereof.

All Persons indebted to the said George Archer, must immediately pay their respective Debts into the Hands of the said Mr. Rylah, otherwise Actions will be commenced for the Recovery thereof. Dewsbury, April 2nd, 1802

In the Bancruptcy pages of The Leeds Intelligencer

It is thought that George, afterwards, fled to the USA and settled in New Jersey. In the court case above, there had been mention that George intended to emigrate there. The will of George's father John ARCHER, blacksmith, who died in 1803 bequests

…to my son George Archer, who is at present in foreign parts, within two years after the same become payable, if he shall return and if not then unto my granddaughter Hannah Ellis, wife of David Ellis of Ossett the sum of £20.

We don't have a death record for George Archer and are not certain whether he died in New Jersey or in Ossett or elsewhere. However, if the attraction of an inheritance of £20 from his father would have been strong enough, in order to claim it, he must return to England. With the help of various wealth calculators and inflation documents from the House of Commons Library, I have attempted to estimate what the value of £20 in 1802 would be in 2015.  Simple inflation of the pound calculators tell us £3,840 but in terms of the economic wealth that figure represented, the Measuring Worth website gives the income value of £20 in 1802 as being, in 2014, £27,410. Either figure could indeed have been sufficient to attract George back from America and it is possible that George did return to Ossett. In an extract from the Will of Joshua Haigh III (1741-1813) "of Longlands…Ossett":

"I also give…. All that Close of land called Washer Royd in the tenure or occupation of George Archer, the Unroydhead Pighill in the occupation of Joshua Dews, three Lands on Farthingroyd in the occupation of Timothy Fozard, two Closes of Land called Ox Closes in the occupation of Thomas Peas, one Close of Land called Upper Mapplewell or Sour Ing in the occupation of Anthony Glover, and two lands on Broadowler in my own Possession all in the Township of Ossett unto my daughter Elizabeth…"

Will of Joshua Haigh III (1741-1813) of Longlands…Ossett

I have been unable to identify any other George Archers in Ossett in 1813 who could have been the George mentioned in Joshua Haigh's will.

Updated 18th March 2018

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