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William Douglas, mill owner





William Douglas (28 Feb 1745-30 Jan 1810) was the head of the firm of William Douglas and Co., cotton spinners and merchants.  He served the office of constable of Manchester in 1780. He is sometimes referred to as William Douglas of Penbleton.


William, Of the Old Hall, Pendleton, Lancashire, was the son and 7th child of John Douglas (d. 1762) of St. George's, Hanover Square, an innkeeper of the Hercules Pillars in Hyde Park Road, London, and Mary Gardiner (d. 1766).

Of nine siblings only the three boys survived. After the deaths of his parents he brought up by his younger brother James (1753–1819) in Manchester, where James belatedly attended Manchester grammar school. He was in business with his other brother, Thomas (qv).

William Douglas, later to be known as Black Douglas because of his harsh treatment of pauper children, set up water powered hoist mill at the Pendleton Old Hall Site in 1780. Freedom from Arkwright restrictions resulted in an increase in the size of water powered mills. A letter in 1792 mentions 3,000 to 4,000 spindles at Douglas Mills. Douglas chiefly supplied the master manufacturers with twist and warps, which were then distributed to the handloom weavers. In 1782 the Douglas Mills were constructing textile looms.

In 1786, he employed 5 girl and 3 boy apprentices from St Giles in the Fields; in 1795 there were 15 and 12 from St Luke, Chelsea. He 'employed and paid a clergyman of the Church of England to instruct them in their Bible catechism and other religious duties on Sunday'. It is not clear from where these children came, but pauper children from as far away as Glasgow were placed in the Lancashire mills. William Douglas had, in 1795, apprenticed to him Mary Anne Finch from St Anne's Parish, Westminster, with 'hours of labour seldom exceed(ing) 12 hours a day' - and 'never at night'.  The Douglas Green Mills in Salford were sometimes referred to as the Cripple Factory or The White Slave Mill.


He was appointed an Honorary Burgess of Glasgow, 22 Dec 1784.

He married Mary Hargreave, daughter of George Hargreave and Mary Marsden and had 5 children. He is described as 'a key player' in the cotton industry and amassed a fortune. In the history of the Hargreave family, he is described as a banker, possibly Messrs. Douglas, Smalley & Co, in Holywell, established by his son John.

He died 30 Jan 1810 at Pendleton Hall, and was succeeded by his son, John Douglas of Gyrn, a cotton spinner in Holywell, Flintshire. His ghost was said to haunt the area for many years after.


memorialThere is a memorial to him in the upper gallery of St Thomas's Church, Pendleton, which reads:
Sacred to the memory of William Douglas of the Old Hall in this parish, esquire.
Died 30th Jan 1810 aged 64 years.
Also his beloved wife Mary died 30th Sept 1788 aged 42 years.
also their daughters
Maria died 21st Nov 1787 aged 15 years.
Aphia died 18th April 1774 aged 1 year.
Sophia died 18th April 1795 aged 19 years.


Not listed on the memorial is his daughter, Charlotte.  She seems to turn up as a spinster of Leaf Square, Pendleton in the 1820s, yet there are claims she has descendants in Somerset.









mapMap of Pendleton

The attached pdfs contain additional information about William Douglas.  
By these accounts, he was not a very nice man!


See also:
•  The Cotton Twist Company



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