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The Transatlantic Trade Route and Cotton

From Raw Cotton to Cloth

When the raw cotton arrived at ports such as London, Bristol and Liverpool, it was distributed to British mills where it was spun into threads and woven to form a length of cloth. Many of the mills in Leeds would have received this cotton.


Raw cotton and cotton seeds
Raw Cotton and Cotton Seeds

Although Leeds is often associated with Benjamin Gott and the manufacturing of wool, from 1764 to 1814 new textile manufacturing premises opened in the east and north of Leeds. This gave rise to an increased interest in cotton production. These premises included cotton mills, cotton finishings, cotton spinners and the production of cotton machinery. Of 28 new premises, 19 of these were mills and 12 worked specifically with cotton. Mills included Bank Top Mill, Mabgate Mill and Scott Hall Mill.

Between 1790 and 1805 it is estimated that the highest earning industrial premises in Leeds (earning more than £40 per year) included those working with cotton, wool, flax, linen and dyeing cloth.

The cotton was spun, dyed and finished in Leeds Mill. It was then made into clothing or domestic products like table cloths or curtains. The story of enslaved Africans is therefore woven into the finished products worn and used by people in Yorkshire.


Town Plan of Leeds by John Cossins, 1730
Town Plan of Leeds 1730


Wool – from animals often sheep, is spun then woven or knitted for warm and durable fabrics.
Flax – is from a flax plant. The fibers are spun before being used for heavy fabrics that are incredibly durable and long-lasting.
Linen – also comes from the flax plant and is used in a variety of ways. Linen is lightweight, a great conductor of heat, naturally absorbent, and antibacterial.

Manufacturing terms:

Textile dyers – those in the manufacturing process who dye lengths of undyed cloth.
Cotton finishing – at the end of the manufacturing process where a cloth is glazed.
Cotton spinners – those involved with the spinning of yarns to create thicker threads.