Robinson, George J.

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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b. 1712 Scotland
d. 1798 England
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Scottish manufacturer who installed the first Boulton \& Watt rotative steam-engine in a textile mill.
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George Robinson is said to have been a Scots migrant who settled at Burwell, near Nottingham, in 1737, but there is no record of his occupation until 1771, when he was noticed as a bleacher. By 1783 he and his son were describing themselves as "merchants and thread manufacturers" as well as bleachers. For their thread, they were using the system of spinning on the waterframe, but it is not known whether they held a licence from Arkwright. Between 1776 and 1791, the firm G.J. \& J.Robinson built a series of six cotton mills with a complex of dams and aqueducts to supply them in the relatively flat land of the Leen valley, near Papplewick, to the north of Nottingham. By careful conservation they were able to obtain considerable power from a very small stream. Castle mill was not only the highest one owned by the Robinsons, but it was also the highest mill on the stream and was fed from a reservoir. The Robinsons might therefore have expected to have enjoyed uninterrupted use of the water, but above them lived Lord Byron in his estate of Newstead Priory. The fifth Lord Byron loved making ornamental ponds on his property so that he could have mock naval battles with his servants, and this tampered with the water supplies so much that the Robinsons found they were unable to work their mills.
In 1785 they decided to order a rotative steam engine from the firm of Boulton \& Watt. It was erected by John Rennie; however, misfortune seemed to dog this engine, for parts went astray to Manchester and when the engine was finally running at the end of February 1786 it was found to be out of alignment so may not have been very successful. At about the same time, the lawsuit against Lord Byron was found in favour of the Robinsons, but the engine continued in use for at least twelve years and was the first of the type which was to power virtually all steamdriven mills until the 1850s to be installed in a textile mill. It was a low-pressure double-acting condensing beam engine, with a vertical cylinder, parallel motion connecting the piston toone end of a rocking beam, and a connecting rod at the other end of the beam turning the flywheel. In this case Watt's sun and planet motion was used in place of a crank.
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Further Reading
R.L.Hills, 1970, Power in the Industrial Revolution, Manchester (for an account of the installation of this engine).
D.M.Smith, 1965, Industrial Archaeology of the East Midlands, Newton Abbot (describes the problems which the Robinsons had with the water supplies to power their mills).
S.D.Chapman, 1967, The Early Factory Masters, Newton Abbot (provides details of the business activities of the Robinsons).
J.D.Marshall, 1959, "Early application of steam power: the cotton mills of the Upper Leen", Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire 60 (mentions the introduction of this steam-engine).
RLH

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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