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Flying Shuttle

20th Century

John Kay of Bury invented the flying shuttle.

John Kay played a major part in the advancement of the cotton industry and is best known around the world for having invented the wheel shuttle or Flying Shuttle in 1773. His invention meant one person could operate a shuttle across a very wide loom, which greatly increased the rate of cloth production. The legacy of the Flying Shuttle is inestimable; it completely changed the weaving of textiles. It helped to set the Industrial Revolution in motion.

Traditionally, handloom weavers would physically throw the shuttle carrying the weft tread from left to right and back again, interlacing it with the warp thread that ran at right angles to the weft of the loom; a wide loom required a weaver standing at each end to pass the shuttle back and forth. Kay’s invention consisted of little ‘hammers’ which knocked the shuttle in each direction across the warp thread. A ‘picking stick’ controlled each “hammer” and was itself operated via a string held by the weaver.

The tradition of shuttle-making in Bury was maintained by the Tottington firm of Henry Mills and Sons. The firm started at Radcliffe in 1912; however, the works was burnt down shortly after opening. The firm continued at Victoria Shuttleworks, Tottington, until closure in 1967.