Douglas Farnie: Historian of the cotton industry





Douglas Farnie was the pre-eminent historian of the Lancashire cotton industry in its 19th- and 20th-century heyday. On the staff of the History Department at Manchester University for over 30 years, he influenced generations of students.

Born in 1926 in Salford, the youngest son of Arthur Farnie, a tailor, and his second wife, Ethel, Douglas went to Salford Grammar School, from which he entered the Intelligence Corps in 1944, serving in Field Security with the Indian Airborne, 1945-46, and then in the Suez Canal Zone, 1947-48.

An undergraduate at Manchester University, 1948-53, he gained a First in History, and the Thomas Brown Memorial Prize in 1951. Farnie began researching the history of the Lancashire cotton industry under the supervision of Professor Arthur Redford, another of whose students was R.S. Fitton. Initially, Farnie hoped to investigate the later business records of Strutts of Belper, complementing the work of Fitton (subsequently the definitive biographer of Sir Richard Arkwright). Finding those records incomprehensible, Farnie extended his range of interest from a single firm to the whole of the industry.

His MA thesis (1953) was based on the files of the 1,046 companies registered in the English cotton industry between 1845 and 1896. From this foundation came much of his future research and writing. Years after Farnie had used them, the Public Record Office (now the National Archives), in a space-saving exercise, weeded out and destroyed 90 per cent of the files, thereby making Farnie's work invaluable....

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