b. 1761 Mellor, Cheshire, England
d. 1842 Mellor, Cheshire, England
Radcliffe was brought up in the textile industry and learned carding and spinning as a child. When he was old enough, he became a weaver. It was a time when there were not enough weavers to work up all the yarn being spun on the recently invented spinning machines, so some yarn was exported. Radcliffe regarded this as a sin; meetings were held to prohibit the export, and Radcliffe promised to use his best endeavours to discover means to work up the yarn in England. He owned a mill at Mellor and by 1801 was employing over 1,000 hand-loom weavers. He wanted to improve their efficiency so they could compete against power looms, which were beginning to be introduced at that time.
His first step was to divide up as much as possible the different weaving processes, not unlike the plan adopted by Arkwright in spinning. In order to strengthen the warp yarns made of cotton and to reduce their tendency to fray during weaving, it was customary to apply an adhesive substance such as starch paste. This was brushed on as the warp was unwound from the back beam during weaving, so only short lengths could be treated before being dried. Instead of dressing the warp in the loom as was hitherto done, Radcliffe had it dressed in a separate machine, relieving the weaver of the trouble and saving the time wasted by the method previously used. Radcliffe employed a young man names Thomas Johnson, who proved to be a clever mechanic. Radcliffe patented his inventions in Johnson's name to avoid other people, especially foreigners, finding out his ideas. He took out his first patent, for a dressing machine, in March 1803 and a second the following year. The combined result of the two patents was the introduction of a beaming machine and a dressing machine which, in addition to applying the paste to the yarns and then drying them, wound them onto a beam ready for the loom. These machines enabled the weaver to work a loom with fewer stoppages; however, Radcliffe did not anticipate that his method of sizing would soon be applied to power looms as well and lead to the commercial success of powered weaving. Other manufacturers quickly adopted Radcliffe's system, and Radcliffe himself soon had to introduce power looms in his own business.
Radcliffe improved the hand looms themselves when, with the help of Johnson, he devised a cloth taking-up motion that wound the woven cloth onto a roller automatically as the weaver operated the loom. Radcliffe and Johnson also developed the 'dandy loom', which was a more compact form of hand loom and was also later adapted for weaving by power. Radcliffe was among the witnesses before the Parliamentary Committee which in 1808 awarded Edmund Cartwright a grant for his invention of the power loom. Later Radcliffe was unsuccessfully to petition Parliament for a similar reward for his contributions to the introduction of power weaving. His business affairs ultimately failed partly through his own obstinacy and his continued opposition to the export of cotton yarn. He lived to be 81 years old and was buried in Mellor churchyard.