IT IS highly unlikely that James Hargreaves had anything to do with the invention of the spinning jenny - despite what the history books say.

The Lancashire weaver got the credit for the ingenious device simply because unscrupulous industrialist Sir Richard Arkwright found it politically expedient to give it to him.

What Hargreaves really did was to improve on a machine that had been designed and built years before by an obscure artisan from Leigh called Thomas Highs, who was the true genius of the Industrial Revolution.

Hargreaves deserves his place in the story of cotton for his perseverance in perfecting the jenny and seeing it into widespread use. But his name should no longer be allowed to overshadow that of Highs.

Born in the Lancashire village of Stanhill, near Oswaldtwistle, in 1720 - he was baptised in the Kirk Church there on January 8th - Hargreaves had no formal education and could neither read nor write. Although no likeness of him is known to exist, he was described as a tall, well-built man with black hair, with an interest in mechanics despite his lack of letters.

His early life was predictably agricultural, which in that region at that time meant combining farming with weaving cloth. He married local girl Elizabeth Grimshaw at the Kirk Church on September 10th, 1740, and they had 13 children with the girls, presumably, helping him by spinning thread for his loom.

However, like many others who had adopted John Kay's flying shuttle on their looms, he probably felt frustrated by the inability of his family to keep him supplied with thread.

There is nothing to show how Hargreaves came into possession of Highs's jenny, or more likely, of the plans for it. Highs had built his machine in 1763 or '64, but did not have the money to patent it. Instead, he built several machines for rental before abandoning his interest in it to concentrate on something he found far more interesting.

THIS is a later version of the Spinning Jenny, with the main wheel switched from the horizontal to the vertical to make operation easier.

What was the jenny? It was a simple wooden contraption that spun several threads at once, instead of the single thread produced by the old-fashioned spinning wheel. It was, in essence, six spinning-wheels bolted together and turned on their side, powered by one large wheel.

A moving carriage bearing the spindles stretched the thread as it pulled away from the body of the machine, imparting twist to the cotton. Then the spindles wound up the thread as the carriage returned, before the process started again.

It was simple enough to be operated by a layman or even a strong child, small enough to fit into a farmhouse kitchen and effective enough to revolutionise the production of thread.

It was a sort of half-way house, something to bridge the gap between the spinning wheel and the heavier, more complicated machinery that came later and required factory conditions in which to operate.