Ellis was born in Wormhill in Oct 1760 and was the eldest of four sons of John and Hannah Needham. John was a successful farmer whose wealth grew as he purchased much land in the area; as a consequence he built Hargate Wall Hall. Tragically when Ellis was 12 John died at the age of 36 and Hannah his wife was left to bring up 5 children and run a farm. Ellis's three brothers had their fathers business acumen but not so Ellis. By 1787 Ellis had married Sarah Beard and they went onto have 11 children. Ellis liked the affluent lifestyle and had the reputation of being a good farmer who liked the high life centred on the family home at Hargate Wall.
In 1782 Ellis Needham and his cousin Thomas Frith, both farmers with small estates in the area went into partnership to build a cotton Mill on the Wye at Litton on land eased from Lord Scarsdale. The mill was powered by the water of the River Wye , using Richard Arkwright 's water frame . It could be said that the company was doomed from the start. Ellis, in particular, had sunk much of his assets into the venture by selling the family land and borrowed money from his uncle Samuel. The valley was particularly isolated and transport for the raw material and finished goods was poor. Moreover they had difficulty in attracting a workforce.
It was not a great success, and was for sale as soon as 1786 but they couldn't find a buyer
In 1786 William Newton (the framesmith and mechanic who had built Arkwright's first mill at Cressbrook in 1783) was offered a junior partnership of 200 pounds if he would overhaul and superintend the machinery thereafter. Newton was also to become partner in the Brough and Castleton cotton mills. In 1788 Ellis's mother died and left nothing in her will to Ellis; this tells you something about the family relationships. A shortage of local labour pushed Ellis to use parish apprentices shipped in from London to work the mill. The first apprentice house was built near the mill shortly before 1793 and a second was built 2 years later. In 1797 Newton left the partnership to become an innkeeper. After Newton 's departure the history of the Litton Mill acquired notoriety through the Memoirs (published in 1832) of the London orphan apprentice Robert Blincoe who was employed for his term (1803-14) at Litton under Ellis and purported to receive extremely harsh treatment. Needham 's apprentices were obligated to work more than the statutory twelve hours every day; they were poorly fed, and were often callously and brutally treated.
Ellis was obviously as inadequate as a mill manager as he was a competent and innovative farmer, and after his financial backer Francis Haywood of Manchester became bankrupt in 1798 he began to get into financial difficulties
By 1799 Frith quit and Ellis sold inherited land to increase his stake in the mill. In 1805 his son John was made a partner. By the 1810s water-powered mills such as the Litton Mill were losing money, struggling to compete with Lancashire 's more efficient steam-powered factories. Ellis started lending money but chose the wrong people and eventually they defaulted. As profits dwindled John and Ellis borrowed money from a Buxton Bank and mortgaged Hargate Wall Hall for £10K. Eventually they defaulted on their repayments and in 1815 Ellis himself was declared bankrupt. At least 80 of his apprentices were left destitute and had to be supported on parish relief; ten died between 1816 and 1818. It is a pathetic and shocking story. In 1816 Lord Scarsdale canceled Needham 's lease. It was a humbling experience for Ellis as he had by then lost the family home and lands, he had to drop the title esquire and give up his churchwardens roll. Because Ellis and his wife had lost Hargate Wall Hall they moved to Chapel-en-la-Frith where his wife and daughter set up a school. Ellis died in 1830 in Chapel en le Frith. A new mill was built at Litton in 1874 and little remains of the earlier buildings.
2. 'The Real Oliver Twist' by John Waller published by con Books