Grimshaw, Nicholas (1747–1805), pioneer of the cotton industry in Ireland, was born 10 July 1747 in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, one of three known sons of Nicholas Grimshaw and his wife Susannah Briercliffe, who both died in 1777. The family seems to have been connected to several of the early English industrialists and inventors such as Richard Arkwright; Nicholas senior's cousin is said to have helped Arkwright produce the first cotton-spinning machine. Nicholas Grimshaw junior spent some time in Manchester, where he married (6 November 1768) Mary, daughter of Edmund Wrigley; but in 1776, after quitting a job in the Isle of Man, he moved to Ireland, partly to evade the restrictions imposed by the patent on Arkwright's machine. He first settled in Greencastle, Co. Antrim, and established himself as a cotton- and calico-printer; his productions were commended for the permanence of the colours and elegant designs. He was awarded premiums by the Dublin Society (1784) for several types of printed fabric, and his work was distributed very widely throughout the north of Ireland. In 1778 he was a member of the Belfast Charitable Committee, and helped Robert Joy (qv) and Thomas McCabe (qv) to supply a spinning-wheel for the poor children to use in Belfast Poor House; he oversaw the construction of the wheel in Belfast. He constructed a water-powered carding machine on his own property; this was afterwards adapted for hand use and transferred to the Poor House.
Grimshaw and Robert Joy share the credit for introducing the cotton trade to Ireland. In 1784 Grimshaw acquired the townland of Ballygolan, in the parish of Carnmoney near Belfast (where his neighbours included several other families of Lancashire origin, including the Batesons and the Hydes), and there developed the village of Whitehouse. With Nathaniel Wilson, he established a pioneering water-powered cotton-spinning mill with 4,000 spindles, and four years later took over the bleach-green formerly owned by Miss Olivia Tomb, to set up another cotton twist manufactory. In 1800 he and his sons petitioned on economic grounds against the union of parliaments. As a result, tariffs were imposed to protect his printed materials and cotton thread production, but it was later felt that these tariffs had damaged the industry. Grimshaw never fully recovered from his wife's death (1801), and died 28 April 1805; he was buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard at Carnmoney. A portrait is in the Ulster Museum, Belfast.
Seven sons and two daughters survived him; a number of other children, possibly as many as ten, died young. His many descendants included forty Grimshaws who were present at a fête on Cave Hill in 1840, as well as Beatrice Grimshaw (qv) and Thomas Wrigley Grimshaw (qv). The family continued to foster the development of the textile industry in the Belfast area, switching in the nineteenth century to flax spinning. With William Murphy, their brother-in-law, two of Nicholas's sons, Conway and John Grimshaw, established Linfield mill in Belfast, which employed hundreds of people. Edmund Grimshaw (1777–1854) converted the printing business at Mossley mill, Newtownabbey, to flax spinning. The huge mill, later owned by John Campbell and Henry James Campbell (qv), was in 1996 converted into headquarters for the local council. William Grimshaw (qv) was the eighth son.
Robert Grimshaw (1783–1867), merchant and philanthropist in Belfast, Nicholas's sixth child and fifth son, was born 7 February 1783 and went into partnership with William Murphy to establish a dry-salters' business, supplying dyes and other industrial requisites. He was a director of two railway companies, a council member of the Belfast chamber of commerce for almost thirty years, and president of that body 1857–8. He was a founding director in 1836 of the Ulster Bank, and was joint managing director for many years. He was one of the original five trustees who undertook responsibility for the property of the Belfast Mechanics' Institute, founded in 1825. This idealistic and philanthropic venture survived for only a few years, and by 1837 Robert Grimshaw, the only surviving trustee, was himself paying the head rent on the property in Queen St. In 1838 he tried to get his cousin Edmund Getty (qv), the secretary, to repay him £30, and when he failed he sold the building and contents at auction. This galvanised the membership, and his actions were strongly criticised at an extraordinary meeting in November 1838. He managed to regain the premises by arrangement with the purchaser, and struggled on as trustee until August 1865, when he finally handed over responsibility for the property to a new group of trustees managing a reformed Belfast People's Literary Institute. On 9 December 1867 the old man, still serving as a director of the Ulster Bank, died when he fell on the steps of the bank's headquarters in Waring St. He married Arabella Duffin of Broughshane; they had one daughter.