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In 1781 he was apprenticed to his uncle, Charles Cannan, a partner in Cannan and Smith of Chowbent (Atherton), textile machinery makers. On completion of his apprenticeship in 1788, he left for Manchester, where he gained employment with a firm called Egelsom, in Newton Street. He soon began cotton spinning on his own account, and then in 1791 he went into partnership with John Kennedy and Benjamin and William Sandford, making textile machinery, but also doing some mule spinning. Their first premises were in Stable Street (Back Oldham Street), before moving into the former Salvin's Factory in Canal Street, Ancoats.
1812 McConnel and Kennedy ran the largest cotton mill in Manchester