Category Archives: Industrial history

Derby Silk Mill Museum

Derby Silk Mill Museum

After five years of work, Derby’s industrial museum, rich in exhibits that commemorate the huge and varied heritage of the city, is now open to the public, with free entry, as the Museum of Making.

It occupies the much-altered Silk Mill building, on the site of an early mill dating from 1704.  What survived of Thomas Lombe’s 1722 building was destroyed in a fire in 1910, and the rebuilding carefully replicated the five-storey original as a three-storey building attached to the surviving distinctive tower.

Using the best of modern display techniques in a variety of ways, the Museum draws together the varied contributions Derby has brought to the world.

Visitors walk into a new atrium beneath a suspended exploded Toyota Corolla Hybrid car, manufactured south of Derby at Burnaston, and look towards a seven-tonne Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 aero engine, also suspended above the staircase.

There are close-up views of the Trent 1000 upstairs, with an opportunity to compare it with the earliest Rolls-Royce Eagle engine that began production in 1915, one of the type which powered Allcock and Brown’s pioneering non-stop Atlantic crossing in 1919.

There’s a bewildering array of objects and images relating to Derby’s involvement in iron-founding, railways, engineering and textiles, and its association with such diverse figures as the physician-inventor Erasmus Darwin, the painter Joseph Wright and the clockmaker and scientist John Whitehurst.

The pinnacle of this cornucopia of Derby memorabilia is the ‘Railways Revealed’ exhibit, which includes the latest version of the Midland Railway model layout, the grandchild of an original which has delighted Derby children and enthusiasts since 1951.

The Museum is an appropriate gateway to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site which stretches northwards as far as Cromford, which ties together an astonishing variety of historic monuments of the early Industrial Revolution.

In view of the quality and significance of the Museum’s collection, it’s odd that it’s been given the vapid branding ‘Museum of Making’.

It could be anywhere.

I choose to call it the Derby Silk Mill Museum, so that people know where it is.

Derby Silk Mill

Silk Mill, Derby

Though Sir Richard Arkwright is rightly credited with establishing the first successful water-powered cotton mill at Cromford, Derbyshire, in 1771, his was not the first industrial innovation in the Derbyshire Derwent Valley.

On an island on the Derwent in the centre of Derby, Thomas Cotchett had commissioned the engineer George Sorocold (c 1668-c1738)  to build a three-story water-powered silk-mill, using inefficient Dutch machinery, in 1704.

Cotchett’s business failed, and the site was taken over by Thomas Lombe (1685-1739), a Norwich-born London silk-merchant who had had the foresight to send his half-brother John (1693?-1722) to work for Cotchett as an apprentice. 

Thomas then travelled in Italy, where he is said to have worked incognito in a throwing-mill and covertly sketched the machinery.

Lombe took out a British patent for the Italian-designed silk-throwing machinery in 1718, and Sorocold built the Italian Works, on twenty-six arches oversailing the waters of the Derwent, to accommodate the machinery.

The main building contained the twelve circular throwing-machines, eight 12ft 7in-diameter Torcitoii and twelve 12ft 11in-diameter Filatoii, both types 19ft 8in high, on the lower two storeys and 26 winding-machines on its upper three floors.

George Sorocold’s previous experience of water-supply machinery can scarcely have prepared him for the mechanical complexity of the 4,793 star-wheels, 10,000 spindles, 25,000 spinning-reel bobbins, 9,050 twist bobbins and 45,363 winding bobbins of Lombe’s patent-design.

The Mill was completed in 1722, and immediately became an object of exceptional interest to visitors, including Daniel Defoe, James Boswell and John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington.

After the patent expired in 1732, other silk mills were built in Macclesfield, Stockport and Congleton, and though the trade experienced periodic periods of depression, by 1830 Macclesfield had seventy silk-factories employing 10,000 people.  There were seventeen silk-factories of one kind or another in Derby in 1840.   

Though the silk-trade continued to flourish into the nineteenth century to the north-west, in Derbyshire it declined in the face of the profitable growth of cotton-spinning and the difficulty of importing raw materials during the French wars, and tended to diversify into the specialised manufacture of ribbon and tape.

The Derby Silk Mill operated,  with one short break at the end of  the  eighteenth century, until 1890, when it suffered a partial collapse, then in 1910 the whole of the Italian Works was destroyed by fire and shortly afterwards the adjacent Doublers’ Shop was demolished. 

The present Silk Mill building was rebuilt on the original stone river-arches to a different design, but with a similar belfry, as a chemical manufactory. 

A coal-fired electricity power-station, notorious for its filth, was built on the landward side of the site and the mill building was occupied by the borough electricity department. 

When the power-station was replaced by a more discreet sub-station for the National Grid the Silk Mill building became the Derby Museum of Industry and Technology, opened in 1974, and Robert Bakewell’s Silk Mill gates were returned from the Museum & Art Gallery at the Wardwick, to stand near to their original site.

The Industrial Museum closed in 2016 for a major refurbishment, and reopened, in spite of the pandemic, in May 2021 as the Museum of Making.

Full steam ahead

Mill Meece Pumping Station, Staffordshire

Few preservation groups are invited to take on a historic site in complete working order.

When the steam engines at the Mill Meece Pumping Station, south of Stoke-on-Trent, were finally decommissioned at the end of 1979 the then owners, the Severn Trent Water Authority, invited enthusiasts to form a Preservation Trust to preserve the historic waterworks intact while the modern machinery did the work of supplying water. 

The Trust took over the site in 1981 and promptly opened it to the public.

Mill Meece Pumping Station (1914) represents one of the latest preserved examples of steam-powered water-supply pumping installations.  It is in effect the penultimate chapter in the story of steam and water-supply, a little earlier than the Kempton Great Engines, west of London, which were completed in 1929. 

The Trust website emphasises why this late example of steam pumping engineering is historically important:

[Although] beam engines abound, the Mill Meece horizontal tandem compound steam engines are the only ones of their type still capable of being steamed.  Along with all the ancillary equipment of boilers, economiser, Weir pumps, steam winch and weigh bridge the station forms a complete example of an Edwardian water supply pumping station.

The Staffordshire Potteries Water Works Company was founded in 1846 and spent the following three-quarters of a century trying to keep up with demand from the rapidly growing industrial Five Towns and the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. 

The Company opened a succession of waterworks and repeatedly extended them and their supporting networks of mains and reservoirs.  For much of the time further installations were planned even before the new ones were operational.

Indeed, when the land for Mill Meece Pumping Station was purchased in 1899, the Hatton Pumping Station, two miles further north, was incomplete.  The original pair of beam engines of 1892 at Hatton were supplemented by a horizontal engine completed in 1898, and a further horizontal engine was added in 1907.

Though diesel or electric power was available for water pumping by the beginning of the twentieth century, the Company, based in a coalfield, was content to rely on steam.  The Hatton engines were considered efficient, reliable and economical, so the Mill Meece engine house was built to accommodate two engines, powered by three boilers.

Mill Meece was the last of the Company’s waterworks, initially completed in 1914, though it didn’t begin pumping to supply until 1919. 

Half the engine house was occupied by a horizontal compound tandem rotary steam engine by Ashton Frost & Co of Blackburn drawing steam from two Lancashire boilers, pumping to the same reservoir at Hanchurch as Hatton. 

In the empty half of the engine house the Company’s municipal successor, the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board, installed a second engine by Hathorn Davey in 1927, broadly similar to its companion, together with a third Lancashire boiler. 

The two engines were built to the same specification, though they are not identical, and they are laid out in mirror image so that they can be controlled from a single central operating position.

All the other Company water works were converted to pump by electricity in the 1930s, but despite talk of scrapping them, the relatively new and powerful Mill Meece engines were kept for stand-by use after the station was electrified in 1949.

Indeed, the last time they pumped water into the public supply was December 22nd 1979, and within two years they formed the centrepiece of a working museum: Mill Meece Pumping Station.

In 2013 structural problems with the boiler house flues prevented the engines from steaming, and the remedial work took until November 2020. 

After years of frustration when visitors have been invited into a cold and silent works, the Covid pandemic precluded a quick return to steam.

The engines eventually moved again over the weekend of August 14th-15th 2021, and there’s every reason to hope that there will be a full programme of events at Mill Meece in 2022: What’s On (millmeecepumpingstation.co.uk)

The Wright stuff

St Pancras Station, London

An embarrassingly long time ago, one of my school contemporaries gave me a book that had belonged to his late father – Roy Christian’s Butterley Brick:  200 years in the making (Henry Melland 1990).  The title misled me.  It sat for far too long on my pile of unread books because I’m not particularly interested in brickworks.

Roy Christian was one of the most lucid and knowledgeable Derbyshire local historians of his generation, and he named his book after only one of the three divisions into which the old Butterley Company had been divided in 1968 – Butterley Brick, Butterley Engineering and Butterley Aggregates.

Brickmaking only emerges in Roy Christian’s book at chapter ten, and much of his text is a masterly account of a now-vanished major industrial complex, based on a 1950 company history aptly entitled Through Five Generations and subsequent researches by Jean Lindsay and Philip Riden.

Bricks had been made around Butterley since William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805) engineered the Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal in the early 1790s, and the two canal engineers founded Benjamin Outram & Co, in conjunction with a lawyer, Francis Beresford (1737-1801), and a banker, John Wright (1758-1840), to mine coal and iron and to manufacture iron goods.

The company was renamed the Butterley Company sometime earlier than 1809.

Of the descendants of these four founders, William Jessop’s son, also called William (1784-1852), led the company for forty-six years, and then its long-term success was directed by five generations of the Wright family, who owned 100% of the company’s shares from 1888 and remained in control until 1966. 

They established an ironworks literally above the canal tunnel at Butterley and a forge further along the canal at Codnor Park, and purchased limestone quarries at Crich and elsewhere, so that they were fully in command of the necessary raw materials and the means of transporting them cheaply.

The district was not populous so the company built housing at locations along the canal – Ironville, Golden Valley and Hammersmith.

The most prominent memento of the company’s engineering prowess is the magnificent trainshed at St Pancras Station (1867), which bears the name “Butterley Company, Derbyshire” repeatedly cast into the ironwork.

But their handiwork is evident in so many other places, from the elegant Hospital Lane Bridge, Boston, Lincolnshire (1811), the surviving winding-engine on the Cromford & High Peak Railway at Middleton Top (1829) in Derbyshire and London’s Vauxhall Bridge (1906) to the Falkirk Wheel (2000) and the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmorth (2005).

In contrast, Roy Christian explains the Butterley habit of espousing unlikely, ill-starred inventions, ranging from William Brunton’s Steam Horse (1813) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jffVbuUhblc] to the Simm-Wulpa vertical car park (1962) [https://www.rdht.org.uk/all-things-local-august-2017].

There was a time in the early 1970s when Butterley could have become a tourist asset comparable with the Beamish Open Air Museum in co Durham and Blists Hill at Ironbridge, Shropshire. 

Derby Corporation acquired the Britain Pit site, midway between Butterley and Golden Valley, to establish an open-air museum around the railway line from Pye Bridge to Butterley:  https://www.midlandrailway-butterley.co.uk/history-of-the-midland-railway-butterley.  Though the local authority stepped back quickly, the rail museum developed into the ambitious Midland Railway Butterley, but much of the industrial archaeology associated with Butterley Ironworks and Codnor Park Forge has been lost.

The Butterley Company was sold to the Hanson Group in 1968 and split up.  The engineering works closed in 2009 and the ironworks site was sold in 2015.

To ensure that the memory of this once mighty enterprise isn’t completely lost, the Butterley Ironworks Trust has been formed, led by former company employees, with ambitious plans to make the most of what’s left:  https://www.rdht.org.uk/butterley-ironworks-the-future.

Top Forge

Wortley Top Forge, South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire boasts two of nationally significant historic metal-working sites, the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet on the southern edge of Sheffield and the Wortley Top Forge between Sheffield and Penistone.  Both are scheduled ancient monuments and contain Grade I listed buildings.

They exist because of the foresight of the individuals who formed the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society who recognised the significance of each site and campaigned to protect them from the risk of demolition before the Second World War – back in the prehistory of industrial archaeology and historical conservation.

Abbeydale Works became part of Sheffield City Museums and, along with Shepherd Wheel and Kelham Island Industrial Museum were transferred to Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust in 1998.

Wortley Top Forge, abandoned by 1929, was acquired by the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society in 1953, and the Society continues to maintain and develop the site and open it to the public through its operational arm, the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust Ltd.

The leading light of the project was the late Ken Hawley (1927-2014), the celebrated saviour of much of South Yorkshire’s tools and machinery.  His collections are now divided between Wortley and Kelham Island.

The Top Forge, along with the now-obliterated Low Forge, was operating by 1640, though water-powered metal-working was practised in the area from the thirteenth century onwards.

Alongside the remaining original buildings, the Trust has restored and built new structures to accommodate the growing collection of artefacts, including stationary steam engines – a very recent innovation, because the Forge was always powered by water.

A succession of enterprising and innovative lessees imported new techniques to the two forges:  James Cockshutt brought Henry Cort’s reverberatory furnace from Wales to South Yorkshire in the 1790s and in the nineteenth century Thomas Andrews Jnr made Wortley renowned for the quality of its wrought iron for railway rolling-stock axles.  Both these men became Fellows of the Royal Society;  indeed, Thomas Andrews belonged to the Royal Societies in both London and Edinburgh.

Visiting the Top Forge is challenging.  Its site is at least 1½ miles away from Wortley village, deep in the depths of the Don Valley, and access is encumbered by tight bends and the low bridges of the now closed Woodhead railway.  Signage is minimal:  a Yorkshire flag indicates the entrance:  Flag of Yorkshire – Flags and symbols of Yorkshire – Wikipedia.

Those who have the determination to arrive are made warmly welcome, but on ordinary Sunday working days there is little provision for tourists.  The location is beautiful.  The loos are impeccable, but the place is otherwise innocent of visitor amenities.  Donations are gratefully received, guided tours run ad hoc and rides on the miniature railway are free. 

It’s not so much a tourist attraction as a man-cave, populated by friendly, welcoming gentlemen of a certain age in overalls, working with metal and tweaking their engines, who are more than happy to discuss the technicalities of the machinery they tend.

I was shown round by an admirable young guide, Emily, who, once she realised that I know very little about engineering, pitched her tour to my level of understanding.

Open days are a different matter:  then the Top Forge is en fête.  Details are announced on the website events page, which has been understandably disrupted by the pandemic.

The Society’s website provides a detailed history and description of this fascinating place: Wortley Top Forge – The oldest surviving heavy iron forge in the world.

Thomas Hawksley’s grand designs

Former Bestwood Pumping Station, Nottinghamshire, now Lakeside Restaurant (2021)

A pair of remarkable linked architectural experiences are to be found north of Nottingham, where two of the magnificent pumping stations associated with the Victorian engineer Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893) are open to the public.

When I first planned my Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness tour to take place in 2020 I couldn’t include Bestwood Pumping Station because the restaurant that occupied the building had closed.

The slightly later Papplewick Pumping Station is so important and so spectacular that I determined the date of the tour to coincide with the steaming-day programme at Papplewick, and I did exactly the same when I had to postpone the tour, first to 2021 and latterly to 2022.

By the time I did final checks for the 2022 dates – Thursday August 25th-Monday August 29th 2022 – the newly refurbished Lakeside Restaurant had reopened, providing the opportunity to enjoy both buildings on the same day, with lunch included.

When Bestwood Pumping Station was built between 1869 and 1873 the landowner, the 10th Duke of St Albans, had only recently completed his grandiose retreat at Bestwood Lodge, and His Grace specified in the lease to the Nottingham Waterworks Company that the waterworks should embellish his estate.

Consequently, the engine house is an elaborate brick essay in thirteenth-century Gothic, with a 172-foot high chimney that’s encased in a Venetian Gothic staircase tower leading to a viewing platform.  (This will be open to the public when building works are finished in due course.)

The engines were dismantled in 1968 and the empty building reopened as the Lakeside Restaurant in 1997 with a décor strongly reminiscent of Victorian country houses, later replaced by an understated colour scheme of sage green and gold.

The latest refurbishment has transformed the interior to a dramatic charcoal and white scheme with tiny touches of gold that admirably brings out the decorative detail of the Victorian structural ironwork.

Papplewick is even more ornate, and for different reasons.  By the time it was started in 1882 the Waterworks Company had been taken over by Nottingham Corporation, and their engineer, Marriott Ogle Tarbotton (1835-1887), closely followed Hawksley’s design at Bestwood.  The Papplewick project was finished below budget, so the surplus cash was spent on a riot of craftsman decoration, all on the theme of water and water creatures.

When I visited the Lakeside to update my photos, and to have lunch, my hostess Theo mentioned that she hadn’t ever visited the Papplewick Pumping Station, and she was sufficiently enticed by my friend’s videos of the engines in steam to arrange to visit the next steaming day with her colleague Katie.

They’re in for a treat, as my guests will be on next August’s tour.

To walk through the imposing front door of Bestwood Pumping for an excellent lunch, and then to drive over to Papplewick and walk through a very similar front door to witness two huge beam engines quietly turning is a profoundly satisfying contrast.

In the warm, hypnotic environment of the Papplewick engine house it feels as if the earth moves.

Bestwood is visually dramatic, and Papplewick is a multisensory theatrical experience.

The Lakeside Restaurant in the former Bestwood Pumping Station is a lunch stop on the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ (August 25th-29th 2022) tour. For details of the itinerary, please click here.

Enterprising potter

Etruria Hall, Stoke-on-Trent

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) triumphed magnificently over adversity. 

He lost his father when he was nine, and at the age of eleven smallpox left him with a permanently weakened right knee so that he couldn’t become a thrower.  This did, however, enable him to explore the various skills of the pottery trade and gave him the freedom to question and experiment with established practices.

By the age of nineteen he had invented an improved green glaze, become a master-potter and leased a pottery in Burslem with his cousins, John and Thomas Wedgwood.

His business soon outgrew these facilities, largely because of his personal energy, his multiplicity of skills and his adventurousness both as a designer and a businessman. 

He was more prepared than any of his competitors to try new methods.  He insisted on a clean, tidy working environment and his products had a better finish and more shapely proportions – and, indeed, uniformity of size – compared with the rest of the market.

In 1765 he was appointed the Queen’s Potter, and contributed £500 towards new roads in the Potteries area, the first step in a lifelong campaign to gain secure, rapid transport facilities for his precious and fragile wares, which led to his association with the Trent & Mersey Canal, opened in 1777.

Two years later, with his second cousin Thomas, he acquired the site which became his Etruria Works, and the following year invited Thomas Bentley, a merchant with wide experience of the fashionable world, into the partnership.

Wedgwood was a member of the influential group of Midlands intellectuals known as the Lunar Society (because they met and exchanged ideas on the Monday nearest the full moon), including Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) and James Watt (1736-1819).

In 1764 he had married his third cousin, Sarah Wedgwood (1734-1815), and their eldest child, Susannah (1765-1817), married Robert Waring Darwin (1766-1848), the son of Erasmus Darwin:  their son was the famous naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882), who in turn married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896).

On May 28th 1768, Josiah Wedgwood had his right leg amputated, “foreseeing,” according to the Dictionary of National Biography, “that this useless and often painful member would prove a serious encumbrance in his enlarged sphere of work at Etruria”. 

Etruria Works was opened in June 1769, and by 1773 he had centralised all his operations there. 

The name Etruria refers to the kingdom of central Italy that preceded the Roman republic and connects Wedgwood’s designs with the Etruscans’ elegant pottery.  In fact, the antique pottery so much admired by Wedgwood’s clients ultimately proved to be Greek.

As befitted Wedgwood’s reputation for manufacturing beautiful ceramics, his works was tastefully designed by the Derby architect Joseph Pickford.  The central range, facing the canal, surmounted by a cupola containing a bell, was flanked by two roundhouses.  The northern roundhouse is the only surviving structure of the entire complex. 

By the mid-1760s he had, by shrewdly using recent developments in ceramic technology, perfected the first of a series of innovations – his cream-ware named, by permission, Queen’s Ware, which was followed by Egyptian Black (sometimes known as basalts, first sold in 1768), marble-ware and eventually his jasper-ware, which could be tinted in a variety of colours, of which the pale blue is more familiar than the alternatives dark blue, lilac, sage green, black and yellow, and pearlware, a form of creamware with a blue tint.

His exports included a dinner-service of of 952 pieces for the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, which cost over £2,000 after its decoration with 1,244 individual views of British landscapes and great houses.  Known as the Frog service from its enamel emblem, this unique commission was exhibited, with admission by ticket, at Wedgwood’s London showroom before dispatch in June 1774. 

The family residence, Etruria Hall (1768-71), was designed by Joseph Pickford.  It was screened from the works by a plantation, and because Josiah and Sarah Wedgwood’s family continued to increase two wings were added in 1780. 

The relationship between the works and the owner’s residence is reminiscent of Matthew Boulton’s Soho House in Birmingham and Sir Richard Arkwright’s Willersley Castle in Derbyshire. 

The Wedgwood family continued to occupy the Hall until 1819, and again from 1828 to 1842.  From 1848, it was associated with the nearby Shelton Ironworks until the 1980s, by which time it was used as offices by British Steel.

When the surrounding area was reclaimed for the 1986 Stoke National Garden Festival, the Hall was restored to its eighteenth-century appearance as the centrepiece of the site, and in the following years it was incorporated into a new hotel.

Ironville

King William Street, Ironville, Derbyshire (1973)
Victoria Street, Ironville, Derbyshire (1973)

The catalogue of British industrial model villages, constructed by employers enlightened or desperate enough to provide better-quality habitations to attract workers, usually includes, give or take one or another, such names as –

  • Cromford, Derbyshire (1771)
  • New Lanark, Lanarkshire (1783)
  • Styal, Cheshire (1784)
  • Swindon, Wiltshire (1842)
  • Copley, West Yorkshire (1849)
  • Saltaire, West Yorkshire (1854)
  • Akroyden, West Yorkshire (1859)
  • Bournville, Birmingham (1879)
  • Port Sunlight, Wirral (1888)
  • New Earswick, York (1901)

Such lists rarely include Ironville, Derbyshire, begun by the Butterley Company in 1834, largely because the historic village is no longer recognisable for what it was.

The Butterley ironworks was founded in 1790 by the engineers of the Cromford Canal, William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805), in partnership with the canal-company solicitor, Francis Beresford, and the Nottingham banker John Wright.

The enterprise was founded literally on the discovery of rich coal and ironstone deposits during the building of the Butterley canal tunnel.

The ironworks traded on demand generated by the wars with France from 1792 onwards, but produced only pig iron and cast iron.  Land was purchased in 1796 at Codnor Park, a couple of miles down the canal, for a forge and rolling mill to manufacture wrought iron.

Within ten years four limekilns and a row of eleven cottages called Limekiln Row had been built at Codnor Park, soon followed by the forge and another thirteen cottages, Forge Row.

Further land on the site that was to become Ironville was used to construct two rows each of sixteen cottages, Furnace Row and Foundry Row, completed in 1813.

King William Street was laid out in 1834, with its forty-eight two-up-two-down terraced houses, alongside and similar to Furnace and Foundry Rows, and its public house, the King William IV.

In the following years, street after street appeared – Victoria Street (1837), then Albert Street, Tank Street and Meadow Street, followed by the distinctive three-storey “Big Six”, the biggest houses in Ironville.

The final development in the 1850s and 1860s was the Market Place and Queen Street, larger houses built on the cinder bank that served to fill in a former clay pit.

The new settlement offered a high standard of amenity.  By the late 1840s King William Street boasted a chemist, a draper, a baker and a stationer who published the Ironville Telegraph newspaper.   By 1886 there were twenty-four shops, including the sole branch of the Codnor Park & Ironville Equitable & Industrial Co-operative Society, though to be the smallest retail co-operative society in Britain.

The National School was opened in 1841 and enlarged in 1850.  The Mechanics’ Institute, designed by the Derby architect Henry Isaac Stevens, opened in 1846 and was later used as the Butterley Company Colliery offices.  Christ Church, also by H I Stevens, built at a cost of £6,000 and paid for by Francis Wright, was consecrated in 1851 and the vicarage, also by Stevens, dates from c1852. 

The 1854 Jessop Monument commemorates William Jessop II (1784-1852), son of the canal engineer.  It consists of a spacious memorial hall alongside a 70-foot-high Tuscan column with a viewing platform, reached by a spiral staircase of 150 steps.  The column was severely damaged by a lightning strike in 1861, though it continued to be used despite its precarious condition for years afterwards.  Both the column and the hall were restored in 2007, but are not accessible to the public.

Though Codnor Park and Ironville are geographically separated by the canal they always formed a unit, depending on the shops and social facilities around King William Street.  Whit Monday fêtes at the Codnor Park Memorial Hall were the highlight of the year.  Another long-standing custom, arising from an influx of Scottish ironworkers in the 1870s, was traditional Burns Night celebrations that were perpetuated into the 1960s.

Though Codnor Park Forge closed in 1965, followed by the adjacent wagon works ten years later, the Ironville community and its buildings remained largely intact until the Butterley Company was taken over by Lord Hanson’s Wiles Group in 1968.  The site of Codnor Park works was cleared by 1972. 

Though the derelict canal-side Butterley Company settlement at Golden Valley, a mile up the canal towards Butterley, was well restored by the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust in 1979-81, the streets of Ironville, which had remained largely intact, were either demolished or modernised beyond recognition, pebble-dashed and shorn of chimney stacks by Alfreton Urban District Council in 1973.

Though the resulting conversions are no doubt comfortable, they could have been comfortable and attractive if Ironville had been sympathetically restored.

Ironville was a milestone on the road to comfortable dwellings for ordinary people.  Now it’s simply a housing development, incomplete, unrecognisable, its street plan defaced, its traditions disregarded.

To see the best of nineteenth-century workers’ housing, people don’t come to Ironville; they go to Cromford, New Lanark, Swindon, Saltaire, Bournville and Port Sunlight – places that were valued and cared for.  Ironville isn’t on the list.

Elsecar

Reform Row, Elsecar, South Yorkshire

The coal mining industry created many industrial settlements across Britain, simply because coal was often found in places where there were few inhabitants.

Few of them are as elegant as Elsecar, the mining village of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate, which stands in an area where the Barnsley seam could be anything up to nine feet thick and below it the Silkstone seam, up to six feet thick. 

The “black diamonds” were mined on behalf of the Marquis of Rockingham from before 1750.

When the Dearne & Dove Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1793 two branches, each leading to feeder reservoirs, were provided to Worsborough and Elsecar. 

Lord Rockingham’s successor, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, opened the Elsecar New Colliery in 1795, and the branch canal reached the colliery site shortly after 1799. 

The village was subsequently laid out as a model of good practice and enlightened self-interest by a dynasty of aristocratic coal-owners who, while very much of their time in their attitudes to – for instance – trade unionism, seem to have taken a sincere, paternalistic interest in their employees. 

The sturdy stone rows of cottages, Old Row (1798), Station Row (1800), Meadow Row (c1803), Reform Row (1837) and Cobcar Terrace (1860), are solidly constructed, functional and visually attractive.  Like many buildings of the period on the Wentworth Woodhouse estate the first two terraces in Elsecar were designed by John Carr of York. 

Vegetable gardens and pig-sties were standard, and at Cobcar Terrace separate wash-houses were provided.  Rents were slightly higher than in other nearby settlements, but there seems to have been little difficulty in attracting workers to this relatively isolated spot. 

In 1850 the fifth Earl opened the distinctive and attractive Model Boarding House to attract young single miners from neighbouring coalfields:  this building housed Elsecar’s first fitted bath and hot-water geyser.

Apart from coal-mining, Elsecar has had other industrial enterprises, none of them so consistently successful.  There were two ironworks, the Elsecar Ironworks (opened in 1795 with the New Colliery) and Milton Ironworks (1803), and a short-lived tar-manufactory which gave its name to Distillery Row

The Elsecar Workshops (1859) provided the ironworks and collieries with everything “…new as regards iron and woodwork and the greater proportion of the repairs required for coal and iron mines, and all machinery, iron and heavy woodwork on the whole Estate particularly steam engines…”.

The Fitzwilliam estate provided all the substantial public buildings in the village – the Church Day School (1836;  closed 1852 but still forming part of Distillery Side Cottages), the Elsecar Steam Flour Mill (1841-2), Holy Trinity Parish Church (1843), the Gas Works (1857, behind Old Row, now demolished except for the Manager’s House), and the Market Hall (1870, renamed Milton Hall after alterations, 1922).

The South Yorkshire Railway reached Elsecar in 1850, vastly widening the available markets. 

Amidst the rows of coal-wagons and the bustle of shunting, one strange feature underlined the intimate relationship between the colliery and its owners – Earl Fitzwilliam’s private railway-station (1870), which still stands in the middle of the village virtually next to the mine, from which would set forth the Earl, his family and guests in their special railway carriage, having travelled by horse-drawn coach from the Palladian splendours of Wentworth Woodhouse.

In the years since the mining industry went into decline, Elsecar has reinvented itself as a tourist site, based around the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which incorporates Earl Fitzwilliam’s private station, the Elsecar Heritage Railway and the only surviving in situ Newcomen pumping engine in the world.

North Street

North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)
North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1977)

Richard (later Sir Richard) Arkwright came to Cromford in Derbyshire seeking water to power his cotton-spinning factory despite the sparse population of lead-miners and agricultural labourers.

Not only did he need to import labour to keep his spinning machines turning day and night, but he and his partners had difficulty initially in persuading weavers to accept the relatively coarse thread that the water frame produced.

Ideally, he needed to employ his own weavers, preferably with large families, so that the men could weave at home in what was still a domestic trade, while their wives and children could with their delicate fingers tend the spinning machines in the mill.

Accordingly, Arkwright advertised in the Derby Mercury in December 1771 for “Weavers residing in this Neighbourhood” as well as offering “Employment…for Women, Children, &c and good Wages”.

This practice is reflected in the architecture of North Street (1776), one of the very first examples of planned industrial housing in England, sixteen plus eleven three-storey gritstone houses with distinctive loom-windows on the top floor of each house. Evidence of further weaving-facilities exists at the Mill, where a three-storey loom shop still survives. 

Each of the North Street houses had a designated garden.  When the loom shops were no longer needed, the long top-floor windows were reduced in size:  the uninsulated rooms must have been extremely cold in winter.

The design of the North Street terraces has survived intact, though in the late 1960s Matlock Rural District Council intended to demolish the houses until dissuaded by a campaign led by Professor J D Chambers of Nottingham University.

The historic significance of Cromford as a whole was first recognised by the Arkwright Festival of 1971, a celebration of the bicentenary of the founding of the mills. 

During the 1970s North Street was rescued by the Ancient Monuments Society and one of the houses, no 10, was restored by the Landmark Trust and is now available as a self-catering holiday let.

The Festival committee became the Arkwright Society, which has spearheaded the growth of academic and tourist interest in what became the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in 2001.

The two books to consult about this fascinating area are The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership 2001) and Doreen Buxton & Chris Charlton, Cromford Revisited (Derwent Valley Mills Partnership, 2015).

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 The ‘Derbyshire Derwent Valley’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.