Monthly Archives: February 2021

Wentworth Village

Rockingham Arms, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

The estate village of Wentworth stretches west from the boundary wall of the park to beyond the two parish churches

Most of the buildings date from the time of the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (inherited 1782, died 1833) and his successors, but the site and the medieval church are ancient.  At least two of the structures in the village contain evidence of pre-eighteenth-century construction – the timber-framed Ivy Cottage (possibly late-sixteenth century) and West Hall Fold (possibly seventeenth-century). 

Most of the houses and cottages in the village are vernacular in style, sturdily built in the local sandstone.  Green paintwork remains the clearest sign still that the dwellings share a common owner.

The more distinctive buildings include the two public houses, one of them called the Rockingham Arms, the other – the George & Dragon – providing space for the market and the annual tenants’ “feast” or fair.  There is a group of almshouses which included the boys’ school (1716), a girls’ and infants’ school (1837) and a Mechanics’ Institute or Christian working-men’s club in castellated Gothic.

Until the 8th Earl vacated the Mansion in 1949, the village of Wentworth was entirely dependent on the Fitzwilliam Estate:  only one other freeholder, Mr Pole the grocer, built in the village, and he sold his three cottages to the Estate early in the twentieth century. 

In its heyday the Fitzwilliam Estate was the dominant employer, not only in Wentworth but also in the surrounding villages of Elsecar, Nether Haugh, Scholes and Thorpe Hesley. 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the family are said to have employed roughly the same number of workers – about a hundred – in the mansion and home farm as they did in their coal mines.  Later their mineral interests became far more extensive, though up to the Second World War the house still needed sixty staff to operate.  The ancillary functions of the estate yard and timber yard continued into the 1970s.

The 10th Earl, knowing that the title would die with him for lack of a male heir, established the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Amenity Trust to take care of the village “for the benefit of the public, and in particular the inhabitants of the Parish” after his death in 1979.

By this means Wentworth remains an attractive place to visit, and an enviable place to live.

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).