We used Cromford Mill as a lunch-stop on the recent Waterways & Railways across the Derbyshire Peak tour. The Cromford Canal starts – for significant historical reasons – alongside the mills, and it was the most logical location for a lunch break between exploring the canal in the morning and moving on to its dizzy adjunct, the Cromford & High Peak Railway, in the afternoon.
It also gave the group members a brief opportunity to experience one of the most remarkable conservation projects in a remarkable area, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Turn up as a tourist, and Arkwright’s Mill [https://www.cromfordmills.org.uk] provides an excellent café, numerous shopping opportunities and a world-class historic site that will be better interpreted when the new £2.5 million interpretation centre is finished.
Here is one of the “cradles of the Industrial Revolution”, where Richard Arkwright, as he then was, came in 1771 looking for sufficient water-power to drive his newly-patented spinning frame, which eventually took its place as one of the inventions that transformed the British textile industry. It wasn’t exactly the first water-powered factory in the world – the Derby Silk Mill started work in 1704 – but Arkwright’s mills at Cromford, and the community that grew around this remote spot, pioneered the development of cotton and woollen towns across Britain and the world.
Further down the Derwent valley Arkwright’s associates built the mills at Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey; Arkwright himself extended his operations to Wirksworth, Bakewell and into Lancashire and Scotland. Robert Owen’s New Lanark, Titus Salt’s Saltaire are in direct line of descent. There is a version of Cromford at Ratingen in Germany, and another at Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which was started by a Strutt apprentice from Belper called Samuel Slater (otherwise “Slater the Traitor”).
When I first knew Cromford well, helping out at the bicentennial Arkwright Festival in 1971, the cotton mills were a workaday, heavily polluted colour works, nobody visited Cromford except for occasional industrial archaeologists and, less than a decade before, Matlock Rural District Council had firm plans to demolish much of North Street (1776), one of the very first examples of planned industrial housing in the world.
That so much has been achieved to transform Cromford into an internationally significant tourist site is largely the work of the Arkwright Society, led for many years by Dr Chris Charlton, and still working hard to develop further one of the most fascinating stretches of historical clandscape in Britain.
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.