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.