An interesting afternoon exploring a small part of the Industrial Revolution
Sir Richard Arkwright’s CROMFORD MILLS
Described by many as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, this cluster of old mill buildings stand testament to a man of vision who changed the face of industrial; manufacturing. The Mills at Cromford are just one group of Mills that follow the River Derwent down from Cromford to Derby and now designated a World Heritage Site.
Richard Arkwright was the son of a Barber and Wig Maker, a profession that he followed for several years during which he travelled and studied the industrial England of the 1700’s. It was during this time that he conceived the concept of mechanised mass manufacture, enabling a continuous process from Raw material to finished product to take place in one place. Born in Preston Lancashire in 1732, he lived for barely 60 years, he died in 1792. But during that time he achieved a great deal and despite financial struggles to achieve his vision he built the mills , invented automated water powered mass manufacturing machines, built a village for his workers, added a family Church, invested in Canals and Railways, accumulated great wealth, and was knighted Sir Richard Arkwright……Oh!..and he also built himself a Castle overlooking his empire.
( (c)Part of the Cromford Mills Arkwright Experience Exhibition)
Even today Cromford would seem an unlikely spot for such major industrial development, so I guess in the 1700’s it would have seemed even more unlikely. But Arkwright chose wisely. The area of South Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire had already established reputation for skills in weaving. But Arkwright also needed the guaranteed supply of water to power his manufacturing vision. Lead Mining was a key industry around Cromford and Arkwright secured the water rights of a Mining Sough (a water channel used to drain the mines) that together with the Bonsall Brook that flows into the Derwent at Cromford were engineered into storage lagoon and from there directed to various waterwheels that supplied the power for the machines that Arkwright invented to convert cotton and spin it into yarn.
Today the buildings that surround the Factory Yard are skeletons of what they once were, a place for ghosts from the past to linger for it must have been a tough working environment…..but they now host several Exhibitions describing various stages in the Mills working life, an Audio Visual Show, Gift Shops and Art Gallery , plus working Studio Offices for a number of local businesses….and also the very important Cafe.
Across the entire site there are plenty of interpretation and information boards so you can ‘Do it Yourself’ or join one of the well informed Guides on a Tour.
Despite all that information it is hard to visualise the hurly burly times when Cromford Mills were at there productive busiest making industrial history. His achievements also spurred other industrial entrepreneurs into following suite, resulting in a cluster of Mills and Weavers along the Derwent Valley. Not bad for a Lancashire Lad of humble origin.
Well worth a visit.
(C) David Oakes 2016