Richard Arkwright – Cromford Mill

I’m fascinated by history, by the great things people have achieved and by the stories they have left behind. While I type this I immediately think back to one of my trips to Australia, I had been researching the history of that great land and knew that I had to visit Botany Bay where Captain James Cook first landed on saturday 28 April 1770. As I sat there alone by the water’s edge at La Perouse in deep thought I could just picture the ships out in the bay… Thankfully back in blighty if I want to experience some great historic sites I don’t have to travel so far, there is a local landmark that has world wide significance right on my door step. The place I’m talking about is Cromford Mill that was built by the legendary father of industry Sir Richard Arkwright, just 1 year after that famous Captain landed in Australia.

Sir Richard Arkwright's Mill Number 2 at Cromford
Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill Number 2 at Cromford

I feel ashamed to say that as I live so close to this great place I have passed it bye many many times, I never really gave it a thought when I was younger and I do regret that now. Cromford Mill is a very popular place for local schools to visit, sadly I missed out on that trip as I had moved for one year to a small village near Stocksbridge in Sheffield at the time. I really should have visited before, like I say I had passed so many times and kept telling myself I would stop one day for a look. Today, I decided it was high time to come and learn some of the great history this place holds.

Sir Richard Arkwright's Mill Number 1 at Cromford
Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill Number 1 at Cromford

I knew about Sir Richard Arkwright, how could I not. The history lessons at school covered him in great detail, I must admit it was great to finally be stood inside the court yard of the place this great man created. The weather today was perfect, a fresh autumnal morning and the sun was casting a great light over the area. I walked to stand beside the watercourse and recorded an AudioBoo.

So here are the facts. Cromford Mill was the first water-powered cotton spinning mill developed by Mr Arkwright. The power of the water from Bonsal Brook and Cromford Sough were harnessed to power his patented Water Frame. The patent was later over turned as it was found that the design was sold to him by a gentleman called John Kay, a clock maker and mechanic who had helped Thomas Highs build the original invention of the water frame. It was Arkwright however who made the system work and housed it in Mill number one in 1771 creating the worlds first factory. A second larger mill was built at Cromford between 1776 and 1777.

Steve Messam's Twisted in Number 1 Mill at Cromford
Steve Messam’s Twisted in Number 1 Mill at Cromford

The Mill buildings have seen many uses over the years, Water shortages began to become a problem in the second half of the 19th century so they were diversified. One housed a laundry, others a brewery, then the site was eventually sold on to a company who produced colour pigment for paint. Thankfully however, the entire site is now owned by the Arkwright Society. They have set themselves the task of returning it to its former glory to provide an educational resource and to preserve this great historic place. They have stripped away some of the newer buildings that were not part of the original plan and you can find out more on their great website at http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk/. They have done such a great job that the site has been recognised by UNESCO and is now part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

Steve Messam's "Twisted" in Number 1 Mill at Cromford
Steve Messam’s “Twisted” in Number 1 Mill at Cromford

Inside Mill number one there is currently an Art installation that was designed by Steve Messam and is called “Twisted”. It is 70,000 metres of Red polyester thread, 2 frames at either end of the building are connected by thousands of red thread and it twists half way down. It looks like some kind of vortex as you look down the centre towards the other side of the Mill.

Inside Mill number 2 which was finished in 1777 there is a room which houses a great exhibition/museum of facts about the history of Mr Arkwright and his work along the Derwent Valley. It was great to wander around and learn some great facts and fill in some of the blanks in my knowledge about the man and his work. For some reason I had always thought the mill had been powered by the River Derwent but thankfully that miss information was corrected here today, As I mentioned earlier it was actually powered by Cromford Sough and Bonsal Brook… You Learn something new every day, which is the way I like it 🙂

The Original Mill Bell from 1771
The Original Mill Bell from 1771

I’m so pleased I visited today, after walking the Derwent Valley Heritage Way and my walk last week from Cromford to Via Gellia I knew I had to visit the Mills. If you haven’t visited I would highly recommend you go and you can find more information over at http://www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk/, http://www.derwentvalleymills.org/ and http://www.cromfordmill.co.uk/.

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