Skip to main content

The start of it all: Derbyshire's industrial heritage

Where would we be without the Industrial Revolution? 

Derby Silk Mill c.1910, via Wikimedia Commons

The development of factories changed our world beyond imagining.  People worked in different ways, ate different food, expected different lives, bought different possessions.  The effects were so wide-ranging that it's astounding to realise that it all came back to a few men in a few places on a small island in the North Sea.  Over the couple of centuries from 1750 to 1950, Great Britain burned coal, harnessed steam power, invented machines, built mills, and had an industrial output out of all proportion to its size.  Once you try and wrap your head around the magnitude of what happened here, it's just incredible.

And Derbyshire was in at the very beginning of all that.  The first factories, buildings made just to do one job, over and over again.  The development of the idea that one water wheel could drive all the machinery in that factory.  The employment of women and children to work to the rhythms of the machines, day and night.  The disputes between those who worked and those who pocketed the profits.  The heat.  The noise.  The injuries.  And the ideas which spread all over the world.


Most of the mills are quiet now.  Lumsdale Valley, near Matlock, is so tranquil that it's hard to imagine it ever being a hive of industry.  A cluster of stone buildings tumble down the slope beside a splashing stream.  Only their names hint at their previous existence: the paint mill, the bleaching works, the saw mill.  The earliest date back to the 1600s, probably; by 1780 things had really got going, and there were half a dozen small businesses drawing power off this one small section of the Bentley Brook.



A little further south, at Cromford, the entrepreneur Richard Arkwright also harnessed the power of falling water.  In 1772 he built the first successful cotton mill in the world.  His spinning machines ran 24 hours a day, attended by hundreds of women and children.  It made his fortune, and it made anyone else who was at all interested in this new technology sit up and take notice.  Everyone wanted a mill like Arkwright's mill.  And pretty soon, it must have seemed like everyone had one.



Meanwhile down in Derby, Lombe's silk mill had been running for years.  It was already a tourist attraction by the 1770s.  Making silk had been the Italians' closely guarded secret for a long time, but John Lombe had gone to work in the silk industry there, slipping downstairs at night to make drawings of the machinery, and come home to England to build his own silk mill.  The new building on the River Derwent, with its distinctive tower, was one of the first factories in Britain.  The Italians had their revenge, though: Lombe's death in 1722 was thought to be the work of an Italian assassin, sent to poison him.



Now the Lumsdale Valley is a pleasant walk, the Cromford Mills are a tourist attraction, and the Silk Mill is a museum, currently draped in poppies as a memorial to World War I.  The energy and the innovation of the Industrial Revolution has dissipated.  So has the smoke and the squalor.  But the legacy lasts, not only in these buildings, but in almost every way we live our lives.  Here was the start of it all.  And it hasn't ended yet.

Comments

George said…
Derbyshire has a wealth of experience when it comes to industry, this including the various mill complexes, canal and railway lines. Many of which are still in use today. This showing the fine workmanship and craftsmanship that Derbyshire prides itself in.

Suncoast Precision Tools

Popular posts from this blog

Dove Valley Walk: finding the mouth of the Dove

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Way was really just a fill-in walk until I could start my next big excursion. Gloopy though the BPC was, I knew it wouldn't actually be flooded, whereas the bits of ground I was tackling next had had ducks paddling on them for most of the winter.   The grand plan is to start from my house in Findern, reaching the start of the River Dove. I can then follow the Dove to Uttoxeter, making up my own route, as this section has no official waymarked path. At Uttoxeter I join the Staffordshire Way up to Rocester, then the Limestone Way beyond that. It stays near the Dove for a while longer. Then it cuts across the southern Peak District to reach Matlock. At Matlock I can pick up the Derwent Valley Heritage Way, heading south through Derby to reach the River Trent at Shardlow. The Trent has its own relatively new Way, leading back to Repton and then, eventually, home. The map shows a rough idea of the route. If only it would stop raining long enough for me to get a

Dove Valley Walk: Marston from both directions

Marston-on-Dove consists of about three farms and a church. If you live more than ten miles away, you've probably never heard of it. Bizarrely, the church is the parish church for Hilton, which is now many times Marston's size after a bunch of houses were built on an old MoD base. Marston Lane bridge  Marston also has a bridge over the River Dove. I walked from Egginton and crossed it north to south, then walked from Tutbury and crossed it south to north. I think I can now consider that bridge pretty well crossed off my list! Walk 1: Egginton to Marston Having visited Claymills Pumping Station , I now know that Egginton used to be dominated by the stench of Burton's sewage, which was pumped up here to be spread across some fields in the hope that it would magically disappear. It didn't. It sat there and stank.  We don't seem to have learned many lessons about making bad things magically disappear (see also: plastic, nuclear waste) but at least sewage treatment has p

A Place at the Table: Spiritual Formation Book 12

"God has ordained in his great wisdom and goodness that eating, and especially eating in company, should be one of the most profound and pleasurable aspects of being human." Miranda Harris had been intending to write a book for years. She'd got as far as a folder full of notes when she died suddenly in a car accident in 2019. When her daughter, Jo Swinney, found the notes, she decided to bring her mum's dream to fruition. A Place at the Table was the result. I thought this was going to be a nice friendly book about having people over for dinner. In one sense it is, but it's pretty hard-hitting as well. Miranda and her husband Peter co-founded the environmental charity A Rocha, so the book doesn't shy away from considering the environmental aspects of what we eat and how we live. They also travelled widely and encountered hunger at close quarters; the tension between seeing such poverty and believing in a generous God comes out clearly in A Place at the Table.