Derwent Valley Mills
Derwent Valley Mills
Cultural United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland Europe And North America Derbyshire, England

Derwent Valley in central England saw the birth of the factory system, when new types of building were erected to house the new technology for spinning cotton developed by Richard Arkwright in the early 19th century. There was large-scale industrial production in a hitherto rural landscape. The need to provide housing and other facilities for workers and managers resulted in the creation of the first industrial towns.

The valley contains a series of 18th- and 19th-century cotton mills and an industrial landscape of high historical and technological significance. The industrial-scale production and the workers' housing associated illustrate the socio-economic development of the area. The construction in 1721 at Derby in the English East Midlands of a water-driven mill to manufacture silk thread was a very significant event in the Industrial Revolution. This was the work of Richard Arkwright, who in the 1760s successfully developed a machine for spinning cotton. He formed a partnership with silk manufacturer Jedediah Strutt. They selected Cromford, a village upstream of the river Derwent from Derby, for his first mill, work on which began in 1772. Arkwright also made provision for his workforce, mostly children. In order to attract them and their parents, he developed the village of Cromford. Weavers were invited to live in the houses that he built, their children working in the spinning mills and the parents weaving calico from Arkwright's cotton on the topmost floors.

The Evans brothers began building a cotton mill at Darley Abbey, just north of Derby, in 1782, in the beginning in partnership with Richard Arkwright. It was completed around 1786, but burned down two years later. Its replacement was constructed immediately and was considerably enlarged. The company diversified its production, eventually giving up spinning, and it is now the home for a number of small businesses.

Like Arkwright and the Strutt brothers, the Evans family provided a community for their workers. The late 1820s saw the beginning of a progressive decline in the fortunes of both mills. In 1979 it had suffered two fires and much alteration. It is now home to a range of small businesses, as well as a popular heritage attraction. The Masson Mill, by contrast, was modernized in the late 1880s and was in continuous operation until 1992. Now the complete property consists of a continuous strip 24 km long, from the edge of Matlock Bath in the north almost to the centre of Derby in the south. It includes four industrial settlements:

  • The Cromford Mill Complex and Matlock Bath, including Masson Mill, Upper Mill (1771) and Lower Mill of 1776;there are a number of other industrial buildings within the complex with various original functions: warehouses, workshops, a loom shop, mill managers' houses, etc. The Cromford Canal, built in the 1790s, ran 23.5km to join Erewash Canal, as part of a through route to Manchester.
  • Belper is located halfway between Cromford and Derby and is formed by Belper North Mill (1804) and East Mill (1912). Its houses are built from gritstone or locally made brick and roofed with Welsh slate. They are laid out in rows, largely on an east-west alignment and in various forms as the company experimented with different designs. There is also the Chapel and Chapel Cottage (1788).
  • In Milford (1781) little remains of the industrial buildings following a radical clearance operation around 1960, but much of the industrial housing survives intact. The houses, many of them in rows because of the topography of the area, are in a range of styles. Some are earlier farmhouses that were purchased by the company and converted into multiple dwellings. The public buildings established by the Strutts include schools, churches, and public houses.
  • Darley Abbey lies 2km north of Derby City Centre. It was an industrial hamlet, with fulling mills, corn mills, and a forge, by the mid-17th century, and these had grown by the early 1770s to five water-powered mills - a paper mill, a corn mill, two flint mills (for porcelain production) and a leather mill.