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Cromford Mill and Sir Richard Arkwright

Cromford Mill is the site of the first water powered cotton mill and is an important site in the Industrial Revolution. In December 2001 the Derwent valley between Matlock Bath - a few miles to the north of Cromford - and Derby was granted World Heritage Site status and is known as the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

Sir Richard Arkwright, the owner of the mill was born in 1732 in Preston. He was the youngest of 13 children from a poor family. Although in his early working life he was a barber and a wig maker in Bolton, he is best remembered as the father of the factory system.

In association with John Kay, he perfected a roller spinning machine that came to be called a 'water frame' which was superior to the spinning jenny invented in 1761 by James Hargreaves. Richard Arkwright came to Cromford in 1771 where he found an ample workforce and the River Derwent that would provide the necessary power for the water powered mill. The mill was a great success, and other cotton mills followed; Cressbrook in 1779, Bakewell in 1782, and Masson (Matlock) in 1783.

Although initially there was a sufficient workforce in this farming and mining community, increases in production required families to be enticed into the area. Arkwright built cottages, a school, a chapel and a hotel for his workers. Terraced 3-storey building, constructed in 1776 for his workers, can still be seen in North Street. Arkwright was forward thinking for his time. He built a school so that his child workers could read and write.

In 1786 he was knighted and became High Sheriff of Derbyshire.

In the twenty years to his death, in 1792, he had made sufficient fortune to have personally paid off the national debt!

He died in 1792 and was initially buried at Matlock. His remains were later moved to Saint Mary's Church at Cromford. Saint Mary's was a private chapel for Willersley Castle that was to have been his new Cromford residence.

In Arkwright's day, any one who could bring the spinning machine technology to the United States, was offered a reward. So keen were the British government to monopolise the technology, they enacted laws to make it illegal for textile workers to emigrate from England. However, Samuel Slater, who was born in Derbyshire, illegally emigrated to the United States, taking the spinning machine knowledge with him. It was in the US that he reputedly reconstructed Arkwright's spinning machine from memory and in 1790 founded the first cotton mill, thus starting the United State's cotton textile industry.

Cromford Mill is a World Heritage Site. The Arkwright Society purchased the site in 1979 and has been restoring it. The project has supported from Derbyshire County Council and the Derbyshire Dales District Council. The mill opens everyday and has a visitors centre, shops and cafe.

Cromford Meadows Steam Rally

During one weekend in Cromford Meadows, usually the first weekend in August, is the site of the Cromford Steam Rally. The profits from this rally are donated to charity. In the past, charities which have benefited range from the national 'Children in Need' to local children and the elderly.

Please note that the Cromford Steam Rally no longer takes place in Cromford! It takes place at Brackenfield which is about one mile east of Matlock. The new location is on the A615 Matlock to Alfreton road. It is a larger site that the one at Cromford. For details of this event see Brackenfield Events.

For fothcoming and past events in Cromford see Cromford Events.

A walk around Cromford

Wheelchair access is 5 out of 10Let's take a leisurely stroll.

Returning to the road and turning right, in less than 50 metres, there is a bridge over the river Derwent. This bridge was originally built in the 15th century and as such is one of the oldest bridges in Derbyshire. It is interesting that the arches to the bridge are rounded on the upstream side, yet pointed on the downstream side! This is due to a widening of the bridge.

On the downstream parapet, at the A6 end of the bridge, there is an inscription 'THE LEAP OF M..IH MARE JUNE 1697', which records the unplanned feat of Benjamin Hayward's horse, which, in June 1697 failed to negotiate the bend and leapt over the parapet. It was reported that the mare landed safely and Benjamin Hayward remained in the saddle despite the drop of about 8 metres (25 feet) from the bridge to the river below.

Looking upstream, inside the bend of the river can be seen Willersley Castle. This was built for Sir Richard Arkwright, but was not finished until 1793, a year after his death.

The small building at the A6 side of the bridge has the Latin inscription 'Piscatoribus Sacrum', which means that this is a fishing temple.

Returning to the car park note that it is at the end of and about 10 feet below the level of the Cromford Canal.

The canal was opened in 1793 and linked Arkwright's Mill to the major Midland and Northern cities. Like many canals, its use soon declined as the traffic moved onto the railways.

The section between Cromford and Ambergate was built in 1794 by William Jessop. In 1944 all traffic ceased along the canal. Derbyshire Council acquired this section as an amenity in 1974.

Follow the canal along the tow path. Until 1991, during summer weekends, the Cromford Canal Society ran a horse drawn narrow boat along this section of the canal.

After about a 30 minute leisurely stroll, High Peak Junction is reached. There are an information centre, picnic site, and public conveniences here.

Also, at this point all the major transport systems of Britain meet. There is a road (A6), two railways (Derby-Matlock which is still in use and the High Peak Railway which no longer exists), and a canal (the Cromford canal).

About 200 metres further on, the Leawood Pumping Station is reached. This used to pump water from the River Derwent up to the canal, a height of 30 feet. In its day, it could pump 4 tonnes of water on each stroke, 7 times per minute. This is about 35 kW (or 50 horsepower). To put this in perspective, even the small cars on the road today have engines capable of producing over 50 horsepower.

The pumping engine is a Watts beam engine and was built in 1849.

Nowadays, the Engine house is open to the public, and on certain days, it will be in steam. When in steam, it still pumps water from the river to the canal. In 2016 the steam days will be the first weekend in the months of June, July, August and October. It will also be open on Sunday and Monday of the Bank Holiday weekends at Easter, May bank holiday and August Bank holiday. Additional dates include 17th and 18th September and World Heritage Site Discovery Days on 29th and 30th October.

The canal goes on for several kilometres but most of it is not suitable for navigation. Butterley Tunnel some 14 kilometres (9 miles) distant by water, 9 kilometres (6 miles) as the crow flies, collapsed in 1900 and was never reopened. The Cromford to Ambergate section of the canal has been owned by the Derbyshire County Council since 1974 since which time the Cromford Canal Society has been restoring it.

Return back to the information centre.

At the side of the information centre is a disused inclined railway. The line was built to connect the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge (SK 012 816).

Originally, it was planned to link the canals with a third canal, but the difficulties involved would have been prohibitively expensive so the designers choose a 'new' railway solution. However, the canal theme lived on, and all the stations were called wharfs.

The Cromford and High Peak Railway Company started running trains in May 1830 between Cromford and Hurdlow (SK 127 661), a distance of 25 kilometres (15.5 miles). This section, plus another 3 kilometres (2 miles) to Dowlow (SK 103 677) is now open to the public as a footpath and cycle way and is known as the 'High Peak Trail'. The section from Hurdlow to Whaley Bridge was opened in July 1831 giving a total length of 53 kilometres (33 miles). It took 16 hours to travel the whole length of the line! The section from Hurdlow to Whaley Bridge does NOT have public access.

The High Peak Railway Company bought the Cromford canal in 1852.

The line closed after the Beeching report. The last scheduled service on the line was 21st April 1967 and an 'enthusiasts' special ran on Sunday 30th April 1967. (Although a sign in the Information Office gives the impression that the last service was the 2nd April 1967).

If there is plenty of available time, it is well worth walking up the High Peak Railway. Yes, UP. At this point, the High Peak Railway is at a steep angle. Trains were hauled by cable up the first part of the line.

The track goes under the A6, after which it enters the sunken catch pit to halt runaways, and there is still a wagon in it from the runaway in September 1965. The wagon is well buried deep in the bottom left hand side of the pit right way up but tilted right to the line of the incline. Until 1999 it was and covered with weeds and rubbish but now it has been exposed more, tidied up a bit and a wooden fence erected to preserve it for future generations of visitors. (Information kindly supplied by Dave Bran)

Looking through a grill in the footway by the Cromford Workshop building it is possible to see the idler wheel. This is the unpowered wheel that the cable went around. The power that moved the cable is at the top of the incline.

The walk to the top of the incline is about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) each way, and a climb of 150 metres (490 feet). At the top of the incline there is the old winding house. There is no engine in it anymore. However, it is an excellent viewpoint of the surrounding area. Matlock Bath can easily be found by looking for the cable cars. Close by, and dominating the picnic site, is the Black Rocks. This is an evocative Millstone Grit outcrop, 25 metres (80 feet) high, and is very popular with climbers.

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Well that's the legal stuff sorted.

Should you decline to comply with this warning, a leather winged demon of the night will soar from the deep malevolent caverns of the white peak into the shadowy moonlit sky and, with a thirst for blood on its salivating fangs, search the very threads of time for the throbbing of your heartbeat. Just thought you'd want to know that.

Last Updated : Friday, 01-Feb-2019
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