Richard Arkwright was born in Preston, Lancashire, a self-educated man whose career began as a barber and wigmaker, for which he was reputed to use genuine human hair. His industrial knowledge led him to adopt the idea of a water-powered spinning machine that he patented in 1769. Called the water frame, the machine allowed mechanisation of what had previously been a cottage industry and brought spinning into the factory age. By 1782 he employed more than 5,000 workers in his cotton mills.
In 1775 he patented a carding engine, based on a hand-worked machine that had been invented earlier by Lewis Paul. Arkwright’s machine incorporated a crank and comb mechanism that drove the comb up and down and lifted the combed fibres onto a cylinder to create a continuous fleece for spinning.
His first mechanised mill was built at Cromford, south of Matlock in Derbyshire. The site was developed only two years after the patent for the water frame was taken out and was the first water-powered mill in the world. The complex of workshops was powered by wheels driven by the Bonsall Brook, which flows into the River Derwent close to the site.
Arkwright was also generous to his workers, in common with other industrialists of later times, and built a number of houses in the nearby village for his staff. North Street is one of the best-preserved terraces, built in approximately 1777. One of the homes is now preserved as a Landmark Trust property and is available for holiday lets.
Stainsby Mill stands on the Hardwick Hall estate in Derbyshire and is fully restored and in working order. It has a kiln, drying floor, three pairs of millstones and is driven by a cast iron waterwheel. The 17 feet diameter wheel is high breast shot, meaning that the water is delivered to it slightly above half way up so that the weight of water in the buckets drives it through gravity. The wheel in turn drives a wheel attached to the main shaft. Unusually the gearing is on the inner circumference of the wheel.
The mill leat is supplied by water from Stainsby dam as well as from Millers Pond in Hardwick Park and Stainsby Pond, which was built in 1762 specifically to boost supply to the mill.
The leat is supplied from a head on the opposite side of the road, controlled by means of the valve shown on the left. Flow through the leat – and hence the wheel speed – is controlled by means of a curtain valve across the wheel itself and worked from a handle inside the mill.
There has been a flour mill on or close to the site since the 13th century and from 1593 it was owned by Bess of Hardwick, the celebrated lady of the manor. It fell into disuse in the 1840s but was restored to working condition in 1849/50 when the present wheel, made by Kirkland of Mansfield, was fitted.
There were three pairs of stones, one of which is shown on the right. The bell on the front of the hopper was fixed to a strap thatwas released as most of the grain was milled. So the bell rang to tell the miller when the grain needed topping up. He was on the floor above and could fill the hopper through the cloth sleeve visible above the hopper.
The mill is currently owned by the National Trust.
Heage Windmill is the only stone towered, fully working, six sailed windmill remaining in the UK. It isn’t very tall, but at 410 feet above sea level it doesn’t have to be. It stands on quite a windy brow just above the village of Heage in Derbyshire, north east of the town of Belper. Although the photo shows it with only four sails it is, in fact, a six sailed mill but rot was found in one in early 2005 so a pair had to be removed to keep the balance. (If one of a pair is removed it makes the mill uneven.)
The first mention of a mill in the village is an advert in the Derby Mercury for 16 June 1791, which calls on any interested mason “inclined to undertake the stone building” to turn up at the site. The ad went on to say “all materials laid down in place” which basically means that stone for the tower was dug out of the side of the hill. Within seven years she was up for letting and in 1803 was put up for sale with an adjoining house, barn and six acres of land. By 1816 she (according to the guide book all mills are called “she”) was up for rent again, this time with only four acres alongside.
In the late 1840s the mill was bought by a pair of Sheffield brothers, Isaac and John Shore, who also bought a water mill in the valley below. They fitted a steam engine to that mill and so ensured that milling could go on in any weather – even if it was too dry to keep a mill leat running or if the wind fell. Heage is believed to have been the only village in the UK with wind and water mills owned by the same company. The Shore family still owned the mill when it closed in 1919. Heage is still used today to grind wheat and make flour but it is for tourism and not for commercial reasons. The mill is open to the public and it is possible to see the machinery in action.
Arbor Low, Derbyshire is a prehistoric henge monument, that is, it consists of a circle of stones set inside a circular ditch with a bank enclosing the complete structure. It is unclear what henges were used for but it seems likely that whatever went on there was designed to be seen only by a few chosen people. The bank around the monument would have made it impossible to see activities within the stone circle from outside. Perhaps observers sat on the inner side of the bank, but it would still have been available to only a restricted few.
The site is a Neolithic one, built around 5,000 years ago from locally quarried limestone. Superimposed on it is a burial mound dating from the Bronze Age, which was excavated in the 19th century and found to contain two urn burials. The stones would orginally have been upright but they are all now fallen over. There are a number of entrances to the circle that show as gaps in the bank and there is some evidence that a processional way might once have led from the south because there is a linear earthwork close to the southern entrance. About 250 metres away on a horizon to the south west is another Bronze Age burial mound called Gib Hill. It too lies over an earlier monument, a Neolithic long barrow that probably pre-dates the circle.
Arbor Low stands on private land behind a farm at the top of a fairly steep hill. The view from the site is extremely dramatic as it is possible to see for a very long way. Whoever built the site must either have wanted the mound to be visible from a great distance or to be able to see anyone approaching it.
In 1665 a bolt of cloth was delivered from London to the Derbyshire village of Eyam. The cloth was damp, and it was infested with plague carrying fleas.
Within days residents were dying, and the village took the courageous decision to cut itself off from the rest of the world to prevent the disease from spreading.
By November the next year 260 of the villages had died – but no-one outside the village had contracted the plague.
Only one of the victim is buried in the churchyard – the vicar’s wife. The rest were buried around the village, in their gardens and away from the centre, in a bid to stop the disease from spreading.
The nursery rhyme Ring a Ring a Roses is believed to have been inspired by the plague. It describes the symptoms – red blisters and sneezing – and the posies of flowers that people carried to ward off the illness. The perfume of flowers was believed to protect you from infection – just one of the strange ideas of the time.
Others included walnuts steeped in wine; barberries (fruit of the berberis) dried, powdered, then mixed with vinegar; or stripping the feathers from the tail of a pigeon and rubbing the bare skin on the red sores. The pigeon died in the process!
Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire is a working museum where it is possible to ride round on trams all day and see a slice of life in “the olden days”. Although there is no specific date given at the museum some visitors can remember catching trams to go to work when they were young. That probably puts it around 45 to 50 years ago. The village is quite small by comparison with others of its type (Black Country Living Museum, Blists Hill, for example) but it has a few fascinating details to discover as well as having an authentic “bygone” atmosphere with its tiled Red Lion pub, cobbled streets and enamel advertising signs. One nice touch is that visitors are given an old penny with which to buy an all-day ticket to ride on the trams.
The Tramway Museum Society has also rescued a few buildings, notably the old Derby Assembly Rooms, which once stood on a city square but now grace the Town End tram terminus that marks the start of many of the rides. Other structures rescued from around the country include a number of old Birmingham tram shelters, a horse trough and a drinking fountain. There are workshops where the tram enthusiasts repair and restore the old machines or just haul them in for a wash when they start to look grubby from their trips up and down the hill.
Even if antique transport is not for you there is still plenty to see with an old mine at the other end of the tramlines as well as a woodland walk and sculpture trail. The museum has an exhibition “Tracks in Time” with a reconstructed street scene that has plenty of historic information hidden among the replica shop fronts. Near the centre of the site is a reconstructed 1844 cast iron bridge that used to stand on the Bowes-Lyon estate at Stagenhoe Park at Ware in Hertfordshire.