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.
Avoncroft is a collection of old buildings that have been rescued from demolition and decay then transported to a site near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire. It contains structures from all over the West Midlands and from seven centuries.
There’s housing, agricultural and industrial buildings, a toll office, chapel, windmill, 1940s prefab and even a fibreglass church spire.
Working life is represented with workshops from Black Country chain making and nail making. These are not the huge manufacturing units of the late Industrial Revolution but the small, household workshops where every member of the family was expected to contribute to the work – including women and children.
The Museum was founded in 1964 following an unsuccessful attempt to preserve a listed Tudor house in Bromsgrove from demolition. Campaigners managed to save only the timbers but the Merchant’s House became the first exhibit to be restored and reconstructed on site.
As well as buildings it is possible to see old skills and industries recreated at the museum. There are also regular costumed re-enactment days. And for the communications enthusiast the museum houses the national collection of telephone boxes – including a Tardis!