Nowadays I just tell people I live near Robin Hood. The fox with the bear friend, that’s him. For those who might have heard of Derby, its reputation as a run-down backwater lumbering in Nottingham’s shadow is too popular to avoid.
Yes, sheep are plentiful in the Peak District. Yes, Langley Mill is notorious as a stronghold for the British National Party and National Front. And yes, Rolls Royce still develops aeroplane engines in its Derby factories. However, it doesn’t take a lot of digging to uncover some much more impressive features of Derbyshire. For now I’ll focus on just one: the UNESCO Heritage listed Derwent Valley Mills.
The Derwent Valley Mills sit, as the name suggests, along the River Derwent. Derbyshire’s longest river, the Derwent runs through the county from its source in Bleaklow, to finally join the River Trent at Derwent Mouth in Shardlow, South Derbyshire. So far, so ordinary.
The Derwent, however, deviated from obscurity in the 18th century, thanks to the technological developments of England’s industrial pioneers. In 1721 the Lombe brothers built the Silk Mill next to the River Derwent in Derby city centre. True to its name, the Silk Mill was a factory that held machines for throwing silk, which could then be easily transported down the river.
Later in the century Richard Arkwright came to Derbyshire, developed the Spinning Frame – a machine for preparing cotton – and set up a factory in Cromford along with partner Jedediah Strutt. Situated next to the Derwent, Arkwright’s device was powered by the running water of the river and hence became known as the Water Frame.
Following the success of Cromford Mill, Arkwright built factories in Cressbrook, Bakewell and Matlock Bath, all situated higher up the Derwent, and also expanded his operation into Lancashire, Staffordshire and Scotland.
Such success was noted by Arkwright’s competitors, who allegedly spied on his methods and benefited from the information as they also built mills next to the Derwent – in Lea Bridge, Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey.
This industrial development formed the basis of the modern factory and was subsequently replicated the world over, hence Derwent Valley Mills’ listing as a World Heritage Site in 2001. From the Silk Mill in Derby city centre, up to Masson Mills in Matlock Bath, the Derwent Valley Mills heritage site runs 24km through the county. Masson Mills actually continued to operate in its original function right up until 1992; it is now a clothing outlet and series of conference rooms.
Remember Arkwright’s partner, Jedediah Strutt? His son Joseph operated for some time as a senior manager in the company. In 1840 Joseph gave the city of Derby its arboretum, which was Britain’s first public park.
At the northerly tip of the UNESCO site, Matlock Bath sits on the edge of the Peak District National Park. Clocking over 22 million day visits per year, the Peak District is the second most visited national park in the world (after Mount Fuji). Pushing into Cheshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire, the Peak District covers 555 square miles and was the first national park in the British Isles to be designated so. However, this gem is so awesome that it deserves its own post, so we’ll leave it there for now.
Talk about grand claims…Britain’s first public park, first national park and birthplace of the industrial revolution? Why doesn’t Derbyshire get more recognition? Does it shoot itself in the foot by constructing shopping centres, cutting arts funding and mismanaging estates? Surely not…either way, it’s not for me to say. What do you guys think?
Photo credits: (1) http://www.flickr.com/photos/donna_rutherford/ (2)&(3) http://www.flickr.com/photos/dexter_mixwith/ (4) http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbmexplorer/ (5) http://www.flickr.com/photos/nedtrifle/ (6) http://www.flickr.com/photos/49015875@N00/ (7) http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisschoenbohm/with/4986318633/