Arkwright’s Mill, Cromford

Cromford Mill is a water powered cotton spinning mill and is located in the village of Cromford very close to Matlock Bath. It was the very first successful industrial scale cotton production factory and the first cotton spinning mill to be powered by water. It has had tremendous influence on the cotton industry throughout history as well as the Industrial Revolution, and is considered one of the first modern factories.

It was built by English entrepreneur Richard Arkwright, whose name resonates throughout the local communities of Matlock and Matlock Bath because of his influence on the area. He and his business partners operating at the mill in 1772, however most of the work was thought to be mostly experimental at first, until Arkwright filled a patent for a carding machine in 1775. This enabled him to turn raw cotton into yarn and Arkwright’s infamous water frame, which he patented in 1769, launched a mass production of cotton, making Arkwright his business partners a small fortune.

He later built or leased a number of mills throughout the country, including Masson Mill in Matlock Bath, and his cotton production process was adopted by other entrepreneurs in Britain and abroad. He later lost his patents, but most of the water powered cotton spinning mills worldwide were built under his licence.

After his death in 1792, the Cromford Mill passed to his son Robert Arkwright junior and the mill was owned by the Arkwright family until the early 20th century but ceased to function as a cotton spinning mill in the late 19th century. The mill buildings were largely rebuilt but a large part was beautifully restored to their original appearance in the late 20th and early 21st century. The machinery was either sold or given to museums but most of it was destroyed. The buildings of the former cotton spinning mills were used for other purposes while a part functioned as a dye factory, which operated right up until 1979. Once the dye factory closed its doors, the buildings of the former cotton spinning mill were bought by the Arkwright society, which was established in 1971.

This society decided to restore the buildings, in contrary to general conviction that it was best to abolish them. The society began a long and very costly restoration process which up to now has cost about £4 million. They have succeeded in restoring the former Arkwright mills and in 2001, UNESCO declared the Cromford Mill and other cotton mills in the Derwent Valley as a world Heritage site of Derwent Valley Mills. The mills stretch over 24 km in the Derwent Valley and cover an area of 12.3 km². The site consists of four main sites which besides the Cromford Mill, also include mills in Belper, Milford on Darley Abbey. In addition to the mills themselves, the world heritage site of Derwent Valley Mills also comprises workers buildings and structures that were related to the mills including the Cromford Canal and Cromford and High Peak Railway.

None of the mills function as cotton spinning mills but they do testify about the technological progress during the early phase of the Industrial Revolution, and also about their impact on social economic life in the area.