Belper is a wonderful historic market town wiht a lovely meander river running through it. It’s situated in the gloriously picturesque Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which stretches from Derby’s Silk Mill to Matlock Bath Masson Mill. It provides the perfect place for exploring and shopping in the world heritage corridor and also for discovering the Peak District. Stretching 15 miles down the river valley from Matlock Bath to Derby, the series of historic mill complexes include some of the world’s first modern factories and the walk by the river is a delight on a warm spring day.
Belper was awarded the World Heritage status, becoming the only town in the East Midlands to hold this title, and of which the townspeople are very proud about, which is a true acknowledgement of both Belper and Milford’s outstanding contribution to world history. In the 18th century, the Derwent Valley saw new types of building erected proved groundbreaking technology for water powered manufacturing, many still standing, so the tourists and visitors to this gorgeous old town can still sample the delights. To attract and to keep its workforce, the mill owners also provided housing and other facilities such as schools and places of worship which resulted in the creation one of the first modern industrial communities, the largest being Belper.
People have lived in Belper before the Domesday book was even recorded in 1086 and it was once the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Bradelei. It was renamed by the Normans in the early 14th century becoming Beaurepaire, which means ‘beautiful retreat,’ it certainly deserves the name and it was because of this name that would eventually transform into Belper.
The town is dominated by the Strutt influence, particularly the historic Strutt’s North Mill, on the River Derwent at Belper, one of the oldest surviving examples of industrialised water powered cotton spinning mills in the world. It is the oldest surviving mill in Belper, which houses an award-winning independent museum and fantastic visitor centre, with tours of the museum and the town itself available from here .This really is somewhere you simply must visit if you are wondering through Belper and wondering where to go. It is a great day out for all the family. From deer parks to mills, chapels to schools, it is easy to understand why Belper and Milford lie at the centre of this wonderful world heritage site and it is very popular with schools to bring their pupils to learn all about industrialisation of the area.
Nearby, the impressive Horseshoe Weir was built to create a head of water to power the West mill and that pool of water is now used for public boating from the gorgeous Edwardian River Gardens. These gardens have been described as Amber Valley’s ‘Jewel In The Crown’ and are really attractive setting for events throughout the summer months, including Sunday concerts, which take place from June to September. There is usually a wide and varied programme of entertainment, which includes brass bands, country, folk, choirs, theatre and dance as well as being a beautiful place to walk and relax. As well as boating, there is a wonderful play area for children and a car park nearby. It is a real welcome breathing space and an inspiration to visitors, run by the community ensuring the conservation of the special features of the River gardens are always maintained.
The shape and nature of industrial Belper has definitely changed as the town has grown into the 21st century and recent investment in the town has seen the restoration of several old buildings, and it is supported with really good transport links and car parking. It is a town with a rich history and a wonderful market town and it certainly has, through development, a very bright future. Its bustling and welcoming to all its visitors and you’ll be guaranteed a very warm welcome.
The influence of the Strutt estate ensures many original features of the town have survived to this day, and guided walks and walk leaflets are available from the visitor centre at Strutt’s mill. A walk up Long Row to Short Row and back through the Clusters shows the best features of the estate. The clusters houses are among the earliest examples of back-to-back and semi-detached houses in the country but unfortunately, only a few nailer’s workshops are now left, although Belper rang with the sound of the nailer’s hammers over the centuries between 1260 and 1890.
The railway, designed by George and Robert Stephenson, runs through a deep stone line cutting slices straight through the town, spanned by 11 bridges from which it can be admired and photographed, bringing a wonderful postcard to bring back to show the family and friends.
Close to the mill worker’s housing is the wonderful town centre, where a fine selection of shops and eating places can be found, as well as the popular De Bradelei factory outlet store housed in the former premises of hosiery specialists George Brattle and company which once produced stockings for Queen Victoria , no less.
Having a local hero in the form of gold-medal swimmer Ross Davenport, the current Commonwealth Games champion, Belper was home to 2 other familiar faces, George Brown being the town’s MP and former Deputy Prime Minister. Timothy Dalton, a.k.a. James Bond, was born and schooled here too.
St John’s Chapel is certainly worth the visit, a simple stone building set in a very tranquil corner of Belper, dating from about 1250 and was built by the Earl of Derby. For more than seven centuries, the chapel has been the centre of religious and social life with services, varying between Catholic, Anglican and Puritan and many changes have taken place from the middle ages to the 20th century, and re coated in the fabric of the building and the careful alterations have left the building looking as good as it did centuries ago. Wander outside or stand quietly in the nave and feel a time defying sense of companionship with people of the past.
Wyver Lane Nature Reserve is run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust lies within a short distance of the former mill buildings where the Trust currently has its headquarters. This wetland nature reserve is a gorgeous place to see the many birds which visit throughout the year, including many familiar species such as Canada geese, tufted duck and little grebe. It is a great place for all the family to wander around, and a wildlife photographer’s delight.
The gorgeous Duffield Frith Deerpark, now is adopted by Friends of Belper Parks, a group of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the conservation of 50 acres of grassland and woodland, have transformed the place into a wonderful sight to behold at any time of the year. Another place of outstanding beauty is Beaurepaire Garden, a garden forgotten for 70 years, which has recently been restored to its former beauty, now privately owned but open to the public and is located at the junction of the A517 Ashbourne Road and Belper Lane.
Of course the marketplace, the old centre of the town where John Wesley preached, is home of the town’s Christmas tree and events such as the glorious Christmas Eve Carol service and the annual fair, which dates from the middle ages. The farmers market takes place here every second Saturday of the month being renowned for his excellent quality and variety of local produce and is well worth a visit.
Visitors to Belper in July and Milford in May each year of very fortunate to be able to see the beautiful Derbyshire custom of well dressings, the old Derbyshire tradition where tablets are formed with petals, seeds and grasses on a clay base and a tour of the well dressings is a popular activity.
Belper and Milford have a joint population of around 20,000 and the communities are very well served with lots of interest groups happening on a daily basis and lots of societies which support the arts, sport, leisure and local history. It can also claim to have its own cinema, the Ritz, which has recently been restored and reopened.
It’s a place of history, with a sense of past still obvious, but with lots of modern amenities to make it a comfortable and very attractive place to stay for visitors wanting a base to explore the rest of the Peak District. There are lots of pubs, restaurants, hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation and it really is a lovely old town to take on as your own for a little while. You will certainly be welcomed with open arms by Belper’s thriving community and made to feel at home, that’s for sure.