DISTANCE: Approximately 3 miles
DESCRIPTION: This walks is scenically beautiful and includes lots of local history. It can be used as a guided tour of what was originally an ordinary rural village but later became transformed by an enterprising and young industrialist as the site for his mill and model village. Sir Richard Arkwright transformed Cromford into an industrial metropolis which not only affected the lives of local inhabitants, but had for reaching effects on the other side of the globe.
1. Park your car in the pay and display car park at Cromford Wharf, which can be found opposite Cromford Mill. Cromford canal was opened in 1793 and although used to transport finished cotton products from the mill, it also served to carry lead ore and stone. Surely one of the most unusual loads undertaken were the four 13ft long carved stone lions from a quarry at Darley Dale to St. George’s Hall at Liverpool. The canal runs to Langley Bridge where it joins the Erewash Canal.
2. Leave the car park by the entrance and make a short detour by turning right and walking to Cromford bridge over the nearby river Derwent. Originally a narrow packhorse bridge, the structure was widened with new arches upstream being built with a rounded shape unlike the earlier pointed arches downstream. On the parapet is an inscription plaque of 1697 when Benjamin Haywood successfully leapt Cromford Bridge on horseback. Horse and rider crashed down twenty feet into the river below but reputedly none the worse for their experience, unlike M. Hyde who in 1664 was killed when a similar event took place at Ashford in the Water. Next to Cromford Bridge are the remains of a 15th century chapel which was destroyed during the reformation. Here travellers gave thanks and prayers for a safe crossing of the river. There is also an 18th century fishing temple with an inscription which is the same as that inscribed on the temple used by Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton at Beresford Dale.
3. Return towards the car park. On your right is St. Mary’s Church built in 1792 by Sir Richard Arkwright, although it was not completed by the time of his demise. He was therefore initially buried at St. Giles in Matlock but his body was brought back and buried at Cromford when the church was completed and the burial ground sanctified.
4. Walk past Cromford Mill complex which was acquired by the Arkwright Society in 1979 and in itself provides an interesting day out. The rounded outer building which flanks the road was constructed in 1789. Arkwright’s first mill building was behind this and is now three storeys high although when built in 1771 it was actually five storeys high.
5. Richard Arkwright was born in 1732 and started out as a penniless Preston urchin who ran barefoot through the streets. He became a barber’s assistant and visited hiring fairs where he bought human hair to make into fashionable wigs worn at that time. At these fairs he came into contact with the local spinners and weavers of Lancashire and his active imagination set to work and designed a mechanical alternative to the labour intensive process used by the primitive cotton mills. Arkwright designed a spinning frame which was to revolutionize manufacture, his first machine being set up secretly in the Free Grammar School in Preston. However, by 1771 Arkwright’s design was so successful that he went into partnership with Jedediah Strutt of Derby and chose Cromford as the setting for his first mill where his water-powered machines spun calicoes by rollers. Local people enjoyed employment and the benefits of Arkwright’s success, although some of his rules and regulations were a bit extreme. The increasing need for raw cotton could only be satisfied by vast plantations in America and these in turn required a huge labour force, hence the slave trade from Africa – Richard Arkwright’s invention had indeed achieved a far-reaching influence. At the time of his death Richard Arkwright had become one of the richest and most influential men in the country. He amassed such wealth that it is said he regularly gave his ten children £10,000 each as a Christmas present!!!
6. Turn up the private drive on the left which leads to Rock House which was Arkwright’s home. Do not go right up the drive but take a walled path on your right which leads to the main A6. Carefully cross and go up a road opposite. Follow this around to the left and head up Oakhill towards the woods. You will eventually go under a bridge and then follow the rough track around to your right which brings you onto the High Peak Trail part way up Sheep Pasture Incline.
7. Ascend the incline which has a gradient of 1 in 9 – it is hard to imagine trains lumbering up this hill. They were pulled by means of a cable winched up from the engine house at the top. Down at the bottom of the incline is a pit which was used to catch runaways. This was constructed after an incident when a train leapt the railway as well as the canal below! The Cromford and High Peak railway was classed as part of the canal system, hence its reference to locks and wharfs along its 33-mile length. It linked the Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal in the Derwent Valley and was one of the earliest railway systems, being constructed 1825-1830.
8. Just past the engine house is a seat on the right from where there are fantastic views of the Matlocks and down over Cromford, definitely time to get out the flask and binoculars! Continue along the trail towards the impressive Black Rocks which are camouflaged among the surrounding greenery. This escarpment of Kinder Scout grit is a popular haunt for climbers. After a water-filled pit on the left, look for a gap in the wall on your right and follow the footpath going left through the trees. This takes you down in front of some cottages then joins onto a stony track. Turn right and descend to a further junction. Now walk down Bedehouse Lane which takes you past the old almshouses. The ancient plaque on the side of the building here is extremely eroded.
9. When you emerge at the base of Cromford Hill turn right. You will pass the entrance to North Street where you can see three-storied terraced cottages remaining from the industrial village of 1777. The lofts were used for the cottage industry of hand-loom weaving. Further down in Cromford’s former market place is the Greyhound Inn which was also constructed on the instructions of Richard Arkwright. He intended to change the village of Crunforde, as it was known in the Domesday Survey, into a thriving community. In 1789 he purchased the manor of Cromford and secured a market charter. He then built houses for his workers, a school and St. Mary’s Church. Arkwright chose a site for his own manorial residence and began building Willersley Castle. However, he was not able to achieve his dream of living there as he died in 1792 before construction was complete.
10. Head back towards the A6 and Scarthin Nick as it is known. In the 18th century the rock here was blasted away so that wagons from Manchester had easier access to Cromford Mill. Cross the road by using the pelican crossings and head back towards the car park.