Willersley Castle, Cromford, Derbyshire

Richard Arkwright lived at Rock House, Mill Road in Cromford, a three-storey brick building constructed in 1776. He began to build Willersley Castle, a much larger mansion in the late 1780s, but he died in 1792 before it was completed. It was designed by the architect William Thomas and was constructed of sandstone. The castle was built across the River Derwent from Cromford, but enabled the Arkwright’s to see the source of their wealth from their windows. Visiting Cromford in June 1789, Viscount Torrington described the Castle as “the house of an overseer surveying the works, not of a gentleman wishing for retirement”, who wants to “live in a great cotton mill!” A year later he returned. Torrington recognised Arkwright’s contribution to the wealth of Britain, but the Castle expressed the low cultural standards of the nouveau riche entrepreneur:

I took a short walk to look at the weather, and at Sir Rd A’s new house…. The inside is now finishing; and it is really, within, and without, an effort of inconvenient ill taste, built so high as to overlook every beauty, and to catch every wind; the approach is dangerous…the small circular staircase…is so dark and narrow, that people cannot pass each other; I ask’d a workman if there was a library? – Yes, answer’d he….Its dimensions are 15 feet square…and…it is too dark to read or write in without a candle!

(Bruyn Andrews, C, The Torrington Diaries, vol. 2 (1935), pp. 40, 194-5.

Willersley Castle provided the family home for the Arkwright’s until after World War I. This grade II* listed building is currently owned by Christian Guild Holidays.

School and School House, North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire

The building on the right provided accommodation for young mill workers who, as a result of legislation were required to work under the “half-time system”, spending part of their time at school and part in factory employment. The school and the schoolhouse were constructed of gritstone. In 1893, the school was extended.

School, North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire

A Sunday school provided an education for children employed in factories during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One observer, Joseph Farrington in 1801, described the children entering the Chapel in “regular order” looking healthy, well, decently clothed and clean. Richard Arkwright II built a day school in 1832. Traditionally young children were employed in factories to assist the work of spinners. The advent of factory legislation restricting the employment of young children created a problem of social control. Schools provided a means of training children in the habits of work discipline, obedience and punctuality which were required by employees. Religious teaching inculcated these attributes within the school curriculum. Children were also taught rudimentary literacy and numeracy.

St Mary’s Anglican Church, Mill Lane, Cromford, Derbyshire

Sir Richard Arkwright originally built the church as a private chapel. He was an Anglican and discouraged the creation of places of worship for other denominations on his land. His son opened the church to public worship in 1797. Originally Sir Richard Arkwright was buried in Matlock Church but he as reburied in a vault in St Mary’s. The Church was substantially altered in the late 19th century.

Housing in Victoria Row, Cromford, Derbyshire

Richard Arkwright II built eight terraced houses in this street by to accommodate workers. Each dwelling was set back from the road and had a front garden. The buildings were constructed in coursed rubble and rendered. The house on the right retains its original cast iron windows.

Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire

A view of a row of houses built between 1771 and 1776 for handloom weavers. They were well-paid skilled workers until the advent of the power loom in the early 19th century. The power loom enabled the weaving process to be driven by steam and ended the domestic production of cotton cloth. North Street contains 27 dwellings facing each other across the road. They are all Grade II* listed buildings.

Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire

Built between 1771 and 1776 these substantial dwellings were built to house handloom weavers and their families. The gritstone houses were built to a high standard. This enabled Arkwright to attract skilled workers to this remote part of Derbyshire. Sash windows and leaded lights were not normally found on dwellings built for industrial workers. The large windows on the top floor provided light to enable weaving to take place at home. Handloom weavers turned the cotton thread which factories produced into woven cloth.

Corn Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire

This corn mill was an example of the commercial facilities which developed to serve Cromford’s expanding population in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The Greyhound Hotel, Cromford, Derbyshire

The growth of an industrial community and improvements in transport led Richard Arkwright and his successors to develop commercial facilities to serve the town. The Greyhound Hotel dominated the market place when it was built in 1778. Not only did it provide accommodation for visitors, it was used by the Arkwright’s for commercial transactions and as the location for festivities involving workers at the mills. To the right of the hotel are three storey houses, which served as shops.

Viscount Torrington stayed at the Black Dog Inn in Cromford in June 1790 and was impressed by the commercial development of the town. He described “much leveling of ground, and increase of buildings for their new market, (for this place is now so populous as not to do without).” Torrington included a poem which was written by an old woman and pasted onto the door of the inn:

Come let us all here join in one,
And thank him for all favours done;
Let’s thank him for all favours still
Which he hath done besides the mill

Modistly drink liquor about,
And see whose health you can find out;
This will I chuse before the rest
Sir Richard Arkwright is the best.

A few more words I have to say
Success to Cromford’s market day.

(Bruyn Andrews, C, The Torrington Diaries, vol. 2 (1935), p. 197.

The A6 at Cromford, Derbyshire

The building of the Cromford Canal in the 1790s did not solve local transportation problems. Between 1816 and 1818 a new north-south road link was constructed. The local turnpike trust route was improved by blasting a wider route through local limestone cliffs. This road is now the A6. Transport was developed further between 1824 and 1830 with the creation of the High Peak Railway.

The Canal Wharf, Cromford, Derbyshire

The Cromford and Erewash Canal was built in the early 1790s as part of a route to connect Cromford with Manchester. Constructed by William Jessop and Benjamin Outram, it was designed to move limestone and other mineral resources from this remote and hilly part of Derbyshire to markets. The canal also had potential for Sir Richard Arkwright enabling him to bring raw materials to Cromford and export finished goods. Arkwright agreed to sell most of his garden to the Canal Company to construct the wharf. The picture shows the wharf and warehouse with a wooden barge in the foreground.

Masson Weir, Matlock Bath, near Cromford, Derbyshire

Upstream from Masson Mill a convex weir was constructed to direct water into a channel to drive a water wheel. Its unusual shape was dictated by the rocks within the River Derwent. The weir may have been built to serve the paper mill which predated Arkwright’s factory.

Masson Mill, Matlock Bath, near Cromford, Derbyshire

Masson Mill in 1783 was originally driven by one waterwheel, but in 1801 two water wheels replaced it. The River Derwent, provided a much greater source of energy than the streams in Cromford itself. The building was extended in 1835 and during the 20th century. In 1981 when the photograph was taken, part of Masson Mill was still a factory making sewing machine thread.

The Mill Manager’s House, Cromford, Derbyshire

This substantial three-storey building provided the home for the mill manager. It was built immediately opposite Arkwright’s mills. To the right is a structure, which became the coach house and stables for the manager’s house. It also contains the probable remains of one of the first cottages built by Arkwright in 1771. Both are grade I listed buildings.

Mill and Warehouse Building, Cromford, Derbyshire

This five-storey building was built in 1785 to 1790. The four upper floors contained machinery for spinning. The ground floor provided storage for cotton bales. Arkwright’s concern for security is shown by the absence of windows on the ground floor. The end of the building held the staircase. Its curved shape may have avoided damage from carts as they turned into the mill yard. The mill also contained an internal lavatory column, which served each floor and a hot air heating system. To the right of the mill is the remains of a brick arched bridge which linked this building to another mill. The design of this factory can be compared with Masson’s Mill at Matlock Bath which was built in 1783. The whole complex is grade I listed.

Cast-iron Aqueduct, Cromford Derbyshire

The aqueduct carried water from the Greyhound Pond and Cromford Sough to power the water wheels of Arkwright’s cotton mills. Built in 1821, it replaced an earlier wooden structure. The aqueduct is a grade I listed.

The Loom Shop, Cromford, Derbyshire

This three-storey building was probably Sir Richard Arkwright’s loom shop and was built between 1776 and 1786. The windows would have allowed a generous supply of light to enable hand loom weaving to take place. The left of the photograph shows two cottages prior to restoration, dating to about 1780. They probably provided accommodation for gate-keepers or watchmen. Both structures are currently grade I listed buildings.

Upper Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire

The photograph shows four buildings. The Upper Mill in the centre was constructed in 1771 as a timber-framed structure from coursed gritstone lined with brick. The building was originally five floors in height until the top two were destroyed by fire in 1929. An overshot waterwheel provided the power for the factory. Water was supplied via an aqueduct. The building is grade I listed.

Arkwright’s factories integrated workers and machines within a 24 hour enterprise. Writing in 1790, Viscount Torrington “saw the workers issue forth at 7 o’clock, a wonderful crowd of young people, made as familiar as eternal intercourse can make them; a new set then goes in for the night, for the mills never leave off working.” He was impressed by the scale and grandeur of the factories: “These cotton mills, seven stories high, and fill’d with inhabitants, remind me of a first rate man of war; and when they are lighted up, on a dark night, look most luminously beautiful.”

(Bruyn Andrews, C, The Torrington Diaries, vol. 2 (1935), pp. 195-196.

The other three buildings are, the Loom Shop 1776-86 (left), two cottages c. 1780 (in front of the Upper Mill) and Grace Cottage c. 1780 (right).

The “Bear Pit”, Cromford, Derbyshire

Known to locals as the “Bear Pit”, this example of hydraulic engineering was constructed in 1785 by Sir Richard Arkwright. The structure is a stone-lined pit sunk into Cromford Sough and regulated the supply of water to the mills. A dam in the foreground of the photograph held water and forced it into an underground channel. The channel connected the sough with the Greyhound Pond, supplementing its volume of water. This happened each Sunday when the factories were idle, enabling the mill to be supplied with sufficient water when they restarted each Monday morning. The sluice controlling the supply of water to Cromford’s mills is in the background of the photograph. Arkwright faced opposition from local lead miners when he damned the Cromford Sough at the “Bear Pit” to force water into the Greyhound Pond. They lost supplies of water as a result. A major example of industrial archaeology, this example of grade II listed engineering.

The Greyhound Pond, Cromford, Derbyshire

The pond was a man-made dam created in about 1785 to provide the main source of water to drive the water wheels for Sir Richard Arkwright’s mills lower down the valley. It was fed by water from the Bonsall Brook and Cromford Sough via the “Bear Pit”.

Masson Mill and the River Derwent, Matlock Bath near Cromford, Derbyshire

The picture shows the rural landscape in which many 18th century factories were located. The Derwent Valley provided the water supply on which spinning machinery depended, not just from the river itself, but from streams such as the Bonsall Brook.
Viscount Torrington visited Cromford in June 1790 and commented on the ways in which nature was despoiled by industry:

speaking as a tourist, these vales have lost all their beauties; the rural cot has given place to a lofty red mill, and the grand houses of overseers; the stream perverted from its course by sluices, and aqueducts, will no longer ripple and cascade.-Every rural sound is sunk in the clamours of cotton works; and the simple peasant…is changed into the impudent mechanic:-the woods find their way into the canals; and the rocks disfigured for limestone…the vales are every way block’d up by mills.

(Bruyn Andrews, C, The Torrington Diaries, vol. 2 (1935), p. 195.

Cromford: A Factory Community

Image: Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire. Richard Arkwright built houses to attract people to work in his factories. North Street contained two parallel rows of substantial dwellings. The school, which was built in 1832, is located at the right-hand edge of the picture.

1. Introduction: Cromford, a Factory Community

Cromford was the creation of Richard Arkwright (1732-1792), the Preston barber who created the cotton factory. Arkwright became a successful businessman by exploiting his inventions which mechanised and accelerated the process of cotton spinning. He built mills at Cromford and nearby Matlock Bath and created a factory community with homes, a market and additional transport facilities. Arkwright rose from relatively humble origins to be knighted by George III and become one of the wealthiest men in Britain.
Arkwright patented his invention, the water frame in 1769. It enabled unskilled minders to oversee cotton spinning without the need for skilled workers. The original machine of four spindles in his patent increased in size to ninety-six spindles in production models. In 1775 he patented a second machine to open and clean the raw cotton, which was less successful. Arkwright’s machines were big. They had to be located in large buildings and powered by water wheels. Cotton was produced cheaply and this helped to stimulate demand. Arkwright’s entrepreneurial skills led him to seek an appropriate location for factory production.
Cromford was in a remote and sparsely populated part of the Derwent Valley, but its fast-flowing streams could be controlled to power the water wheels of his mills. Arkwright and his partners, Jedediah Strutt and the financier Samuel Need leased a site there in August 1771. It was close to the Bonsall Brook and Cromford Sough, a drainage channel for a lead mine, which provided a regular supply of water for his first factory. Between 1771 and 1790, Arkwright constructed mills, dams, workshops, warehouses, market and homes. His successors built a school and additional dwellings for employees. Canals, roads and railways provided the transport systems which linked Cromford to the wider world.
Little is known about the development of Cromford during the 1770s. The first mill was constructed in 1771-72, but production was slow, it was difficult to attract workers and Arkwright had to secure additional finance. A second mill was built in 1776-77 together with high quality dwellings for employees in North Street. In 1783 he constructed Masson Mill at Matlock Bath, outside of Cromford on the site of a former paper mill. Viscount Torrington visited Cromford in 1789 and 1790. He noted Arkwright’s importance: “his grateful country must adore his inventions, which have already so prosper’d our commerce; and may lead to yet wonderful improvements.” (Bruyn Andrews, C, The Torrington Diaries, vol. 2 (1935), p. 40.)
Richard Arkwright II took over his father’s business in 1792 and the Cromford mills were retained by the family until the early 20th century. Profits declined in the 1820s. Stagnation can be measured in population figures. In 1811, 1821 and 1831, census returns record numbers of inhabitants which remained static at 1,259, 1,242 and 1,291.
Masson Mill remained successful, manufacturing sewing machine thread. The Upper and Lower Mill complex ceased to make cotton. One building became a brewery and another was turned into a colour pigment factory and laundry. Fires, reconstruction, new technology and demolition affected the site. Cromford declined economically in the late 19th and 20th century. It was this decline, however, which helped to preserve much of the town with its unique collection of 18th and early 19th century grade I, II* and II listed buildings.
In 2001, the Derwent Valley was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. As well as Cromford, it included, Derby’s silk factory built by the Lombe brothers in 1721, cotton mills and housing at Darley Abbey and the factories and communities created by the Strutts at Milford and Belper. The Derwent Valley became one of only 21 such sites in the United Kingdom. This enhanced opportunities to preserve buildings and other features in the local landscape and access funding to develop tourism and education.

Water Power and the Cotton Factory: Richard Arkwright at Cromford

This factory was built by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1783-84 just outside Cromford. He built the mill in an architecturally elegant style with small lunette windows in the central bay set between Venetian windows. A cupola on top of the bay contained a bell to summon employees to work. The structure is a grade II* listed building.


Richard Arkwright, created the cotton mill. He invented the water frame in 1769 and successfully applied it to the mechanised production of cotton spinning in the 1770s and 1780s. At Cromford and Matlock Bath in Derbyshire’s Derwent Valley he created hydraulic engineering schemes and built factories dedicated to the production of cotton thread. He also pioneered new ways of attracting and organising a workforce. Cromford was isolated, so Arkwright created a small town with a market, an inn and dwellings. The town provided a new way of living and working as employees had to adjust to the rhythm of the machine.

It is remarkable that this 18th century town survived virtually intact, when other monuments of early industrialisation did not, such as Matthew Boulton’s Soho Works in Handsworth. Since 2001, Cromford has been part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site. This recognises its importance as a monument to Richard Arkwright and the factory system, but the town is also a physical record of industrial capitalism and the patterns of time management, work discipline and social control which form part of the contemporary world.

Malcolm Dick’s exhibition is illustrated with photographs which he originally took in August 1981 before much of the site was restored. It explores the relationship between Cromford’s factories, water supplies and the transport, commercial and social facilities which enabled the community to develop.


9. The Mill Manager’s House, Cromford, Derbyshire
10. Masson Mill, Matlock Bath near Cromford, Derbyshire
11. Masson Mill from Masson’s Weir, Matlock Bath near Cromford, Derbyshire
12. Masson Weir, Matlock Bath near Cromford, Derbyshire
13. The Canal Wharf, Cromford, Derbyshire
14. The Counting House and Warehouse, Cromford Wharf, Derbyshire
15. The A6 at Cromford, Derbyshire
16. The Greyhound Hotel, Cromford, Derbyshire
17. Corn Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire
18. Water wheel at the Corn Mill, Cromford, Derbyshire.
19. Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (1)
20. Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire (2)
21. Rear of Housing in North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire
22. Housing in The Hill, Cromford, Derbyshire
23. Housing in Victoria Row, Cromford, Derbyshire
24. St Mary’s Anglican Church, Mill Lane, Cromford, Derbyshire
25. School, North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire
26. School and School House, North Street, Cromford, Derbyshire
27. Willersley Castle, Cromford, Derbyshire