As an avid viewer of Blackadder and his side-kicks Lord Percy and Baldrick, my attention is always grabbed by anything featuring Tony Robinson (Baldrick) now Sir Tony. Ironic that the lowly Baldrick gets the knighthood whilst Rowan Atkinson (Lord Blackadder)and Hugh Lawrie (Lord Percy) go without.
Sir Tony hosts a programme called “Walking in History” in which he walks the countryside visiting places of historic interest – much the same as Kerry and I do except we don’t have the BBC paying for us and the team. One day flicking through the channels I saw one of his programmes and quickly switched it on. He was in the Derwent Valley going to the site of the world’s first factory. Now I thought I had visited that in Derby – Lombe’s silk mill, but Sir Tony was not talking of that mill but of Richard Arkwrights mill at Cromford.
Lombe’s mill does in fact predate Arkwrights mill by 50 years but Arkwright successfully started the Industrial Revolution with his successful mills where Lombe’s mill spun silk and well silk worms don’t like the cold so when the silk worms contracted a fatal disease the industry in Britain stopped. Then along came Arkwright. Now I am not going to try and tell you the history of the spinning jenny etc but suffice it to say that my interest was peaked and Kerry and I paid a visit to Cromford.
Again we were the only tourists lining up for the tour which was great. We learnt about how the new factory building 5 storeys high were designed on a similar work progression like a wind mill – the raw product (the cotton bowl) is loaded into the top floor where the elderly women who could no longer manage the spinning looms picked the raw cotton out of the bowls and removed the seeds. They then passed the raw product to young girls who carded the cotton – a process whereby passing one large flat plate with comb teeth over it across another such comb loaded with cotton the girls formed a cotton roll which they twisted to give it strength (this was subsequently replaced by a machine). Then it was curled into tall cylinders and these cylinder went to the next floor where the spinning process started. Here all the kids did the work supervised by the mothers. Men were the maintenance managers and the bulk carriers. So kids worked their way up to being supervisors then ended up as old hags pulling cotton out of the bowls.
There is not much of the original factory and water wheel but the society running the show are in the process of putting it back together. Invention and adaptation saw bigger and better mills being built down the Derwent so that by the next generation of Arkwright’s this mill was unprofitable hence all the records and most of the artefacts have been destroyed but even so you still get a real sense of the first factory from the remnants that remain. A must visit for all historians.
Whilst there we also visited Arkwrights house/castle now known as Willersley Castle. It is owned by Christian Guild and operated as a hotel.The castle location is just fabulous with views of the factory obstructed but the vista of the river river valley and surrounding green hills in your face.
Whilst there we ran into a Banner Society on its annual pilgrimage. They are a bit like our Quilting Clubs. So I took some photos for Pam Gaskill back home.