The History of Cromford & its Mills

This webpage was written by Class 4. It is based on a School Field Trip and Internet research about Cromford. We hope you enjoy this page as much as the children enjoyed doing it.

cromford map

Cromford village is situated in the heart of the world heritage site, which is where the Industrial Revolution began. Being home to the first ever cotton-spinning mill, Cromford is alongside the River Derwent.

Sir Richard Arkwright, Arkwright Junior

& Willersly Castle 

Arkwright is considered the father of the modern industrial factory system and his inventions were a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution.

Richard Arkwright was born in Preston in 1732, the son of a tailor. Money was not available to send him to school, but his cousin Ellen taught him to read and write.

He began working as an apprentice barber and it was only after the death of his first wife that he became an entrepreneur. His second marriage to Margaret Biggins in 1761 brought a small income that enabled him to expand his barber's business. He acquired a secret method for dyeing hair and travelled around the country purchasing human hair for use in the manufacture of wigs. During this time he was often in contact with weavers and spinners and when the fashion for wearing wigs declined, he looked to mechanical inventions in the field of textiles to make his fortune.

By 1767, a machine for carding cotton had been introduced into England and James Hargreaves had invented the spinning jenny. With the help of a clockmaker, John Kay, who had been working on a mechanical spinning machine, Arkwright made improvements that produced a stronger yarn and required less physical labour. His new carding machine was patented in 1775.

Arkwright's fortunes continued to rise and he constructed a horse-driven spinning mill at Preston - the first of many. He developed mills in which the whole process of yarn manufacture was carried on by one machine and this was further complemented by a system in which labour was divided, greatly improving efficiency and increasing profits. Arkwright was also the first to use James Watts' steam engine to power textile machinery, though he only used it to pump water to the millrace of a waterwheel. From the combined use of the steam engine and the machinery, the power loom was eventually developed.

From 1775, a series of court cases challenged Arkwright's patents as copies of others work, and they were revoked in 1785. Nonetheless, Arkwright was knighted in 1786 and by the time of his death on 3 August 1792, Arkwright had established factories in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Lancashire and Scotland, and was a wealthy man. (Source


The creation of Willersley Castle in 1790, commissioned by Sir Richard Arkwright, the spectacular industrialist who designed the Water Frame which revolutionised the cotton milling industry in the town of Cromford and all around the world. In 1791 a fire broke out causing severe damage to part of the inside of the Castle. The damage was reconstructed, but very sadly Arkwright died in 1792 before the building was finished . His son, also named Richard, moved into Willersley Castle with his family in 1796 and the family carried on to live there until 1922.

Many of the original features can still be seen today. The most striking of these is the Well Gallery, an oval gallery with a glass table put in the centre of the building, on the first and second floors. An archway leads through the building towards the

Well Gallery, whilst the Music Room, Drawing Room and Dining Rooms all contain their original fireplaces.

During the Second World War the Castle was used as a Maternity Hospital. Over four thousand babies were born at Willersley between 1940 and 1946.

Willersley Castle still is a popular hotel today.

St Mary's Church

Originally, St. Mary’s Church was going to be a chapel for Willersly Castle, however Arkwright died before it was finished. His son, Arkwright Junior, completed the church for his father. Family members only are buried in the churchyard, although anyone can have weddings, christenings or funerals and look around the church (on Sundays only). Later on, the Victorians “Gothicised” the church making the church no longer a Georgian church. In April 2002, the church was closed for four months when extensive renovation work was carried out and it was rededicated by the Bishop of Derby. The original Georgian church consisted of a large rectangular, open-plan nave and sanctuary with the altar at the east end. Sir Richard is buried inside the crypt beneath the chancel and nave. (Source





Altar: a mound or platform where religious rites are performed or where sacrifices are offered to Gods

Chancel: the space around the altar of the church for the officials

Crypt: an underground room or vault beneath a church used as a burial place

Nave: the principal longitudinal area of a church

Cromford  Mill

Right at the start of the Industrial Revolution most of the workers were children starting at the age of 7.

Children were expected to earn a living. From the age of 3-4 children were expected to earn a living and help with the family business – lead mining and farming, working part time for both. Being sent to the Mill meant they would earn money and get paid weekly every Saturday. Lead mining only made money if they found lead.

Working in the Mill

· The Mill Bell would ring at 5, 5.15, 5.30, 5.45 to tell you it’s time for work

· Start work at 6am and finish at 6pm for a shilling a day (12p) but the boys were paid more than girls. If you were late you would be fined that day’s pay and then fine the next days pay. People worked Monday to Saturday.

· There were different jobs.

· Load and unload canal boats. Take coal around the Mills for the fires, cotton worked better in warm conditions

· Skutcher – Skutchering Room was where the unloaded cotton bundles were opened up and were beaten with heavy sticks to separate it.

· Pickers – Picking Room was the place where twigs, insects and foreign bodies were removed from the skutched cotton.

· Scavengers – Smaller children would go under the machinery to pick up dropped cotton or put threads back together if they broke. If the children had an accident and got the top of their finger nipped off they would have to pay for the damaged cotton that would be covered in blood, they would also be off for 6 weeks and not have any pay for that long.

· Carding – Here the cotton would be brushed and separated to make it fine to spin.

· Spinning – Before the industrial revolution the cotton was hand spun.

· Work would start at 6 o’clock. Breakfast at 8 o’clock – Dinner 12 o’clock and a break at 3 o’clock and a snack if they had saved any food.

· Hoildays 1 off at Christmas. ½ day Good Friday. 1 day Whit Monday. 1 Day Bonsall Fayre. 3 days Cromford Fayre.

What the Mill did

· Made cotton thread

· Cotton came from a plant from Brazil and North America. The cotton came from the plant seed pods and it’s picked and baled. Then sent by ship to England – Liverpool, Bristol, Norwich.

· To work in the Mill you would sign an Indenture for 7 years to work at the Mill. You would then be taught a trade.

· Before the Mill spinning was 5 time more difficult. When the Mill opened 96 threads could be made at one time. The mill could make lots of threads very quickly.

· All the thread that was made would make the weavers happy.

· The machines were shut down once every day for cleaning and oiling.

The Mills

· At floor level there were no doors or windows and only one entrance with a defensive wall all the way around for security with one gated entrance that would allow workers and carts in.

· The oldest bridge in the area is in the mill yard and Arkwright cut through Scarthin rock to make a new road.

· There was no fresh drinking water so people would drink a low alcohol beer instead.

· The apprentices would live in the Mill and have porridge and pots of beer for breakfast.

The Manager lived across from the mill along the road. He made a list of who wasn’t there on time ready to fine them the next day, the money went towards doctors for the sick and looking after the workers. If you was late to work then it would mean you couldn’t get in, the gates would be shut at 6am. There was no excuse for being late, the bells would ring at 5am, 5:15am, 5:30am, 5:45am and 6:00am.


Cromford Canal

The northern stretch of the canal lies within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and is an attractive visitor destination, with five miles to explore along the towpath. Because of the rich diversity of wildlife, the canal is designated as a site of special scientific interest. Work is carried out each year to keep the water open for the plants and insects which live in it, and to manage the banks. (Source


Cromford Canal once provided transport for all sorts of materials and Sir Richard Arkwright ported cotton to Sheffield and other places. Today, you can go on canal boats that get pulled along the canal by shire horses and welsh cobs and other strong breeds.

It was in the Derwent Valley that – thanks to pioneering work by Richard Arkwright, Jedediah Strutt, the Lombe brothers and others – the mill was successfully made. Water Power was applied and successfully for the first time on a relatively large scale. Not only was silk throwing and cotton spinning revolutionised with dramatic consequences for the British economy, the Arkwright model system also informed and inspired developments in other countries and industries.

Water Wheel

 The force or the weight of the water on the paddles or buckets turns the wheel. The axle of the wheel also turns, and this is used to drive the machine by way of belts or gears. The flowing channel of water is called a 'mill race’ the Sir Arkwright bought the corn field to put the water in his mill. The water wheel was made in 1886 to make power for Cromford.  


The mill ran water around its wheel which created power that ran the machinery at the corn mill..     

This water wheel is the last one in Cromford.

North Street

North Street lies on the southern edge of the Peak District National Park in the village of Cromford, which is famed for its former water-powered cotton spinning mill .

North Street is the earliest piece of planned industrial housing in the world. Surrounded by the countryside, it is at the heart of a designated World Heritage Site. Cromford is an excellent little town, and the area is full of interest for those absorbed by industrial archaeology. You can also enjoy a visit to nearby Bolsover, Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth.

Built between 1771 and 1776 these substantial dwellings were built to house handloom weavers and their families. The gritstone house 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.

The path ways are so wide due to the fact that when the works lived in the houses they weaved the cotton and the horse drawn-carriages came down the the lane and they dropped off all the woven work.

The Village School

The school in the village is where the children from the mill went. They went on a Saturday which meant the only day they had off was Sunday, this was spent going to church and preparing for the week ahead. It was built by Richard Arkwright Junior who thought education would be a good thing for the Mills and the village.

Lock up

The Allotments

Land was given to the workers to grow their own food to feed their families.

The Lock Up

In Cromford there is a jail called the lock up and it was used in the 17-1800s; for criminals or if you were acting in an inappropriate drunken way at the market on Saturdays. In the lock up there is also is a little surprise sitting on a bed. It is a mannequin, nothing too scary but if you take a flashlight be prepared you may see some other terrifying things. The lock up is pretty much a small concrete box and the cells are tiny and even though they are small you could fit about 8 people in each one.

There were two prison cells in the building, but both cells held a chain built into the wall so when the prisoner was locked in the building, they would be chained up to the wall so they couldn’t escape. In present day, most of the chains have rotted away. Yet in the other cell there is a disturbing mannequin. People would be locked in there for more a more serious crime would be sent to Derby and were sentenced to death by being hung.

However, in modern day. The Lock Up is part of the tour of Cromford. Yet the mannequin is still waiting to get set free.

Bear Pit (Sluice Gates)

This shuttle, locally known as "The Bear Pit" controlled the water from the south into Cromford Pond. The rod in the middle controls the water flow which also controls whether the town floods, if it was left on. The water travels from the water wheel at Cromford cotton mill to the bear pit which is transferred to the canal. 

The Greyhound Hotel

The Greyhound Hotel was built for Sir Richard Arkwright in 1778 for the use of businessmen and others visiting the mills. After Sir Richards Death his son opened a bank at the side of the building. 

With special thanks to The Arkwright Society and Derwent Valley Mills