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The story of Belper really begins as a small settlement in the Royal hunting forest of Duffield Frith when it was given the name of ‘Beaurepaire’ which means ‘beautiful place’. This may seem a rather strange description to the motorist driving through the town on the frustratingly over crowded A6, but for those who explore this busy little place a totally different picture emerges.

Rich in industrial heritage, Belper occupies a pre-eminent position on the - world stage. It is an important part of the Derwent Valley, which is universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution and now holds World Heritage Status. The town's well dressings, although not so well known nationally represent an important date in the Well Dressing Calendar.

Well dressing was first established in Belper in 1838, when the Mill Lane Well was dressed and in the following year four wells were dressed. The custom lapsed for The Second World War , but was revived in 1986.

The River Gardens with its flowerbeds, arboretum, bandstand, water gardens, children’s playground and boating facilities provides a beautiful setting for the main events that take place over the well dressing weekend.

East Mill, a seven storey red brick building of 1912, where surprisingly the bricks were laid from the inside, formerly occupied by the English Sewing Company, but now put to other uses, stands by the road north. The majority of visitors to the well dressings enter at this point, but there is now another entry to the River Gardens, behind North Mill close to the riverbank.

When visiting Belper Well Dressings, it is well worth while to explore this fascinating little town. Where, in 1771 Sir Richard Arkwright went into partnership with Samuel Need of Nottingham and Jedediah Strutt to develop water powered mills along the Derwent. This transformed Belper over the next few years, with mills springing up along the riverbank and houses and other service requirements being built to meet the demands of the rapidly increasing population.

The earliest written record of nailmaking in Belper goes back to 1260, but it is likely that nails were made there shortly after the Norman Conquest. The de Ferrers family, who were principal iron masters for William the Conqueror, introduced iron forges to the area. Originally the nailer worked for himself with the help of his family. The children would carry the coal, his wife work the bellows and he would fashion the nails. It was a hard life, the work hot and exhausting.

Well Dressing Feature

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Take place from 10/15 July in various locations around the town. Construction: 5/9 July for further information telephone 01773 822116.


St. John’s Chapel Heritage Centre: (Tel. 01773 822116) dates back to about 1250, contains an interesting collection of old photographs of Belper and memorabilia. Open weekdays  9.30am to 12.30pm. Also open the last Saturday in the month. See feature.

Derwent Valley Visitor Centre: (Tel: 01773 880474) situated in North Mill where superb displays of hand spinning wheels, Hargreaves’s Spinning Jenny and many more exhibits bring this old mill back to life. An exhibition not to be missed. See feature.

Heage Windmill: (Tel 01773 853579) built in 1797 and restored in 2002, it is the only working, stone-towered, multi-sailed windmill in England. In the basement, the interpretation centre tells the story of the windmill. An adjacent kiln, acts as a reception centre and shop selling flour and souvenirs. There is a large car park and wheelchair access to the ground floor of the windmill, interpretation centre and the reception centre.  Groups by special arrangement. Guided tours. It is a Grade II*Listed Building. See feature.


All the images on this page have been kindly supplied by John and Irene North and have been taken from their highly acclaimed Well Dressing Video, which is narrated by BBC Radio Derby's Paul McKenzie. For full details of their video collection contact:


Alpha Audio Visual


The Lion Hotel (Tel. 01773 824033) recently refurbished, the hotel stands on the A6 in the centre of the town. It dates back to the period when Jedediah Strutt established the first cotton mill in 1774. There are two bars and a relaxing lounge. Open all day, bar and restaurant meals available, also coffee shop facilities. Accommodation.  

Chevin Coffee Shop (Tel. 01773 829830) a delightful little coffee shop situated on the first floor of the De Bradelei Mill Shop. Home cooked food served throughout the day. Open daily.


Belper is an important part of the Derwent Valley, which is universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution and now holds World Heritage Status.

Up until 1770, Belper was only a small village surrounded by fields with a population of just over 500 people. But, in 1771 all this was transformed when water powered mills were set up along the Derwent.

Belper Feature


This excellent walk takes you through ‘Strutt Country’, setting off from the Riverside Gardens past North Mill, along the Derwent Valley to Milford, before walking along the Chevin with splendid views of the valley below.

Belper Walk


For information on Belper and events in the town.

Belper Events