Few new visitors to Cromford realise that it was the first purpose built industrial village and that it encompasses the site of the world’s first successful water-powered cotton mill. It was from Cromford that its revolutionary methods spread across the rest of the world.
Its creator, Richard Arkwright, the semi-literate son of a Lancashire tailor, rose from obscurity to become the first commoner ever to be knighted for his contribution to the industry. As a result of his achievements, Britain was transformed, from an almost self-sufficient country with an economy based on agriculture and cottage industries, into the workshop of the world.
The importance of Cromford and the Derwent Valley was recognised in 2001, when it was awarded World Heritage Status.
Cromford is a village of contrasts, with its lower half resting by the gently flowing River Derwent and the upper climbing steeply up Cromford Hill to Black Rocks, where there are outstanding views. Majestic as the scenery undoubtedly is, it is not that which attracts visitors from all over the world to Cromford, but to look round the area where Sir Richard Arkwright built his cotton mills.
The village has some of the best examples of industrial housing in Britain, standing as an international monument to the Industrial Revolution. It is now protected by a Conservation Order, which encourages the enhancement and repair of these historic buildings.
The construction of Cromford Canal was completed in late 1794 to improve the speed of movement of heavy goods in and out of Cromford. Although it was opened after the death of Sir Richard Arkwright, he was a prime mover in the decision to construct the canal. It linked up with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill, which ran into the River Trent.
The canal became very busy until the arrival of the railway era, which took most of the business away. Then disaster struck at the turn of the 20th century with the collapse of the Butterley Tunnel, which was never re-built. The section of the canal from Cromford to Ambergate has been developed for recreational purposes. It is very rich with wildlife and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with the southern end from Ambergate to Whatstandwell being managed as a local nature reserve by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.
Originally it had been the intention to construct a canal to connect Cromford Canal with the Peak Forest Canal, but difficulties in ensuring an adequate water supply on the moors led to the scheme being dropped. Instead, the Cromford and High Peak Railway was built, which was considered to be an engineering masterpiece and has attracted the interest of railway enthusiasts from all over the world.
The line linked High Peak Junction at 277 feet above sea level with Whaley Bridge at 570 feet. In the middle it rose to over a 1,000 feet at Ladmanlow. This involved steep inclines, up and down which wagons were hauled by steam driven winding engines. A stretch of the line from High Peak Junction to Dowlow near Buxton has been converted into the High Peak Trail for horse riders, cyclists, naturalists and walkers.
Cromford station, a splendid piece of railway architecture, on the Derby to Matlock line, is considered to be one of the loveliest railway journeys in the country.
The bridge over the Derwent is one of the oldest in England. Alongside are the remains of a bridge chapel and a fishing temple. The temple is built to the same design as the one in Beresford Dale frequented by Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton. St Mary’s Church contains the tomb of Sir Richard Arkwright. Above stands impressive Willersley Castle, built by Sir Richard but who died before it was fully completed.
The Greyhound Pond is an important and unusual amenity in modern Cromford. Together with a series of ponds along the Bonsall brook, the purpose of its creation in the 18th century, as industrial production expanded, was purely functional – to ensure a constant head of water for the wheels of the mills to drive the machinery.
Cromford was nothing more than a tiny hamlet when Arkwright arrived in 1771. He had to attract workers and to do this he built most of the village, much as we know it today. With the houses he built all the facilities which were necessary to village life in those days, even setting up a market.
The Greyhound Hotel, built by Arkwright, has been renovated recently and is surrounded by an interesting collection of shops. The intriguingly named Mystical Crystals is the leading supplier of natural crystals and minerals in the area.
From the market place a narrow one way road leads to the old mining settlement of Scarthin, where at the bookshop you can reputedly buy a book 24 hours per day and get a cup of coffee and a meal during more normal hours. The three storeyed houses in North Street are among the finest examples of Industrial Archaeology to be found anywhere.
Cromford Steam Rally is now in its 34th year (2004) and is the largest steam traction rally in the Midlands. The event is held at Brackenfield, near Matlock.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Crich Tramway Village (Tel. 01773 852565) boasts a large array of vintage trams from all over the world. Unlimited rides through a period street to stunning views over the Derwent Valley. For further information website:www.tramway.co.uk
Lea Gardens: (Tel. 01629 534380) rare collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, alpines and conifers in a lovely woodland setting. Attractive teashop where you can sit inside or outside. Plants can be purchased. Telephone for further information.
Masson Mill (Tel. 01629 760208) working textile museum and shopping village situated in an internationally famous mill built by Sir Richard Arkwright. Open daily.
The Greyhound Hotel: (Tel. 01629 822551) historic hotel built by Sir Richard Arkwright restored to a high standard in 1999. Open every day for meals.
The Scarthin Bookshop: (Tel. 01629 823272) delightful tea room situated in ‘The Music Room’ of this busy bookshop. Organic food served. Open seven days a week.
The construction of the Cromford Canal was completed in late 1794, to improve the movement of heavy goods in and out of Cromford. Although it was opened after the death of Sir Richard Arkwright, he was a prime mover in the decision to construct the canal. It linked up with the Erewash Canal at Langley Mill, which ran into the River Trent. This provided a connection with Derby and Nottingham and beyond that with Liverpool and Manchester by the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Built in two gauges, the canal ran from Langley Mill to the eastern end of the Butterley Tunnel in broad gauge, with fourteen locks. From this point for the section to Cromford, the narrow gauge system took over and there were no locks. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the Butterley Tunnel, 3,000 yards in length, did not have a towpath.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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A special new sub-section has been added to this website, based on the Discover Derby Supplement, published by the Derby Evening Telegraph during March 2005. The most recent additions are:
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Beautiful scenery, an abundance of wildlife, and world renowned heritage make this walk a very special one. The Derwent Valley having been awarded World Heritage Status in 2001.
The walk follows the towpath for one and a quarter miles. Where large numbers of butterflies and dragonflies can be seen in summer with numerous species of birdlife overhead.
A visit to the Arkwright complex to discover how Cromford became known as the ‘Cradle of the industrial revolution’ should not be missed.
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