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Only two miles from the centre of Derby, the old village of Darley Abbey is at its most impressive when approached along either side of the River Derwent. The village itself is still full of interest, since the Evans family, between 1782 and 1840, transformed it from a quiet little backwater, and it retains an important place in the industrial history of this country.
Few traces remain of Darley Abbey, founded in about 1140 and which later became the richest and most powerful abbey in Derbyshire. The land and properties owned by the abbey covered an extensive area not only in Derbyshire, but also in Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire.
Little now still exists of the abbey following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538. Most of the buildings of the once proud monastery were destroyed within two years of the passing of the act. The only survivors were the building in Darley Street, converted into a public house in 1980, some stonework to houses in Abbey Lane and a burial ground beneath Hill Square.
Water was the driving force and powered by the River Derwent, an industrial hamlet sprang up at Darley Abbey. In the 1730s four mills, a paper mill, a corn mill, a fulling mill and a leather mill all existed here, powered by the Derwent.
Today Darley Abbey forms part of The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site because of the pioneering work of the Evans family. Thomas Evans, born in 1723 and educated at Cambridge University, was the driving force. His enterprise produced great wealth and considerable influence for the family. He expanded the family business and became a leading industrialist. In 1771, he entered into partnership with Samuel Crompton, who had been mayor of Derby four years earlier, and formed the Crompton and Evans Bank. Both Sir Richard Arkwright and Jedediah Strutt were customers of the bank, which later became known as Thomas Evans and Son, when Samuel Crompton lost interest.
The Boar’s Head Cotton Mill, on the east bank of the River Derwent, founded by Thomas Evans was one of the most important industrial enterprises, in an age of great innovation and progress. The boar’s head trademark, that Evans used to market his thread, achieved recognition in the many parts of the world that he traded, as a symbol of quality.
Following the construction of the cotton mill in 1783, extensions took place at regular intervals. The mill complex eventually comprising of five main mills, and an assortment of sheds where dyeing and drying took place. Other buildings on the site were used for offices, stabling and domestic purposes. A weir was constructed diagonally across the Derwent to control the flow of the river and a bridge built to link the village to the cotton mill.
All this industrial development required a substantial labour force, and the Evans family set about the task of acquiring and maintaining sufficient people to meet the growing demand for labour. This was no easy task as many framework knitters blamed the factory system for taking away their livelihood and independence. There was also a suspicion about the working conditions in factories.
Generous inducements were offered to potential workers in the form of above average wages and new well-built brick-houses, together with a parcel of land and a cow. The houses were mostly of three storeys in height, the first phase at Flat Square, Hill Square, Brick Row and the upper part of Mile Ash Lane. About ten years later a second phase was added, in New Road and Lavender Row and finally, by the 1870s, the lower part of Mile Ash Lane. The four houses in Mile Ash Road, built during the early 1790s, are the oldest surviving examples of cluster houses, joined side-to-side and back-to-back.
Apart from providing houses, the Evans family had an elegantly designed school built, with spacious classrooms, well-lit by large windows and a handsome clock set high in the front wall. They also built St Matthew’s Church, provided a playing field for the village, bathing facilities on the riverbank, a free medical service and organised a carnival at Whitsuntide.
Thomas Evans had Darley House built in 1783, but it was demolished in the 1930s and the only building that remains is the Gate Keeper’s Lodge. In 1844, the Evans family moved to Darley Hall, which Alderman William Woolley had built over one hundred years previously. The era ended with the death of Ada Evans, the widow of Walter Evans, in 1929. The estate was broken up and the village of Darley Abbey went into decline.
In the 21st century, the old village of Darley Abbey is regarded as a desirable place to live. The mills built by Thomas Evans, on the east bank of the Derwent, remain largely intact although no longer used for cotton spinning, but are still in use for a diverse range of purposes. There is a small café open mornings and at lunch time during the week and 'Darleys' a smart riverside restaurant.
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A city of considerable character, surrounded by attractive countryside. With the Peak District National Park, the second most visited National Park in the world, only a few miles to the north and the National Forest only a short distance away to the south.
Located near the centre of the country, Derby has excellent communications and is well served by road, rail and air.
PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE AREA
The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry and History: (Tel. 01332 255308) was the first factory in England, where all the processes were carried out under one roof and utilising one source of power. It is now a World Heritage site and has been converted into a museum where you can discover the facts about Rolls Royce aero-engines, the history of railways and coal mines and much more. Open daily apart from during the Christmas and New Year Break.
Derby Cathedral: (Tel. 01332 341201) visible from a distance Derby Cathedral dominates the skyline with its impressive Perpendicular Tower, the second highest in England to the Boston Stump. The Cathedral is open on a daily basis throughout the year, the board outside gives details of services. Although normally open from 8.30am to 6.00pm, times may vary on Bank Holidays. Admission is free. Excellent Coffee Shop. Ring for further details.
St Mary’s Bridge Chapel: (Tel. 01332 341201) one of only six bridge chapels left in the British Isles. It stands beside the 18th century St Mary's Bridge, which replaced a medieval bridge to which the chapel was originally attached. The precise date when the first bridge chapel came into existence is uncertain, but it is likely to have been around the late 13th to the early 14th century, when it was built on the same site as the present chapel. Contact for opening details.
The Abbey Inn: (Tel. 01332 558297) the layout is of a simple medieval hall-house and is thought to have been used by the Abbey as a guesthouse for travellers and pilgrims during the 13th century. From 1932 to 1977, it was unoccupied, before conversion into a public house. Open lunchtimes and evenings from Monday to Friday, all day at the weekends. Meals served at lunchtimes only.
Darley Park Tearooms: (Tel. 01332 556447) delightfully situated overlooking flowerbeds and Darley Abbey Park, with distant views of Derby Cathedral. There is plenty of seating outside on the terrace. Normally open from 10-4pm during the week, longer at the weekend, but arrangements may be changed at short notice dependent on weather conditions – telephone for further information. Light refreshments served.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features on towns and villages with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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Discover Derby is a sub-section of the Discover Derbyshire and Peak District website and is based on the supplement published by the Derby Evening Telegraph, during March 2005. The contents include six walks and features covering the suburbs of:
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This non-commercial website is based on Discover Derbyshire Supplements published by the Derby Evening Telegraph.
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