Set in the picturesque Derwent Valley, with hills rising steeply on either side, travellers on the busy A6 often pass through Milford without ever realising that it exists. Yet the village has played a very important part in the industrial history of this country, so much so that it now forms part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Corridor.
The man who transformed Milford from a tiny hamlet to an important industrial centre was Jedediah Strutt. From a young age he had an obsessive interest in machinery, but when his uncle died and left him a small holding, he took it over and married Elizabeth Woollatt who he had met when in apprenticeship as a wheelwright. His brother-in-law, who worked for a hosiery firm in Derby, knowing of Jedediah’s interest in machinery, told him of the problems they were having in trying to adapt their machines to make stockings in a ribbed pattern. Everything they had tried had failed. Immediately, Jedediah set about the task of finding a solution.
He spent many hours in his attic experimenting, neglecting his farmwork in the process. At last he succeeded and the closer fitting stockings that resulted were a great success. He went into partnership with his brother-in-law opening a stocking factory in Derby and patented his ‘Derby Rib Machine’. Wishing to expand his business further, he went into partnership with Samuel Need and they later asked Richard Arkwright to join them and together built mills at Belper, Cromford and Milford.
Using the power of the River Derwent to drive the machinery, Jedediah built his first cotton mill, the South Mill, at Belper in 1776. Milford was chosen as the second site for a mill four years later. Soon after that the partnership was dissolved, with Strutt retaining the mills at Belper and Milford. From then until 1827, mills were built every few years along the banks of the Derwent. After Jedediah’s death in 1797, his eldest son, William took control.
Jedediah was a strict disciplinarian, his employees were fined heavily for lateness, or bad behaviour. He insisted on them going to a place of worship on Sundays and that the children attended school regularly. He built houses, a school, a chapel and model farms were established at Belper and Moscow Farm at Milford, where food was produced so employees could be supplied at reasonable cost with credit facilities available. Many other amenities were provided, described by one local historian as ‘a sort of Welfare State, 150 years before anything like it arrived on a national scale.’
The Strutt family mansion, Milford House, and later Makeney Hall, had a view over most of the workers’ houses in the village. The shutters that protected nearly all the dwellings had holes drilled through them so that internal lights were clearly seen from outside. If any lights were observed still shining after 11pm, a warning would be sent to the tenants the following day about the dangers of loss of sleep.
At the end of the 20th century, the English Sewing Cotton Limited took over from the Strutt family. Until, sadly, in 1964, the main part of the Cotton Mill was demolished, much to the dismay of industrial archaeologists. Fortunately some of the most interesting artefacts have been transferred to museums. The tower clock made by John Smith and Co of Derby has been transferred to Derby Industrial Museum. The remaining part of the mill is now used for various commercial enterprises.
The Strutt Arms stands alongside the A6 on the western side of the bridge over the Derwent and acts as a present day reminder of the dominant influence that family had over the village. The bridge was built by the Strutt’s in 1792, and widened just over 100 years later. In more recent years The Mill House Inn has been built overlooking the river, on what was the site of Strutt’s cotton mill. On the opposite side of the Derwent is a garden centre. The nearby car park is serviced by a footbridge over the Derwent, where once there was a suspension bridge until it was washed away by floods.
Milford village remains almost intact, and was designated a conservation area in 1976. It is best seen if you ascend Sunny Hill or Shaw’s Lane on the opposite side of the river. You can then see how narrow the valley is, and study the layout of the village. The rather strange looking tower at the top of Sunny Hill was used as a sighting point to help railway workers get the line of Milford Tunnel straight.
The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity and the War Memorial are at the junction of Hopping Hill and the A6. All the houses comprising the East and West Terraces, are Strutt houses. The terraces are unusual, in that to allow for the steep sloping site, the east side are two storeys high and the west three. So that all the dwellings had the same accommodation there are three east houses to every two west, even though they are back to back.
Milford School, built in 1838 to replace a previous school is on Chevin Road as is the Baptist Chapel of 1849. On the corner of Sunny Hill is the village social club, and opposite that, the school. Overlooking the A6, in a triangular piece of land, is a small memorial garden.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
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 9.30 to 12.30. Also open the last Saturday in the month, when members of Belper Historical Society are in attendance.
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. This is an exhibition not to be missed. For full opening details please ring or visit website.
Denby Pottery Visitor Centre (Tel. 01773 740799) offers factory tours Monday to Thursday (booking essential). The museum, cookery emporium and factory shops are open daily. Restaurant facilities are available.
The Mill House (Tel. 01332 843144) large modern pub located on the site of a former mill, with plenty of outside seating to admire the river and weir view. Open daily. Food served 12noon to 9pm.
Cromford Mill Tea Rooms (Tel. 01629 823256) delicious food is served in the Whole Food Tea Rooms situated in the yard of historic Cromford Mill. Outside seating is available. The complex is the home of the world’s first successful water powered cotton-spinning mill and is now a World Heritage Site.
High Peak Junction (Tel. 01629 822831) where there is an Information Centre and shop and a Railway Heritage Museum. In season light refreshments available, picnic tables overlook Cromford Canal.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
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This outstanding walk takes you through ‘Strutt Country’, setting off from the centre of Milford; it takes you on a sight seeing tour up above the Derwent Valley before descending to Belper. There are more spectacular views of the valley as you return to Milford along the Chevin.
Universally recognised as the Cradle of the Industrial Revolution, the Derwent Valley now holds World Heritage Status. Belper is so rich in industrial heritage that it is not only of national importance, but occupies a pre-eminent position on the world stage.
The River Derwent flows for more than 50 miles through the heart of Derbyshire. It brought with it the water power to run the mills along the valley. The dam on the right as you cross the bridge over the river at Belper at one time incorporated 12 large water wheels, the housings of which can still be seen.
The influence of the Strutt family is at its strongest in Milford. They owned the whole village and employed virtually all the inhabitants of working age. The best place to view Milford is from the top of Sunny Hill near the completion of your walk.
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