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Listed Building record MDR3068 - Cromford Mill Complex, Mill Road, Cromford

Type and Period (17)

Protected Status/Designation

Full Description

The nucleus of Cromford Mill is of 1771. (1) It was at Cromford that Richard Arkwright started the first cotton spinning mill worked by waterpower. The foundation date is 1771 and the Old Mill still stands close to the Bridge (now a colour works and a laundry). (2) The mill is a typical industrial building of stone. (3) Arkwright's original mill of 1770, now [in 1965] a paint factory. The complex remained operational as a cotton spinning plant until 1891. (4) Cromford Mill is a Grade I Listed Building. The nucleus is of 1771 and is the first cotton mill set up by Richard Arkwright, who here first applied the "Spinning Jenny" to the manufacture of cotton goods. The buildings are semi-fortified, designed to resist rioters, and surrounded by high walls with a convex gatehouse. The main block of three storeys is constructed from ashlar with plain sash windows. There is also a stone rubble block of three storeys with a six-window range of two-light mullioned windows and a block of two storeys with a five-window range of sash windows and channelled lintels, both on the left-hand side. A cast iron aqueduct dated 1821 spans the roadway. The mill complex is now a paint factory. (5) The Former Mill Manager's House is a Grade II listed building built c. 1771. It is of three storeys constructed from ashlar with a three-window range of sash windows, a segmental-headed recessed doorway, plain eaves and a slate roof. There is a stepped perron in front with good iron railings and a scrolled lamp bracket. (6) Cromford Mill was the world's first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill. The Cromford Mil complex was built on an elongated site, constricted by cliffs to the north and south. It comprises a series of linked mills, together with warehouses and workshops, all built between 1771 and 1790. Severe perimeter gritstone buildings enclose and define the mill yard, their height and the paucity of ground floor windows providing tangible evidence of a concern for the security of the works. The area as a whole presents an unusually complete picture of an early textile factory complex. Richard Arkwright and his partners leased a small site in Cromford close to an existing corn mill in August 1771. It was served by the Bonsall Brook and by the water from the Cromford Sough, a lead mine drainage channel, neither of which produced a large volume of water but which had the advantage of offering a constant supply with minimal seasonal variation. The first buildings on the Cromford Mill site were the Upper Mill of 1771, a weaver's workshop (demolished when the first mill was extended) and some cottages, the remnants of which survive. (8) The Upper Mill stands at the western end of the complex and in its original form built in 1771 contained 11 bays of five storeys in height. It was built of coursed gritstone and was lined by a skin of brickwork. It was entirely traditional in its construction, with timber beams and roof members and sash windows. A water-colour representation of the mill indicates that it bore a cupola for the mill bell on the roof at the southern end. In the late 1780s the mill was extended by four bays and an additional power source added. It is a simple functional structure with few concessions to architectural style save for the original main entrance, what Richard Arkwright called the "First door", which has a fine Gibbsean doorway, and the mill buildings which have slightly arched wedge lintels with voussoirs, the central bays project forward slightly on the elevation which faces towards Cromford. A fire in 1929 removed the two upper storeys of the building after which it was re-roofed in asbestos sheet and returned to use manufacturing colour pigments. Recent research suggests that the mill was, from the beginning, powered by an overshot wheel with water brought to it by aqueduct. Such an aqueduct would have passed narrowly above Richard Arkwright's "First door", quite spoiling the effect of the fine masonry, it is entirely characteristic of the man at this stage if his career that the power source was considered more important than the architecture. (8) The aqueduct in its present form was built in 1821, with a cast iron trough resting on stone piers that replaced an earlier structure, which is known to have had a timber launder. [The aqueduct was demolished in November 2002 after a container lorry crashed into it]. The aqueduct carried water from the Cromford Sough to power the first mill. There is archaeological evidence to suggest the existence of a structure running at a lower level than either the present cast iron or the previous timber aqueduct. (8) Richard Arkwright used the five years between the construction of his first Cromford Mill and the planning of the second to develop his mechanised cotton spinning processes, and the size and scale of the second mill bears witness to his need for additional space and additional power, and to his confidence in his new systems. The Lower Mill was built in 1776 and comprised 16 bays of six storeys in height with an additional clerestory attic. [The Lower Mill was destroyed by fire in 1890]. The lower courses were of stone, but it is not clear whether the upper section was in brick or in stone. Recent excavation has revealed the foundations and ground plan of this mill, including the wheelpit, offices and two privies. Further research will ascertain whether the pit contained one or two wheels and whether the gable end, which remains to be investigated, included a heating system. The second mill annexe was built c. 1790, stone-built in four storeys. The annexe contains an unusually complete hot-air heating system that was constructed within the staircase turret and adjacent to the lavatory block. Whereas in the second mill the staircase and offices were placed within the rectangle of the mill plan thus reducing production space, the second mill annexe by using a central service tower left each mill floor unencumbered. (8) The early 18th century bridge within the mill yard pre-dates Arkwright's development of the Cromford Mill site. It bridges the Bonsall Brook and originally carried the public road which linked Matlock Bath to Cromford Bridge and the road to Wirksworth. When Arkwright constructed his second mill in 1776-77 the new building blocked the road. It was soon after this that he improved the alternative route between the Cromford road and Matlock Bath by cutting through a section of Scarthin Rock, so creating a more manageable route for wheeled vehicles. The road through Scarthin Rock was not cut down to valley level until late 1818, when the turnpike road to Belper was constructed. (8) Much of the investment in the Cromford complex was associated with the engineering structures which delivered and carried away the water which provided the motive power for the mill machinery. The basin weir built c. 1777 in the middle of the mill yard, the wheel pits of the first mill extension built c. 1786 and second mill built 1777, the culvert which took water to the Cromford Canal built c. 1820, and in particular the massive culvert built 1777 which runs from the second mill into Cromford Meadows and on to the River Derwent though for the most part unseen, are all features of outstanding historical importance. (8) The Loom Shop was built 1776-86, a three-storey building standing to the west of the first mill. The generous provision of two-light mullioned windows suggests it was a loom shop. Richard Arkwright is known to have employed weavers to work up his yarn and it is likely that this building replaced an earlier structure which stood between it and the first mill, and which is known to have been built as part of the first phase in 1771. (8) The prestigious brick-built double-pile structure which stands in front of the loom shop and the first mill are two brick cottages built c. 1780 that are likely to have been used to provide residential accommodation for those whose work at the mill required a constant presence, such as gate-keepers or watchmen. In its original form, before the addition of the second pile, it matched the building on the other side of the road known as Grace Cottage, together they offered the appearance of matching 'pavilions', flanking the mill and enhancing its appearance when seen from Cromford Market Place. Joseph Wright's representations of the mill by night and day indicate how much of the mill would have been visible from higher up the valley before the engineering works associated with the creation of the turnpike road to Belper, now the A6, destroyed the natural slope of the valley from Cromford Market Place to the Mills. Grace Cottage is a brick cottage similar to its neighbour but rendered and with the original hipped roof concealed within a modern structure. It is the Arkwright Society's intention to restore Grace Cottage to its original appearance in due course. (8) The 'bow-fronted' building of the Barracks was in existence to the east of the first mill by 1786. It was badly damaged by fire in 1961 and was demolished after being photographed by the RCHME. Oral tradition has it that this was the barracks, the accommodation for the unmarried male workers of the mill who lived too far from home to travel from work each day. (8) The large stone mill/warehouse building of five storeys to the east of the first mill was built 1785-90 and is believed to have functioned as a mill with powered machinery on the four upper floors. On the ground floor there was a storage area at the end of the building nearest the gate associated with receiving and opening bales of cotton. The cotton was cleaned in a sealed working area inside the large doors towards the middle of the building. A space with an underdrawn ceiling, doorway to the road and enlarged windows would seem to have been an office or possibly the dinner house. The apsidal end of the building contained the staircase which served the upper floors. Here again is a design solution which offered maximum production space within the mill. At the other end of the building, adjacent to the watercourse, an internally constructed lavatory column served each floor. Beside it is a hot-air heating system similar to that which survives in the second mill annexe. The building was linked to the first mill above first floor level by a bridge built in brick. Only the lower section of this bridge has survived. A brick arched bridge links two floors of this mill/warehouse building and the building to the east. It spans the entrance to the site providing additional security above the gates. The building to the east of the bridge was also built 1785-90. The apsidal end, which is the most prominent feature of this three storey stone-built structure, housed a staircase serving the first and second floors and through the second doorway in the apsidal end provided entry to what is likely to have been the mill counting-house. The large windows are indicative of this function, as is the surviving fireplace and evidence of panelling. It is likely that the building was originally divided by a large arched opening in the ground floor and that the area to the east of the door would have been used for warehousing, as would the floors above. (8) The three-storeyed stone building with sash windows to the east of the counting-house building links this building and the workshop building to the east. It is clearly later than either of its neighbours and was built c. 1800. It contains significant remains of a hot-air heating system which may have served both this building and the adjoining workshop building. (8) The three-storeyed stone workshop building was built c. 1790 and is thought to have accommodated workshop space on the ground floor. The upper floors show signs of having been used for machinery, possibly knitting frames. The building was originally linked at first and second floor level by a bridge to the second mill. The building to the east of this workshop building was also built c. 1790 and archaeological evidence suggests that this three-storeyed stone building was constructed and used as a warehouse. The second floor windows remained unglazed until the 1980s, protected solely by internal shutters. Once its textile function had ceased, it is known to have been used to store cheese awaiting shipment on the canal, and later timber. The buildings to the east of the warehouse building were again built c. 1790 and the original use of the building was as a stable and coach-house. It has now been incorporated into the Cromford Mill restaurant. (8) Beyond the aqueduct, on the opposite side of the road from the main mill complex, stands an urbane, three-storey, three-bay building that was originally built in 1796 as the Mill Manager's House. Its perron, iron railings and lamp holder, together with the nearby limestone sett paving and cannon-pattern cast iron stoop, gives texture, interest and counterpoint to the plain cliff-like walls of the mill. Overlooking the entrance to the mill yard it provided added security to the site. Within the shell of the building to the west of the Mill Manager's House, the remains have been found of a three-storey cottage which is assumed to have been one of the cottages built by Richard Arkwright in 1771. Subsequently the building became the coach-house and stables for the manager's house, after which Cromford Colour Co. converted it to a laboratory. It now houses office accommodation. (8) A late 19th century OS map of c. 1880 shows the site as 'Cromford Mills (Cotton)' and depicts the location at the eastern end of the site of the Lower Mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1890, attached to the surviving later Lower Mill annexe to the east and the surviving workshop building to the south. (9) A late 19th century OS map of 1896 and an early 20th century OS map both show the site as 'Cromford Mills' but no mention is made of cotton instead the site is shown as 'Troy Laundry', reflecting the date of 1891 as to when cotton spinning operations ceased on site. The Lower Mill is clearly absent from these later maps, but the 'bow-fronted' Barracks, which were not demolished until after having been damaged by fire in 1961, are clearly evident to the east of the Upper Mill. (10, 11) Three storey building at right angles to the road to the west of the mill yard is Arkwright's original water-powered cotton mill 1771. Other buildings on the site were added over the following twenty years making use of the combined water resources of the Bonsall Brook and Cromford Sough. Cotton manufacture ceased in 1891 and the site was consequently used as a brewery, laundry, colour works and fish farm before being acquired by the Arkwright Society in 1979. (12) Excavations were carried out in the mill yard as part of a Community Programme scheme. The work is currently unpublished, but short monthly reports from June 1986 to March 1988 were produced and are available via the HER. Work included the removal of features associated with the 20th century use of the building, the investigation of watercourses within the mill yard, the excavation of two wheel pits and of the foundations of the bow-fronted building, with restoration of the remains of the latter, as well as the uncovering of a pitched area thought to be the original surface of the mill yard. Possible earlier features investigated included a building on the north side of the wheel pit at the north end of the first mill which appeared to pre-date the mill and a wall of dry limestone which underlay the bow-fronted building. (14-16) Following Arkwright's hampered horse-powered mill in Nottingham, Strutt and Need were admitted to the Arkwright-Smalley-Thornley partnership which exploited Arkwright's powered spinning frame and in 1771 work began on the construction of Cromford Mill, shortly becoming the world's first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill. In the succeeding decades, Arkwright and Strutt, in partnership until 1781 and later separately, built a series of further mills. Their spectacular profits encouraged some to engage in direct and illegal competition, and others into taking out licences from Arkwright whose patents for the spinning frame and a carding engine remained in force until 1785. Arkwright was concerned from the outset to minimise the risk of fire in his mills. In 1772 he reported to Strutt a specific concern on the fire-proofing provisions of the mill and requested the installation of water pumps within the mill. Subsequent alterations and damage to the first mill at Cromford have probably removed any evidence that might have indicated whether this plan was put into effect. The first and second mills were essentially plain rectangular boxes in which all the mill's functions might be housed; this produced the characteristically early typological form in which the effective space of the working floors was reduced by the need to accommodate a stair and counting house (or similar room.) Arkwright's lease of the mill made specific provision for the use of water from both the Bonsall Brook and the partly artificial Cromford Sough. The original water wheel position on the first mill is not certain; a wheel roughly central to the east wall is indicated by a circular blocking for a gear-wheel and a patch of thicker ashlar masonry acting as a splashback. An early photograph shows a wide overshot wheel of iron-spoked construction, clearly of 19th century date. The most complete survival of a stove vent system is in the building extension to the second mill at Cromford (Building D) which probably dates from the 1780s or 1970s. The stove must have been on the ground-floor and was presumably external to the main structure. What survives is a flue accomodated alongside privies on each floor. (17) In 1969, a survey of Cromford Mill Complex was undertaken which identified all the standing Arkwright buildings, or, in the case of the Barracks Building and the Second Mill, their site ground and plans. In 1971, exploratory excavation in the goyt which fed a water wheel at the north end of the 1785 extension to the first mill showed that the goyt was determined by the rockface with the south side formed by two walls. Some domestic pottery was found. Between 1986 and 1988, considerable archaeological activity was undertaken at Cromford Mill, concentrated on the area roughly delineated by the east wall of the first mill building, the north side of the five storey warehouse building, and extending across to the remains of the 'Bow Fronted Building'. All levels of Building 18 were recorded during decontamination works at some time between 1996 and 2004. Much of the building had been rebuilt following the 1929 fire. Further excavations and watching briefs were also undertaken between 1996 and 2004 during decontamination works. Removal of material added after the 1929 fire for repair exposed original brick and plaster features including a lobby and an 'office' with fireplace. Excavation also revealed that the mill had been constructed on an excavated platform below the original flagged level. Drains and brick culverts and features associated with the water wheel added in circa 1785 were exposed. The settling tank was removed which exposed original stonework around the mill floor south of the water wheel pit. A stone flagged staircase compartment with dividing brick walls also survived and was exposed. The original privies and the associated access tower were identified to the north east of the Second Mill. Cobbled surfaces and stone lined drains were noted during clearance at Building 17. A 'kiosk' or cabin base was noted immediately inside the main gate; this is noted on historical mapping. Gritstone footings of a later wall was noted near Building 17, probably associated with the later division of the site to create a brewery. Unfortunately the excavation archives of the mentioned activities have been lost, and an incomplete set of monthly reports are all that remain to document the work. (18)

Sources/Archives (18)

  • <1> Bibliographic reference: Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG). 1948. Provisional list of buildings 1390/11/A, December, 1948.
  • <2> Bibliographic reference: Pevsner, N. 1953. The Buildings of England: Derbyshire, 1st edition. p. 104.
  • <3> Personal Observation: F1 BHS 24-MAY-66.
  • <4> Index: Council for British Archaeology (CBA). CBA Industrial Archaeology Report Card. Cotton Mill, Cromford.
  • <5> Bibliographic reference: Department of the Environment. 1972. Department of the Environment, Matlock, Derbyshire, October 1972. 3/2956/014.
  • <6> Listed Building File: Historic England. 2011. The National Heritage List for England. 3/2956/015.
  • <7> Unpublished document: County Treasure Recording Form. 10(i).7, with photos.
  • <8> Unpublished document: Derwent Valley Mills (DVM) Nomination Steering Panel. 2000. Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage List Nomination Document. pp. 39-46.
  • <9> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1882. OS County Series, 1st edition, scale 1:2500 (c. 25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11.
  • <10> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1896-1900. OS County Series, 2nd edition (1st revision), scale 1:2500 (c. 25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11, 1896.
  • <11> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1912-1921. OS County Series, 3rd edition (Second Revision), scale 1:2500 (25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11.
  • <12> Bibliographic reference: Fowkes, D (ed.). 1997. Derbyshire Industrial Archaeology. A Gazetteer of Sites. Part IV. Derbyshire Dales. p. 18.
  • <13> Article in serial: The Manchester Guardian. 1890. Surviving parts of Arkwright's Second Mill.
  • <14> Unpublished document: Stroud, G. 2001. Derbyshire Extensive Urban Survey Archaeological Assessment Report: Cromford. p. 17.
  • <15> Unpublished document: Strange, P. 1986-8. Monthly Archaeological Reports: Cromford Mill Excavations.
  • <16> Unpublished document: Strange, P. 1994. Cromford Mill Reclamation Scheme: Previous Archaeological Activity on the Site.
  • <17> Article in serial: Menuge, A (RCHME). 1993. 'The cotton mills of the Derbyshire Derwent and its tributaries', Industrial Archaeology Reivew.
  • <18> Archive: Strange, P (The Arkwright Society). 2008. Sir Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill, an archaeological archive.



Grid reference Centred SK 2981 5694 (161m by 124m) Approximate
World Heritage Site Derwent Valley Mills

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Record last edited

Feb 13 2024 12:17PM

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