Belper North Mill, Bridge Foot, Belper, built in 1804 replacing a mill of 1786.
The first iron-framed fireproof building, in the full sense, was erected by William Strutt at Belper in 1804, and known as Belper North Mill. It occupied the site of a previous mill, built in traditional style in 1786, that had been destroyed by fire in 1803. The new mill was a five storey building, with an attic, and is iron-framed throughout. The building has a plain brick exterior and is still in use. (1)
North Mill, Belper (the only surviving Strutt Mill) has jack-arches of hollow pot construction forming the attic ceiling and all ceiling in the three bays directly over the wheel chamber where there was a need to keep the weight to a minimum. Such use of fireproofing methods by hollow pot construction may have been adapted also by Richard Arkwright junior at his Masson Mill at Cromford. Sections of the North Mill drawn by John Farey junior in 1809 show it in all probability in its original state with five-powered floors over the basement and a school room in the attic. The 1800s mill was built on five storeys plus basement and attic, it utilised a predominantly cast-iron roof and cast-iron screwback beams, but retained the same basic plans of the earlier buildings. The earliest transmission system for which good evidence survives is at North Mill, where near-contemporary drawings of John Farey can be compared with the surviving fabric of the building to establish an unusually complete picture. North Mill has abundant, if not puzzling, evidence for a stove vent system. As in the extension to the second mill at Cromford, the flue is constructed alongside privies on each floor on the north gable of the main range, but the stove is located on the south end of the mill; this would imply a long horizontal flue running the length of the basement. Photographs taken in 1988 show a higher basement floor level with a boxed flue, where the removal of such a feature has exposed a rubble plinth. (2-3)
The North Mill was surveyed by the RCHME in December 1991, by which time it had already been partially converted to offices with some loss of evidence and a considerable amount of evidence obscured. Photographs taken by the RCHME in 1987 show some of the features that have since gone or have been altered. The mill is the second oldest extant fire-proof mill in the world and occupies the site of a timber-floored mill which was built in 1786 but which was consumed by 'a most tremendous fire' in 1803. The plan, and possibly the watercourses, of the earlier mill seem to have influenced the plan of the present mill and probably account for the variation in bay spans which are visible. It is brick-built above a masonry basement and ground floor. It has five full storeys and an attic floor which was used as a schoolroom. It has little by way of architectural pretension other than a lunette in the south-western gable lighting the attic, relying on the rhythm of the windows with a slight projection of the central bays to distinguish its main south-eastern elevation. (4)
Belper North Mill, rebuilt in 1804 by William Strutt on the lower storeys of the earlier mill that had been destroyed by fire in 1803, embodies the knowledge accumulated from all the earlier experiments William Strutt had made into fire-resistant mill structures and from his close participation in Charles Bage's pioneering work at Shrewsbury. William Strutt, 1756-1830, was a mechanic and engineer of the highest distinction. He was the first to tackle systematically the threat of fire in textile mills first by cladding with plaster and then by the use of iron and brick. His work with Charles Bage, who grew up in Darley Abbey and who he may have known from an early age, was seminal in the evolution of fire-proof design. It was Charles Bage who produced the first iron-framed mill at Shrewsbury in 1796 and then went on to build a further mill in Leeds. William Strutt's Belper Mill embodied much of what Charles Bage had learnt and took further the evolution of these structures from which there emerged, two generations later, the first fully framed building, the Sheerness Boat Store. The mill is constructed in brick on a stone plinth. The exterior retains the character of the earlier mill and so has the appearance of a first generation Arkwright-type structure. Every aspect of the building was designed to resist combustion. It has a T-shaped plan consisting of a main range of 17 bays and a wing of 6 bays. Housed within the wing is the wheel chamber that occupies the three bays adjacent to the main range. The wheel pit, which now stands empty, gives some indication of the power once generated to operate this mill. The wheel installed in 1804 was replaced in 1823 at a cost of £1,383; it was constantly repaired as daily use took its toll. In the basement, the former ground floor of the earlier mill, stone piers carry the cast iron columns which support each of the floors above. The massive stone buttresses which were once a feature of this space have been removed. The floors are composed of brick and tile supported by arches that spring from cast iron beams. The beams are supported by cast iron columns which, in turn, are linked together by wrought iron ties. Clay pots are used to infill the floor arches in the bays above the water wheel so reducing the weight in this area. Carl Friedrick Schinkel, arguably the greatest German architect of the 19th century and a member of the Prussian Public Works Committee, visited England in 1826. Schinkel described the Strutt works in Belper as "the best in England". The sheer scale of iron-framed industrial buildings throughout the country impressed him and influenced many of his later designs, notably the Bauakademie, 1831-5 in Berlin. The mill has also attracted more recent attention. Sir Neil Cossons in 1981 described it as "the most beautiful, sophisticated and technically perfect structure of its era". William Strutt was recognised by his contemporaries as the leading exponent of hot-air heating systems for large buildings and the stove, which was once located in the windowless masonry block occupying the two northern bays of the western end of the North Mill, is of some interest, though it is now recognised that mill buildings of an earlier generation, as for example those at Cromford, had hot-air heating systems before William Strutt's experiments began. The archaeology of the stove-housing and stoking area in the North Mill have been disturbed in modern times, which complicates the historic evaluation of this area of the structure. A stove which was part of a William Strutt heating system has survived and is now in the National Museum of Science and Industry in London. (5)
William Strutt's pioneering fireproof cotton mill of five storeys was built in 1803-4 and forms one of the principal sites of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The floors are supported on cast iron columns with brick arches, with hollow earthenware pots forming part of the fireproofing system. The attic was originally used as a schoolroom. The mill was originally water-powered but the wheel has long been removed, although the wheel pit remains. The current structure replaced an earlier mill of 1784, which was destroyed by fire. The earliest Strutt mill was the South Mill of 1776, which was demolished in the 1960s. North Mill currently (2011) houses a small museum in the ground floor and basement celebrating the Strutt mills and the local spinning and knitting industries. The other floors are in multiple occupancy. (6)
From the National Heritage List of England:
'This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 21 March 2022 to update text and reformat to current standards
SK 3448 SE 1/3
BRIDGE FOOT (East Side) North Mill
Apart from Bage's Mill at Shrewsbury (which has an altered exterior) the North Mill is the earliest example of a completely iron framed mill in the world and is certainly the most intact extant example of this type of construction. 1803-4. Built by Strutts (designed by William Strutt). To replace an earlier mill destroyed by fire. It is an example of their developing constructional innovations, particularly designed to combat fire hazards and to provide light and airy working conditions. T-shaped plan. Red brick, lower part ashlar. Slate roof with coped gable ends. Five storeys. Fifteen windows, generally of three lights each with cambered head linings. Attic floor, formerly used as a school for children working in the mill, has lunette in western gable end facing street. Vaulted construction inside. Wheel pit below.
Listing NGR: SK3454248081.'