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Building record MDR9637 - Smedley's (formerly Nightingale's) Mill, Lea Bridge

Type and Period (5)

Protected Status/Designation

  • World Heritage Site

Full Description

Some remains of Peter Nightingale's cotton mill of 1783 survive within the hosiery works of J. Smedley Ltd. (1) Early cotton mill owned by the Nightingale family, and said to have been erected in about 1784. It was later owned by John Smedley who converted it to wool spinning. The nearby Lea Brook provided the water power for the mill. The original dam is to the north of the mill, along the main road. It is probably the oldest mill in the country with a continuous record of spinning, being still in use as John Smedley Ltd, Knitting and Spinning Mill. The bridge across the road carries the emblem of a jay, until recently the badge of the company. (2) The 18th century cotton mill at Lea Bridge is so concealed by later buildings that it is visible now only from the air. Yet within the interstices of the Smedley factory the original mill has survived surprisingly intact. It was planned and built in 1783 by Peter Nightingale, Richard Arkwright's financier and landlord in Cromford, and Benjamin Pearson junior, hitherto one of Arkwright's trusted employees. It was not an enterprise that Arkwright had authorised and he pursued Nightingale through the courts, but the mill continued to operate. It was built on the Lea Brook, a stream which already powered a lead smelting mill and a rolling mill both in Nightingale's possession, but which was capable of further development. During 1784 and 1785 the stream's capacity was enhanced by the creation of two dams higher up the valley, and there was a further substantial investment in 1792 with the creation of a third dam for the cotton mill. It was as a result of this development that the existing corn mill ceased to operate and Nightingale created a new one higher up the valley on a site that is now known as Pear Tree Farm. Much physical evidence of these developments remains. The dams and watercourses are discernable on the ground and the lead smelting site is visible in the form of slag heaps even though all the buildings have gone, so have the mills below the cotton mill, of which the hat factory was the largest. The cotton mill itself, however, has enjoyed an extraordinary longevity. In 1818 it was taken over by the Smedley family who, after a decade attempting to make a success of the business as a woollen spinning mill, adapted it for the production of cotton and wool yarns, from which the Company's knitters made high quality knitwear. This was the work of John Smedley (1803-1874) who, from successful experiments in the 1820s in mixing cotton and merino wool, was able to produce a range of high quality products. John Smedley was content to sell his knitwear through the great hosiery houses such as Brettles or Morleys, but after his death the firm gradually developed its own retail brand for which it is now known world-wide. Of all the first generation Arkwright sites in the Derwent Valley only at Lea Bridge has there been continuous textile production. Lea Mills remains a major source of employment in the area. (3) The first clear depiction of the Lea Mills site is a map of the Lea Mills water system, dated c. 1860. This shows a number of buildings on the site. The 1st edition 25" OS map of 1879 indicates only a few minor developments since 1860, mainly relating to outbuildings on the east side of Lea Road and the construction of a new coal gas power plant north of the main mill complex. At that time it is named as 'Lea Mills (Merino)'. The two subsequent OS maps show it as 'Lea Mills (Hosiery)'. A plan of 1931, revised in 1941, indicates that site had taken its present form by that time. The earliest buildings on the site are typically built of coursed gritstone rubble while more recent additions are of red brick. (4-7)

Sources/Archives (7)

  • <1> Index: Council for British Archaeology (CBA). CBA Industrial Archaeology Report Card. Nightingale's cotton mill.
  • <2> Unpublished document: County Treasure Recording Form. 10(i).1, with photos.
  • <3> Unpublished document: Derwent Valley Mills (DVM) Nomination Steering Panel. 2000. Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage List Nomination Document. pp 58-59, illust..
  • <4> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1882. OS County Series, 1st edition, scale 1:2500 (c. 25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11.
  • <5> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1896-1900. OS County Series, 2nd edition (1st revision), scale 1:2500 (c. 25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11, 1896.
  • <6> Map: Ordnance Survey (OS). 1912-1921. OS County Series, 3rd edition (Second Revision), scale 1:2500 (25" to one mile). XXXIV - 11.
  • <7> Unpublished document: EDP. 2006. John Smedley Limited, Lea Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire - Archaeological/Cultural Heritage Assessment.



Grid reference Centred SK 3183 5639 (174m by 195m) Approximate
World Heritage Site Derwent Valley Mills

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (2)

  • EDR2810
  • EDR3878

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External Links (0)

Record last edited

May 15 2023 12:37PM

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