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Cromford Mill and Wharf

Location

Derbyshire Map

OS Ref: SK 299 570

Last Visited: 2006

Cromford Mill

Cromford Mill

This is where it all began; the factory system that is. Richard Arkwright, an itinerant barber-surgeon and wigmaker, designed, or possibly stole the design for, a machine that could spin cotton. This he called the Water Frame (not the Spinning Jenny, a separate development by James Hargreaves).

In 1771 he built the world’s first successful water powered cotton spinning mill in in Cromford, which became the model for the new way of working that would become the Industrial Revolution.

Cromford Mill

Cromford Mill

Arkwrightʼs first mill still survives at the far end of the site, although it lost its top two stories in a fire in the 1930s. Plans are afoot to completely restore it, but at the moment it is not accessible to visitors.

His second mill, built a few years later, was raised to the ground, and the remains have only recently been discovered. The stripped floor shows the spacing between the machines and the tiny four-seater loo in the back wall gives an idea of the conditions the workers had to endure. However compared to the lead mines, it must have been luxury.

To my mind this was not the start of the Industrial Revolution, For that you have to walk across the road to Cromford Wharf. As we know from our own times, technological progress only becomes a revolution when you introduce a network.

Cromford Canal

Cromford Canal

Electronic computers started to appear during and after the Second World War and got steadily more powerful, but had only a small impact on most peoples day to day lives. Then in the 90s the Internet arrived, and our whole way of processing information changed.

Thus it was in the 18th century. The reason that Arkwright, and the others, could build big factories was the revolution in transport brought about firstly by the canals and then, far more dramatically, by the railways.