Visit To Cromford Mills & Village — 18 September 2013.


As our chair­man said in his note in Stumpers, it was an excel­lent day made all the better by the weather. Some pho­to­graphs of the day can be found in the new  Gallery which can be found at the right hand side of the menu bar. More will be added over the coming week.

The mills and vil­lage were built by Sir Richard Arkwright, the father of the fact­ory system, mass pro­duc­tion of cotton thread and the shift system. He was 100 years ahead of Henry Ford and his mass pro­duc­tion of the Model ‘T’ Ford car. Arkwright was born in 1732, the son of a tailor. His par­ents couldn’t afford to send him to school and so his cousin Ellen taught him to read and write. He was appren­ticed to a barber and wig maker and during that time he inven­ted a water­proof die for wigs. He had a burn­ing desire to make money and turned his mind to the spin­ning of cotton which was a ‘cot­tage’ industry at that time: the thread being pro­duced by women in their houses. He designed a spin­ning frame based on an earlier idea of Thomas Highs who didn’t have the fin­ances or the under­stand­ing of why his design didn’t func­tion.

Arkwright’s frame was first used in Preston in 1768 a midst tre­mend­ous oppos­i­tion from the skilled hand spin­ners who feared he would put them out of busi­ness. In 1769 he moved to Nottingham and teamed up with Jedediah Strutt, who inven­ted the stock­ing frame, and Samuel Need, a wealthy hosiery man­u­fac­turer. In 1769 Arkwright took out a patent for his frame and tried to power it by a horse tread­mill but it was unsuc­cess­ful.

Realizing that water power could be the answer he and his part­ners built the first mill,which was five stor­ies high, at Cromford in 1771 where there was a plen­ti­ful supply of water. This came from the Cromford sough, which was a three foot dia­meter drain, built by the lead miners of the area to get rid of the water from the mines. The water from the sough went into a round sluice area, loc­ally known as the ‘bear pit’, because that is what it resembled. The ‘bear pit’ con­tained two sluice gates to either send the water, via an aque­duct to the mill or to a mill pond for stor­age, known as the Greyhound Pond because it is situ­ated behind the Greyhound Hotel.

After only a year or so Arkwright exten­ded his first mill by about another 30% to cope with the demand for his cotton thread. Arkwright ran the mill around the clock, oper­at­ing a two, 13 hour shift system: he was the father of the shift system!

Within the next year or two he built a second mill which was seven stor­ies high and used the water from the first mill to power this by chan­nel­ling it down a millrace. The mills were heated up to approx­im­ately 30 degrees cen­ti­grade and the floors were kept con­tinu­ally wet to obtain a high humid­ity, the best con­di­tions for spin­ning and work­ing cotton. Work in the mills must have been very unpleas­ant under these con­di­tions, which is prob­ably where the expres­sion of a ‘sweat shop’ came from.
He paid his work­ers higher than normal wages for the time. He provided a doctor for ill­ness and acci­dents, and once or twice a year arranged feasts and balls for them. He built ware­houses in front of the mills without win­dows on the ground floor on the out­side walls, partly to store his goods but to also act as a defence against mob attack.
It could also be said that he built Cromford Village for his work­ers, includ­ing a market square and streets of houses which his employ­ees rented from him. The houses were built of stone to quite a high stand­ard for the time, and were three stor­ies high. The ground floor was for living in, the first floor was for sleep­ing and the second floor was designed so that the man of the house could have a weav­ing machine. He built two inns in the vil­lage because beer was recog­nized as the only safe liquid to drink. He also built the Greyhound Hotel where his poten­tial cus­tom­ers and cli­ents stayed, and where he con­duc­ted his busi­ness. Although he made a lot of money from the mills he made more money from licens­ing his pat­ents to other busi­ness­men.
He built a school for the chil­dren before it became com­puls­ory for them to attend full time edu­ca­tion, prob­ably because he real­ized what he had missed as a boy.
Sir Richard Arkwright was mar­ried twice and was knighted for his con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try. He had a son, who was also called Richard who became a banker as a result of the enorm­ous wealth that his father had accu­mu­lated. He died on the 3rd August 1792 at the age of 59.