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.