1092 properties have been inscribed on the World Heritage List, including a diverse range of sites from the natural tranquillity of The Galapagos Islands to bustling Medina of Marrakesh. Some sites are as ancient as the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt or as new as the 20th century modern movement architecture of the City University of Caracas.
World Heritage Sites are places of Outstanding Universal Value to Humanity. It is a not a list of all properties of great interest, importance or value, but only a select list of the most outstanding of these from an international viewpoint.
The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site contains a fascinating series of mill complexes, the watercourses that powered them and the settlements developed for the workers. Here is a brief overview of the World Heritage Site and places to visit.
Standing at the northern entrance to Belper is William Strutt’s North Mill of 1804. Constructed using pioneering ‘fire proof’ technology, the mill houses the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre – a must for all those wishing to discover the area’s celebrated textile traditions.
Here you will enter the lives of those who worked in the Strutt family mills, once described as “the best in England”. Find out about the fines that were imposed for misbehaviour – including the forfeits for idleness, looking through windows and making noises in the counting house! Join a tour of the factory settlement built by the Strutts for their workers from the 1780s, complete with sturdy houses, schools and chapels.
Take a moment to experience the drama of the horseshoe weir that provided power to the mills – an engineering wonder of its day – and discover the town’s beautiful River Gardens.
Following the river downstream through the historic mill village of Milford, you will arrive at the community of Darley Abbey. Here water power was already in use driving paper, corn, flint and leather mills when, in 1782, the Evans family added their cotton mills and later their factory village.
A walk through Darley Park brings you to the Silk Mill, the southern entrance to the World Heritage Site. The Silk Mill is currently undergoing a redevelopment called “Remake the Museum”, where artists and makers are designing and making furniture and fittings for the ground floor, and planning how the space will function. The new Joseph Wright Gallery is a short walk away at the Museum and Art Gallery.
Sir Richard Arkwright’s magnificent Masson Mills at Matlock Bath stand at the northern entrance to the World Heritage Site. Established in 1783, and in continuous use until 1991, the mills house a remarkable working textile museum and an adjoining retail village. Experience the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone age: the clatter of well-oiled machinery, the whirr of drive belts and wooden floors worn by generations of local millworkers’ feet.
A short distance south of Masson Mills lies Arkwright’s Cromford Mill – the world’s first successful water-powered cotton spinning mills. Building started here in 1771. The complex was saved from dereliction in the 1970s and is currently undergoing painstaking restoration. yIt now contains exhibition rooms, restaurant and various shops.
As he harnessed water power to move the cotton industry out of homes and into purpose-built factories, Arkwright provided for the needs of his new workforce. Today much of Cromford – the village he created and which remained in his family’s ownership until the 1920s – remains intact. See the cottages built for workers’ families, the school, the inn, and the lock-up for those who misbehaved, even the privies, allotments and pigsties that formed the backdrop to factory workers’ lives.
Before leaving Cromford, be sure to call into the Arkwright’s family home of Willersley Castle, and take a stroll along the Cromford Canal to the High Peak Junction Workshops. From Cromford make a brief diversion to the factory shop at John Smedley’s Mill.
The Derwent Valley Mills are significant in World History for their contribution to the development of manufacturing industry and technological innovation. The Derwent Valley saw the birth of the factory system, when new types of building were erected to house ground-breaking technology for water-powered manufacturing.
To attract and retain a workforce, the mill owners provided housing and other facilities such as schools and places of worship, which resulted in the creation of the first modern industrial communities.
The site contains a fascinating series of mill complexes, the watercourses that powered them and the settlements developed for workers. The factory system developed in the Derwent Valley was copied in many parts of Britain and abroad.