History of Cromford Mill

Cromford Mill

History of the Cromford Mill, the first industrial-scale cotton mill begins in 1771 when the English entrepreneur Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) and his business partners Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need built the first water-powered mill at Cromford. The mill began operating in 1772 and employed 200 workers who were mostly women and children which, however, was not unusual at the time. During the first three years, much of the work in the mill is said to be experimental but little is known about what exactly took place in the Cromford Mill until 1775.

In 1775, Richard Arkwright filed his second patent (the first was for water frame in 1769) for improved carding machine which gave birth to industrial-scale cotton production and made the Cromford Mill one of the most successful as well as copied cotton spinning mills in the United Kingdom as well as abroad. Arkwright’s patent was later challenged and overturned at the court but many mills using the same technology were built under license. Although Arkwright made a fortune from his entrepreneurship, most of his wealth originated from the licenses. Arkwright’s inventions significantly increased the cotton yarn production and new mills sprung up at Cromford eventually employing 1,000 workers. At the time of his death, Arkwright was the wealthiest untitled man in the United Kingdom.

Richard Arkwright Junior sold most of his father’s mill interests outside Cromford and Marlock Bath after his death in 1792. However, the Cromford Mill gradually began to decline in the 1820s and by 1870s, only a part of Richard Arkwright’s mill was operational. His great-great-grandson Frederic Charles Arkwright (1853-1923) connected with John Edward Lawton, a successful cotton spinner who revived the Masson Mill but not the Cromford Mill. Parts of the mill were used as a brewery, one building was used as a laundry, while the second mill was used by William Hollins who invented a blend of wool and cotton called Viyella until it was destroyed by a fire in 1890.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Arkwright family sold the Cromford Mill which was then partly used as a laundry and partly as a dyeing factory. Over the following decades, the original buildings went through dramatic transformation, while the Barracks were demolished after a fire in the 1960s. The machinery that stood in the Cromford Mill during its golden age was partly sold (later acquired by the Hemshore Museum in Lancashire) and partly donated to the Science Museum in London. Most of it, however, it believed to have been destroyed.

The dye factory closed its doors in 1979 and the Cromford Mill was purchased by the Arkwright Society founded eight years earlier to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the construction of the first water mill at Cromford. Over the following decades, the Society restored much of the historic buildings to their original state and opened their gates to the public. In 2001, the Cromford Mill was along with other mills in the Derwent Valley inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list as the Derwent Valley Mills for its historic role in industrial cotton production.