Significance of Cromford Mill

Cromford Mill

In 2001, UNECO proclaimed the Cromford Mill along with other mills in the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, England, a World Heritage Site for its historical significance. The mill that was built by entrepreneur and inventor Richard Arkwright in 1771 was not only the first water mill for cotton spinning but it was the first to successfully implement industrial-scale cotton production technology. As such, it profoundly influenced the course of the Industrial Revolution.

Richard Arkwright in reality invented nothing revolutionary as machines for both cotton carding and spinning already existed. However, it is also true that they were either unable to keep up with the demand for cotton or failed to produce sufficient quality for the warp. Arkwright’s improvements in cotton spinning and carding managed to achieve exactly what others failed. In 1769, he patented water frame, a type of spinning frame which is driven by water power and dramatically reduced the amount of human labour required and increased the spindle count at the same time. Four years after he built the Cromford Mill, he also patented a carding machine which turned raw cotton into yard and enabled him to create the first industrial-scale cotton production.

The Cromford Mill was a tremendous success and it did not take long for other entrepreneurs in Britain as well as abroad including the United States to copy his cotton manufacturing process. One of the apprentices of Arkwright’s business partner took the plans of his machines to America where he established his own cotton factory. Although Arkwright later lost the battle for the patents, many of the mills were built under license which brought him most of his wealth. But the Cromford Mill did not only profoundly influenced the cotton industry but the industrialisation of the world. He managed to create a unique combination of machinery, power and skilled or semi-skilled labour force which enabled him to create mass production. For that reason his mills at Cromford are widely considered a model for modern factories that sprung up worldwide in the 19th century.

In less than three generations, Arkwright’s mills at Cromford were shut down and the buildings were used for other purposes or left to decline. In the 1970s, however, the interest in the site once again increased but this time for other reasons. The Arkwright’s Society which was formed on the 200th anniversary of the construction of the first mill at Cromford purchased the former mills and started a long and costly restoration with an aim to restore the buildings to their original appearance and preserve the Cromford heritage which was also recognized by UNESCO in 2001.

The gates of the Cromford Mill are fully open to visitors who can explore the former Arkwright’s cotton factory every day except Christmas Day from 9am to 5pm. Guided tours are available as well but advance arrangement is required.