Derwent Valley Mills:A UNESCO World Heritage Site In The UK

The buildings of the Derwent Valley Mills in the background.
The buildings of the Derwent Valley Mills in the background.

Derwent Valley Mills is a historical site located on the banks of River Derwent in Derbyshire, England. The site characterized by the 18th to 19th-century cotton mills of historical significance. The modern factory traces its origin to the Derwent Valley Mills where Richard Arkwright’s new technology of spinning cotton was put to the test. The system was adopted throughout the valley with the system spreading to other parts of the country by 1788. The new technology enhanced the production of cotton which could now be done continuously. The Arkwright’s invention and system of utilizing labor found its way To the Europe and the US. The mills cover an area of 4.7 square miles spanning to 15 miles stretch of the Derwent Valley. The site is characterized by mill complexes and settlements which house workers.

The Development Of Derwent Valley Mills

The Derwent Valley is characterized by the 18th to 19th-century cotton mills of great technological and historical significance in the history of England and cotton production. It all started with the establishment of Silk Mill in 1721 in Derby which housed equipment for throwing silk into Italian designs. However, there was no proper structure for the employment of workers by the mill operators. In 1771, a water-powered spinning mill was constructed at Cromford by Richard Arkwright. A canal was constructed connecting the mills at Cromford to Langley Mill. The canal transported mainly coal, coke, and some metals and also provided a direct route to important textile centers of Derby and Nottingham. The Arkwright’s water-powered frame allowed cotton to be processed continuously and could also be used by unskilled workers. Arkwright established his first mill at Crowford with the nearby village expanding due to the high number of the workforce that was needed in the mill.

The system of cotton production and the workers’ housing spread throughout the valley. It soon became necessary to construct housing for workers to ensure sufficient labor force. Settlements were established by the mill owners around the mills together with amenities such as schools, markets, and chapels. Most of these housings are still in use today. Transport infrastructure was also developed in the area to open up new markets for the mill’s produce. However, the cotton industry in the Derwent Valley declined in the 19th century with the market shifting to the Lancashire. The mills and settlements are well preserved and have been put to several uses since the decline of the cotton industry in the valley.

The Legacy Of Derwent Valley Mills

The machines developed in the Derwent Valley such as the Arkwright water-powered frame increased the efficiency of cotton production. The settlement for the workers secured the labor that was needed for the mills. With the invention of the water frames, the unskilled workers who could not gain meaningful employment from the Silk Mills were able to be employed in the Derwent Valley Mills. The adoption of the water-powered frames in Europe and the US improved cotton production in those countries. The countries were able to copy the Arkwright design when the patent expired in 1785.

Preservation Of The Derwent Valley Mills

The management and preservation of the mill complex are under Arkwright society which purchased the complex in 1979. The mills were on the verge of demolition and mills had been destroyed by pigments and dyes which were stored in the mills. Most of the settlements survived and were reused after the decline of the industry. In 2000, mills were nominated to become world heritage site with the intention to protect the site.


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