Industrial Revolution image

Industrial Revolution

The Heart of the Midlands was the birthplace of the industrial revolution and innovation which changed the landscape and infrastructure of Britain and the world forever.

Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, when agricultural societies became more industrialised and urban.



It began with the construction of the Silk Mill in Derby in 1721 for the brothers John and Thomas Lombe, which housed machinery for throwing silk, based on an Italian design. The scale, output, and numbers of workers employed were without precedent. In 2012 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) confirms the outstanding importance of the area as the birthplace of the factory system.



Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

In 1771, a small sleepy village in the middle of Derbyshire suddenly found itself thrust into the heart of world history when it became the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. In that year, the village of Cromford was chosen by inventor Richard Arkwright to be the site of the first water-driven spinning factory on Earth. The modern factory owes its origins to the mills at Cromford, where Richard Arkwright's inventions were first put into industrial-scale production. Further factories followed, first in the Derwent Valley, and soon all over the world. The workers' housing associated with this and the other mills remains intact and illustrates the socio-economic development of the area.



Cromford Mills and the Industrial Revolution

Before Arkwright built Cromford Mill most cotton was produced by the domestic system. This involved skilled self-employed people working in their own homes using manually powered machines. That domestic industry was destroyed by what started at Cromford. There were a series of innovations which transformed cotton production. Cromford was the home of two of the most important innovations, both created by Richard Arkwright. There are several processes involved in cotton production and other innovators besides Arkwright. However, the water frame was an important innovation, particularly because its characteristics lead to his second innovation, the factory.



Arkwright's water frame had a number of important qualities:

1 - It vastly increased the production of spun cotton. It could not be ignored and was very profitable to its adopters.

2 - It could not be manually powered, it needed waterpower.

3 - It was too expensive for the home weaver and needed substantial capital investment.

4 - It could be operated by unskilled labour.

Qualities 2 & 3 meant that the water frame could not be used by home spinners, the frames had to be set up in mills and near water. Qualities 1 & 4 meant that the new mills soon destroyed the independence and livelihoods of the home spinners. It also meant cheaper clothes and other cotton products.



Industrial Revolution celebrated with UNESCO World Heritage Centre

The mass processing of cotton had begun, and the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution was registered. Today the Cromford Mill is a recognised World Cultural Heritage site. The same goes for all the other remaining early industrial factories in the valley. Derwent Valley Mills are a World Heritage Site along the River Derwent in Derbyshire, England, designated in December 2001. The Derwent valley, upstream from Derby on the southern edge of the Pennines, contains a series of 18th and 19th century cotton mills and an industrial landscape of high historical and technological significance.


An Industrial Revolution driven by the innovators and leaders

Arkwright built the world's first water-powered cotton spinning mill at Cromford in Derbyshire in 1771. Soon it had 300 workers and by 1789 the mills employed 800 people. The Cromford Mills template was soon adopted elsewhere in the cotton industry, and then in other industries, changing society for ever. Masson, Cromford, Belper, Milford, Darley Abbey, Derby – each of these places in the Derwent Valley has written a chapter of industrial history. The preconditions were an inventive spirit, a willingness to take risks, hydraulic power and a high-quality, resilient and disciplined workforce. When Richard Arkwright, the future “father of industrial fabrication” arrived in Cromford around 1770 the place contained little more than a few farmhouses. This soon changed. Arkwright borrowed some money from two wealthy hosiers from Nottingham and built something which looked like a water mill.


The symbol of this revolution – the factory building

It was, in fact, a factory. At its centre was a water frame, a fine spinning engine which he himself invented and built. It was driven by waterpower. As were all the other machines which were added to the factory over the course of the following years. Such a thing had never existed before; the manufacture of cotton yarn in outstanding quality and in undreamt of quantities with the help of a source of power which people had known about for many years, but never exploited before to this extent.



Derwent Valley is a vivid example of how the Industrial Revolution changed people’s lives

Inspired by his success, Arkwright built further factories in and around Cromford. Other entrepreneurs in the Derwent Valley copied his example and it was not long before factories were springing up from the ground like mushrooms, not only in Britain but on the Continent. Working conditions were hard. The air in the early factories was particularly hot and sticky because cotton can best be spun in a hot, damp atmosphere. Arkwright was well aware that the success of his enterprise depended wholly on his workforce which included many children. He built rows of cottages for them in Cromford, a school and a small church. In this respect the place set an example for the whole world. Derwent Valley is a vivid example of how the Industrial Revolution changed people’s lives.



The Arkwright Society conserving the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

In 1979, the site was purchased by The Arkwright Society, who are slowly restoring it and rectifying decades of neglect. In 2001, the historical importance of Cromford Mill was recognised when it, along with the surrounding village, became a keystone of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.


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