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Another afternoon stroll (warning long post, lots of photos)

Well it is almost a decade since I posted one of my favourite walks so I decided it was time to do another one.
Today I've cheated a bit due to my trashed knee, but that is slowly improving so I took the bus a couple of miles into the next valley and the hobbled 7 miles home on a crutch and knee brace. I'm going to take you on walk around an 18th century industrial landscape so remarkable that much of it forms part of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
We will start with what looks a fairly ordinary set of old English building but in fact is one of, if not the main, reasons we are in World Heritage Site.

Here we see what history considers the first modern industrial manufacturing factory in the world, Richard Arkwright's original Mill complex built in the 1770's where for the first time in history weaving (or any manufacturing) moved out of the cottage and into the factory.
Moving on we walk down a street that other than tarmac and cars hasn't changed since the mills were build and would be familiar to those first sweat shop staff.

Houses for the managers to right and the huge mill, a building of an amazing size then no doubt on the left. And so to the gate where workers and goods would have could and gone.

These buildings were still part of the working mills of the Derwent Valley when I was a kid growing up in in the 1970s, in the 80s they fell into dereliction and in the 90s were regenerated as a visitor attraction, craft centre and meeting venue.


No time to visit today still over 6.5 miles to go, so we will cross to road to another bit of 18th century engineering, the Cromford Canal, once the mill came so did the need to bring in raw materials and take out finished product. The canal was completed around 12 years after the mill giving a link to the wider waterways network though the Erewash Canal and at Pinxton near Chesterfield. Here we see the warehouse and loading yard at the northern end of the canal just across the road the from the mill.

and here the covered wharf where bales of cotton fibre arrived and bolts of cloth left.

Originally about 14.5 miles long the canal continued to operate throughout the 19th century before being closed in stages through the first half of the 20th century. Now around 5 miles are still full of water

and a narrowboat tourist service operates from Cromford to High Peak Junction (where we are headed next)

though most of the traffic is now human powered!

After a mile and a half we reach a marvel of 19th century engineering, the buildings over the canal are the southern terminus of the Cromford and High Peak Railway which ran from here across the Peak District to Whaley Bridge, connecting this little Derbyshire valley to Manchester and the world.


We will come back to this in a a mile or two but first more canals and mills. Just before we leave this scene one more photo, keep this scene, and the field behind me as I took the photo in mind as it will feature later in this story!

While not really a feature of the Derwent Valley lead mining now takes centre stage in the story. By the mid 19th C the mines in the adjacent Ecclesbourne Valley had got so deep dewatering tunnels, known as soughs, were driven from the Derwent valley, this lowered the water table and deprived the canal of water. The solution to this is housed in this magnificent building.

Inside is a Graham's of Elsecar Cornish beam engine, which still fires up once a month through the summer to deliver tons of water from the river Derwent to the canal.
Up to the late 20th C mills still operated all along the valley from here to Derby some 15 miles south, but now only one is still producing, that was once served by this spur from the canal.

Now we will pay that mill a visit. Any fashionistas among will recognise the company name on this sign.

John Smedleys have been operating in this same factory since 1784, making this the oldest continuously operating factory in the world. First as a producer of everyday fabrics, now a house of high fashion making some of the best knitwear on the planet,

Their garments cost hundreds of per item from stores like Harrods, Selfridges and their equivalents around the globe, but as the sign says today is one of their factory sales of seconds, samples (10 a pop) and last season's perfect stock (20) so lets take a look.

The sale is in one of the mill workshops, I bough a perfect cardigan, 3 seconds jumpers and a seconds cardigan for the princely sum of 60, a quick bit of google and I find in somewhere like Harrods my little haul would have to 893.95! Don't you just love a bargain! Here is a look into the QA department,

Sorry it isn't too clear as I was taking it though a dirty window, those green things on the table are microscopes. Which could explain why even with little bits of cotton marking the flaws I can only see it on 2 of my 4 seconds, one a misalignment of the stitching attaching the collar by around half a mm over about 3mm of the seam and the other a single stitch (out of the 1.5 million Smedleys say go into every garment) is of a just noticeable under a magnifying glass different tension!
Now back to that railway, here we look along the track bed and something strange is going on!

Yes it does suddenly ramp up at a gradient just beyond the buildings. This is what happens when you let canal engineers build a railway! They follow a contour then suddenly change level, in this case using steep inclines instead of locks.

The image above shows the gradient of the railway over its 30 some miles to Whaley Bridge, in that distance the track climbs by almost 1000ft in 4 inclines and drops by 800ft in 2 more. In this sentence I have explained why, until the Chinese built the Tibet Railway, the Cromford and High Peak was, mile for mile, the most expensive railway ever built.
So how did trains get up those inclines? They were winched, here we see bottom wheels of the system that ran the mile up the incline we saw the bottom of. Here just goods wagons were winched up and down, further along the line whole trains were winched.

We can see the steel rope the truck were attached too, this was the Mk2 system using the latest cable making technology in the mid 18th C, originally this was a 2 stage system as chains couldn't be made light and strong enough to full mile of the incline.
Now remember that photo I told you to keep in mind? We have reached that part of the story

What we have here is a catchpit for runaway wagons, it was installed after a brake van full of gunpowder ran away, modern calculations estimate it doing around 200kmh (so quite possibly the fastest man made object ever at that time!) as it crashed through the buffers, cleared the canal to about where I took that photo from and ended up some 50ft down the canal embankment in a field! Here is the last runaway from sometime in the 1950s.

Just above this we come to where the mid stage winding engine was, just a hillside now as the engine was moved and building demolished in the 19th C. Still a long way to the top!

And to the top, the building to the right of the frame housed the winding engine, an empty shell now,

but we visited a similar one a couple of miles further on in my last photo essay.

The effort of climbing the incline was worth it for the view along the Derwent Valley to Matlock and beyond. We started this walk from the building about midway up the frame and 1/3 in from the left.

The railway fell victim to Beeching and finally closed in April 1967, one of my earliest memories from when I was 2 is watching the steam trains from mum and dads living room window which looked over the line. Now it is a walking, cycling and horse riding train across the southern Peak District from Cromford to Buxton.

And finally we reach the watershed between the Derwent and Ecclesbourne valley and the end of our story, still a mile or so home but that is a different tale of lead mines, prehistoric coral seas and limestone quarries I'll tell another day.

Lovely pictures i feel i have been on the journey with you .

I love industrial landscapes like this, Saltire is one of my favourite places, though it's now a bit commercialised.

I love industrial landscapes like this, Saltire is one of my favourite places, though it's now a bit commercialised.

A very interesting post  with great photos. Many thanks Dave well done.

Totally fascinating - it is almost as if I was with you on this journey.  Thank you for sharing it.
Yorkshire Geordie

Great report and you obviously put a lot of effort put into it. Smashing photos and well executed, Dave.    
Thanks for the guided tour.

Glad you all enjoyed it, I need to go and retake a couple of the photos that don't quite work and feel the urge to do a series on just the pump house winding engine we didn't visit on this trip when they are next operational.

Great pics thanks for sharing  

Great bit of Industrial history. Thank you.  Richard Arkwright was a great philanthropist and looked after his workers well. His biography is well worth reading.
It's a long time since I've been in that area - great photos.

Yes, on a future photo walk I'll have to take in Arkwright St in Cromford, the houses and school he built for mill workers and their kids

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