ARS Ltd assists exciting development at local UNESCO World Heritage Site

View along the watercourse within the mill yard, facing towards the second mill’s extant wheel pit © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
View of the western portion of the second mill’s structural remains © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022
View of the surviving remains of the second mill’s wheel pit © Copyright ARS Ltd 2022

Archaeological Research Services Ltd had recently been commissioned to produce a Heritage Statement to assist a proposed development at the Grade I Listed Cromford Mills, which represents a core component of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Our work at Cromford Mills focused upon the surviving structural remains and wheel pit of the second mill, with the exciting proposed development aiming to utilise the existing watercourse and wheel pit to generate renewable energy and enhance the site’s visitor interpretation.

Arkwright’s Cromford Mills represents the birthplace of the factory system, with the technological innovations having wide-scale influence on industrial developments from the late 18th century. The first mill at the Cromford Mills complex was built by Richard Arkwright in 1771, and the second mill building was constructed between 1776 and 1777, following Arkwright’s second patent of the water frame in 1775. Archival documents indicate that the second mill was seven storeys in height, roughly over 16 bays. In 1890, the second mill was destroyed by fire, during its use by a wool spinning business. By 1921, most of the site had been in use by the Cromford Colour Company, with a series of buildings constructed over the remains of the second mill throughout the 20th century. The surviving structural remains and wheel pit of the second mill building were uncovered as part of excavation works in the late 20th century, when the Arkwright Society began to take ownership over the site.

For the second mill, evidence within the surviving fabric indicates that the northern extent of the building featured a privy tower, while the southern portion represented the service end, with opposing doors providing access to service rooms and a staircase to the mill’s production floors. Unlike the first mill building, the wheel pit was positioned internally within the second mill, in between the production floors. The scale of the wheel pit indicates that the mill was likely powered by a single high-breast water wheel, the width of which would have pushed the technology of the period to its limits. The extant recesses of the wheel pit would have been used for housing the bearings for the water wheel, and these would likely have featured upright shafts connecting to the upper levels, to power the water frame cotton spinning machines. As part of the Arkwright Society’s development works, the structural remains were left visible for members of the public, and the watercourse was reconnected to the wheel pit. The surviving structural remains of the second mill are of the highest importance, with the wheel pit representing the technological breakthrough that made the enterprise such a success.

To learn more about this exciting site and to plan a visit, head over to the Cromford Mills website now.

Archaeological Research Services Ltd