The Peak District: Cromford Mills

Before I start on this week’s post, I celebrated a blogging milestone last month. I had my first month with over 5,000 unique visitors. I know it’s not a lot and for many bloggers this wouldn’t even register, but it was a big achievement for me to think 5,000 people had come to check out the blog in January and that I may have helped them plan a holiday here or there!

Anyway, back to the post at hand. I’m finally concluding my England autumn/winter 2022 series is a visit to Cromford Mills, in the Peak District. I visited whilst staying near Matlock back in October and was really blown away with what the area had to offer.

Cromford Mill

The History

Cromford Mills are designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and are often labelled as ‘the birthplace of the modern factory system’. It is special because it was the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill, developed by Richard Arkwright in 1771. Anyone who has studied the Industrial Revolution will know his name as he is one of the most famous pioneers of the era.

The water source coming right in to the Mill

Today at the mill you can visit the Arkwright exhibition to learn more about the history of both the mill and the man. To look at the history I had to really put different lenses on what I was reading because emotionally it’s so complicated.

On the one hand, Arkwright was without doubt a self made man – coming from humble roots to develop something that ultimately lead to a huge increase in our standard of living. He started with 200 workers at the mill, which created so many jobs that the locality couldn’t staff them – so he was one of the first manufacturers to build houses, and also later educational facilities nearby. This contributed greatly to the local economy and continued throughout the 17 and 1800s.

That said, working here would today be classed as slavery. Starting from 1772, he ran the mills day and night with two twelve-hour shifts. Most of the employees were women and children, with the youngest only 7 years old. The minimum age was later raised to 10, and the children were given 6 hours of education a week. Today that is of course horrific, but to children of the time the money and education was sadly more than most received and establishments like this helped raise the living standard in this country so that future generations of children and adults alike could live a much better life.

The other difficult historical aspect is that the cotton processed here came from slave plantations overseas – mainly in India and then later the Americas. This mill helped fuel slavery because without it it wouldn’t have had anything to mill. Again Arkwright, and this country more widely, benefited from the appalling treatment of slaves across the globe.

More mill buildings

Without mills like this and the Industrial Revolution, England wouldn’t be the country it is today. We wouldn’t have the standard of living we do, the relative wealth we do, the economy we do (although we’re doing a great job of trying to destroy that!) and the infrastructure we do. However, it is built on wealth derived directly and indirectly from slavery and horrific working conditions across the globe, plus has driven population booms and untold damage to this planet and the environment.

In short the exhibition was great, and really made me think.


Visiting Today

Today the mills have been preserved and converted in to a series of shops, cafes, exhibitions and attractions.

The little shops were all beautiful, and so full of treats I bought quite a lot. I came home laden with locally made cheese, some lemon curd, some Italian olives, a new hair scrunchie and some Christmas gifts too. It was really nice to be able to support small local businesses as well.

After exploring the mill complex itself, there are also some lovely walks around to do. Highlights include walking up to the nearby church and then strolling along the river, taking in the sculpture trail as you do.

It’s also nice to pop over to Cromford village, where you could have a look in the shops, or enjoy a nice pub lunch if you wanted.

Apples to help yourself to on a bench!

You can then also cross the road opposite the car park to walk along the canal and visit the café and shops located there too. There is even another Mill building which is home to the old equipment.

Walking along the canal


What do you think of Cromford Mill? We had a lovely visit and I thought the site had been preserved beautifully as a perfect balance of history and modernity combined. Hope you enjoyed the tour – stay safe and happy travelling.

36 Comments

  1. I love your vintage architecture and grounds at the Peak District! So, too, the market and riverside stroll ~ thanks for sharing, my friend Hannah 🙂

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  2. We also enjoyed our visit to Cromford Mills almost exactly a year ago but we didn’t get the lovely weather like you but enjoyed the industrial heritage just the same. Congratulations upon your unique visitor achievement, it’s much deserved Hannah as your posts are so well written and informative.

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  3. How incredibly interesting! There’s still so much of England we want to explore, and we’re not familiar with the Peak District at all… I (Stephanie) have visited Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire though, which sparked an interest in Gaskell’s industrial novels. The whole history around British cotton industry is fascinating!
    Oh and congratulations on 5000 visitors this month! Absolutely deserved. That would be a dream for us, but hopefully some day!
    All the best
    Stephanie and Jerome

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment Stephanie – The Peak District is a gorgeous part of England with lots of interesting sites to see, and I totally agree about our industrial revolution, it’s such an interesting time period. Thank you for your kind words, and I have no doubt your blog will reach the same milestone in no time 🙂

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  4. I love places that are both beautiful and interesting and this definitely fits the bill! Really interesting to learn about the factory history here and enjoy the lovely pictures from around the town. Congratulations on your milestone! That is so great and you should absolutely celebrate it 🙂

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    1. Yeah I totally agree, it really made me think and appreciate how much we as a generation have benefited from so much horrific human rights abuses across history. It’s good they face in to that. Thanks for reading and have a lovely Sunday Diana 🙂

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  5. Congratulations on your readership, Hannah! Cromford Mills is a place that we would love to visit. Mike has been in the cotton industry for his entire career, and just the history of the mills would be of great interest to him. I would enjoy the shopping and sightseeing.

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  6. Congrats on reaching 5,000 a month! That’s a huge achievement! I love visiting historical places like Cromford Mills to get a full understanding and appreciation of our history and what it means for us today. Maggie

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  7. I love old English mills, the architecture is simple but so handsome and speaks of a simpler time (in some respects). We were lucky enough to live opposite an absolute beauty in the village of Tean in Staffordshire. Cromford Mills are incredible architecturally and have some proper history behind them. As soon as you started talking about Arkwright I had this strong feeling that the word slavery was going to crop up, and so it proved. In any case it all looks fascinating and so pleasing on the eye: the tour, the trail, the church and the village. Did you save me an apple? Congrats on your spike in stats, onwards and upwards!

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    1. Oh Tean is on my list to visit when I’m back that way – there are so many beautiful walking routes in that area. I agree on the mills, but I think it’s good the exhibits deal with both sides of the debate and it did really make me think. And thank you kindly, I only started this as a little hobby so to even have a few viewers feels a big deal! Have a great rest of your weekend 🙂

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  8. Cromford Mills and its surroundings offer a pastoral, yet profound history in the country: while it’s great that England is a superpower nation today, the steps it took to get to where it is (e.g. slavery, child labor) is definitely a shameful part of its past. It’s great that the exhibits today show that it was problematic and (hopefully) to spur reparations for those who’s ancestors were affected by it. A worthwhile place to visit in England!

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  9. You’re right, the history on Cromford Mills (and Arkwright) is an emotionally charged read. Thank you for explaining it so well. And I’m always up for a nice stroll along a river (and a free apple 😉). Congrats on your blogging milestone …your travel destination posts are always a treat to read!

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    1. Emotionally charged is a good way to describe it for sure, and I’m glad they faced in to the differing viewpoints. And thank you so much Corna, I can’t believe anyone visits my site really so I’m truly honoured you find the posts interesting to read. Thank you 🙂

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  10. Cromford Mill is a beautiful building in a gorgeous location, but it’s horrific to think what the women and children who once worked there had to endure. I visited an old cotton mill in Cheshire last year and was appalled by some of the stories of we heard about what happened to the people who worked there. It’s really positive that nowadays these old mills don’t shy away from educating visitors about their links to slavery and the shameful aspects of their pasts. On a lighter note, congratulations on your very well deserved blogging milestone 🙂

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    1. I agree completely, it was a truly awful place to work and even more awful that at the time, it was a good option! I am so grateful not to be born in those times. And thank you so much – I’m so pleased my hobby of sharing places I’ve visited might be interesting or useful to people 🙂

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  11. What a beautiful day you had! It seems like such an interesting visit, and it’s good to remind visitors what made this development possible, which is not always all so positive. It’s also great that they had local shops and cafes, and the nearby walks look so nice as well! Thanks for sharing your experience there!

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