Derbyshire, Scenery, and Industrial History

What a beautiful place … my husband flew to London and we sandwiched in a couple of days of hiking in the Peak District. And except for the vividly colored foliage, which is not in bloom in early March, it pretty much looks like that picture.

We did 10 miles of hiking both days. The first day we did dale (valley), village and meadows as we hiked around Monsal Dale, up over Monsal Head at the top of the dale, through the surrounding fields, and down into Ashford in the Water, a very beautiful village.

We stayed in the Monsal Head Hotel, which is completely charming and we can recommend to one and all. The restaurant in the hotel is outstanding, and the pub has a constant rotation of different hand-pull beers. The staff are friendly and funny. We stayed in the room just over the door in the picture, so consequently we had this view:

The second day we did basically this hike up from Derwent Dam across the moor and along Derwent Edge. This was an amazing hike. The scenery was gorgeous, with rolling hills and sheep at the start, climbing to rough and craggy moors covered with scrubby vegetation that hunkers down to the soil and takes the brunt of the wind. Then at the top the soil becomes very carbon-rich, and you feel like you are walking through incipient coal (at least in a few hundred thousand years!). The gritstone rock formations along the Derwent Edge are very cool, especially if you are a rock formation fan as I am; you can see some of them by clicking on the pictures in the link earlier in this paragraph. And since you walk along the ridge, the view to the west opens up over the reservoir to the hills on the other side. Just spectacular.

On our way out of Derbyshire we, of course, had to stop in Cromford, which I and many others consider to be the birthplace of modern economic activity. Cromford is the site at which Richard Arkwright, a cranky but ingenious wigmaker from Preston, set up the first modern large-scale cotton textile production facilities. While in the process of inventing the water frame (in intellectual and financial partnership with others, of course), following on his 1769 patent, Arkwright built Cromford Mill in 1771:

Arkwright’s Spinning-Frame was too large to be operated by hand and so the men had to find another method of working the machine. After experimenting with horses, it was decided to employ the power of the water-wheel. In 1771 the three men set up a large factory next to the River Derwent in Cromford, Derbyshire. Arkwright’s machine now became known as the Water-Frame.

Cromford Mill expanded through the early 19th century, but lost its edge as steam power became a cheaper and more reliable form of more intense power generation. It is currently in some serious disrepair, but the Arkwright Society has an ambitious restoration plan. Of course, it requires a lot of money. I hope they can appeal to modern entrepreneurs, with something along the lines of “you wouldn’t be able to do what you do if it hadn’t been for Arkwright, his vision, his business model, and the exceedingly productive and rich modern world that he helped to create”.

The small exhibition they have set up also illustrates some important features that not enough people realize. First, Arkwright quickly had to advertise in regional newspapers to hire workers, because he quickly required more workers than the local economy could provide, even at the good wages he was offering. And that’s the second point: they show some of the wagebooks from the time, and put them in the context of the real opportunities of the workers. Arkwright offered wages that competed with the wages offered to other local workers for such delightful and enjoyable professions as lead mining. Lead mining is one of the nastiest jobs of the 18th century working life (and of 19th, 20th, and 21st, as far as I’m concerned), so the next time someone starfts spouting about the exploitation of the industrial factory worker and how factories oppress laborers, remember that their alternatives were substantially less pleasant than we in our 21st century hindsight comfort can comprehend. Arkwright also required that children who would work in his factories go to school, as they were not allowed to work unless they could read and write and do sums.

I heartily recommend a visit to Derbyshire, for the scenery, the villages, and the rich industrial history that was so pivotal in unleashing the creativity that spawned our rich and diverse modern lives.

One thought on “Derbyshire, Scenery, and Industrial History

  1. Thanks for the recommendations. We may give Derbyshire a try on our next visit to the UK. My recommendations:

    Scottish Highlands. I have a B&B recommendation in Fort William that’ll knock your socks off.
    Devon. If you’re a hiker, the pub hike along the coast is great fun.
    Cornwall. Good place to go to get away from the Yanks. Stay away from Penzance.

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