Jedediah Strutt began building mills here from 1776. The original North Mill was completed in 1786 but was destroyed by fire in 1803. Its replacement, the present mill, was built in 1804 on the earlier mill’s foundations by Jedediah’s eldest son William Strutt and is one of the oldest surviving examples of an industrialised iron framed, ‘fire-proof’ building and is now recognised as one of the most important industrial buildings in the world, and as such, is a central attraction in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. It is a grade I listed building.
The mill was one of the most technically advanced building of its time, incorporating an iron frame and brick arches, to make the building “Fireproof”. Considerable thought was given to the individual building components. For instance, iron beams were ‘turtle-backed’ that is, deeper in the middle where they were under the greatest stress.
The floors arches over the wheel pit are made of “flower pots”, to reduce the weight but retain strength. It had a warm air central heating system, a school room in the roof space and a goods lift between floors. It housed the large and innovative breast-shot water wheel. The exterior of the building is deceptively simple and unsophisticated and it remains as a monument to the industrialists of the day.
The waterwheel was built by Thomas Hewes, a pioneer of suspension wheels, supported by a central shaft but with the power taken off at the edge by a spur wheel, the whole waterwheel could therefore be a much lighter constructions than the conventional clasp wheel and weight for weight could be made much bigger. It was of the breast-shot type, meaning that water filled the wheel’s buckets at about the level of the wheel’s central axle.
The wheel was eighteen feet in diameter and twenty-three feet long.
A transmission system carried the motive power of the waterwheel to the production machinery by means of a rotating vertical shafts geared to a horizontal shafts that stretched the length of each floor at high level.
Each individual machine was driven by smaller shafts and pulleys and leather belts.
Each of the five floors housed different stages of the cotton spinning processes.
The raw cotton bails would be unloaded from carts at the ground floor loading bay. The opening and cleaning machines broke down the bails and prepared the cotton into ‘lap’ form. Air extraction equipment controlled the dust that resulted.
The 3rd & 4th floors
These floors housed three rows of carding engines, over 130 in total, which in turn disentangle the cotton fibres to produce a long continuous ‘sliver’ Sixteen drawing frames straightened out the fibres ready for reduction of the slivers on the lantern frames into ‘rovings’ ready for the final spinning stage.
The 1st & 2nd floors
There were thirty-four spinning frames on each floor. Originally they were all Arkwright Water frames, where 4236 threads could be spun simultaneously. These machines twisted the fibres together into strong thread which was wound continuously onto small bobbins. Later some Mule Spinning machines were introduced in order to produce the wide range of thread types which were being demanded by the expanding textile industry.
The 5th floor
On this floor Reeling frames wound the spun thread into ‘skeins’ ready for dyeing at the Milford factory. Doubling frames twisted two or more single spun thread together to make thicker and stronger thread. The amount of twist imparted determined the thread’s properties – some, like those used for mending, needed more twist and were fine but tough. Other, ‘softer’, threads were used in fine clothing, where toughness was not so important.
The school (The 6th floor)
The 6th floor is the building’s attic with its unique internal gutters and was used from an early period as a schoolroom, where Sunday classes in the three ‘R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) were organised for the mill’s child employees.