From 1776, when Jedediah Strutt built his first Mill (South Mill) on the site, until the early 1990s when the English Sewing Cotton Company finally closed down the modern spinning operations in East Mill, cotton spinning was carried out on the site of Belper’s Strutt Mills; a span of over two hundred years.
Jedediah Strutt’s original ‘North Mill’, completed in 1786, was a timber-framed structure, at a time when fire was a major hazard for early cotton factories. Flammable cotton fibre would fill the air, and given that lighting was by candle or oil lamp, and some machine processes involved metal parts beating against each other and creating sparks, fire was a very real danger. The original North Mill burned down in 1803, without insurance.
Jedediah’s son William Strutt was directly involved in designing the replacement mill, which is now home to the museum today. He pioneered a number of innovative techniques including using a ‘fire-proof’ iron-frame, instead of timber. This became a blueprint for future mill construction and in addition was a template for modern skyscraper engineering.
The North Mill was in operation again by 1804, and as a now grade 1 listed building it forms a key element of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Unfortunately many of the original Strutt buildings were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s, so the North Mill, East Mill, some additional buildings and the nearby horseshoe weir give just an idea of the vast mill site and the impact it had on the town. Indeed, at its zenith, almost 2,000 people were employed in the Strutt Mills.
A visit to the Strutt’s North Mill Museum acts as a gateway to understanding more about the historic town of Belper and the story of how Jedediah Strutt helped introduce mechanised cotton spinning to the Derwent Valley, sparking the Industrial Revolution, and transforming Belper into the world’s first cotton mill town. Furthermore a walk around Belper will also highlight the Strutt legacy beyond the mills, given the large number of historic buildings that were introduced by the family, including the rows of millworkers’ cottages, the River Gardens, the Unitarian Chapel, and much more.
Jedediah Strutt 1726 – 1797
© Strutt's North Mill