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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Strut(t) Around Belper II

The Gangway.
After you have explored the Strutts' North Mill at Belper, you can walk under the Gangway, a stone arch which once connected the North Mill and West Mill (no longer extant). The Regency era was noted for industrial unrest during times of hardship (most famously the Luddite attacks of 1812).  If you look at the arch (built 1795) you will notice some musket holes placed there in 1810 so that the millowner and his men could fire at anyone who attacked the mill.

Crown Terrace, Belper.
When the Strutts built their mills in Derbyshire, they chose sites with fast-flowing rivers to power the machinery. However, often these rural sites did not have enough local people who could work in the mills. So millowners like the Strutts and Richard Arkwright built new houses with gardens to attract people to come and work for them, and you can see millworkers' housing on Green Lane, The Clusters, Joseph Street etc. Many of the houses have their own pigsty and privy - a vast improvement on the town housing in places like Angel Meadow in Manchester.

Belper boy Samuel Slater was one of the child workers whose stories I told in The Children History Forgot. Samuel began his career as an apprentice to Jedidiah Strutt; Slater became one of the founding fathers of the American cotton industry. 

More millworkers' housing, Belper.
The mill workers in Belper were mostly women and children (their menfolk found employment in local workshops). In 1816 the Strutts employed nearly 1500 people, including over 700 children (just 100 were younger than ten). On average the children earned 2s 6d per week.None of the children who worked at the Strutt mills were parish apprentices like those at Quarry Bank Mill; they were 'free labour' and lived with their parents.

The factory hours were from 6am until 6pm, including dinner and tea-times. Most of the children could read; the Strutts funded a Sunday school and day schools in the town, and built a Unitarian chapel (1788). 
Nail Shop, Joseph St.

The Strutts told a parliamentary select committee (1816) that their mills had benefits for local families as well as providing them with work: ‘before the establishment of these works, the inhabitants were notorious for vice and immorality, and many of the children were maintained by begging; now their industry, decorous behaviour, attendance on public worship, and general good conduct, compared with the neighbouring villages, where no manufactures are established, is very conspicuous.’ 

East Mill, Belper.
Unitarian Chapel, Belper.
Belper was a working textile town from the late 18th century until the 1980s. The town is still dominated by the huge East Mill (1912), built for the English Sewing Cotton Co., which took over the Strutts' mills fifteen years earlier. But the East Mill now stands empty and silent.
However, if you visit the Memories of the Mills website you'll discover millworkers' memories and oral histories of life in the Derwent Valley factories during the twentieth century.


Tony Grant said...

I enjoyed reading this, Sue. Thank you.

Sue Wilkes said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Tony!