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'Beauties of England & Wales', Matlock Extracts*
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
(2) Cotton Manufacture, Willersley & Sir Richard Arkwright.

Willersley, 1802
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Matlock, Matlock Bath and Matlock Dale

Willersley Castle - another "Beauties" engraving

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  An early nineteenth century description that was published not long after the death of Sir Richard Arkwright.
It follows on from the extracts about Matlock, Matlock Bath and Matlock Dale that are on another web page.

WILLERSLEY CASTLE Seat of Richard Arkwright Esq. Engraved by J. Storer from a drawing by H. Moore

Seat of Richard Arkwright Esq.
Engraved by J. Storer from a drawing by H. Moore


'Near the upper end of the Dale is a spacious building, erected for the Manufacture of Cotton by the late Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT, and now [1802] belonging to his son, who resides in the beautiful demesne of Willersley. This mill is replete with the improved machinery employed in making cotton thread, "whose operations have been so elegantly described by Dr DARWIN, in a work which discovers the art, hitherto unknown, of clothing in poetical language, and decorating with beautiful imagery, the unpoetical operations of mechanical processes, and the dry detail of manufactures:"

------- Where Derwent guides his dusky floods,
Through vaulted mountains, and a night of woods,
The nymph Gossypia treads the velvet sod,
And warms with rosy smiles the wat'ry god;
His pond'rous oars to slender spindles turns,
And pours o'er massy wheels his foaming urns;
With playful charms her hoary lover wins,
And wheels his trident, while the Monarch spins.
First, with nice eye emerging Naiads cull
From leathery pods the vegetable wool;
With wiry teeth revolving cards release
The tangled knots, and smooth the ravell'd fleece;
Next moves the iron hand with fingers fine,
Combs the wide card, and forms th'eternal line;
Slow with soft lips the whirling can acquires
The tender skeins, and wraps in rising spires;
With quicken'd pace successive rollers move,
And these retain, and those extend, the rove.
Then fly the spokes, the rapid axles glow;
While slowly circumvolves the lab'ring wheel below.
Botanic Garden

The machinery by which the cotton is manufactured, is so complicated in its structure, that a clear conception of its powers, and mode of operation, can only be obtained from a minute inspection of all its parts, both in a state of rest, and in motion. The process by which the raw cotton is prepared for use, will, however, convey some idea of the ingenious mechanical contrivances that are employed to facilitate the production of the thread.


When the cotton is sufficiently picked and cleaned (an operation that furnishes employment to a great number of women), it is carefully spread upon a cloth, in which it is afterwards rolled up in order to be carded. To the carding machine belong two cylinders of different diameters; the larger of which is covered with cards of fine wire; and over, and in contact with it, are fixed a number of stationary cards, that, in conjunction with the revolving cylinders, perform the operation of carding. The smaller cylinder is encompassed by fillet cards, fixed in a spiral form; and is also provided with an ingenious piece of machinery, called a crank. The spiral roll of cloth before mentioned being applied to the machine, is made to unroll very slowly, by means of rollers, so that it may continually feed the larger cylinder with its contents; when carded, the cotton passes from this to the smaller cylinder, which revolved in contact with the other, and is thence stripped off by the motion of the crank; not in short lengths, but in continuation; and having the appearance of a very thin fleece, which, if not intended to pass a second time through the carding machine, is immediately contracted, by passing betwixt a pair of rollers, into what is called a 'row', or length.

The next part of the process is that of sizing. The machine by which this is performed has two pairs of rollers, that are placed at a proper distance from each other, and revolve with different velocities, arising either from the variation of size in the pairs of rollers, from their performing a different number of revolutions in the same space of time, or from both these causes united. When the lengths of cotton are brought from the carding machine, several of them together are applied to the rollers now mentioned; and the effect now produced, is not only that the lengths, thus applied in conjunction, coalesce, and come out single, but also that the fibres of the cotton are drawn out longitudinally, by the different velocities and pressure of the rollers : hence the cotton is now termed a 'drawing'. This process is several times repeated, and several drawings are each time united, by passing together betwixt the rollers; the number introduced being so varied, that the last drawing may be of a size proportioned to the fineness of the thread into which it is intended to be spun.

Roving and Winding:
The cotton is now in a fit state for roving. This operation is performed by passing the last mentioned 'drawing' between two pairs of rollers, which revolve with different velocities, as in the former machine. It is then received into a round conical 'can', revolving with considerable swiftness. This gives the drawing a slight twisting, and prepares it for winding, which is done by hand, upon large bobbins, by the smaller children. When in this state, the cotton is applied to the spinning machine. Here it is passed between pairs of rollers, which revolving with various degrees of velocity, draw it out, and reduce it to a proper degree of tenuity : at the same time, it is sufficiently twisted by the revolving spindles upon which bobbins are placed; and the yard thus twisted is caused to wind on the bobbins, by the friction of their ends upon laths placed horizontally. These laths have another very essential office to perform, which is that of raising and falling the bobbins, so that the yarn may be spread over their whole length; otherwise the thread would require to be moved very frequently, as is the case in the common spinning wheel. When thus wound upon the bobbins, the cotton is regarded as ready for use.**

** Footnote: To render this statement of the various processes of the cotton manufacture more intelligible to those who have no previous knowledge of the business, we shall insert an extract from the Life of Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT (written, we believe, by Mr NICHOLSON) as published in Dr AIKIN's Biographical Dictionary:-

"The 'card' is a kind of brush made with wires instead of hairs; the wires not being perpendicular to the plane, but all inclined one way in a certain angle. From this description, such as are totally unacquainted with the subject, may conceive that cotton wool, being stuck upon one of those cards, or brushes, may be scraped with another card in that direction, that the inclination of the wires may tend to throw the whole inwards, rather than suffer it to come out. The consequence of the repeated strokes of the empty card against the full one, must be a distribution of the whole more evenly on the surface; and if one card be then drawn in the opposite direction across the other, it will, by virtue of the inclination of the wires, take the whole of the wool out of that card whose inclination is the contrary way.

"Spinning is of two kinds : in the one process, the carded wool is suddenly drawn out during the rapid rotation of a spindle, and forms a loose yarn; in the other, the material is spun by a well-known small engine, or wheel, which requires the spinner to draw the material out between the finger and thumb of each hand. If we suppose the machine itself to be left at liberty, and turned without the assistance of the spinner, the twisted thread, being drawn inwards by the bobbin, would naturally gather more of the material, and form an irregular thread, thicker and thicker, till at length the difficulty of drawing out so large a portion of the material as had acquired the twist, would become greater than that of snapping the thread, which would accordingly break. It is the business of the spinner to prevent this, by holding the material between the finger and thumb, that the intermediate part may be drawn out to the requisite degree of fineness previous to the twist, and separating the hands during the act of pinching.

"The objects of Mr ARKWRIGHT's improvements were carding and spinning. To effect these by machinery, it was required that the usual manoeuvre of the carder should be performed with square cards; or that cylinders, covered with the kind of metallic brushwork before described, should be made to revolve in contact with each other, either to card, or to strip; accordingly as their respective velocities, directions, and inclinations of their wires, might be adjusted : and with regard to spinning, it would become an indispensable condition, not only that the raw material should be nicely prepared, in order that it might require none of that intellectual skill which is capable of separating the knotty or imperfect parts as they offer themselves, but also that it should be regularly drawn out by certain parts, representing the fingers and thumbs of the spinner. The contrivance by which this last means was effected, consisted in a certain number of pairs of cylinders, each two revolving in contact with each other. Suppose a very loose thread, or slightly-twisted carding of cotton, to pass between one pair of cylinders (clothed with a proper facing to enable them to hold it), and let it be imagined to proceed from thence to another pair, whose surfaces revolve much quicker; it will be evident that the quicker revolution of the second pair, will draw out the cotton, rendering it thinner and longer when it comes to be delivered at the other side. This is precisely the operation which the spinner performs with her fingers and thumb; and if the cotton be then applied to a spinning apparatus, it will be converted into thread."

From these general principles, the improvement of Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT may certainly be deduced; yet there seems reason to believe, that the former would never have been so clearly stated, unless the machines had been previously seen in action. [End of footnote]

The first mill that was erected on these principles by Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT, was at Cromford village. Its establishment proved a source of much legal contention; for the manufacturers of Lancashire, who were apprehensive of what has actually been the result, that it would supersede the use of the hand machines then employed, formed a strong combination to impede its success (see: The Life of Mr Jedediah STRUTT, p.540) and endeavoured to destroy the validity of the patent, by contesting the originality of the invention; and though in two instances they obtained a favourable verdict, from particular circumstances, and lost it in a third, there cannot be a doubt, that every really essential part of the machinery derived its structure from the powerful genius of Mr ARKWRIGHT. The goods made by the cotton prepared by these mills, are very superior in quality, and manufactured with considerably less expense, than before the invention was perfected. A great quantity of the cotton spun by this machinery is used by hosiers, who find it more suitable to their purpose, than any other they can procure.

The two mills at Cromford, and a third at Masson, which was also built by Sir Richard, employ about 1150 persons; of these, 150 are men, 300 women, and 700 children. Proper attention is paid to the health and morals of the children, who are not admitted into the mills till they have been some time at school; and Sunday-schools are supported by Mrs ARKWRIGHT for their instruction afterwards. The mills are not worked by night, and are constantly kept very clean and neat. Both the Cromford mills are worked by the water that flows from Cromford Sough,** which throws out from forty to fifty tons of water per minute, and being partly supplied from warm springs, never interrupts the working of the mills, even in the most intense frosts. The fall from the mouth of the sough to the Derwent is about forty-five feet.

** Account of Cromford Sough, from p.302:-
To remove water from the lead mines, many 'adits', or, as they are here termed, 'soughs', have been driven from the bottom of a neighbouring valley, and made to communicate with various works by different channels, or 'galleries' ....... One of the most considerable of these is at Wirksworth, called Cromford Sough. This is full two miles in length, and was driven at an expense of 30,000 pounds. The proprietors receive a certain proportion of lead ore from the mines; though the latter are now beneath the level, and of course but ineffectually drained by it. The relieving of the mines at Wirksworth by this adit, is, indeed, at this period [1802], only a secondary object; as the water delivered by it at Cromford has proved of amazing value. The late Sir R. ARKWRIGHT employed the stream to work his cotton mill; and it is still applied to a similar purpose, having the great advantage of not being liable either to considerable increase or diminution.


This elegant mansion of Richard ARKWRIGHT, Esq, stands on the south side of a commanding eminence, which runs from west to east, and terminates the extensive range of rocks that forms the eastern boundary of the Derwent in its course through Matlock Dale. Round the foot of the hill, the river flows in a grand sweep for some distance to the east, but afterwards resumes its former direction to the south, and pursues its way through a more open country. Near this point the picturesque features of the valley begin to disappear, and soft landscape scenery, the village and the chapel, the bridge and the meadows, are the constituent objects of the prospect.

Immediately opposite the front of the castle, rises a prodigious perpendicular rock, the western barrier of the Dale, through which a passage has been blasted to admit the entrance of the road from the south. From this spot the view of the building is highly impressive; its castellated appearance, judicious proportions, exact symmetry, and beautiful surrounding scenery, forming a coup d'oeil that is but seldom witnessed.

The castle consists of a body, in the form of an oblong square, having a circular tower rising from the centre of the roof, and a semi-circular tower projecting from the front on each side [of] the entrance, and two wings, with a round tower at each angle : the whole structure is embattled; and the walls are of white free-stone. The spot on which it stands, was originally occupied by a large rock, in the removal of which about three thousand pounds were expended by the late Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT, who purchased the estate of the late Thomas Hallett HODGES, Esq, in the year 1782. The architect was Mr William THOMAS, of London. This edifice was covered in 1788; but before it was inhabited, it was set on fire by a stove that was over-heated, and all that was combustible in it was consumed : this accident occurred on the eighth of August, in the year 1791.

The interior of this mansion is furnished with great taste and neatness : indeed, it cannot be more graphically characterised than in the expressive words of the poets, 'simplex munditiis'; the general arrangement being more for use than ornament. It contains several excellent family portraits by WRIGHT of Derby, particularly a whole-length of Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT; and also some smaller pieces by the same ingenious artist, as well as the sublime view of 'Ulls-water Lake', one of his best performances, and which is, perhaps, equal to the greatest efforts of art in landscape painting that this country has ever produced. This was purchased by Mr ARKWRIGHT for 300 guineas.


The portrait of Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT is esteemed as a very characteristic and striking likeness. He is represented sitting in his study, with one hand resting on a table, whereon is judiciously placed a set of rollers for spinning cotton, in allusion to the most essential part of his wonderful machinery. This distinguished character, whose perseverance, and admirable invention, raised him, from one of the most humble occupations in society, to affluence and honour, was the youngest of thirteen children, and was born in the year 1732, at Preston, in Lancashire. In this neighbourhood was then carried on a considerable manufacture of linen goods, and of linen and cotton mixed, the various operations of which he had an opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with; and being a man of uncommon natural powers, he directed his thoughts to the improvement of the mode of spinning, which had probably been conducted for ages by the same process.

The first hint respecting the means of effecting this improvement, he said he accidentally received from seeing a red-hot iron bar elongated by being passed through iron rollers. Between this operation and that of elongating a thread, as now practised in spinning, there is no mechanical analogy; yet this hint being pursued, has produced an invention, which, in its consequences, has been a source of individual and national wealth, unparalleled in the annals of the world.

The difficulties which Mr ARKWRIGHT experienced before he could bring his machine into use, even after its construction was sufficiently perfect to demonstrate its value, would, perhaps, for ever have retarded its completion, if his genius and application had been less ardent. His circumstances were by far too unfavourable to enable him to commence business on his own account, and few were willing to risk the loss of capital on a new establishment. Having at length, however, had the good fortune to secure the co-operation of some persons who saw the merit of the invention, and were willing to assist his endeavours, he obtained his first patent for spinning by means of rollers in the year 1769; and, to avoid the inconvenience of establishing a manufacture of this kind in the heart of the Cotton Manufacture, such as it then existed, he removed to Nottingham. Here, in conjunction with his partners, he erected his first mill, which was worked by horses; but this mode of procedure was found to be too expensive; and another mill, on a larger scale, was soon after erected at Cromford, the machinery of which was put in motion by water.

Soon after the erection of this mill, Mr ARKWRIGHT made many improvements in the mode of preparing the cotton for spinning, and invented a variety of ingenious machines for effecting this purpose in the most correct and expeditious manner; for all of which he obtained a patent in the year 1775; and thus completed a series of machinery so various and complicated, yet so admirably combined and well adapted, to produce the intended effect, in its most perfect form, as to excite the admiration of every person capable of appreciating the difficulties of the undertaking. And that all this should have been accomplished by the single efforts of a man without education, without mechanical knowledge, or even mechanical experience, is most extraordinary; and is, perhaps, equal to any example existing, of the wonderful powers exhibited by the mind, when its efforts have been steadily directed to one object.

Yet this was not the only employment of this eminent man; for at the same time that he was inventing and improving the machinery, he was also engaged in other undertakings, which any person, judging from general experience, must have pronounced incompatible with such pursuits. He was taking measures to secure to himself a fair proportion of the fruits of his industry and ingenuity; he was extending the business on a great scale; he was introducing into every department of the manufacture, a system of industry, economy, order, and cleanliness, till then unknown in any manufactory where great numbers were employed together; but he was so effectually accomplished, that his example may be regarded as the origin of almost all similar improvements.

When it is considered, that during this entire period, he was afflicted with a grievous disorder (a violent asthma) which was always extremely oppressive, and sometimes threatened to immediately terminate his existence, his great exertions must excite astonishment. For some time previous to his death, he was rendered incapable of continuing his usual pursuits, by a complication of diseases, which at length deprived him of life, at the Rock House, Cromford, on the third of August, 1792. The honour of Knighthood was bestowed on him in December, 1786, on the occasion of presenting an address to His Majesty.

In the infancy of the invention, Sir Richard ARKWRIGHT** expressed ideas of its importance, which, to persons less acquainted with its merits, appeared ridiculous; but he lived long enough to see all his conceptions more than realised in the advantages derived from it, both to himself and his country. But the degree to which this invention, with the improvements derived from, or dependent on it, has extended since his death, makes all that had been previously effected appear comparatively trifling; for it is believed the various productions of the cotton manufactories of Great Britain (of which his inventions are the foundation) are, in their finished state, of not less than the annual value of thirty millions!

** Footnote: If the biographical sketch of this illustrious character should appear to any of our readers to be misplaced, as he was not a native of Derbyshire, we must request them to advert to the very commanding influence which his inventions have had both upon its wealth and population; an influence that has more contributed to enrich the county, than any transaction that has ever been recorded in the annals of its history.X


The grounds of Willersley possess great variety and beauty. Between the castle and the Derwent is a verdant lawn, which slopes somewhat precipitously from the house, but afterwards inclines more gently to the river. The east end of the lawn extends to Cromford Bridge, which stands about a quarter of a mile from the castle, near the entrance to the grounds, which open by a small, but very neat lodge. The summit of Cromford Rock, which has been noticed as rising directly in front of Willersley, is beautifully fringed with trees and under-wood; and though towering to a considerable height, it does not terminate the prospect from the castle, which being elevated in situation almost as much as the top of the rock, commands a view of the hill that rises beyond it, to a great height above the village of Cromford. Near the summit of the latter eminence are several rude masses of gritstone , which are piled upon each other in a very singular manner. The adjacent parts being formerly moorish, and having a naked, uncheerful appearance, have been planted with a great number of trees, which, when arrived at maturity, will greatly improve this portion of the scenery. Towards the west the prospect includes the river, an eminence beautified with trees and copses, and a sharp indented ridge of rocks; with here and there a cottage perched on the summit of a cliff, half hidden in a deep recess, or emerging from a thicket.

The hill behind the castle rises to a considerable height, and is covered with wood to its summit, as is also that portion of it which extends eastwardly. The coach-house, stables, bath, &c, which stand near the mansion on this side, though in a somewhat more elevated situation, are almost concealed by the trees. In the midst of the wood are several romantic rocks, round which, and on the acclivity of the hill, the principal walk winds in a circuit of nearly a mile. The walk leading from the castle on the west gradually turns to the north, taking a direction parallel to the course of the river, and passes under some perpendicular rocks, though yet elevated to a great height above the stream. The rocks are in some parts bare of vegetation, but are occasionally fringed to their tops with trees, particularly the yew and ash, the roots of which insinuate themselves into the clefts and fissures in a singular manner. Advancing up the walk, towards the point called Wild Cat Tor, the eye is delighted by one of the finest scenes that nature ever produced. It consists of the long rampart of rocks opposite Matlock; the wood that clothes the declivity from their bases to the river; and the tall trees on the opposite side, that stretch their branches down to the water, which appears dark, gloomy, and almost motionless, till it reaches a weir, down which it rushes in an impetuous torrent, almost immediately under the feet of the spectator, by whom it cannot be contemplated without some degree of terror as well as admiration.

The Baths, the body of Masson-Hill, and the summit of the High Tor, are also seen from this part of the grounds; through which various other walks extend in different directions, and lead to a diversity of scenery, that can hardly be parallelled within a similar extent in any part of the country. The green-houses, gardens, and hot-houses, are all worthy of notice : the latter are plentifully stocked with bananas, and a great variety of excellent vines. The walks are laid out under the direction of Mr WEBB, and are kept with the greatest neatness. The number of trees planted by Mr ARKWRIGHT, on the average of the last seven years, has been 50,000 annually.'

*Extracted from : The Beauties of England and Wales, by John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley,
Vol III, published in 1802, Cumberland, Isle of Man, and Derbyshire, pp.504-512
Generously contributed by Sonia Addis-Smith; her additional comments or explanation, for example dates, enclosed in [ ]
There is more information:
Willersley Castle - a second engraving
Arkwright's Cotton Mill
Matlock Miscellany
Water Cures