imposing red brick Masson Mill is situated on the west bank
of the River Derwent in Matlock Bath, near the south entrance
to the dale. This mill was built in 1783 and is sited close
to Willersley Castle, the house Arkwright built for himself.
Willersley Castle is slightly down river on the opposite
bank from Masson Mill and the mill is hidden from view.
Masson Mill was Arkwright's third mill and the photograph
of it, right, was taken looking upstream towards Cat
Tor. The white bar just discernible in the centre of the
picture is the weir that held back the water for both the
cotton mill and a nearby paper mill - which was built before
the cotton mill. Slightly lower left of centre is where the
mill stream returns to the river.
Arkwright built his first mill in 1771 in the nearby
village of Cromford, at the end of the dale, and his mill at
Cromford was the world's first water powered cotton spinning
mill. A few years later it was to become the subject of a
very powerful painting, dated about 1783, by the Derby painter
Joseph Wright. 'Arkwright's Cotton Mills at Night' shows
all the mill windows illuminated, which must have been an
awesome sight. The artist went on to paint Arkwright's second
Cromford mill in 1776.
Photograph of Masson Mill beside the River Derwent in Matlock
Reproduced with the kind permission of the late Frank
In 1840 William Adam described Masson Mill as "replete
with the improved machinery employed in making cotton thread".
He also thought the night time view was "exceedingly imposing.
The spacious mill, with its hundred lights reflecting on the
river and the thick foliage, mingling the din of wheels with
the noise of the waterfall".
Not everyone approved of the mill or the site that Arkwright and
his partners had chosen. Around twenty years earlier Rhodes had
written in "Peak Scenery" that "... a cotton
mill obtrudes on the scene. _ What is such an object to do in such
a place? _ Its presence here, amidst some of the finest scenery
of nature, is only calculated to disturb ... In another place,
the weir near the cotton mill might be a pleasing object; but in
a scene like Matlock dale, where every artificial interference
is offensive, it is incongruous and out of place".
Nor was Rhodes the only person to voice criticism. Firth
was less than flattering about the architecture in 1908 when he
described "the great brick cotton mills with their stone
quoins and windows, and their tall chimney".
The chimney, which has been restored within the last few years,
had not been erected long before Firth wrote this. He clearly didn't
think much of either the mill or Glenorchy Chapel, which he considered
to be even uglier than the mill.
Davies, who wrote a "History" of the county,
had described Willersley, the mill workers and their housing in
the early years of the nineteenth century: "The spacious and
elegant mansion of Richard Arkwright Esq. ... together with the
numerous dwellings of the persons he employs [at Cromford]. This
is indeed a different scene from the calm and sequestered environs
of Matlock ; but it is by no means an unpleasing one ; for industry
and neatness are combined to give an air of comfort and animation
to the whole of the surrounding district ; and cold and unfeeling
must be the heart which does not experience gratification at the
sight of happy human faces, or know a sentiment of delight at hearing
the sounds of merriment and cheerfulness amongst the poorest of
their fellow mortals".
When Sir Richard Arkwright was alive he worked long hours and expected
the same from his employees.
Masson Mill's employees were walking some distance to get to
and from work, including from homes in Wirksworth - "more
than three miles of one of the steepest roads in England".
A few were walking twice that distance. Glover noted in 1829 that
of the 1500 employees at Arkwrights three mills, four-fifths are
women and children.
In 1850 much of the workforce was made up of "young
girls, the children of lead miners ... these young girls are employed
under the new law ten hours a day ; under the old one it was often
fourteen, and even sixteen - at a kind of work which keeps them
rigorously standing the whole time. ... The Arkwrights are not
famous for giving high wages ; their rates are probably" 20%
lower than in the wages paid in the Lancashire mill towns of
Preston, Blackburn etc. Yet most did not want to exchange the
pleasant surroundings of the Derbyshire towns and villages they
lived in for higher wages available in a large industrial town.
Ownership of the mill remained with the Arkwright family
until 1897 when Masson Mill became part of the English Sewing
Cotton Company. At the turn of the century (19th to 20th)
the man in charge of Masson Mill was John Edward Lawton,
who built a very imposing house overlooking the mill. When
Lawton's house was first built it was called Woodbank but
later became Cromford Court. Mr. Lawton was described at
the time as "being the chief director of the English
Sewing Cotton & American Thread Combines, which have
a value of £8,000,000 in shares".
At the outbreak of the First World War the mill's management
encouraged male workers to enlist. Fourteen employees died
in the war. After it had ended those who had survived were
welcomed back with a tea for them and their wives and fiancés
at the mill and presented with a small token of appreciation.
A 1908 Directory stated that "the Masson Cotton
Mills .... give employment to many of the inhabitants".
By 1922 the Masson Cotton Mills were "now the property
of Sir Richard Arkwright and Co. Limited (branch of the English
Sewing Cotton Co. Limited)"
and the mill continued to be a major employer in the district
for many years, finally closing in 1992. In recent times
the mill building has been turned into a Museum and shopping
In December 2001 UNESCO´s World Heritage Committee
in Finland awarded World Heritage status to the mills,
along with other notable mill sites in the Derwent Valley.
Arkwright's buildings have, therefore, been acknowledged
to be of importance to the whole world.
Employees of Cromford & Masson
Beginning of nineteenth century - 1150
(150 men, 300 women, 700 children)
1845 - 1200 hands
Owner & employer: Mr. Peter Arkwright
| Sir Richard Arkwright
born Preston 23 December, 1732; died Cromford 3 August 1792
Image © Ann Andrews
Arkwright was one of the greatest men in the British Industrial
Revolution; some say that he was the greatest. Adam said of the
inventors and mill owners generally that "they have opened
new and boundless fields of employment".
They totally changed life in Britain.
He was a "self-made man", having being born into a poor
household and a large family. He received a little education, but
was largely self taught. He began his working life
apprenticed to a barber and
later travelled the country buying human hair
which he then dyed, using a secret recipe he had, and sold to wig-makers.
Whilst travelling around "he was brought into constant intercourse
with persons engaged in weaving and spinning".
He began to experiment with machinery.
|He became acquainted with a Warrington
clockmaker called Kay and the two men applied to Peter Atherton
of Warrington (later of Liverpool) for assistance to construct
an engine for spinning cotton. Whilst Atherton withdrew
a loan offer to Arkwright because of the his appearance, he
lent money to Kay.
So Arkwright was still able to make his first engine, afterwards
patented. A venture with Mr. John Smalley of Preston, to
construct his machine in a Preston schoolhouse, aroused suspicion
amongst the locals. This caused Arkwright, Smalley and
Kay moving to Nottingham; Smalley became Arkwright's first
partner and Kay became a mechanic for him. It resulted in Arkwright's
first patent for spinning cotton. "His circumstances were
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".
In 1770 Arkwright entered into a partnership with Samuel
Need of Nottingham and Jedediah Strutt of Derby, initially
for a horse powered cotton mill in Nottingham though this
proved too expensive. Then came the idea change to water power
and Cromford Mill was built using water from the Cromford Sough.
The Arkwright / Need / Strutt partnership ended about 1781.
Arkwright also had dealings with Peter Nightingale of
Lea, with whom he eventually fell out.
It was Nightingale who built Rock House in Cromford, Arkwright's
Model of Arkwright's Spinning Frame
Richard Arkwright bought the Willersley estate,
which lies within the parish of Matlock, from Thomas Hallet Hodges
Esq. in 1782. About three thousand pounds was spent removing a
"large rock" so the mansion could
be built. Unfortunately
for the family, a stove caught fire on 8 Aug 1791, as
Willersley Castle was nearing completion, and they were unable
to move in. The house was rebuilt but Arkwright himself never lived
Built by, but never lived in, by Arkwright
He was knighted in 1786,
when he was the Sheriff of the county, and arms were
granted a little later. Reverend Davies, who regarded Arkwright
as a genius, said that "He was knighted by his present majesty,
on the 22nd of December, 1786, on occasion of presenting an address,
as high sheriff of the county of Derby".
|Davies also wrote that "at the same time
that he was inventing and improving the machinery ... he was
extending his business on a large scale ; he was introducing
in every department of the manufacture a system of industry,
order and cleanliness, till then unknown in any manufactory
where great numbers were employed together...".
He added "that during this entire period, he was afflicted
with a grievous disorder (a violent asthma) which was always
extremely oppressive, and threatened sometimes to put an immediate
termination to 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 ...
The merits of Sir Richard Arkwright may be summed up by observing "that
the object in which he was engaged, is of the highest public value
; that though his family were enriched, the benefits which have
accrued to the nation, have been incalculably greater ; and that
upon the whole he is entitled to the respect and admiration of
Arkwright led and others followed. His ideas about a factory system
were reproduced elsewhere - from the German mill of the same name
(Cromford Mill in Ratingen, Germany) to, many years later, Titus
Salt's factory at Saltaire near Bradford.
Three-quarter-length portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright,
a brown coat and knee breeches, seated in a
chair, with left
arm on a table. Landscape background
Arkwright had to be wary of others trying to steal his inventions.
It was for that very reason there were no windows onto the roadway
on the ground floor of Cromford Mill. He also had to undergo two
trials regarding some of his patents, that were set aside as a
result. Recent research by Dr Richard Hills, discussed in "The
Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities", shows he
should not have lost.
A few days after Arkwright's death in 1792, the whole population
of the district turned out to line the roadsides when his funeral
He was at first buried at Matlock's Parish Church, but when St.
Mary's Church at Cromford was completed his body was moved and
The rise in the fortunes of the Arkwright family had been rapid.
They continued to improve after Sir Richard's death, thanks to
his son's interest in finance and land. Shortly after his death
in 1843 Richard Arkwright was described as "the wealthiest
The Arkwright Festival was
held in 1971 to celebrate the bicentenary of the building
of his first mill at Cromford. The image of Arkwright,
above, is on a small commemorative plate produced for the
Joseph Wright painted several portraits of Sir Richard
Arkwright including the famous privately owned portrait of
him that shows a seated Arkwright resplendent
in scarlet jacket and striped cream and green waistcoat with
a model of the machine which revolutionized the cotton industry
on the table beside him.
Portrait Gallery Search the collection
For example, see Sir
Richard Arkwright, two portraits
There is a painting of his grandsons, Three Children
of Richard Arkwright with a Kite (1791), also by Wright
of Derby, that is listed amongst the Collections of the
Tate Gallery, London.
Children of Richard Arkwright with a Kite
Richard Arkwright's Will is held by the
The National Archive and you can purchase and download a
copy of it.
- at the National Archives (
Will of Sir Richard Arkwright of Cromford, Derbyshire 04 September 1792
Willersley Castle, 1802
||Matlock: Willersley Castle
Includes some information about Willersley after the
Arkwright family had left
|Willersley Castle, 1927. The
main entrance. The photograph is from the catalogue of
||Willersley Castle Contents Sale, 1927
||Matlock: Willersley Castle Contents Sale, 1927 - Bedroom
||Willersley Castle Estate Sale, 1927
||Willersley Castle, about 1931
St. Mary's Church, where several members of the
Arkwright family are buried, is in a different section
of this web site
Castle Terrace, 1933
There is more onsite information about the Arkwright family:
Biographies See ARKWRIGHT
of ARKWRIGHT Coat of Arms
Find the Arkwright
surname in Eighteenth
Century: Game Duty Lists | Nineteenth
Century - Game Duty Lists
and Matlock Bath Trades Directories & Census
DBY : 19th century trade directories
Beauties of England and Wales" (1802), cotton
manufacturing, the mills, Willersley & the surrounding
area, Sir Richard Arkwright
Suggested Further Reading
- Fitton, R. S. and Wadsworth, A. P. (1958) "The
Strutts and the Arkwrights 1758-1830", Manchester
- Fitton, R. S. (1989) "The Arkwrights, Spinners of
Fortune", Manchester University Press ISBN 0/7190/2646/6
- Unwin, G. (1924) "Samuel Oldknow and the Arkwrights
- Dictionary of National Biography, Volume I - Look under
Arkwright, Sir Richard
- "The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities"
(Go to on site details of this
The Arkwright Society has
done, and is still undertaking, an enormous amount of restoration
work at Cromford Mill. Their address is:
The Arkwright Society,
Sir Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill,
Visitor Services Department :
Telephone +44 1629 823256
Society web site
Mill (this site will open in a new window)
The Mill is now a shopping village. It also is home to a
collection of historic working textile machinery.
Photograph of Masson Mill © Frank Clay.
Masson Mill 1900 © Susan Tomlinson collection.
Photograph of Arkwright Commemoration saucer © Ann Andrews.
Scanned photograph of Arkwright's spinning frame by and © Ann
Photograph of Willersley Castle, Matlock © Andy Andrews.
Scanned photograph of Sir Richard Arkwright by and © Ann Andrews
Researched, written and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.
References (coloured links go to transcripts
or information elsewhere on this web-site):
 The paper mill was built by a Mr.
George White of Winster and a Mr. Robert Shore of Snitterton (see
Wolley Manuscripts, vol
6670 f.90d and vol 6671 ff.310-313).
In the early 19th century it was run by Anthony Debanke, whose Will
is elsewhere on this site. Following Debanke's death John Skidmore
eventually took over the business.
 Adam, W. (1840) "The Gem of
the Peak" London; Longman & Co.,
Paternoster Row. There are extracts
on this web site
 Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak
Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown,
and Green, Paternoster Row.
 Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways
and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London
 Davies, David Peter (1811) "History
of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper. Derbyshire's
Parishes, 1811 is based on this book
 Glover, Stephen (1827-8-9) " Directory
of the County of Derby", Intro. p.viii.
 "Mornings at the Mills",
"Daily News", 10 September, 1850. The journalist
was referring to various Factory Acts, which had resulted in better
working conditions. For example, the 1847 Act meant that Women
and children under 18 years of age working in the Textiles Industry
could not work more than ten hours a day.
 "The Derby
Mercury", Wednesday, December 5, 1900.
 Masson Mill's offer to its men at
the outbreak of war can be found on Matlock & Matlock
Bath Newspaper Cuttings, Jul 1914 - Nov 1918, 1914. The welcome
back party is reported on Matlock
Bath & Scarthin
Newspaper Cuttings, 1919.
 Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History
of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons,
 Whittle's "History of the
Borough of Preston", vol. ii (1837) says that, whilst
serving his apprenticeship, Arkwright probably attended school
during the winter months. He was first taught to read by his
 An advertisement was placed in "The
Derby Mercury" of 23 Sept., 1846 by R. Knevett of Oxford
Street offering Sir Richard Arkwright's famous recipe for dyeing
hair. The prospective purchaser was promised a splendid fortune for
the outlay of £1,000.
 Various accounts refer
to his appearance at this period. Arkwright had by this time given
up business to concentrate on his experiments, so must
have been short of money. An election took place
whilst he was in Preston: it is unclear whether or not he voted,
as some sources say he was too ashamed to vote, whilst others
say he was bought a new suit to enable him to do so.
 Samuel Needs moved to London, where
he died; he was buried at Bunhill Fields, aged 63, in 1781. Strutt
went on to build mills at Belper and Milford.
 Peter Nightingale persuaded a trusted
employee of Arkwright, one Benjamin Pearson, to go into partnership
with him. Their partnership did not last long and was dissolved
on March 28, 1785 ("The London Gazette"). Also
see; Biographies, N
 "The London
Gazette", 13 Feb 1787.
 Davies was referring to King George
 Davies' comment
about Arkwright's poor health is borne out by a report in "The
Jun 20, 1786: "The reported death of that ingenious mechanic
Mr Arkwright is premature; but we are sorry to find he is dangerously
ill at his house at Cromford, near Matlock". This was over
six years before he died.
 From "A
Catalogue of the Contents of the Mansion Willersley Castle, Matlock
Bath", Knight Frank & Rutley (1927)
 "The Times", Tuesday,
Aug 14, 1792, reported his internment at Matlock on 9 May. The
notice said he had one son and one daughter (Mrs. Hurt). See
Matlock St. Giles burials for 1792
 "The Times", 12
 Information from: The Masters
Volume 22: Wright of Derby (1966)
Purnell and Sons, Bristol.
 "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire",
1908, Matlock Bath. There is a names only transcript.
 "Kelly's Directory of
Derbyshire", 1922 (not transcribed on this site)