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Arkwright & His Cotton Mill in Matlock Bath
Masson Mill was Richard Arkwright's third mill in the district
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Richard Arkwright's 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[1]. 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.

 
Masson Mill, Matlock Bath, DBY is on the banks of the River Derwent. The Mill is a Grade II listed building.
© Frank Clay
Photograph of Masson Mill beside the River Derwent in Matlock Bath
Reproduced with the kind permission of the late Frank Clay

In 1840 William Adam described Masson Mill as "replete with the improved machinery employed in making cotton thread"[2]. 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"[2].

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"[3].

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"[4]. 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"[5]. 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[6]. 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[7].

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"[8].


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[9].

A 1908 Directory stated that "the Masson Cotton Mills .... give employment to many of the inhabitants"[1908]. 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)"[1922] 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 centre.

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 Mills[10]

Beginning of nineteenth century - 1150
(150 men, 300 women, 700 children)

1845 - 1200 hands
Owner & employer: Mr. Peter Arkwright


Masson Mill from Harp Edge, about 1900.
Before the chimney was built
Arkwrights of Masson Mill, Advertising for school leavers, 1946
Matlock Bath: Woodbank, later Cromford Court
Matlock Bath: Woodbank, 1910
Coloured view of Woodbank and Arkwright's Mason Mill taken from Harp Edge
Matlock Bath: The Rutland Arms & Masson Mill - early twentieth century photograph

River Derwent, Masson Weir
Permission was granted to convey water to the paper mill on the banks of the Derwent. The Masson weir was then constructed. Includes information about the "goit" (mill race). Six images.
Masson Mill's Water Wheel, about 1930


green button Sir Richard Arkwright


Bicentenary Souvenir
Sir Richard Arkwright
Founder of the factory system
Image provided by and © Ann Andrews
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[2]". 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[11] and later travelled the country buying human hair which he then dyed, using a secret recipe he had, and sold to wig-makers[12]. Whilst travelling around "he was brought into constant intercourse with persons engaged in weaving and spinning"[10]. 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[13]. 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"[5]. 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[14].

Arkwright also had dealings with Peter Nightingale of Lea, with whom he eventually fell out[15]. It was Nightingale who built Rock House in Cromford, Arkwright's Derbyshire home.
 
Arkwright's Spinning Frame, model of
Model of Arkwright's Spinning Frame[10]

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[5]. 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 there.


A fire at Willersley Castle prevented Arkwright from moving in. Repairs were not complete when he died
Built by, but never lived in, by Arkwright


He was knighted in 1786[16], 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[17], on the 22nd of December, 1786, on occasion of presenting an address, as high sheriff of the county of Derby"[5].

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...[5]". 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 ...[5] [18].

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 the world"[5].

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.
 
Portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright
Three-quarter-length portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright,
wearing a brown coat and knee breeches, seated in a
chair, with left arm on a table. Landscape background[19]

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 took place[10]. 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 reburied there[20].

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 commoner"[21].

Additional Notes

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 festival.

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[22].
National 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.
Three Children of Richard Arkwright with a Kite
Tate Gallery, London

Richard Arkwright's Will is held by the The National Archive and you can purchase and download a copy of it.
Discovery - at the National Archives ( Will of Sir Richard Arkwright of Cromford, Derbyshire 04 September 1792 PROB 11/1222)

 
Engraving of 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 the sale
Willersley Castle Contents Sale, 1927
Matlock: Willersley Castle Contents Sale, 1927 - Bedroom 15
Willersley Castle Estate Sale, 1927
Willersley Castle, about 1931
Cromford, St. Mary's Church, where several members of the Arkwright family are buried, is in a different section of this web site
Willersley Castle Terrace, 1933

There is more onsite information about the Arkwright family:

Matlock Biographies See ARKWRIGHT
Description of ARKWRIGHT Coat of Arms
Pedigree of ARKWRIGHT
Arkwright Family MI's
Find the Arkwright surname in Eighteenth Century: Game Duty Lists | Nineteenth Century - Game Duty Lists
Matlock and Matlock Bath Trades Directories & Census
Cromford, DBY : 19th century trade directories
Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock
"The 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 University Press

  • 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 1758-1830", Manchester

  • 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 book)

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,
Mill Lane,
Cromford,
Derbyshire,
DE4 3RQ

Visitor Services Department :
Telephone +44 [0]1629 823256

Or visit:
Arkwright Society web site

Masson 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 Andrews collection[10].
Photograph of Willersley Castle, Matlock © Andy Andrews.
Scanned photograph of Sir Richard Arkwright by and © Ann Andrews collection[19]
Researched, written and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links go to transcripts or information elsewhere on this web-site):

[1] 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.

[2] Adam, W. (1840) "The Gem of the Peak" London; Longman & Co., Paternoster Row. There are extracts on this web site

[3] Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row.

[4] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London

[5] Davies, David Peter (1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper. Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811 is based on this book

[6] Glover, Stephen (1827-8-9) " Directory of the County of Derby", Intro. p.viii.

[7] "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.

[8] "The Derby Mercury", Wednesday, December 5, 1900.

[9] 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.

[10] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.

[11] 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 uncle.

[12] 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.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

[15] 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

[16] "The London Gazette", 13 Feb 1787.

[17] Davies was referring to King George III

[18] Davies' comment about Arkwright's poor health is borne out by a report in "The Times", Tuesday, 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.

[19] From "A Catalogue of the Contents of the Mansion Willersley Castle, Matlock Bath", Knight Frank & Rutley (1927)

[20] "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

[21] "The Times", 12 May, 1843.

[22] Information from: The Masters Volume 22: Wright of Derby (1966) Purnell and Sons, Bristol.

[1908] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1908, Matlock Bath. There is a names only transcript. See 20th century directories

[1922] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1922 (not transcribed on this site)