Mills, Derbyshire - Nineteenth Century Engraving
|Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century : Photographs, Postcards, Engravings & Etchings
Lea Mills, one mile from Cromford Station, Derbyshire
Many early trade directories do not say much about either Lea or
Lea Mills, but in 1862 Francis White wrote:
"Here are extensive lead works and an establishment for
merino spinning and the manufacturing of hosiery ; also a hat
manufactory. ... At Lea Mills is a free Hydropathic
Hospital", supported by John Smedley, Esq."
Twenty years or so earlier Adam provided a description
of this scene. "The road, ... following the course of the
stream till nearly reaching the Hat Manufactory, almost hidden
by the thick wood, where it turns northward, leaving the beautiful
and more open Valley of the Derwent, and passes up the narrow
but richly wooded mountain brake in which the hamlet of Lea is
situated. A little above this is another Manufactory for Hosiery
and Merino Spinning, belonging to Mr. Smedley, whose house is
close by ; and but a short distance beyond, higher up the Dale,
is the "cupola",
or Lea Smelting Mills, belonging to Mr. Wass and Son"
. In a footnote
the Smelting Mills are described as being similar to those in
Both Peter Davies in 1811 and
Stephen Glover in 1829 discuss
making industry at Lea-wood and it is from Glover that we learn
that the government had, for many years, contracted for soldiers'
military caps, helmets, etc..
The mill described by White and Adam is still operating today
but it was a close-run thing for a time in the 1820s. In
1818 the Smedley family's hosiery business transferred to Lea
Mills from Wirksworth, where the John Smedley we most associate
with the company had been born on 12 June 1803. The youthful John
Smedley had left school in 1817 and was helping his father, also
called John, in the family firm.
It was not successful in the new location and is said to have twice
been on the verge of bankruptcy.
Following the death of John and Mary Smedley's younger son, George,
who died in December 1827, John Smedley senior virtually abandoned
the business. It was left to the younger John to rescue it, although
he had been saddled with heavy liabilities. He was to prove to
be a hands-on employer, in the Mill before his employees arrived
and often there after they had gone. He adapted the machinery from
cotton spinning to wool manufacture and, unlike many others, he
was good to his workforce so there were no strikes at Lea Mills.
As du Garde Peach put it "he showed a "singleness of
purpose which enabled him later to carry through his great experiment
His father died in 1840,
by which time the younger Smedley's new processes were a success.
After his own experience of the hydropathic "cure" he
began to taken a few invalid workmen into his home at Lea Bridge.
He cared for his workforce in other ways, too. He provided a cook
house, with servants who prepared wholesome food. There were galoshes
and waterproof capes for female workers and sleeping quarters were
available for those who lived at a distance when the weather was
bad. He also gave his employees half an hour for religious worship
and for hearing about important events going on in the world.
The above 19th century engraving has been taken from:
Smedley, Mrs. (1878/9) "Ladies' Manual of Practical Hydropathy
(Not the Cold Water System), 16th ed.", James Blackwood & Co.,
Lovell's Court, Paternoster Row, London.
By the time this edition was published Mr. John Smedley, Mrs. Smedley's
husband, had been dead for some years and the business had been taken
over by Smedley's Hydropathic Company (Limited)
Caroline Anne Smedley wrote in her preface:
"After reading many works on hydropathy in conjunction with
my husband, I consider that they are written too scientifically for
Ladies who have not studied Medical and Anatomical Works, and who
are therefore ignorant of the many terms made use of only in such
works, and which are not at all necessary to be known by the generalities
of our sex in the ordinary duties of life. This little Manual will
therefore be entirely free from such terms ... "
This book is in the collection of, the information is provided by
and images scanned by and © Ann Andrews. Intended for personal
The engraving was also published in Smedley's "Practical
 General Commercial
Directory and Topography of the Borough of Sheffield with all
the Towns, Parishes, Villages and Hamlets Within a Circuit of
Twenty Miles, pub. Francis White & Co.
Sheffield (1862). Smedley advertised on p.601 - Smedley John,
merino spinner, and hosiery manufacturer, Lea Mills.
 Adam, W. (1840) "The
Gem of the Peak" London; Longman & Co., Paternoster
Row. Also "The Derby Mercury",
13 May 1835, tells us that the firm traded as John Alsop & Co.
but Joseph Wass had been in partnership with the Alsops until they
 Davies, David Peter
(1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason,
Belper. See extracts Parishes
I - O in another part of this web site.
 Glover, Stephen
(1827-8-9), "Directory of the County of Derby",
 Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History
of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London
by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.
 Peach, Lawrence du Garde (1954) "John
Smedley of Matlock and his Hydro", Bemrose Publicity
Co.: Derby & London
Courier", 14 March 1840."At Lea Bridge on the
5th instant, Mr. John Smedley, aged 75, angola manufacturer,
 From "John
Smedley, Millowner, Hydropathist and Philanthropist" a
booklet reprinted from and article that appeared in the Derbyshire
Countryside. No date. Jane Leslie collection.