A recent poll in one of our local papers asked readers, “which one of 12 historic buildings at risk in Derbyshire would you save?” Though we suggested that all of them should be saved the readers decided that the most important on the list was the Belper Mills. The mills were part of a complex of mills built by Jedidiah Strutt which commenced in 1776 with the construction of the South Mill. Further mills were constructed over the next 40 years and by the early nineteenth century Belper included eight mills and a range of other buildings all being built by the Strutt family. Of these original buildings the only mill to survive is the North Mill, though this is itself a replacement of the earlier building which burnt down. Fires had been the bane of mill owners for many years with the processes used in the production of cotton producing a highly combustible environment, a problem which Jedidiah son William Strutt understood and strived to combat. In 1795 the West Mill was constructed in manner to avoid the exposure of naked timber with cast iron columns being used to support brick arched plaster floors. The Baltic fir timber beams were encased in thin sheet iron and to reduce weight on the upper levels the arches consisted of earthenware pots. Possibility inspired by the work and assisted by Strutt’s advice and technical expertise Charles Bage took this method of construction a stage further by incorporating cast iron beams in the five storey Ditherington Flax Mill. Strutt went on to use this type of fire-proof construction in 1803-04 when the new North Mill was constructed.
The site was developed further in 1912 when the English Sewing Cotton Company built the largest and most prominent building the East Mill, this towering seven- storey fortress-like building now dominates the area of Belper in which it stands. Built using a steel frame and clad in Accrington Red Brick the building is of type which became the preferred construction method for textile mills.
Both mills are now owned by Carfrae Holdings and managed by First Investments with the East Mill being partially let for commercial purposes and parts of the North Mill are open to the public and currently operated by Belper North Mills Trust.
Though in use the mills are not being maintained to a high standard and water ingress is causing problems in both buildings making parts of them unusable. Many articles in the local press have highlighted the mills plight and being included in the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site heightens their significance and the importance that measures are taken to stop further decay.
The Heritage Trust is making ongoing enquires into the actions which are being taken to stem the mills dereliction and in all eventuality would like to be included in the rescue plan.
As and when further details are release they will be posted on The Heritage Trust Blog so please continue to visit our site for this and other information on buildings at risk in the Midlands area.