From Masson Mills Newsletter 2001

“Textile Mill Building and Architecture in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”
Masson Mill, Matlock Bath 17-18 March 2000

Masson Mills, Matlock Bath, located at the heart of Arkwright's Derbyshire, on the banks of the River Derwent, formed an ideal focus for the study of textile mill buildings and the evolution of their architecture. Hosted by [Masson Mills] this conference was something of a departure for the Pasold Research Fund and explored the development of mill buildings, their design and the power of archaeology and visual evidence as an explanatory tool in the history of industrial development. The one day conference was preceded by pre-conference walking tours by Stanley Chapman and Patrick Strange. They respectively discussed the economic and social history of the Derwent Valley and the evolution of engineering in the area. The owner of Masson Mills also provided a tour of the Masson site and highlighted both its historical importance and his key philosophy of ensuring the preservation and interpretation of such a key mill was sustainable, at a time when the majority of industrial museums were under serious pressure.

The six papers provided a coherent analysis of the evolution and significance of the Arkwright system and of mill building elsewhere in Britain, Europe and the United States. Patrick Strange explored the archaeology of Cromford, showing the intimate relationship between the development of the site and the available waterpower. In conducting an impressive survey in 1970 he was able to build a picture of the way Arkwright's cotton interests developed which challenged many commonly held assumptions. He showed, for instance, that Arkwright had incomplete understanding of steam power. In a complementary paper, Adam Menuge, using English Heritage survey material, demonstrated the considerable historical significance of the Derwent Valley and the way in which archaeological remains showed the shifting pattern of textile development in Derbyshire.

Chris Aspin, by revisiting and critically assessing Colquhoun's Census, pointed to the considerable impact of Arkwright outside Derbyshire. Colquhoun, a political lobbyist on behalf of the East India Company, grossly underestimated the numbers of mills and the exploration of industrial remains suggests that rather than 143 mills in 1788 there were as many as 220 mills scattered across Derbyshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Wales.

Mike Williams' and Adam Stoyel's discussion of the industrial architecture of the South West demonstrated the many contrasts between the textiles in Wiltshire and in Lancashire, in terms of architecture and scale with an emphasis on wool rather than cotton. They showed the extent of regionally distinctive proto industry, as well as powered mills in the region and identified 964 sites, 590 of which were extant. They also highlighted the extent to which, as textiles declined, other types of activity such as pin-making, corn milling and paper-making replaced them.

Roger Holden, basing his presentation on a recent book on Stott and Sons—prominent Lancashire mill architects—demonstrated the great diversity of mill architecture in Lancashire during the Edwardian period. He pointed especially to the contrasting styles of mills in Bolton and Oldham with their differing economic and social heritages. In the final paper of the conference Marilyn Palmer and Peter Neaverson showed the relationship between industrial archaeology and human relations. Studying mill communities in the UK, Germany and the United States, they identified the way in which the social condition of labour shaped and was shaped by the environment in which it lived. They also highlighted the international differences in practice brought about by contrasting economic conditions and social attitudes.

List of papers: Patrick Strange (English Heritage), 'Arkwright's Mills at Cromford', Adam Menuge (English Heritage) 'Development of the Derwent Valley Mills', Chris Aspin (Freelance Historian) "The Arkwright Mills: New Revisions to Colquhoun's Census', Mike Williams and Alan Soyel (English Heritage) 'Textile Mills in South West England', Roger Holden, (Stockport Local Studies Library) 'Lancashire Mills Architects and Architecture', Marilyn Palmer (University of Leicester) 'The Arkwright Mill in America and England'.

(From Textile History Volume 31 Number 2 November 2000)