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Warp and weft: Belper past and present

PUBLISHED: 14:03 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013

Warp and weft: Belper past and present

Warp and weft: Belper past and present

A look at Belper through the years

Once a small village of nailers cottages, Belpers growth has been remarkable. Through the Strutt family, the town became the first in the world to have water-powered cotton mills, with the Strutts building not only workers houses but schools, churches, post offices, a hospital, library and a paved market place.


Since the turn of the millennium, the towns rich industrial legacy has become even more pronounced through a 15- mile stretch of the Derwent being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Belper at its heart.


How much of the towns heritage has been preserved can be seen in a fascinating book Belper Through Time by Adrian Farmer, former Belper News Editor and, since 2004, co-ordinator for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.


A look at the books front cover straightaway reveals a few significant losses. The Round Mill, West Mill and its Jubilee Clock Tower, all pictured on the left hand side of the photograph, were demolished at the turn of the 1960s and replaced, as can be seen in the modern view, with a plain, single storey building which converted to hosiery production in 1993.


However, Adrian points out that in comparison to many industrial centres, Belper has retained some of its most important historic assets, citing the North Mill, its Georgian horseshoe weir and the Gangway footbridge which connected the North and West Mills. Over nearly 100 pages, and now images show that a great dealmore of old Belper has survived and that the town is still unique, individual and not so much surviving as thriving after considerable changes and upheavals. Belper has certainly improved since Adrian first came to the town in 1990.


The news story I wrote on my first day at the Belper News was entitled Use it or lose it warning. The manager of the Ritz cinema was worried the place would have to close and it did a few months later. I also arrived shortly after Brettles had gone and the mill was closing. It made me feel Belper was struggling.


What a difference now. Belper has the best cinema Ive ever experienced, weve many quality places to eat and drink, and theres a growing interest and pride in the towns heritage. The River Gardens have had some serious money spent on them, and weve a farmers market to be proud of. Add to this the gradual restoration of the old shop fronts, and whats not to like?


Theres much to like about Adrians book, not least the evocative photos of the town of old, some of which reveal Adrians then little-known aspects of Belpers past. These include: late 19th century street dressings nearly 40 feet high as well as massive floral tap dressings, an apparently male-dominated pursuit which ended by the turn of the 20th century when group rivalries led to claims of sabotage and aggression; a shop called The Great Teamen taken on VE Day in 1945 with a hand-written message on the window German Generals are ten a penny we have biscuits 10d per pound; a mid-19th century photograph of a grass-covered footbridge spanning the upper half of King Street; and a windmill built in 1791, which closed in 1891 and is still present, albeit as a private house, though it retains its battlemented top.


Adrian acquired these old photographs by searching on e-Bay and at postcard fairs and through donations and loans, notably from the Belper Historical Society Collection. With his own camera, he then sought out the exact spot where the original photograph was taken.


As someone who, after 14 years as Belper News Editor, now promotes the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site, Adrian is clearly delighted to help boost his adopted home town. Earning World Heritage status means the drive to save, enhance and restore this historic town has never been greater, says Adrian. I feel incredibly lucky to have a job like this. Theres so much to do because it touches on conservation and planning, education, research, branding and marketing, and I also coordinate the Discovery Days Festival every October.


I also give talks and lead tours around the town. I love it. In fact, my idea of a perfect day is leading a guided walk, as Belper is such a fascinating place, full of hidden jewels. You cant help but feel proud that you live in the town, once you really start to understand its history and what its about.


As someone who believes that pictures are a great tool for understanding our history they speak volumes he declares Adrian is always excited at gaining access to photographs of Belper that he has never seen before.


There are many more visual gems out there, Im sure, he stated, Ive seen several since the book was published, and Im sure therell be enough to compile another book, one day.


Belper Through Time by Adrian Farmer is published by Amberley Publishing. 14.99


1 and 2 Building the East Mill - Work on the East Mill began in August 1911. In all, it needed 180 steel beams and four million bricks, at a cost of 80,000. To make the building fire resistant, 3,000 tons of cinders were used between floors. The 130-feet high stone-topped tower housed a water reservoir for the automatic sprinklers. The mill chimney of 1854 has not survived, but its base, complete with date stone, can still be seen.


7 and 8 Inside Brettles - Inside the George Brettle and Company building, men can be seen working on cotton frames for fashioned hosiery in a photograph taken from a complimentary brochure given to Brettles customers c.1930. You can still see those distinctive arched windows and cast iron posts today as you walk around the De Bradelei Mill complex.


9 and 10 Boatmaster John MacArthur - The success of the boating lake encouraged George Herbert Strutt in 1906 to find an experienced boatman to look after the Belper Boating Association boats. He brought John MacArthur great-great-grandfather of renowned yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur down from the Isle of Skye to do this work. Hes seen here on the boating pontoon with the North Mill and Jubilee Clock Tower behind. The present boatmaster is Graham Bennett, seen below and in front of the ramp.


3 and 4 Clock tower


5 and 6 Derwent view


11 and 12 King Street in the 1930s - In the 1930s, there were fewer cars on King Street, and you could walk down the middle of the road with your bike, although partial pedestrianisation further down allows that today. The National Provincial Bank, opened in July 1931, stands on the corner of Strutt Street, adorned by a weathervane which has long disappeared, as has the tall finial on the nearby tower. Sun screens were a regular sight on the south-facing side of the street, but arent as universally used today.


13 and 14 The Herbert Strutt Grammar School - George Herbert Strutts dream of providing a grammar school for Belper was achieved in 1909, and the school, named after its creator, was opened by the Duke of Devonshire that May. The school cost 20,000, and is seen in its original state before it was decided five years later an extension was needed, costing a further 10,000. Pupils moved to a new school in 2008. The building, partially hidden by trees and having lost its railings in the 1939-45 war, is being transformed into a community-run facility for the town.


15 and 16 The Waiting Rooms - The attractive brick-built waiting rooms stood opposite each other on the platforms, with a fire in the grate on colder days. The all-male staff were replaced during the 1914-18 war by three women concerns they wouldnt be able to act as porters for heavy luggage proved unfounded. The attractive flowerbeds led to Belper reaching the finals of the regions best kept station competition before the war. After years of neglect, the station flower beds were restored and trees removed in 2005.


17 and 18 The Top of East Mill -No scaffolding was used to build the East Mill. Despite this, there were few accidents during construction. The only death recorded in the press was of labourer Edward Frost of Bonsall, struck by lightning whilst inserting a steel girder in the ground just a week into the project. Workmen dangled over the side as they worked on the seventh storey. Its rare to reach the roof these days the later view is ten years old.


Cover: Change and upheaval have played a great part in Belpers past. The snowy images on the cover of this book undoubtedly convey the greatest losses to Belpers townscape in living memory the demolition of buildings within the historic mill complex. As Britains cotton spinning output decreased and larger machinery demanded a new kind of building, the complex suffered a number of demolitions. In the pre-1959 view taken by Belper resident Malcolm Neaum is the unique Round Mill of 1811, which collapsed whilst being dismantled, in December 1959, killing four men. Behind it is the West Mill, completed in 1796 and demolished in 1962, taking the impressive Jubilee Clock Tower with it. The West and Round Mills were replaced with a single storey building, seen on the modern view, which converted to hosiery production in 1993.

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