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Walking Through History: Tony Robinson in Cromford

PUBLISHED: 16:30 04 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:24 05 April 2013

Walking Through History: Tony Robinson in Cromford

Walking Through History: Tony Robinson in Cromford

Cromford is set to feature on television this year as part of a new Channel 4 series. Catherine Roth reports

Many visitors to Derbyshire are drawn to its rich and varied landscape but few find themselves out walking whilst accompanied by cameras and a television crew. For Tony Robinson, who is perhaps best known for his role as Baldrick in the hugely successful Blackadder series, this comes with the job. As part of his new Channel 4 series, Walking Through History, the Time Team presenter explores the past through a series of walks around Britain. One such walk takes place in Derbyshire as he follows the industrial archaeology trail from Bakewell to Derby.


When Sir Richard Arkwright built his pioneering mills towards the end of the 18th century and developed his system of factory production, his work at Cromford played a key role in the industrial revolution, which would go on to change the world.


Tony Robinson begins his walk in Bakewell, nestled in the Wye Valley and once home to the younger Richard Arkwright. From here he heads south, passing through Rowsley, Darley Dale and Matlock before reaching Masson Mill at Matlock Bath. Built in 1783 this was Arkwrights showpiece mill and an indication of the considerable wealth he had accrued. Masson Mill also marks the beginning of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and from here Tony walks to Cromford, where Arkwright built the worlds first water-powered cotton spinning mill. Bob Faithorn, a Trustee of the Arkwright Society the charity which owns Cromford Mills was interviewed by the presenter as part of the hour long programme. Unlike the usual guided tours at Cromford Mills that take in the whole mill complex in an hour, getting even a few lines and shots right for camera took more than a few attempts to film. Bob says: From a prepared information sheet Tony devised a series of leading questions about the origins and development of the site. The film crew then asked me to welcome Tony and said, Just come down the stairs and walk out as Tony Robinson walks towards you and shake his hand. For various reasons it didnt go right and resulted in numerous takes! The same happened when they were walking towards the old bridge on the mill site. Bob says: Tony and I had to walk up towards the bridge and talk as we were doing so. It was thought it would be a good idea to talk about the oldest part of the site and explain who Sir Richard Arkwright was. Just like the previous time this necessitated numerous takes and the dialogue again was different every time and will require substantial editing in the final version.


Arkwright built his first mill at Cromford between 1771 and 1774. Although partly restored by the Arkwright Society, it is the adjacent mill Building 17 that provides the closest snapshot of how the mills would have looked in Arkwrights day. Bob says, The crew asked if we had any old illustrations of the interior of the first mill as they wanted to get an impression of what the mill would have been like in Arkwrights time. We hadnt, but the best way of illustrating this is by going into Building 17 as it was built on the same principles. Inside the floors are intact telling you exactly what the mill was like.


Still with plenty more to fit into the programme, Tony Robinson and his crew headed to the village where many of Arkwrights buildings remain to this day. These include the quality gritstone terraced housing on North Street, the first that Arkwright built in the village in 1776, to attract skilled workers to his mills. Nearby is what villagers locally term the Bear Pit, a stone-lined pit that was used to channel the Cromford Sough. Bob says, It is interesting how Arkwright used this to control the water and divert it to the mill. It was quite an astonishing engineering feat in which Tony was very interested.


With filming in Cromford almost complete, Tony and the crew retired to the Greyhound Hotel. It still stands as impressively as it did when Arkwright built it in 1778 to provide lodging for business associates and visitors to Cromford and to host festivities for his mill workers.


Having built a factory and village, Arkwright also began issuing his own currency, stamping Spanish dollars from the reign of King Charles III of Spain with Cromford Derbyshire. Astute as ever, this currency was only accepted in Cromford where the shopkeepers had to redeem it with Arkwright. Tony and the crew decided this would make a great piece for television. This resulted in Bob hurrying to collect the coins from the Arkwright Societys archives in time for Tony to attempt to buy a pint with one of them. Needless to say, despite their historical value today of 1,000, they were not accepted as legal tender!


Working to a tight schedule it was soon time for Tony to continue his walk. Following the Cromford Canal to High Peak Junction he joined the High Peak Trail climbing the steep incline to Middleton Top with a vantage point offering far-reaching views. Leaving the White Peak behind he then travelled south to Belper with its North Mill, heading on to Darley Abbey before visiting the Silk Mill in Derby.


Tony Robinsons arrival in Derby marks the end of his walk. However, we are fortunate that Arkwrights legacy and the foundations of the Industrial Revolution which changed the world remain to impress modern-day visitors to Cromford and the Derwent Valley.


For details about guided tours of Cromford Mills and village, taking in some of the locations set to feature in Walking Through History, visit www.arkwrightsociety.org.uk or phone 01629 825995.


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