It's very interesting to take a look at the forfeits boards at the Mill. Based on archives, these new interpretation boards in the Gallery take you back to another time. It's easy to imagine that everyone was well behaved in a mill workplace, working too hard and too long a shift to get up to high jinks. Recently I was talking to a lady who had worked at the Mill in her teens,from 1944 until 1952. She remembered the fun she had with work mates, even ending up soaked to the skin in one of the mill races.
I have some favourites among these 'forfeits'. There's a story behind them that we may never get to know, but we can all use our imaginations.
'Calling through the window to some soldiers'.
We know that there was a local militia formed to protect the Mills in Belper from what we would now call Luddites. The men drilled locally and the bridge over the road that linked the Mills still has windows for gun emplacements.Men in uniform have always had an appeal! There is still a Drill Hall in Belper.
I can't help feeling sorry for the person who 'threw a sickie' to go to Heage Feast and got caught out!
Why did the dog get into hot water? And whose face was so ugly that they could terrify S Pearson?
'Rubbing their faces with blood and going about the town' makes me think of the current fashion for Zombie films and city centre Fright Nights for Halloween.
It would be wonderful to be transported back in time to meet some of these characters. We know about them now because they got into trouble then. I wonder what they would make of that!
Belper's beautiful River Gardens are close to the North Mill for a reason. They were osier beds back in the day when the Mills grew willow to weave their own baskets to hold the cotton. Pliable young willow shoots were the ideal raw material.
When basket making ceased, the riverside area was developed for leisure pursuits including boating. A bandstand was built and rockeries and flowerbeds were created. There are many quarries in this part of Derbyshire where natural stone could be found in abundance, but surprisingly the gardens made use of a patented artificial stone called Pulhamite. Named after its inventor, it's a kind of gritty sandstone used to join natural rocks together or crafted to create unusual features.James Pulham and Sons were based in Broxbourne. James died in 1898 and apparently the recipe died with him.
There are some showpiece gardens throughout the country featuring Pulhamite and some real enthusiasts keeping its memory alive.
Chelsea Flower Show, with its lovely show gardens, reminded me of Pulhamite, especially Dan Pearson's winning Chatsworth inspired garden, echoing Paxton's carefully constructed 'natural' outcrops of rocks. He used tonnes of genuine gritstone from Derbyshire, transported to Chelsea for the occasion.
The River Gardens are a gem of a garden. Enjoy them!
Here at Belper North Mill we have a fantastic programme of guided walks around Belper, as well as our popular tours round the Mill itself.
From May 25th until June 7th there is a special programme of Discovery Walks in the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site. Where else could you find out about ice houses and Highland cattle? You can even dilly along the Dalley! There's plenty of information about the Strutt family too.
Take a look at the website for details and how to book.
And if you want to know more about rovings, visit us and take a tour of the North Mill.
Joan Parker popped into the North Mill recently. She started work at the English Sewing Cotton Company when she was 14, in 1944. She left in 1952, a young married woman.
Like many of the workforce, she travelled by specially chartered bus from Clay Cross, where she still lives.
There were 12 buses a day to ferry workers from Clay Cross to Belper.
It cost 3/9d a week in fares. Joan earned £1.3s.5d. That's less than £1.20p.
One of our volunteers has been to interview Joan about her memories of working at the Mill. I hope to share some of those stories with you in weeks to come.
E S C Co. didn't close down until 1986. We often have visitors who share their memories of working there, and many of our volunteers have connections. Chucklebutties was the mill canteen. There were beautiful maple wood floors on the top floors of the East Mill.
Our new gallery display includes news film of the day the Mill closed, friends in tears, leaving work together for the last time.
I think you will spot Joan, second from the right as you look at the photo. Sadly her companions are no longer with us. Imagine entering the world of full time mill work at 14. Like teenagers everywhere, they got up to high jinks. More to follow!