Monday, 31 August 2015

School's Out

Belper North Mill is a great place to study local history, whatever your age. Not only can it tell the tale of the Strutts family and their impact on the development of Belper as a town and a community, but it is also part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. There have been changes in the National Curriculum recently, and some of these changes have helped us to develop our relevance to local schools. We can offer the opportunity to learn more about an aspect of history or a significant site because the Mill is where the Industrial Revolution developed into the movement we recognise today. We can also explore significant people and places in the locality through the contribution of generations of the Strutt family in Belper. Physical and human geography, environmental awareness, social housing, economic activity, trade links and town planning are all topics that can be explored through the heritage of Belper and the Mills, coming right up to date with its success in the Great British High Street national competition. As schools head back to the classrooms at the beginning of September, don't forget this rich resource on the doorstep. Learning outside the classroom can inspire students and teachers alike. We even have volunteers at the Mill who are keen to show their own homes, houses built in the nineteenth century, to visiting groups. Young students can get a sense of what it was like to live and work in a factory through role play, dressing up and stories. Older students can start to think about the physics of water power and the corporate responsibilities of the mill owners and employers. If you want to bring history and geography to life in this way get in touch with us at the Mill. We can arrange visits all year round.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Industrial archaeology revealed

Derwent Hydro are currently working on the turbine house at the side of the East Mill. They are clearing out mud and silt, replacing stone steps, traps and beams to make the turbine efficient and viable for the future, a contemporary use of water power. There are times in the last week when it must have seemed anything but 'clean' energy as the workmen waded in the sticky smelly mud! If you come and take a look, you will see aspects of the Mill site that will no doubt be hidden from view for years to come. It's fascinating to see the supports for the East Mill building and the channels that run underneath. This week we have had a team of experts in the North Mill basement, assessing our problem with water breaching a corner of the foundations. Again it has been a real insight into the industrial archaeology of the site. Historically Mills have come and gone, tunnels and sluices have been blocked and old ancillary buildings, including garderobes or lavatories have been demolished.Some of the mortar contains clinker and coal dust. Drainage channels and pathways within and outside the buildings have been covered over. Looking at the site as a whole, there's a sense that all the buildings are on islands, with water courses around them. Not quite Venice, but you get the idea! Each discovery seems to lead to another query at the moment, but modern technology and new types of surveys should help us get some answers.

In the news

The North and East Mills have been in the news this week. BBC Radio Derby and East Midlands Today came to interview one of the Belper North Mill Trust trustees, Mary Smedley. The mills made it into the news because the local authority, Amber Valley Borough Council,are working with the owners, First Investments, over the state of the listed buildings that make up the site. The North Mill visitor centre and museum tries to share and spread the very significant story of the heritage of the site and the Strutt family. This significance is very important locally, as a place of work and in the light of the development of the town of Belper. It's also significant on a global scale,as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The factory system, enlightened employment conditions, mass production, workers' housing and welfare, skyscraper technology, cotton industry developments, fireproof and earthquake proofed buildings, and the development of a hosiery fashion industry can all trace their heritage back to Belper. It's an amazing story. The condition of the buildings is always a topic of conversation with visitors to the Mill museum. I overhear conversations on the bus on my way to work about them. Hopefully the recent news items on TV, press and radio will alert the public to some of the questions and part of the answer. We definitely seemed to have more visitors the day after the Mills hit the news. It would be good if it raises interest and concern for these amazing survivals. The North Mill is open throughout the Bank Holiday weekend, including Monday August 31st.If you have always intended to visit, come and see what the fuss is about. Find out why the story is so important, not just in the past but in the present and future too.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A good read

There's a fantastic selection of local history books for sale at the Mill, including titles of interest to local historians. We often have visitors who are investigating their family history too. Some of the titles are hard to find elsewhere. In fact a team of volunteers have been investigating what's available on line, and it has proved that we have a specialist collection.
There are popular walking guides alongside local author Adrian Farmer's very popular compilations of local photos. Some titles have been published by the North Mill Trust or the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Come and browse!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Six degrees of separation - approximately!

Mr Potato Head has returned to Belper, appropriately making his triumphal reappearance in time for the Belper Food Festival last month. Invented by Hasbro in 1952, he features as a character in the Toy Story films. He was the first toy to be advertised on television. He was given to Belper in 2001, incidentally the same year that Belper became part of the UNESCO Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The American Adventure theme park gave him a home when Belper rejected him. He went missing in 2008, after the theme park closed its gates. But recently he turned up at the Drop In youth centre. They have given him a facelift and he now welcomes the world to Belper from the garden of the Methodist Chapel, opposite the bus station. He has always been a figure of controversy, loved or loathed by the town. But there's more to his life story than might meet the eye. Hasbro, the toy company, are based in Pawtucket, USA, twinned with Belper because of their shared cotton connections. Those cotton connections can be traced to Samuel Slater, who was born in Belper in 1768, and apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt at the North Mill. He then took his trade secrets and familiarity with Strutt and Arkwright's working practices to America. In Pawtucket he helped set up successful cotton spinning mills. In the USA he is described as the 'Father of the American Industrial Revolution'. In Belper he is known as 'Slater the Traitor" So if it wasn't for Strutt there wouldn't have been the North Mill for Slater to work in. If it wasn't for Slater, Pawtucket wouldn't have developed as a mill town. If Pawtucket hadn't developed as a mill town, it wouldn't have been twinned with Belper. Throw in Hasbro and the development and success of mass produced widely advertised plastic toys in the 1950s and you have the story of why Mr Potato Head came to Belper. You can either blame or thank Samuel Slater for him!