Masson Mill, Derbyshire

Built in 1783 in the Italianate style, using attractive red brick with stone quoins and window dressings, the Masson Mill complex stands as a proud and vibrant statement to a man at the height of his entrepreneurial prowess.

Sir Richard Arkwright, considered by most as the father of the factory system, constructed his famous building on the site of an existing paper mill. Unbeknown to him, of course, his amazing legacy remained the oldest mill complex in the world in continuous production until it closed in 1991.

Even today, the original buildings still house one of the finest collections of authentic working textile machinery in Britain. These co-exist happily alongside a sympathetically refurbished four storey shopping village, restaurant and conference centre. So what was it that made this location more suitable than his earlier mills at Cromford? The answer is, quite simply, the River Derwent.

Cromford Mill, a short distance to the south, was powered with water sourced from the Cromford Sough and the Bonsall Brook. These two much smaller water sources paled into insignificance to the power that Arkwright could harness from the mighty River Derwent and, in the context of a Cotton Mill, power would mean wealth.

The original 21 bay, five storey building was 143 feet (43.3m) long by 27 feet (8.2m) wide, and incorporated a central projection to the front - an important architectural feature for the time. Comprising a central staircase and other ancillary offices, it ensured that the main production floors remained free from unnecessary obstructions. Here the external decoration really makes a statement, with a central lunette window between Venetian windows either side. The entire central section is then topped by a cupola housing the Masson Mill bell.

As with all successful sites, the mill complex continued to evolve over time. At some time around the turn of the century the mill roof was raised to provide a useful sixth storey, and a second waterwheel was added during the early 1800s. In 1911 the central section and 'Masson Tower' were built to the south, as well as the chimney and steam engine house to the north. In 1928 the 'Glen Mill' was constructed, but this was subsequently altered in 1998 to facilitate its use as the shopping village, restaurant and conference rooms seen today. This later work can be easily indentified by the visitor as the buildings have a much more Edwardian feel to them, and incorporate 'Accrington' bricks in the construction.

As mentioned previously, Masson Mill was originally powered by a single waterwheel at the rear of the building, to which a second was added in 1802. Both were renewed in 1847, with replacement wheels by Wren and Bennet. The first steam turbines were introduced in 1928 and, more recently, hydroelectric turbines have been installed. These supply renewable energy to the entire Masson Mill site, with the surplus being fed into the National Grid - a technological advance that Sir Richard Arkwright would have approved.

Today these wonderful Grade 2 listed buildings not only stand as testament to a man who was instrumental in the modern industrial age, but they now form part of the Derwent Valley Mill World Heritage Site, that came into being in 2001.


Cromford Mill
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