Introducing the Derwent Valley Mills WHS

1.1 Preface

This document provides a research framework for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and its wider Buffer Zone. The Site extends for some 24 km along the Derwent Valley, from Masson Mills to the Derby Silk Mill, and encompasses the mill complexes at Cromford, Lea Bridge, Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey (Fig.1.2).

Fig.1.2 Location of the Core (dark red) and Buffer (purple) Zones of the World Heritage Site, showing relief, drainage, woodland (green), main built-up areas (light red), and historic mill sites (black). Key sites: 1. Masson Mills; 2. Cromford Mills; 3. John Smedley; 4. Belper Mills; 5. Milford Mills; 6. Boar’s Head Mill; 7 Silk Mill

The project has been guided by a Core Management Team comprising David Knight (York Archaeological Trust), Mark Suggitt (DVMWHS), Dave Barrett (Derbyshire County Council) and Paddy O’Hara (Historic England), with administrative support from Gwen Wilson (DVMWHS). It was conducted between April 2013 and August 2016 on behalf of the World Heritage Site, with the aid of funding from Historic England. The Research Framework has been developed in close liaison with the Derwent Valley stakeholder community, and is modelled upon the Updated Research Agenda and Strategy that was developed for the historic environment of the East Midlands.1 In common with that work, it comprises in essence a synthesis of current views on the priorities for research (the Agenda) and procedures for advancing our understanding of these (the Strategy). It focuses upon research themes and topics identified by the region’s stakeholder community, and seeks to integrate the rich variety of archaeological, built environment and historical data that may be drawn upon for study of the cultural and landscape history of the Derwent Valley. From the chronological perspective, it follows the period classification employed in the East Midlands Historic Environment Research Framework,2 and aims to set the industrial developments that underpin the Valley’s World Heritage status in their wider chronological context (Chapter 1.4).

Fig.1.3 Derby Silk Mill, opened in 1721. The introduction by Lombe of technology developed in Italy enabled silk to be thrown on water-powered machines, and provided an important first step in the growth of factory production in the Derwent Valley. The first mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1910, is illustrated in this 1776 watercolour by Moses Griffiths, with All Saints Church (now Derby Cathedral) in the background (© Derby Museums Trust)

This document builds upon a draft Research Framework for the Site that was circulated internally in 20123 and an assessment of the history and development of the Site that was published in 2011 by the Derwent Valley Mills Partnership (Fig. 1.6).4 The latter represents an update of the Nomination document that was prepared by the Derwent Valley Mills Nomination Steering Panel for inscription of the Site on the World Heritage List.5 The 2011 publication includes a synthesis of the development of the World Heritage Site, a gazetteer of its built heritage (including photographs and descriptions of important built assets), biographical notes on the Valley’s mill owners and a comprehensive bibliography, thus providing a firm and readily accessible foundation for this Agenda and Strategy.

1.2. Managing the World Heritage Site

Fig. 1.4 Detail of a watercolour by William Day (c.1789), looking from Cromford village towards Sir Richard Arkwright’s first cotton-spinning mill, built in 1771 (© Derby Museums Trust)

The Derwent Valley Mills and the surrounding landscape were inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001 in recognition of the importance of the area for the development of the factory system. This is manifested by the development of innovative building types to house machinery for manufacturing textile products (Figs 1.3–4). In addition, the need to provide workers’ housing and other facilities resulted in the creation of early factory colonies that, at Cromford, Belper and elsewhere, have survived in a remarkably intact state (Fig. 1.5). The Property’s Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, as expressed through its Values and Attributes, is the golden thread that runs through its Management Plan and the work of the Partnership.

Fig.1.5 The northern terrace of Long Row, Belper, built by the Strutts between 1792 and 1797, provides an excellent example of the industrial housing constructed by the mill owners for their workforce. The houses in this row are of Derbyshire gritstone, with a continuous sloping eaves line, and are distinguished by floor plans that interlock around the staircase (photograph: David Knight)

A Global Heritage

Recognition of the Site’s global significance brings the responsibility, specified in the World Heritage Convention, to ensure that the Property is ‘protected, conserved, presented and transmitted to future generations’. The UK signed this international treaty in 1984. It informs governments how World Heritage Sites are to be managed. UNESCO sees this duty of care resting with the UK government, which has devolved management of the Site to the Derwent Valley Mills Partnership. In recognition of this responsibility, the Partnership seeks to ensure engagement with international initiatives such as the European Landscape Convention6 and UNESCO policies on climate change impacts.7 Such concerns underpin several of the Strategic Objectives that form the heart of this document (Chapter 4).

Management Structure

Management of the World Heritage Site is a complex matter. The site stretches 15 miles (24 km) along the river valley from Matlock Bath southwards to Derby. The sites within it are owned by many different land and property owners and are protected through a variety of UK planning and conservation laws. It is also a popular destination for local people and tourists. The aims of the Property are not solely about conservation and protection. It has always had socio-economic aims within its vision and mission.

Fig. 1.6 The 2011 update of the Nomination document includes discussion of the Site’s industrial development and an audit of its key built environment assets (© Derwent Valley Mills Partnership)

The Property is managed through the Economy, Transport and Communities Department of Derbyshire County Council and has a Steering Group that has grown from a locally-based partnership. The Partnership is funded by the local authorities, particularly Derbyshire County Council. It also receives advice from specialists and regional, national and international agencies. The Steering Group and the DVMWHS team manage the relationship between the diverse partners to coordinate activity and provide advice, facilitating partners to achieve mutually supportive aims. The structure of panels and working groups, along with the engagement of volunteers, ensures that communities have a role and a voice within the management of the Property.

The Management Plan

The World Heritage Site works to a Management Plan, which has been developed through extensive consultation with stakeholders and the public. It includes an analysis of the current issues and opportunities facing the Property and provides an action plan which aims to address them. The Vision, Mission and Aims that underpin this plan are defined below.


  • To celebrate the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site, enabling the global community to enjoy, engage with and be inspired by it.
  • To be renowned for best practice in World Heritage Site management and for its contribution to the local and regional economy.
  • To become a popular, quality tourist destination, shaping a creative future and becoming a symbol of regional and national pride.


  • To maintain the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site by protecting, conserving, presenting, enhancing and transmitting its unique culture, heritage, economy and landscape in a sustainable manner.


  • To protect, conserve and enhance the Outstanding Universal Value of the DVMWHS. Policies focus on the statutory framework that will protect the Property against developments impacting on its Outstanding Universal Value and on the monitoring and conservation activities that need to be undertaken to ensure that it is effective.
  • To promote public awareness of and access to the DVMWHS through a range of social media, publications and activities, including the successful Discovery Days festival. It also examines transport issues within the Property and ways to encourage the use of public transport.
  • To promote the development of sustainable tourism within the DVMWHS. The development of the Property as a sustainable tourist destination is an important aim, encompassing marketing activities, arts projects and the actions required by Partnership members to improve the infrastructure and the attractions offered within the Property.
Fig.1.7 The current World Heritage Site Management Plan provides a strategic vision for the period from 2014 to 2019 (© Derwent Valley Mills Partnership)
  • To enhance the economic and social well-being of the DVMWHS and its communities so that local people and businesses feel engaged with the Property and can gain benefits from it. Data collected on its economic and social impact will assist future funding applications.
  • To promote public understanding of the DVMWHS by facilitating research. This builds upon an existing body of research and publication on the history of the Property and aims to strengthen partnerships with universities. A key objective is the production of a research framework for the Property.
  • To promote educational use of the DVMWHS for formal and informal learning. The Property is a destination for local and regional schools. It is planned to develop additional partnerships and projects within the Property and with schools, colleges and universities. This will enable the Site to become both a subject for study and an inspiration in areas of creativity and informal learning.
  • To build strong partnerships with volunteers and local, regional, national and international stakeholders. Strong partnerships are essential to the future of the Property in terms of credibility, visibility, the delivery of projects and future funding. The role of working with and supporting the many volunteer organisations which aid the Property will continue to be essential.
  • To work with partners to access funding and deliver projects. Partners within the Property benefit from advice on funding bids and need to coordinate bids to maximise success.
  • To manage the Partnership in an efficient and sustainable manner through robust internal systems, the securement of adequate long-term revenue resources to support the Partnership and the development of long-term capital projects which will have considerable positive impacts on the Property.
Fig. 1.8 Delivery structure for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site

1.3 Why do we need a Research Framework?

The DVMWHS has recently completed its Management Plan for 2014 to 2019, in line with its mission ‘to maintain the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site by protecting, conserving, presenting, enhancing and transmitting its unique culture, heritage, economy and landscape in a sustainable manner’. The need for a robust research framework, which is a key requirement for maintaining the Site’s status with UNESCO, is a principal aim within the document (Aim 5, Policy 9.1); this is supported also by the Derwent Valley Mills Partnership and DVMWHS Educational Trust (Registered Charity No: 1099279).

Fig. 1.9 Close links may be drawn between the research priorities identified for the DVMWHS and those highlighted in Understanding the Workforce, published in 2005 in the Industrial Archaeology Review (© Association for Industrial Archaeology)

From the national perspective, research frameworks for the historic environment are now in place for most regions of England, including the East Midlands, and are viewed as crucial elements of the planning process as well as important tools in the allocation of research funds. To ensure that this document integrates effectively with the framework developed for the wider East Midlands region, we have adopted here the innovative template developed for presentation of the Agenda and Strategy for that area.8

Fig. 1.10 The National Association of Mining History Organisations published in 2016 a research agenda for the study of mining and quarrying. Members are currently working on a strategy to define measures for advancing understanding of the research priorities identified in that document (© NAMHO)

Thematic research frameworks with particular relevance to the DVMWHS have also been developed in recent years, including those published by the Association for Industrial Archaeology (Fig.1.9)9 and the National Association of Mining History Organisations (Fig.1.10)10 and the thematic frameworks developed by Historic England for the historic industrial11 and urban12 environments. These and other research documents are listed in the bibliography.

On a broader scale, the ICOMOS-TICCIH13 Dublin Principles of 201114 place considerable importance on the requirement for researching and documenting industrial structures, sites and landscapes from historical, technological and socio-economic perspectives. The World Heritage Site Board is committed to exploring the potential of the Site as a focus for nationally and internationally important research, which in turn requires a clear statement of its research priorities.

1.4 Spatial and Chronological Scope

We are concerned principally with developments in the tightly defined riverine corridor that forms the focus of the World Heritage Site. However, discussion of many issues, such as the origins of industrialisation and the impact of the technological innovations spearheaded by Sir Richard Arkwright, Jedediah Strutt and other mill owners, necessitates consideration of developments beyond the study area. In consequence, some of our Agenda Themes and Topics and some of the Strategic Objectives devised to elucidate these range beyond the strict geographical limits of this inquiry.

Moreover, although the Industrial Revolution remains the focus of study, we have sought to embrace research themes and topics covering a wider span of human activity in order that developments from the 18th century may be viewed in context. Thus, although particular consideration is given to themes such as the growth of textile mills, the development of canals, railways and other transport infrastructure, and the socio-economic, political, religious and artistic impacts of industrialisation, close reading of the text will reveal interests in themes that require significantly longer chronological perspectives if knowledge is to be advanced. Study of the origins of factory-based textile production, for example, requires consideration of the Valley’s long history of industrial activity, while understanding of the potential impacts of climate change upon the historic environment resource is enhanced by study of the landscape impacts of the climatic conditions that characterised the Medieval Warm Period (c.900–1300) and Little Ice Age (c.1450–1850; Fig.1.11).15

Fig.1.11 Lidar images of the Derwent floodplain from Cromford to Derby reveal intricate networks of palaeochannels. Some channels may be seen to truncate medieval ridge and furrow earthworks and may relate to a phase of more dynamic riverine activity associated with the climatic changes of the Little Ice Age (source data © Environment Agency; see also Fig.1.16)

1.5 Stakeholder Consultations

The project’s management team has consulted widely during the compilation of this research framework, which is a distillation of views provided by a diverse body of stakeholders. The team has been guided by a Steering Group including representatives of the DVMWHS Board, DVMWHS Research and Publication Panel16 and other regional and national organisations with interests in the cultural heritage of the World Heritage Site. Representatives were selected with the aim of maintaining an appropriate balance between the community, academic, curatorial, museum, cultural heritage management and contracting sectors, thus ensuring wide stakeholder representation. The key roles of this group have been to assist determination of the form and scope of the research framework, advise on consultees, monitor the academic progress of the project, assist with the writing of Strategic Objectives, validate the final document and agree the strategy for monitoring research progress.

Further input has been provided by a Specialist Panel comprising all other members of the DVMWHS Research and Publication Panel and by a broad range of external specialists. This has ensured ready access to stakeholders with appropriate expertise and has assisted in the development of a pool of Strategic Objective authors. Members of the Specialist Panel were selected with the aim of obtaining advice on key specialist topics (eg mill architecture, industrial housing, transport networks and pictorial art) and the history of the several mill communities that are dispersed along the Valley. Efforts were also made to ensure that membership reflected the diversity of the historic environment sector, with representatives of local archaeological and historical societies, regional universities and museums, county historic environment services, archaeological contracting organisations and national bodies such as the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), Historic England, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC), together with independent researchers.

Beyond these groups, we have consulted widely with individuals and organisations interested in the cultural heritage of the Derwent Valley, with the aim of building upon the expertise that resides in established organisations along the Valley and upon the knowledge and enthusiasm of individuals interested in the area’s heritage resource. Our list of consultees continues to grow as additional organisations and individuals with interests in the World Heritage Site are identified, and we anticipate further growth as the Agenda and Strategy evolve.

1.6 Developing the Agenda

We composed a draft Research Agenda following consultations with members of the World Heritage Site Research and Publication Panel and the project Steering Group. This draft document, which comprised a series of key Agenda Themes and within each of these a number of more specific Agenda Topics, was circulated widely to consultees prior to discussion at an Agenda Workshop convened at Cromford Mills in July 2013 (Fig.1.12). All consultees were invited to the event, and feedback provided during small group discussions and a concluding plenary session was incorporated into an updated Agenda that was circulated widely for further comment.

Fig.1.12 Debating the research priorities for the study of landscape and environment (Agenda Theme 10): small group discussion at the Agenda Workshop convened in July 2013 at Cromford Mills (photograph: Sukie Khaira)

We identified during this process eleven Agenda Themes and, within each of these, up to ten Agenda Topics. The breadth of coverage may be illustrated by the Enlightenment theme, where consultees highlighted the importance of research on a wide diversity of topics, including: the contribution of studies of the earth sciences and antiquities to perceptions of the past; the impacts of Nonconformism and other free-thinking philosophies upon Valley communities (Fig.1.13); changing interpretations of the Derwent Valley arising from depictions of the region by Enlightenment artists; and the social and economic impacts upon the region of 18th century tourism and consumer culture (Chapter 3: Agenda Theme 3). As another example, topics raised during discussion of the impacts of industrialisation upon the urban and rural labour force included: changing gender and age roles and consequent changes in family structure (Fig.1.14); developments in the servicing and support of Valley communities by investments in welfare, cultural, educational and spiritual services; the impacts of factory working upon community health; the social, economic and political consequences of increased labour migration; and the effects of spiralling food demands upon the region’s agricultural economy, labour force and infrastructure (Chapter 3: Agenda Theme 7).

Fig.1.13 Belper Unitarian Chapel, built by Jedediah Strutt in 1788 soon after his conversion to the Unitarian faith: a potent reminder of current debates on the impact of Nonconformism upon the lives of the mill owners and their workforces (photograph: Adrian Farmer)

1.7 Defining the Strategy

Four Strategy Workshops were convened during 2014 at Derby Silk Mill, Masson Mills, the University of Derby and Strutt’s Community Centre (Belper) and focused respectively upon Agenda Themes 1–3, 4–6, 7–9 and 10–11. The aim was to agree for each Theme a series of measures, defined here as Strategic Objectives, which would provide effective mechanisms for advancing understanding of the Agenda Topics. Each Theme was discussed in small group sessions chaired by an appropriate subject specialist and documented by an elected scribe. Chairs and scribes of all groups met at the end of the day to review the results of discussion, and determined for each Theme the Strategic Objectives that had been accorded the highest priorities during discussion. The results were reviewed by the Core Management Team, following which a draft document summarising the agreed Agenda Themes and Topics and proposed Strategic Objectives was circulated to the Steering Group for comments and approval prior to wider dissemination. The agreed list of Objectives was circulated to project consultees, with a request for volunteers with appropriate specialist knowledge to lead on the writing of individual Objectives. These Objectives have been peer-reviewed and edited in consultation with the authors and form the core of this document (Chapter 4).

Fig.1.14 Gender and age boundaries were tightly drawn in the mill communities, with women and children forming the backbone of the mills’ working force and men labouring in activities such as framework-knitting or weaving, nail manufacture and farm work. This image shows women winding cotton onto bobbins at the Boar’s Head Mills (source: Illustrated Times, July 1862; ©; DRBY00496)

1.8 Reviewing the Agenda and Strategy

The DVMWHS has taken ownership of the Research Framework and has assumed responsibility for its long-term promotion and maintenance. It is proposed that progress be monitored by the Learning and Research Panel, with assessment of the need for updating as projects unfold. Monitoring mechanisms will be developed during this period.


1 Knight, D et al 2012 East Midlands Heritage: An Updated Research Agenda and Strategy for the Historic Environment of the East Midlands. Nottingham: University of Nottingham & York Archaeological Trust


3 DVMWHS Board 2012 Research Framework 2012–2017. Matlock: DVMP

4 Derwent Valley Mills Partnership 2011 The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities. Matlock: DVMP

5 DVMP 2000 Nomination of the Derwent Valley Mills for Inscription on the World Heritage List. Matlock: DVMP



8 Knight, D et al 2012; see note 1.

9 Gwyn, D and Palmer, M (eds) 2005 Understanding the Workplace: A Research Framework for Industrial Archaeology in Britain. Industrial Archaeology Review 27 (1)

10 Newman, P (ed) 2016 The Archaeology of Mining and Quarrying in England: A Research Framework for the Archaeology of Extractive Industries in England. Resource Assessment and Agenda. Matlock Bath: NAMHO



13 The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH)


15 Howard, A J et al 2016 Assessing riverine threats to heritage assets posed by future climate change through a geomorphological approach and predictive modelling in the Derwent Valley Mills WHS, UK’. Journal of Cultural Heritage 19, 387–94

16 From 2016, the Learning and Research Panel: Fig.1.8

Fig 1.15 Interpretative plot of palaeochannels (yellow outline) visible in the lidar image of the Derwent Valley near Little Eaton (Fig. 1.11). This shows clearly the intricate pattern of abandoned river channels across the floodplain and their relationship to historic landscape features such as ridge and furrow (source data © Environment Agency)

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