This is my entry for the Your Nearest Site carnival. Derby Silk Mill is arguably the world’s oldest factory. The Derwent Valley Mills consortium certainly argued that it was and as a result the site, along with 867 buildings along the Derwent Valley, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The reason for adding these buildings to the lists is that they are part of the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
In the seventeenth century the economy of Derbyshire was agricultural. In the eighteenth century this began to change. The Silk Mill was built on the banks of the Derwent in Derby. A giant water wheel drove a shaft which in turn drove the looms. Wikipedia has a colourful story which I missed at the museum. One of the designers of the mill, John Lombe, is said to have copied the design for the spinning wheels from Italian silk weavers. Lombe died in 1722 in mysterious circumstances. The design was copied for use elsewhere in the North, other factories in the Derwent Valley Mills site were build for manufacturing cotton. Along the banks of the Derwent the pattern of settlement changed. Now people were needed to man the factories as well as to tend the land. The increased population drew in further people to provide for the growing market. This pattern would be copied around the world.
The current state of the mill is a bit of a disappointment. The interior was gutted by a fire in 1910 and the building was then bought by a chemist. Remodelling of the inside means little survives today. In the grounds around the mill there are foundations which reveal more about the layout of the factory. In the absence of anything from the original building there are general exhibits on the theme of industry. The upper floor has a room with small exhibit on the original factory, with a loom like one that could have been used in the factory. The remainder of the upper floor is divided between exhibits on industry in Derbyshire in general, like lead mining, and the railway engineering which is still part of Derby’s current industrial base.
The lower floor was part historic photo exhibition and part display of various Rolls-Royce aero-engines. The company is another major employer in the city. None of this is bad, but they’re exhibits which could be placed with equal relevance in any other building in the city. It seems a shame given the importance of the site that so little of the place has any of the machinery which transformed the economy.Google+