Thursday, 25 June 2015

Do you remember the days of slavery?

Those of you who follow my posts will know I often quote song lyrics in the title. Last weekend we had a return visit from a group associated with a project from Nottingham University.
There's a book of poetry associated with the Global Cotton Connections too, available from the Mill.
They have also left an interpretation poster for us, highlighting some of the aspects of the cotton trade that we are only just beginning to consider at the Mill.
Some of the Mill volunteers are getting together as a Research group, taking a fresh look at some of the research that has been done in the past and exploring new aspects of the history we represent. Edward Strutt, William's only son, made a speech in Parliament in 1841 that is against slavery and the part that the slave trade played in the sugar, cotton and tobacco industries. There will be more about this in a blog post to come. William Strutt was a member of the Derby Philosophical Society. Through Erasmus Darwin this linked to the informal group of industrialists and philosophers known as the Lunar Men. Non conformists and anti slavery,the group included Josiah Wedgewood, who produced the now familiar anti-slavery image captioned 'Am I not a man and a brother". But we know the days of slavery are still with us. Factories led to mass production. Mass production contributed to the rise of consumerism. We live in a fast fashion, throwaway society. The textile and fashion industries still use sweatshops to produce cheap clothes. They may be cheap but they come at a price. In recent years there's been an interest in recycling, ethical trade, fair-trade and sustainability. People have concerns over how raw materials are grown and produced. The newly refurbished Whitworth Gallery in Manchester has a fantastic textile collection. This now includes an exhibit featuring 'Monkee Genes', a clothing company based in Derbyshire who were one of the first to insist on fair trade principles for those involved in the manufacture of their range of clothes. I was aware of the 'rag trade' conditions in the late 1970s and early 80s, for home workers and in sweat shops in London. The work went overseas, to be made even more cheaply. We know the slavery days aren't a thing of the past.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Keeping it up

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's poster tells us to look up. There are peregrines nesting on the East Mill, finding a habitat that suits them in an unlikely place. When you look up you can't help but notice the soaring floors of the red brick mill.
There are old black and white aerial photos of the site, a bird's eye view from a plane or helicopter flight. Nowadays you are just as likely to see aerial photos taken by drone cameras and shared on the internet. It's strange to connect this with Samuel Slater's story. He served his apprenticeship with the Strutts, who built the North Mill, and then took off to the USA to pass on the secrets of cotton spinning.'Pride of the West' muslin from his mills covered the wings of the Wright Brothers first flying machine! The construction of the North Mill paved the way for skyscrapers in New York.There is even what is said to be the oldest passenger lift shaft in continuous use in the North Mill building.
It has a modern lift in it nowadays, but visitors who are in the know come to marvel at it. The metal plates on the support pillars in the basement can adjust to weight and vibration, essential in a mill with working machinery. The same technology is used to protect buildings from earthquakes in Japan.
Warm air rises, as we all know. The heating system in the mill made use of a cockle and air shafts to distribute the heat.
Ever wondered the origin of the expression 'warming the cockles of your heart' ? Now you know! This was an effective central heating system later put to use at Derbyshire Infirmary, built by William Strutt in 1810. Unfortunately it did spread diseases along with the hot air. And finally, what about your socks. They wouldn't stay up without their ribbing. Jedediah Strutt developed and patented a way of knitting rib on a machine in 1759.
So it's all about keeping it up here at Belper North Mill.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Factory records

These buildings in Belper are part of the story that changed the lives of everyone working in the developing world. By bringing whole families, men, women and children into a building especially created as a workplace, the factory system was born. It's hard to imagine how radical this was. The Industrial Revolution was a time of innovation and risk. Big is better rather than small is beautiful. Families moved to Belper to take advantage of the work and conditions offered by the Strutts. Many stayed on for generations. It's a rewarding place to explore family history. The Belper genealogy group has kindly offered to make copies of the identified photographs of millworkers from 19th century for the Mill as a fund raiser. These will be available to see and buy at their coffee morning at St John's on Saturday July 11th. Whether you are an old or new comer to the town, this is a fascinating part of its history - even more intriguing if it is part of yours too.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

In praise of volunteers

This is National Volunteers Week. Volunteering is big business nowadays. Literally. Volunteers' hours keep many businesses and organisations afloat, from money making concerns to charities, from heritage to education. Volunteers' generosity of time and spirit can be set against match funding for grants and support from funding bodies. The voluntary sector has changed considerably since the North Mill opened to the public in 1995. Like many of the other heritage attractions we now take for granted in Derbyshire and throughout the country, the Mill was a vision and a risk, made real by the dedication of a group of volunteers who cared about its significance and history. With the support of Amber Valley Borough Council they were able to combine a Visitor Centre with a museum. All along the Derwent Valley the heritage that gained recognition as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001 was similarly supported by committed and passionate people who recognised the significance of the buildings and heritage on their doorstep and couldn't bear to see it disappear, unacknowledged. This month the North Mill celebrates its twentieth anniversary. The volunteers have created an exhibition to share this particular aspect of the North Mill's history, as significant as any other period of its past. There are photos of past events, press cuttings, familiar faces and old friends. The building may be fireproof but it hasn't always been flood proof. There are images of working parties, clearing up after flooding from the wheel pit in the basement. The North Mill continues thanks to those efforts as well as the day to day work done to welcome and inform visitors, maintain the Mill and its exhibits and all the other behind the scenes work. The Mill needs more people to volunteer, to get involved, to take it into a new phase. Each month there is news of significant funding for different organisations along the World Heritage Site, confirming the importance of this area and the confidence the funders have in these voluntary organisations to deliver. A new Fundraising and Volunteer Support Officer has been appointed to work alongside the part time museum manager for nearly two years.This will be a great time to be a volunteer.