Over the summer the project team was busy organising and leading site visits into the Derbyshire Peak District for community volunteers interested in learning more about the global connections of the Derwent Valley’s textile industry, including its slavery legacies. Our first trip took us to Calver, Cromford and Belper, our second to Masson Mills, and then back to Cromford.
On Saturday 31st May we set out on our first journey into the Peak District. First stop: Calver. Here, Chamu Kippuswarmy (of the Hindu Samaj, Sheffield) and Tom Lewis, a Peak District Park Ranger, took us on a walk from New Bridge to the site of Calver Mill. While the Mill itself has been converted into private apartments, traces of the landscape’s industrial past were still clear to see – and their relationship with the natural habitat of the area today was the subject of Tom’s discussion of the site. Pointing out particular plants growing along the riverbank, Tom’s knowledge of the local flora helped get volunteers chatting and reminiscing about plants and landscapes of India and of the Caribbean.
In terms of historic global cotton connections, research at Derbyshire Record Office, Matlock, for the Hindu Samaj group’s Heritage Lottery Fund project has uncovered some of Calver Mill’s links both to India and America. Between 1868 and 1877, Calver Mill received supplies of cotton from various cotton growing regions in India, as well as from Orleans in America. Issues of quality, price and availability of raw cotton were important as Indian and American producers competed to supply cotton to the growing market in England.
Our next stop was Cromford Mill for lunch and a quick tour of the site, with those who’d been before visiting some of the housing built for mill workers in the village. This stop also gave us the opportunity to hear from Michael Ledger, the Arkwright Society’s Education Officer. Michael outlined some exciting opportunities to work together and to incorporate some of the project’s findings into the heritage provision at Cromford Mill. Although much of this seemed positive, understandably some volunteers from the Slave Trade Legacies group were angered by the current lack of information on cotton and its connections to slavery at Cromford Mill – volunteer guides tend to tell visitors that cotton came on pack horse from Liverpool, but no more. This was compounded by the suggestion that to date the Society had not addressed the issue of slavery connections, as it has no historic records establishing exactly where the Mill sourced its cotton. The general feeling was that this was a cop out – that common sense indicates that a mill working at this time would have had to source cotton from plantations using enslaved labour. Many volunteers voiced their hope that the findings from our project would help the Society address these issues.
Our final stop for the day was Belper Mill, where we split into three groups for a guided tour of the museum. After the disappointment at Cromford Mill, many of the volunteers were very pleased to see exhibits indicating that raw cotton was sourced from India and the Americas, as well as acknowledging the industry’s connection to the slave trade. A number of volunteers took photographs of themselves with specific exhibits (such as the one pictured above) to record the fact that they’d finally found some acknowledgement of global cotton connections, including with slavery. The community group I accompanied kept up a lively discussion throughout the tour, and our museum guide (also a volunteer, it should be noted) did an excellent job answering often challenging questions.
For more on this first site visit, please see the two community blogs: