Free public lecture, 31/10/14

Slave Trade Legacies: The Global Cotton Connections of the Derwent Valley Mills

On Friday 31st October 2014 Susanne Seymour will be giving a free public lecture as part of the University of Nottingham’s Black History Month programme. For further information see Susanne’s blog post on the talk and link to the University of Nottingham event listing for the talk.

Date:           5.15pm, Friday 31 October
Location:    Senate Chamber, Trent Building, University Park
Contact:     Register by emailing Claire Henson

Please note that the email address to sign up should be:




Sharing our research

In recent months Susanne and I have attended a number of conferences to give presentations on the Global Cotton Connections project. This year’s aptly-themed RGS-IBG Annual Conference concerned with ‘Geographies of Co-Production’ offered us the opportunity to reflect on the collaborative element of our project, while two very different conferences on i) the ‘Business of Slavery‘ (17-19 September 2014, University of Nottingham) and ii) the ‘Industrial Revolution‘ (3-4 October 2014, Cromford Mill) allowed us to present on some of our research, a summary of which we give below:

Cotton Spinning and Entanglements with Slavery: Tracing the Slavery Connections of the Strutts

At the Business of Slavery conference, Susanne and I took the opportunity to present our research during a poster session. The materials below are reproduced from the poster:

The Strutts at Belper, Derbyshirebelper mills

By the early 19th century the Strutts were the leading cotton thread spinners in Britain with their main cotton spinning mills at Belper in the Derwent Valley. How far did this business depend on systems of slavery?

Slavery and Raw Cotton Supplies

While the Strutts were not slave traders or plantation owners, in the early years of operation their mills relied heavily on raw cotton produced by enslaved African people in the Americas. From 1794-1817 their main sources of raw cotton came from Brazil, the West Indies, Guyana and Suriname, with smaller amounts from the southern United States and India.


Origins of raw cotton supplies bought by the Strutts, 1794-1817

Slave Cotton Plantations & the Slave Trade

A 1799 account shows that the Strutts dealt with Liverpool merchants who were well-known slave traders, including the Boltons, Earles and Tarletons who also owned slave-worked plantations. In supplying the Strutts, Thomas Tarleton likely drew on raw cotton from his 509 acre Mount Pleasant plantation on Carriacou, worked by 227 enslaved Africans in 1790.

Picking cotton on a Georgia plantation

‘Picking cotton on a Georgia plantation’, 1858. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hosiery and Lace Goods

Nottingham was one of six key areas in Britain supplied by cotton thread from the Strutts’ Belper mills. Leading Nottingham lace manufacturers and more significantly hosiers (including Heard & Hurst, Hine & Mundella and Morley & Co) were key customers who supplied local, national and international markets, including the Americas, with their goods.

Key sources

  • Chapman, S (2006) ‘Industry and trade, 1750-1900’ in Beckett, J V (ed) Centenary History of Nottingham.
  • Fitton, R S and Wadsworth, A P (1958) The Strutts and the Arkwrights 1758-1830.
  • LBS Database :
  • Ryden, D B (2013) ‘An analysis of C18th Carriacou’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 43(4) 539-70.
  • Strutt archives: DRO D6948/2/5, 66-68.
  • TAST Database: database/search.faces

Peak District site visits #1

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.

Calver Mill

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.

Cromford Mill

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.

Belper Mill

122_0283Our 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:

Back to blogging #2 – events

Launch of the Slave Trade Legacies projects

Launch image

Launch of Slave Trade Legacies projects

Community events kicked off in style on 12th May 2014 with the launch of the two Nottingham-based Slave Trade Legacies projects on (i) Global Cotton Connections and (ii) the Colour of Money. Bright Ideas had done such a fantastic job of marketing the event that our room at Nottingham Contemporary was packed and buzzing with anticipation. The programme for the day was as packed as the room, with guest speakers including:

  • Patrick Vernon OBE Genealogist / Associate Fellow, Every Generation Media / University of Warwick
  • Dr Shawn Sobers Senior Lecturer in Photography, University of the West of England
  • Dr Martin Glynn Criminologist and Public Health Researcher, University of Wolverhampton
  • James Dawkins PhD Student, University College London

Alongside talks about slavery, its histories and legacies, Susanne and I introduced the Global Cotton Connections project, in the hope that some of those attending the launch would want to get involved. It was the first time either of us had been introduced to music!

Despite the upbeat mood created by the Bright Ideas team who were running the event, the topic of slavery is one that is inherently challenging. Discussions between speakers and participants raised a number of difficult questions. A key issue here was whether slavery legacies are too painful to discuss. Questions of relevance and the motives of academics working on these topics were also raised – why do academics get involved in this kind of work? Should limited resources be spent on projects concerned with histories and heritage?

Although discussions were at times challenging, the day proved a success, with participants taking to twitter to talk about it:


Connecting community groups – Hindu Samaj Sheffield event


Later that week, on Friday 16th May, Susanne attended the Global Cotton Connection’s first community event in Sheffield organised by Esme Cleall (University of Sheffield) and Chamu Kuppaswamy, who has taken a leading role in the Hindu Samaj Heritage projects. As well as presenting on the research we’d been doing on the Strutt archives at Derbyshire Record Office, Susanne gave an account of the Slave Trade Legacies launch event and outlined how we hoped to bring together the different groups from Sheffield and Nottingham through a series of events, including trips to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. An account of this workshop by Chamu can be found on the Hindu Samaj Heritage blog, along with a summary of the first joint community trip to the Peak District – more on this to follow in a later blog post.


Spreading the word – Kemet FM & BBC Radio Nottingham

KemetfmAs part of Bright Ideas’ marketing of the Slave Trade Legacies launch event, Susanne and a number of the guest speakers were invited to join Kevin Brown at the studios of 97.5 Kemet FM for his Talk Back show on 11th May. As Nottingham’s first Official Urban Radio Station, Kemet FM serves the needs of the African and Caribbean communities of Nottingham and surrounding areas.


Slave trade legacies logoBright Ideas logo



Later that same week Susanne and Danielle Woods from Bright Ideas were invited onto Reya El-Salahi’s Sunday evening show on BBC Nottingham to discuss the Slave Trade Legacies projects further. A clip from this interview can be heard here:


Back to blogging #1 – connecting, collaborating, contributing

Apologies for the break in posts – we’ve had a busy few months of archival research, stakeholder meetings and community events. Having just got back from holiday, which meant a break from work email and our project’s Twitter feed, I wanted to take the opportunity to get back to blogging with an account of some of our recent activities. More to follow soon.

Connecting with other organisations

Collaboration is central to our project, and shortly after our last blog post, Susanne and I made two important new connections – with the Arkwright Society, who own and manage Cromford Mill, and with a thriving community-based business in Nottingham called Bright Ideas.

Arkwright Society – working with heritage stakeholders

Our first meeting at the Arkwright Society was very positive. On Friday 4th April we met with Michael Ledger, the Society’s Education Officer, who received our project and its aims for community-based collaboration with great enthusiasm. Most importantly the meeting opened up an opportunity to engage with the current development of the Cromford Mill site, which in part aims to increase the heritage provision for the whole Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site through the creation of a ‘Gateway’ visitor centre at Cromford Cromford Mill - interpretation boardMill. Although at this initial stage it sounded as though we wouldn’t be able to contribute to the permanent displays in the centre itself, other opportunities to help shape the interpretation of the site were welcomed. Options we discussed that would enable visitors to explore the global connections of the cotton industry, including its colonial and slavery histories and legacies, included: creating a new guided walk; producing a set of temporary exhibition panels and leaflets; developing an object handling/memory box; contributing to the site’s on-line blog.

This was a great start, but we weren’t naïve enough to think it would be plain sailing from herein out. Bringing a new set of interpretive perspectives, a new set of voices, to a site that is typically heralded for its role in Britain’s so-called ‘industrial revolution’ was never going to be easy. How to challenge a Whiggish history of ‘great men’ such as Arkwright? How to widen the horizons from a view centred on the Derwent Valley to its position in the truly global network of the cotton industry? Importantly, Susanne has been involved in thinking through some of these questions through her participation in the series of Derwent Valley Mills Research Framework meetings that took place March-May 2014. Funded by English Heritage as part of its programme of regional research frameworks, it aims to provide a Research Agenda and Strategy for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and its wider Buffer Zone.

Connecting with communities – Hindu Samaj Sheffield & Slave Trade Legacies volunteers

Key to our plan for shaping interpretation at Cromford and the wider World Heritage Site are the local communities and community groups in Nottingham and Sheffield.

Hindu Samaj logoOur Co-I Esme Cleall had previously worked with the Hindu Samaj on a Heritage Lottery Funded project called ‘British Raj in the Peak District: Discovering, Recovering and Sharing Colonial History’. This collaborative partnership was extended to the Global Cotton Connections project to enable the participation of members of Sheffield’s Indian community in exploring aspects of colonial history that link the physical and cultural heritage of the Peak District and Sheffield to their Indian heritage.

Our hopes to connect with members of the Black British communities of Nottingham through our project so as to explore some of the slavery legacies of the cotton industry were boosted when Helen Bates, a freelance community historian working with us, introduced us to Lisa Robinson, Director of Bright Ideas.Bright Ideas logo Offering a wealth of experience in community engagement in Nottingham, especially with those of African-Caribbean heritage, Bright Ideas has been an invaluable partner for the project,  even though managing the expectations and needs of a University research project alongside those of a community business has not always been straightforward.

As part of the partnership with Bright Ideas, the Global Cotton Connections project teamed up with a Heritage Lottery Funded project that is also concerned with slave trade legacies and the ‘hidden histories’ of so much of Britain’s heritage landscape. Focusing on the heritage of the Black British Caribbean community, the Colour of Money project enables volunteers from this community to investigate how the lives of their ancestors were affected by the transatlantic slave trade, as well as considering how their enslaved ancestors contributed to the building of modern Britain.

Slave trade legacies logos

You can read more about the Nottingham Slave Trade Legacies project activities through two blogs and a Facebook page:


Touring the Derwent Valley Mills, dipping into the archives

A tour through the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site

A few weeks back on a fine day in late February, Lowri and I were lucky enough to be given a guided tour of some of the key sites of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site by its Director, Mark Suggitt. This proved an excellent way to discuss the project with Mark and start thinking about the sites and landscapes of Derbyshire’s cotton connections.

Darley Abbey

Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

We met at Derby’s famous Silk Mill before driving a mile or so up the river valley to the first of the cotton mill sites, Darley Abbey. This well-preserved site was first developed in the 1780s by the Evans family, an established landed family with iron and banking interests It was then only a small, though industrialising, village – the Evans family lived in the Abbey surrounded by parkland. Powered by the River Derwent, the early mills produced yarn from raw cotton supplies sourced from the slave-worked plantations of South America, particularly Brazil, the Caribbean and the southern states of America (Lindsay, 1960; In a later visit to Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock we identified source materials for further study of these connections but their condition means they will be a challenging read!

Belper & the Strutt family

Strutt's North & East Mills, Belper

Strutt’s North & East Mills, Belper

We drove on a few more miles up the valley to the now substantial town of Belper. It was here that the Strutt family, by 1815 the largest producers of cotton yarn in England, developed a series of mills from the late 1770s. These also sourced their much larger requirements for raw cotton in the late 18th and early 19th centuries from slave-worked plantations in South America, the Caribbean and the southern states of America, with smaller amounts coming from India (Fitton and Wadsworth, 1958).  Our subsequent visit to the Derbyshire Record Office revealed a magnificent though water damaged raw cotton ledger confirming these sources. We will be examining these and additional related correspondence further in future archive visits.

The most prominent remains of the Strutt family mills are North Mill (rebuilt in 1804) and East Mill (1912). North Mill now houses the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre, which we hope to include in one of our Peak District visit days. Some textiles are still produced in Belper by Courtaulds who make lingerie there at West Mill.

Textile factory, West Mill, Belper

Stockings in the window of a textile factory, West Mill, Belper

Long Row, Belper

Long Row, Belper

Belper was also a small rural village, with a nail industry, before the Strutts started building there but grew rapidly into the second largest town in Derbyshire by 1801 (Fitton and Wadsworth, 1958). Besides the mills and associated industrial premises, the Strutts developed many new streets of houses for the mill workers and their families – Mark showed us round several streets of different housing types. In the early days, mill workers were mainly children; their fathers constructed and maintained the mills and their mothers picked the raw cotton clean.

From Smedley’s Mill…

John Smedley factory shop

John Smedley factory shop

We next headed further north to the Lea Valley, just off the main Derwent Valley. Our destination was the more secluded Smedley’s Mill, the site of which was originally developed for cotton spinning by the Nightingale family (a member of whom was Florence Nightingale). The Smedley family took over in the early 19th century and began producing cotton and wool yarns.  High quality knitwear is still produced on the site and sold via a rather tempting factory shop! The company has its own archive and archivist and we plan to make contact (

…to Cromford, site of the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill

Cromford Mill, Derbyshire

Cromford Mill, Derbyshire

Our last stop for the day was Cromford, home to the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill and probably the most famous place in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. There is much to see at Cromford, including the original mill and its associated buildings, Masson Mill, a larger site developed later to harness the power of the Derwent directly, and the village itself with its specially-designed workers’ housing, market place and substantial inn. While the first cotton factory developments were made by the partnership of Richard Arkwright, Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, a wealthy hosier from Nottingham, the Arkwrights later took over. They amassed an enormous industrial fortune and moved into banking and landed property. Unfortunately there are few surviving records relating to the Cromford mills but we hope to piece together what we can from a range of sources.

Connecting Threads exhibition

‘Connecting Threads’ installation, Carolyn J Roberts. Cromford First Mill, 2013.

Cromford will certainly be included in our Peak District day visits. Rooms are available at Cromford where we could meet and have lunch on our visit days, either next to the Cromford Canal, an important route south to traders and markets in the Midlands and London, or in the main old mill complex. Cromford also provides an opportunity for our project to engage with the Arkwright Society whose volunteers guide visitors around the site. We might also use the exhibition space available in the old mill building to display the project’s heritage legacy materials. An interesting cotton-inspired exhibition has run there in the past during the special Derwent Valley Mills Discovery Days. It would be great to take part in some of these.

The trip revealed a host of possibilities for the project in terms of cotton mills and businesses to study in the archives, sites for our groups to visit and places where we might make a new contribution to public histories of global cotton.

Introducing our new project on global cotton connections

The ‘hidden histories’ of Derbyshire Peak District’s global cotton connections

Cromford. Photo licensed under Creative Commons.

Cromford, Derbyshire, site of Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mill, built in 1771.
Photo by Sam Styles, 2005, licensed under Creative Commons.

Nestled among the small towns and farmland of the Derbyshire Peak District lie sites of the earliest water-powered cotton mills in the world, several of which form the heart of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. Now partly designated a National Park, this rural part of Britain was once central to the cotton textile industry – an industry closely associated with the ‘Industrial Revolution’ for which Britain is famous. Yet the global connections of this important cotton textile heritage area typically remain hidden to those living in or visiting the region. Heritage sites rarely identify the mills’ sources of raw cotton, which was grown in places like India and Egypt, as well as on slave-worked plantations in the Americas, e.g. in Brazil, the Caribbean and the southern states of America. Which markets these mills served also tends to be hidden from view. Importantly, cotton goods were not only produced for domestic markets but also for colonial ones, including the slave trade and plantation supplies.

Sugar and Cotton Plantation Slaves Auction, New Orleans, March 1855

Broadside advertising auction of “178 Sugar and Cotton Plantation Slaves”, New Orleans, 1855.

Our new project is interested in these global and colonial histories of cotton and their marked absence from the heritage landscape of the Derbyshire Peak District. Concerned that such absences contribute to feelings of exclusion and alienation amongst Black and Minority Ethnic heritage communities already poorly represented as visitors to such heritage sites and the wider countryside, our project sets out to reconnect this important world site of industrial innovation with the people and places involved in cotton textile production in the past and now.

Project aims and activities

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through its Connected Communities Programme, the project, which runs from February 2014 to January 2015, combines archival research with active community engagement. Re-examining archives typically used to tell histories of such prominent English individuals as Richard Arkwright, the project hopes to shift attention to the global and colonial networks of people, places and things on which the business of the Derbyshire Peak District’s mills, and the success of Arkwright and others largely depended. Drawing on archival materials, we will be working collaboratively with individuals from different communities living in and around the Derbyshire Peak District so as to consider how global, diverse heritage perspectives might be better represented in the heart of the Peak District. A key aim of the project is to work together to produce interpretive materials acknowledging cotton’s global and colonial connections to be used in the local heritage landscape of the Derbyshire Peak District.