Industrious heart of England’s wealth

Well known for its rugged scenery and outdoor activities, Derbyshire boasts some of Britain’s richest industrial and architectural heritage. Brenda Watkinson discovers how your group can make the most of a visit.

Darley Abbey, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

Darley Abbey, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

The significance of Derbyshire is often overlooked in Britain’s industrial history. Local raw materials and water power in the hills and valleys fuelled the Industrial Revolution, when many renowned Derbyshire industrialists transformed the county by introducing mills and factories into the once rural economy. The Derwent Valley was actually the birthplace of the factory system, where textiles were produced by using water power. Many historic mill buildings can be still visited today for a fascinating insight into this side of the county’s heritage. Alongside them, the homes of the wealthy landowners and industrialists are some of the finest in the country, and provide another great attraction. Linking the two themes, the famous Peak District is home to much of the county’s ancient mining heritage, and some wonderful countryside and natural attractions.

The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry & History.

The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry & History.

Tracing the history

For a detailed insight into the area’s rich heritage, Derby Museums and Gallery offers free general admission at all three of its attractions. Just a short walk from the Cathedral, The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry & History was built at the location of the world’s first ever factory. It is home to the city’s collection of industrial memorabilia and an extensive range of Rolls Royce aero engines. Guided tours can be arranged on Thursday and Friday mornings at an additional charge for a minimum of 20 people.

Nearby, Derby Museum and Art Gallery has many fine works on display including pieces by 18th century Derby artist, Joseph Wright, as well as displays of artefacts and antiquities covering the natural world, social history and militaria. The museum’s collection of fine Derby porcelain, produced in the city since about 1750, is of international importance. Talks and short guided tours can be arranged for groups. Please note that due to a refurbishment of the building, no bookings can be taken until February 2011.
Located on Friargate, Pickford’s House Museum is found in a fine Georgian townhouse built by Derby architect, Joseph Pickford. Rooms are decorated and furnished in Georgian style and a costume display shows how fashions have changed over the centuries. The museum can accommodate groups of up to 20 people at a time.

Inside a period room at Pickford’s House Museum.

Inside a period room at Pickford’s House Museum.

On the outskirts of the city, Royal Crown Derby is the oldest surviving manufacturer of English fine bone china and is unique in that it continues to manufacture exclusively in England. The visitor centre houses a coffee shop, museum and factory shop. Factory tours can be arranged at set times every Tuesday to Friday.
One of the city’s biggest attractions is Derby Cathedral, which is noted for its ring of 10 bells, the oldest in the world. As well as a general tour of this historic building, groups can also book a ‘Tower Tour’ to see the bells and clock in action, whilst another option takes a look at the vestments and the significance of their colours in relation to the church calendar.
For groups that are keen to shop, Derby has big high street names alongside exclusive designer shops and specialist outlets, many located in traffic-free streets. Unique to Derby, the prestigious Bennett’s department store was established in 1734 as an ironmongers and hardware store and is now known for its range of high-quality gifts and homeware. One of the largest city centre indoor malls in the UK, Westfield Derby, is home to many of the larger, well-known chain stores.

The Amber Valley – cradle of industry

North of Derby, and taking its name from the River Amber, the beautiful Amber Valley stretches from Kedleston Hall northwards to Alfreton and is home to many reminders of the county’s industrial past.

The attractive Belper River Gardens.

The attractive Belper River Gardens.

Of particular importance in this area is the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which stretches from Matlock Bath in the north to Derby city centre in the south. It includes textile mills at Masson, Cromford, Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey, all recognised as the key to the early industrial development of the world.
A good place to explore this heritage is at the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre at Strutt’s North Mill in Belper. As well as displaying a variety of old and modern machinery, there is a collection of fine silk and cotton stockings showcasing the local art of chevenning, a form of embroidery. Guided tours of the Mill can be arranged for groups of six or more at any time, including evenings, by prior arrangement.

The 18th century Heage Windmill.

The 18th century Heage Windmill.

It would also be a shame to leave Belper without visiting the town’s River Gardens, open all year but particularly attractive during the summer months when band concerts and open-air theatre are staged here.

A short drive from Belper, Heage Windmill is the only working, stonetowered, multi-sailed windmill in England; built in 1797, it was restored back to full working order in 2002. Groups can book a guided tour to discover its history and see how flour is still milled from English-grown wheat. A ‘virtual reality’ display makes the upper floor viewable for those unable to climb the steep stairs.
Just north of Ripley, the Midland Railway – Butterley displays an interesting collection of railway locomotives and rolling stock on the former industrial site. It also offers a seven-mile ride through the beautiful countryside of the Amber Valley. Group discounts are offered with extra special rates for afternoon tea party groups.
Continuing on a transport theme, Crich Tramway Village is home to the National Tramway Museum and displays a huge collection of vehicles from around the world, as well as lots of tramway memorabilia. Admission includes unlimited vintage tram rides through the surrounding countryside. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more and short guided tours can be booked on request.

 Riding on a vintage tram at Crich Tramway Village.

Riding on a vintage tram at Crich Tramway Village.

With a history of textile production it is no surprise that the Amber Valley is also now a significant factory shopping destination. Indeed, there is the ‘Amber Valley Individual Factory Shops Trail’ to follow for those that are serious about spending.
Forming part of the trail, De Bradelei Stores, in Belper, is housed in a restored mill and acts as a clearing house for designer brands and leading high street labels with stock offered at up to 70% off recommended retail prices. Open seven days a week, stores include Eastex, Jacques Vert, Espirit, Regatta and Pavers. Groups do not need to book in advance and GTOs benefit from additional discounts on selected brands as well as free refreshments.
Also in Belper, Brettles Factory Outlet offers a huge selection of top quality lingerie, whilst in Alfreton, David Nieper specialises in top quality ladies nightwear, lingerie and daywear, designed and manufactured on site.

The Peak District National Park

Sitting at the top of the county, the Peak District National Park, which in 1951 became the first of a series of designated national parks in the British Isles, covers 555 square miles and lies mainly in Derbyshire. The area has a rich mining heritage and, since pre-historic times, a range of minerals have been mined here, including lead, an industry which reached its heyday in the 17th century.
In the heart of the Park, the village of Castleton is famous for its four show caves. Peak Cavern, known locally as the Devil’s Arse, is the only wholly natural cavern of the four and was once home to a whole community who lived and worked underground making ropes for local lead mines for more than 400 years. ‘Christmas Carol Concerts’, ‘Ghost Tours’ and ‘Tours by Candlelight’ are popular options for group visitors.
Speedwell Cavern, meanwhile, lies at the foot of Winnats Pass and is a former lead mine with several natural chambers and an underground canal. Steps lead down from the entrance to the canal, where visitors take a boat trip leading to the Bottomless Pit, a large water-filled natural cavern. Both Peak Cavern and Speedwell Cavern offer discounts to groups of 10 or more and joint tickets combining the two attractions are also available. Treak Cliff Cavern and Blue John Mine offer guided tours and group discounts too.
Continuing on a similar theme, Poole’s Cavern in Buxton is a two million year old natural limestone cave situated in Buxton Country Park. The cavern is open year-round for pre-booked groups of 10 or more. Early evening tours can also be booked by special arrangement. Group discounts apply to daytime visits only.

The Heights of Abraham operate cable cars from the valley floor to the hilltop.

The Heights of Abraham operate cable cars from the valley floor to the hilltop.

The Park also houses a number of attractions on other themes. These include, in the south east corner of the Park, just outside Matlock Bath, the Heights of Abraham, which first opened its gates to visitors in 1780. A popular group attraction it is situated on the site of an historic lead mine, it originally opened as a Regency style ‘Savage Garden’ and visitors can still follow many of the original paths around the 60 acres of woodland hillside. A cable car transports visitors from the valley floor to the Hilltop Park, providing stunning views of the Derwent Valley and beyond to Matlock and the wider Peak District. The highlight of any visit, however, is the showcaves, where visitors can retrace the footsteps of miners who worked this area from Roman times until the 17th century. Guided tours of the Masson Cavern and the Rutland Cavern can be arranged with discounts for groups of 20 or more.
Also try to allow time to call into the Peak Village Outlet Shopping Centre, in Rowsley, with over 20 retailers offering up to 30% off normal highstreet prices. Stores here include Cotton Traders, The Cook Shop and Yeomans. Special events such as bingo, tea dances and even antique valuation days can be arranged in advance especially for your group and Massarella’s coffee shop & restaurant serves hot buffets, cakes and other refreshments.

Walking Festivals

The Peak District National Park is a great place to explore the great outdoors and walkers are particularly well catered for.
There will be a number of walking festivals taking place starting with the Peak District Walking Festival, running 23rd April to 8th May. Next on the hikers’ list will be District’s Historic Border Country Walking Festival, May to 22nd May, closely followed by The National Forest festival, Footsteps in the Forest, from 21st May to 1st The increasingly popular Amber Valley and Erewash walking festival, Autumn Footprints, is scheduled for 10th September to 25th September, whilst the second Derby Walking Festival will also return around this time (dates to be confirmed).
All five festivals cater for groups, and offer focus for a specially-themed short break.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Travel Trade Unit, Visit Peak District & Derbyshire, Crescent View, Hall Bank, Buxton SK17 6EN
Telephone: 0845 833 0970
Email: info@visitpeakdistrict.com
Web: www.visitpeakdistrict.com