Belper is a key community within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. It was here in the 1770s that Jedediah Strutt and his sons began their pioneering cotton mill business, and in the process transformed Belper from a small hamlet to a thriving industrial community. Through successive generations the Strutt’s built millworkers’ cottages, chapels, schools and leisure facilities for their workers, creating one of the world's first industrial communities.
Much of what the Strutt's built in Belper can still be seen today, including:
Located just next to the Belper Mills, these unique and easily accessible riverside gardens have been giving visitors a beautiful place to stretch their legs and view the River Derwent for over 100 years.
In 1905, the former mill owner George Herbert Strutt agreed for the river above Belper Weir to be used for recreational boating. A boathouse and landing stage were built on an island previously used to grow willows to make baskets for use in the cotton mills. The boating events proved exceedingly popular and the River Gardens were extended, with new additions such as the Swiss Tea Rooms, the Promenade and the Bandstand being added later.
There is now also a children's play area is, which has been inspired by the history of Belper and the cotton mill industry of the world heritage site. Rowing boats can be hired during the summer months to take a trip along nearly three miles of the river and there are concerts, outdoor theatre performances and other special events in the grounds throughout the year. There's a pay and display car park and public toilets on site.
To find out more about the ongoing history of the River Gardens and upcoming events please visit the Friends of Belper River Gardens.
Take just a short walk from the mills towards Belper to view some of the historic millworkers’ cottages that are still in existence today. The beautiful and cobbled Long Row was built around 1790 to house the millworkers that the new Strutt Mills were attracting to the town. William Street, George Street, Joseph Street, Mill Street and Cluster Road are other examples of where some of the main clusters of original houses can be found.
Close to the Mills on Bridgefoot is the former garden to the Cottage Hospital. It has been lovingly restored by the enthusiasm of a dedicated local Belper man, Peter Davies, and is now a peaceful spot to sit and relax.
Across the road from the entrance to the River Gardens on Matlock Road is "The Old Nick". This was Belper’s Police station, built in 1847 and for two years from 1857 it served as the headquarters of the Derbyshire Constabulary. In 1877 three more Police houses were built alongside.
Hidden amongst the millworkers’ cottages on Field Row is Belper’s Unitarian Chapel. Jedediah Strutt had the original chapel built in 1788, and it remains today very much as it was when it was first built. Underneath the tiered box-pews there is an arched catacomb where members of the Strutt family are interred.
The historic mill town of Belper is blessed with a beautiful location nestled in the Derwent Valley. The town's name is believed to be a corruption of Beaurepaire, meaning beautiful retreat, and was the name given to a hunting lodge first recorded in a charter of 1231. From around the 13th century there were forges in the Belper and Duffield areas with iron-working becoming a major source of income, particularly nail making (hence the nickname of the local football team ‘The Nailers’). By the end of the eighteenth-century there were around 500 workshops in the town supplying nails to the newly built textile mills, and for export further afield. The workshops were eventually overtaken by machinery during the 19th century, however some of the nail-makers' workshops are still in existence today.
There are a wide range of historical sites to visit that help to explain Belper’s past, including:
This small stone church, hidden away above the market place, dates from around 1250 and was built by William de Ferrers, Earl of Derby. At that time Belper was a village in Duffield Frith and one of the many royal forest hunting grounds for the kings of mediaeval England. The Chapel helped the foresters and their families avoid the long walk to their parish church in Duffield. The recent careful alterations have left the building looking as far as possible as it was centuries ago.
There is now also a Heritage Centre inside with a collection of old photographs of Belper and other memorabilia. The address is The Butts, Belper, DE56 1HX, the phone number is 01773 822116, and opening hours are weekdays 9am-12.30pm.
On Joseph Street you can also see a former Nailer’s Workshop. This was an important industry in Belper before the cotton mills were established, with many workshops based around the old town.
Belper Parks is a local Nature Reserve and award winning park in the heart of Belper Town Centre, which can be accessed from the Coppice Car Park. Belper Parks was originally part of the Royal Forest of Duffield Frith. In the 13th Century the area was used as a deer park for breeding and rearing deer for venison. Belper Parks was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 2004.
Babbington Hospital which used to be the town Workhouse
The Black Swan and Marketplace
St John's Chapel
De Bradlei Factory Outlet
Fresh Ground Cafe Bar
The Lion Hotel
Long Row Workers Cottages
Strutt's North Mill
Belper River Gardens
St John's Chapel
Strutt's Community Centre
The Mill Complex and Weir
© Strutt's North Mill