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Posted Saturday, July 7, 2007
Derwent Valley Mills - World Heritage Discovery Day 2005:
`One of the largest crowds ever assembled in Derbyshire'
Saturday October 29th saw one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Derbyshire, when around twenty thousand people thronged the Derbyshire spa town of Matlock Bath to enjoy the spectacular fireworks display which marked the Grand Finale of the annual `Venetian Nights’ Illuminations - and also the conclusion of the inaugeral Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Discovery Day.
The Discovery Day was a great success, and acting co-ordinator for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, Adrian Farmer said;
“Never before has so much been done to showcase the Derwent Valley. Originally we condidered a conference and tour of the site, but the enthusiasts and volunteers who breathe so much life into the valley were so keen to take part that we decided to expand on the number of events and make it a day of discovery – both for first-time visitors and for local people who might not realise how much we have at our feet”.
He went on to explain:
“In December 2001, the Derwent Valley Mills were granted World Heritage Site status and added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. This international designation confirms the outstanding importance of the area as the birthplace of the factory system, where in the 18th century water power was successfully harnessed for textile production, and the site contains a fascinating series of historic mill complexes, including some of the world’s first `modern’ factories”.
In the event - or events, as there were many of them - hundreds of people from across the country flocked to the area, and large crowds gathered up and down the fifteen mile length of the Derwent Valley from the Masson Mills in Matlock, to the Silk Mill in Derby on a lovely day of late October sunshine to enjoy a wealth of attractions. Free tours of Cromford Mill and the Silk Mill, the Cromford Canal and the historic industrial communities of Darley Abbey, Belper, Cromford and Milford were at full capacity throughout the day.
The day began at Cromford Wharf where the Friends of Cromford Canal turned out in force – and in authentic 18th century costume – to entertain and guide visitors around the rope-making exhibition, artist installations and canal history exhibitions in the Gothic Warehouse.
Two barrel-organs added a carnival atmosphere to the proceedings with piped music as a horse-drawn narrow-boat left Cromford Wharf for the first time in many decades, the magnificent shire drawing gasps of admiration from the crowd as it stepped out along the towpath for Leawood Pumphouse on the first of several such journies during the course of the day.
During the afternoon at the Gothic Warehouse, the excellent Friends of Cromford Canal presented a series of readings and songs based on the works of local children’s author Alison Uttley, who during the canal’s hey-day lived at a nearby farm.
At Arkwright’s original Cromford Mill, the Industry Artistry arts projection piece was unveiled, and workshops ran there throughout the day.
The High Peak Junction workshops were opened to the public and a splendid audio-guided tour was available at no charge, whilst the nearby Leawood Pumphouse was in steam for the final time this year.
Across the river, Arkwright-built Willersley Castle hosted a musically accompanied photography exhibition which featured children’s performances from last summer in the mills.
Further down the valley at Belper, Strutts North Mill hosted a series of craft workshops and visitors tried their hand at a diverse range of crafts involving water-wheels, wig making and knitting.
Johnny White’s water-wheel sculpture was unveiled to an enthusiastic audience, and textile artist Tam Draig’s `human knitting machine’ caused a sensation. Visitors of all ages joined a knitting circle using their hands to do the work, resulting in Tam being `netted’ in the centre of a large spider’s web!
During the afternoon the Derwent Brass Band played to an enthusiastic crowd in front of the North Mill, whilst in the town itself Belper Historical Society staged an extensive exhibition on the town’s mills and industrial past in St. John’s Chapel.
At Masson Mills and Derby’s Silk Mill, ancient but immaculate working steam-engines welcomed visitors to their doors for a wide range of activities and entertainments.
At Masson there was more working textile machinery on show than ever before and working exhibitions were held throughout the day, including a `fastest weaver’ competition for children, whilst children’s entertainer and clown, Uncle Michael raised a few smiles in the shopping centre.
At Derby’s Silk Mill the Wonderful Weaving Workshops were a also big hit with children of all ages, including some middle-aged ones!
There were a series of both history and wild-life walks conducted along the Cromford Canal, and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust played a prominent role with bird watching expeditions to nature reserves along the valley route, answering questions about the wildlife sites and their conservational importance to the bio-diversity of the area along the way.
As the successful inaugeral Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Discovery Day drew to a close, events moved upstream to Matlock Bath where, from 7pm the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust hosted an evening of wildlife discovery at the Whistlestop Centre.
Whilst pointing out that calls had already been made for a second Discovery Day in 2006, Organiser Adrian Farmer commented;
“The level of interest reflects the amount of support given by volunteers across the valley to showcase the Derwent Valley Mills and their communities. People have worked so hard to make Discovery day a day to remember, and it was gratifying to see so many visitors turn out and enjoy the many free activities on offer. The grand finale, coinciding with the fireworks display on the last evening of the Matlock Bath Illuminations was the icing on the cake - and a fitting climax to a wonderful day of discovery”.