Beyond the Mill Walls: Rejuvenating Smelting Mill Green
Before Arkwright came to Cromford, the area we now call Church Walk was known locally as Smelting Mill Green, with a corn mill, a community of cottages, smelting mills and possibly even a mill pond. The Bonsall Brook flowed through here before it was culverted, and there is evidence still visible of the lead waste that built up in the river at the end of the brook. Traces of its industrial past are now long-gone, and Church Walk is now home to a wide range of wildflowers, insects and birds.
The Beyond the Mill Walls: Rejuvenating Smelting Mill Green Project has installed wooden chainsaw and living-willow sculptures that interpret the industrial heritage and create space for wild play. Dilapidated steps up to the iconic viewpoint at the top of Scarthin Rock have been reinstated and a new management regime will improve biodiversity in the wildflower meadow. Along with a new interpretation panel, nature trail leaflet, new picnic benches and new benches, we are sure that the project will entice everyone to explore further. NOTE: The completion of this Project has been delayed due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Historical: This area of Cromford was an industrial site long before Arkwright was here. The lead smelting mills sited here from about 1575, were converted into “Callimy Works” (producing calamine for brass making) in about 1761. By this point they used water power from the brook to power bellows in the furnaces. When Arkwright built the second mill in 1776 he was given the right to use the stone from the existing corn mill and such houses as he wished. The houses and smelting mills were still there in 1789, but were cleared when Willersley Castle was built in order to improve the landscape.
Wildlife: A 2012 Derbyshire Wildlife Trust report on the meadow area recognised it as a type that is unusual in lowland Derbyshire, and one that meets the criteria for “lowland fen” under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. As such, it is classified as priority for conservation action because of the substantial decline in this habitat nationally. In winter, look out for hawfinch in the tops of the trees (a national rarity), and in the spring and summer you can often see kingfisher and dipper on the river. The small-leafed lime trees are far from common in this area, and there are a wide variety of meadow flowers throughout the season.
Volunteers: As part of the Beyond the Mill Walls Project the Arkwright Society also set up a group of Conservation Volunteers who will be working once a month to manage the area for wildlife and to introduce some of the improvements that are being made in the area. The group has met a couple of times and have already cut in picnic spots into the meadow and installed a story-telling area for children.
Later in the year the group will be working with local school children to weave a living willow cottage where the settlement once was. The plans also include natural play areas for children and natural play tunnels woven through the dogwood to reflect the culverted brook flowing from Cromford Mills to the river.
Visitors: Beyond the Mill Walls as a project will combine the industrial history and wildlife, encouraging visitors to stay longer and to enjoy a picnic or walk through the riverside meadows. The picnic tables and benches have already been installed by Bolsover Woodland Enterprise, a social enterprise group working with people with learning disabilities, and the benches were used by visitors as soon as they were put in on site!
Clearly visible as you arrive is the area between the Church and our carpark; with fantastic views over to Willersley Castle and the Church, this area will have stand-out chainsaw sculptures, picnic tables/benches and a willow woven cottage recalling the lead smelting settlement that was there in the 18th Century. Local Chainsaw artist, Andrew Frost, is going to carve us chunky models of the cottages and smelting mills to be set out as a children’s play settlement in this area.
Along Church Walk there will be more chunky wildlife chainsaw sculptures, as well as an interactive sculpture trail that children can climb and scramble over, and for organised groups we have created a story-telling area tucked away near Scarthin Rock.
Beyond the Mill Walls has also started work on Scarthin Rock to ensure that the steps are much easier for people to use. The way up to the top of the rock is steep, but the views of Cromford Mills Yard and Willersley Castle are well worth the effort! If you are up there in the spring look for the stinking hellebore; Kew Gardens took seeds from these for their Millennium Seed Bank project.
Funding: The funding for Beyond the Mill Walls has been secured from Postcode Local Trust. The Postcode Local Trust provides project-based funding in Great Britain under the themes 'Green space improvements, Increasing community access to outdoor space and Renewable energy & flood prevention'. There are two funding rounds a year during which organisations can apply. www.postcodelocaltrust.org.uk @postcodelocaltrust. Postcode Local Trust is funded entirely by players of draws operated by People's Postcode Lottery. www.postcodelottery.co.uk