WTH Birth of Industry

Walking Through History ran for four seasons on Channel 4. Each episode follows Tony Robinson on a four day history themed hike. When we last checked in 2019, it was no longer streaming on the C4 website, but all the episodes were being streamed on UKTV and Amazon Prime. This Quest follows Tony on Series 1 Episode 1, 'The Birth of Industry'.

C4 and programme producers Wildfire Television want people to follow in Tony's footsteps. They published a route guide for each episode on the C4 website. Alas, the links were lost when C4 stopped streaming the series. We will make them available. Series 1 Episode 1 is here.

The Birth of Industry starts in Bakewell, Derbyshire. Can't think why. It played no part in the Industrial Revolution, or indeed the manufacture of anything other than cakes. It is undeniably good fun to try the various Bakewell Pudding 'original recipes'. After years of geological mapping and hiking in the Peak District, we think we have tried them all. Robinson seems to favour the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. We recommend Bloomers, 50m away in Water Street.

It is often claimed that Bakewell Bridge, where Robinson introduces the episode, is the second oldest vehicular bridge in Britain (after Elvet in Durham). It has a touch of the Trigger's Brooms, having been widened to the north and modified to the south. Presumably some parts are 800-year-old originals, but they were not obvious to us.

Tony moves on to All Saints, Bakewell's parish church. He just uses the vantage of the steps outside the south transept to show where he will be going. We think that the church is worth exploring. It is one of those with features from almost every period of English history. The earliest parts are Saxon. The porch has the largest collection of Saxon carved stone fragments in the world. The graveyard has two incredibly rare Saxon carved crosses. Inside there is a lovely 14th century font, a Comper reredos, 20 or more misericords, and one of Henry Holiday's best windows. All Saints is on the list of Major Churches so it is open most days and visitor friendly. They told us that they had plans to turn one corner into a cafe.

Ashford-in-the-Water next. Tony meets an elderly shepherd at what was the village pump (above). They head down to Sheepwash Bridge, just 30m away. It is ancient and interesting, with an integrated sheep pen. We have never seen one like it. Visit England reckon it is the most photographed bridge in the country outside London. Still, they also reckon it is the best place in the country to play Poohsticks1, which is difficult to believe when the original Poohsticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest is publicly accessible.

Ashford had nothing to do with the Industrial Revolution, but it was the source of the world's best 'black marble'. The two quarries are now closed but still accessible. One is beside the road to Sheldon at 53.2214,-1.7157, the other beside the A6 at 53.2253,-1.7221. Wikipedia says that it is "not a true marble in the geological sense". Putting on our geologist's hat, we think that it is a true marble in the geological sense but not in the lay sense (because it has not been metamorphosed). Regardless, it is lovely when polished. The best examples are at Buxton Museum, Derby Museum and Chatsworth, although there is a more accessible slab of it on the interior south wall of Holy Trinity Church in Ashford.

Magpie Mine is 4km from Ashford-in-the-Water. Once again, it made no contribution to the Industrial Revolution. It was, however, the last working lead mine in the Peak District, and the best preserved. It is now an attraction on the European Route of Industrial Heritage.

On to Caudwell's Mill. It was only built in 1874, far too late to have made any contribution to the Industrial Revolution. And it has always made flour, which is not relevant to the Industrial Revolution anyway. But it does exhibit working water driven belts, pulleys and elevators. They are helpful to see because there is no machinery at any other location on the tour.

Robinson climbs High Tor to review his progress. There is a cable car for those who are strapped for time or stamina. We are told that the best view is from Giddy Ledge, but our vertigo prevented us from checking it out.

Half way into the episode, Tony finally makes it to somewhere that did contribute to the Industrial Revolution: Cromford Mill. Indeed, according to many, it was the starting place for the Industrial Revolution. It was the brainchild of Richard Arkwright, English inventor and industrialist who is regarded by many as the founding father of the Industrial Revolution.

Arkwright patented the first industrial cotton spinning machine and later patented a major improvement to the industrial carding machine. Cromford Mill was the first place in the world where cotton was carded and spun on an industrial scale. It is generally believed to be the world's first factory. Moreover, Arkwright pioneered the provision of accommodation and rudimentary social care for his staff. We will discuss all this when we get around to writing a blog about him. 

Robinson spends the night at The Greyhound Hotel in Cromford. Next morning, he walks the half mile to Cromford Wharf, where he is lucky to survive a luvvies bear hug from Brian Blessed. As he says in the commentary, Cromford was pretty isolated in the 18th century. Arkwright was struggling to scale up production due to transport constraints. He became a major sponsor of the Cromford Canal with its northern terminus at Cromford Wharf.

Cromford Canal opened the hinterland south to Derby. In 1831 the Cromford and High Peak Railway opened the hinterland north to Manchester. A steam engine was used to haul carriages up the initial slope to Middleton Top. The steam engine is still there; apparently the oldest in-situ steam engine in the world.

Clearly a Dick Turpin fan, Robinson stops for a drink at the Holly Bush Inn, Makeney, where the highwayman once stayed. He says that it is a detour. He is not kidding because the following morning he has to retrace his steps 4km north to Belper. We suggest that Questors reverse the order they visit these locations. 

Belper is the location of Jedediah Strutt's North Mill. Strutt was Arkwright's business partner at Cromford. He opened his first mill seven years later, at Belper. Strutt soon eclipsed Arkwright to become the biggest mill owner in Derbyshire. Strutt's North Mill is famous as the first building in the world to be constructed on an iron frame. It became the model for the first skyscrapers and then for virtually all modern commercial buildings.

The episode ends at Derby Roundhouse, the world's first rotating locomotive maintenance building. It has 16 tracks radiating from a central turntable track. Each radial track could accommodate two locomotives. Assuming they did not work on the entry track, to allow locomotives in and out of the workshop, the engineers could work on 30 locomotives or carriages at a time. The concept was copied across the world.