Calver Mill and its Indian connection

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The Cotton Workshop in progress at Jessop West Exhibition Space

Riverside Court Flats (formerly Calver Mill) in Calver in the Peak District National Park was once a cotton mill along the river Derwent, using latest cotton spinning technology licensed from Richard Arkwright, owner of Cromford Mill and ‘father/pioneer of the industrial revolution’! It was established in 1778 and functioned as a cotton mill using water power till 1923. Calver Mill is located in a scenic area in the Peak District National Park and there are lovely walks around Frogatt Edge and Curbar Edge, along the River Derwent, a little beyond is Big Moor, not far from Chatsworth, the lead mining town of Stoney Middleton and the historic village of Eyam with memories of times of the plague.

Records held in the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock for the period 1868-1877 show connections to India. There may be much more, but from research over eight weeks, this is what we have found.
Between 1868 and 1877, Calver Mill received supplies of cotton from various cotton growing regions in India. The cotton came to Liverpool via ship from the coasts of India and were sold at the cotton exchange at Liverpool. They were rated quite highly, and bought at high prices, comparable to the best cotton available at the time. Indian producers competed with American producers for supplying cotton. With the technology revolutionised by Richard Arkwright’s patented spinning frame, carding machine and the factory system, the mills were ever hungry for more cotton to process.
Cotton used at Calver Mill came from Western Madras (currently state of Tamilnadu, possibly from Coimbatore and Salem), Surat and Broach (in the state of Gujarat). In April 1868, Calver Mill received 1772 lbs of cotton from Western Madras at a price of 9 and 1/4 d (Record 1). In December 1868, cotton bales came from Surat, a total of 4582 lbs at a price of 7 and ½ d (Record 2). In December 1872, the supply of cotton from Surat to Calver Mill increased, the Mill received 11,684 lbs at the price of 6 and ¼ d (Record 3). In December 1875, the records show cotton coming in from Broach, 1945 lbs for the price of 4 and 5/8 d (Record 4). In December 1876 and 1877, several entries for cotton from Surat and Broach have been recorded.

These records also show cotton being sourced from America. In April 1868 Calver Mill sourced cotton from Orleans (7289 lbs at a price of 9 and 7/8 d.) (Record 1) In December 1868, 2588 lbs at a good price of 10 and 5/8 d (Record 2). In December 1872, 5412 American bales were bought at a price of 10 and 5/16 d (Record 3). In December 1875, 16989 lbs of cotton were sourced from Orleans at a price of 6 and 7/8 d (Record 4).
Prices of cotton grown in India vary from 4 to 9 and ¼ d, coming close to some of the highest priced cotton in the world. The highest price for American cotton at the same time is a little over 10 d. Publications from that time discuss the ‘differences between the character of the cottons of the East and the West’ It is interesting to note the meaning of superior and inferior varieties of cotton of the day. Inferiority of Surat or Indian cotton consisted in it’s want of length alone, it was highly appreciated for its fineness and strength. And according to expert opinion, ‘if properly cleaned and carefully cultivated, must always hear a fair competition in the English market with the New Orleans and Upland Georgia, so largely grown in the interior of the Southern States of the American Union, and so extensively imported into Great Britain’.

In a presentation to the Asiatic society in 1839, John Briggs summarised the topical issues of the day in India

‘ There can be no question, therefore, that under common circumstances England might get all its cotton from India ; but that country is not placed in ordinary circumstances, as compared with the rest of the world :— 1st. It has an overflowing and naturally industrious population, with millions of acres of uncultivated soil, on which the Government imposes a tax so onerous that the inhabitants cannot cultivate it and thrive. 2nd. It has a system of imposts on the raw produce of that soil where it is raised, which prevents its finding a profitable market. 3rd. There are few or no means of transporting the raw produce for want of roads, which the people thus heavily taxed are unable of themselves to construct.’

It seems that the situation didn’t change much since 1839. Under the ‘British Raj’, Calver Mill was still buying a substantial amount of cotton from America in 1868.

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One thought on “Calver Mill and its Indian connection

  1. Pingback: Engaging BAME communities in Archaeology | Inclusive Archaeology Forum

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