Cottoning on to new ideas, and people!

The project has now gained momentum in the second phase. The contours of the project are taking shape. It is becoming clearer how and who we will be working with. I like the spirit of the Nottingham group, the indignation, passion, vigour and curiosity that some members of the group bring to the project. We look forward to getting to know them more and interacting with them more. On the 31st of May 2014, our trip out into the Peak District region was a short but packed one. Our first stop was Calver Weir and Calver Mill, deftly managed by Tom Lewis, ranger from the Peak District National Park. Calver Mill was a place that was identified in Phase I of the heritage project as having received cotton from India, it is somewhere we didn’t manage to fit in on our tours. We took in Bakewell Old House museum where cotton was worked on by workers but this was our first opportunity as a group to explore Calver mill area. In the short time we spent there, we took a walk along Calver Weir, which has been restored and in its full grandeur, the biodiversity that the industrial heritage has spawned was interesting to note. Tom spoke about a prehistoric fish called Brook Lamprey that chose to mate and reproduce in the Calver area, harvest mice and water voles also inhabit the area. The National Park is lush around this time of the year, the vegetation sparked interest amongst the group and the short weir-side walk was an enjoyable one. We finished at Calver Mill, looking at it from across the river and then going over to see the new interpretation board that had been recently installed.

 

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At the end of this short walk, I got chatting to a new member of the project and it was interesting to hear what he thought about living in the Peak District National Park. What do young people growing up in the peak district do? He asked. He was alarmed at the lack of entertainment available to them and I thought that was funny! I expect the landscape might help capture some youth and not others. At least they have something different to turn their energies to. It was an entertaining conversation!

Our next stop was Cromford. We were going to a UNESCO world heritage site, the Sheffield group had already spent some time here, and been on a guided tour and talk, but this was the first time for the Nottingham group. We didn’t have much time, this was our lunch stop, and an opportunity to explore aspects we hadn’t explored before. We heard there was a cottage that pre-dated Arkwright’s row of houses on North Street and went looking for it, but also walked on North Street, looking at the workers cottages, with the multiple windows on the top floor, where they sat and worked till last light. I also discovered that one of the cottages is a Landmark Trust property!

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It was nice to hear from Michael Ledger, Education Officer for Arkwright Society who came and gave the talk about Arkwright to our group at our cotton workshop last summer. It was heartening to hear that they are now inviting us to provide new knowledge that they could incorporate into the site and its various activities. Michael invited us to feed into the content that tour guides use to introduce the place, to display something on the history of cotton production and its route to the mill in the venue where we sat for our lunch, and a host of other possibilities were opened up.

It was with interest that I listened to a conversation that took place after Michael’s brief talk. A new member of the group was indignant about what had been said – about the lack of information on where cotton from and how it got here – in this day and age, in 2104? His disbelief was writ large on his face. It was interesting to compare his reaction to ours from last year, when we came to Cromford for the first time I do hope it is not the same in 2024! And that projects like ours brings some change to fill in the gap, and to change perceptions.

After lunch some of us walked up to the little cottage with the red doors. This was a small place, with a door on the top floor, with seemingly no way to get to it! It seems, back in the day, there would have been a ladder and the family that lived up the stairs would have used it to get up there. They lived in that one room, cooked and slept in the same space. Animals would have been kept underneath on the ground floor. So in comparison, Arkwright’s three storeyed cottage with a basement, must have been a big step up!

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On this walk, I got chatting to another new member of the project, who turned out to be an avid traveller with interesting stories and also very familiar with Cromford. We had a cheerful conversation, but soon parted as our mini buses came to view and we set off to go to our next and last stop for the day – Belper Mill, further down in the Derwent Valley heritage area.

Our two groups are of a category – ethnic minorities. But with different specific histories and cultures, our real commonality is that we have made a choice to geographically place ourselves here, to live and to work! But it is fascinating to discover shared histories, shape histories and addresses pressing problems. Not long ago I came across a connection I had not known about, and I suspect many other Indians would not know about too, as it is not common currency. A group of people called the Sidi people, live in the north western part of Gujarat and have descended from Africans who were brought over as slaves to that part of India. As our cotton project is also looking at slavery and the production of cotton, this seemed an opportune discovery to make. It demonstrates that we, as peoples have moved around, and shared a lot more than what we focus on!

It was great to travel down the road of industrial revolution – along the stretch from Cromford to Belper. I must say, that prima facie it seemed like Belper, our next stop, was a bit more globally oriented in how they presented the story of the industrial revolution. I am also curious about whether the whole valley is a UNESCO world heritage site or whether only Cromford Mills has that distinction. In the short time we spent at Belper, we seemed to have found references to India and the Americas. There was a map lying about as we made our way to the first set of displays that the guides had chosen for us to partake. There were pictures of cotton and an interesting take on the ‘bullock-cart’!

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Cotton mills really were established only on the top of the experience gained from silk mills! Our silk and cotton themes meet! Honestly, I was more impressed with Jedediah Strutt than with Arkwright. So should silk be the place where the industrial revolution began? Cromford Mill is not that illustrious after all? Questions, questions! It would be great to go back to Belper and spend more time at the mill.

New learning from workshop One of Phase II

On the 16th of May 2014, we had our first workshop as part of the Phase II of the project.

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Susanne presented work that researchers from Nottingham University have done on the Strutt archives. The Strutt family co-invested in Cromford Mills along with Arkwright. They went on to build other mills, including Belper. Suppliers of raw cotton to the Mill between 1970s and 1810s included Brazil, the Caribbean, the Guyana/Surinam area, the southern states of America, India and southern Europe.

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We wondered where Bourbon took its name. Shweta thinks it has something to do with Punjab. There are other ideas bandying about.

It was interesting to learn about the possible routes cotton took to come to the Mill. Two routes have been identified. One via London, the other via Liverpool, both routes led to Derby. From London, the cotton would have come either via canal to Derby or by sea to Gainsborough, then via canal to Derby. The main brokers operating in London were George Greaves (1794-1800); Roger Hunt (1798-1827). From Liverpool, the cotton would have come by canal to Derby. The main brokers at Liverpool were Nicholas Waterhouse (1794-1806); Samuel Hope (1803-1817); George Holt & Co (1812-1823)

Most yarn was sold to Derbyshire, Tewkesbury, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, London and Manchester between 1794 and 1830 (see Fitton, 1958: 297,299). Some direct overseas sales of hosiery went to Europe, New York, Charleston and Rio de Janeiro. Further research avenues in the Strutt archives on the raw cotton side would be to connect the London and Liverpool brokers to importers and then to connect importers to plantations/producers. Later ledgers do not appear to have survived but some letter books have. On the market side for cotton threads, Nottingham and London could be explored. The list of customers of Nottingham agents (1809-1887) can be identified, trace in trade directories: hosiery? lace? Agents in London included Thomas Shipman (1804-6); James Peirce (1814-15); Thomas Marshall (1817-26); Burkinshaw & Gande (1865), the list of customers could be followed up, traces found in trade directories.

There is some more research time left in the project, we are looking forward to getting more new information. However, this phase of the project ends in January, and there other visits and a conference planned.

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Sustaining the project activities beyond the project

One of the first things I did when I wanted to go out walking was to check routes and events on the internet. In fact, I’d say my first stop enroute to the countryside was google! There is a lot of information out there on walks, routes, walking festivals in the Peak District, but I have hardly come across anything that is similar to our walk activities in this project. I would like to see a leaflet with walk routes from this project, designed in a unique, Indian template, to project the global interpretation that is part of this project.

Designing self-guided walk leaftlets, like the one that Calver Weir restoration project did for the Calver Mill area and its surrounds, will actually provide a good set of guided walk leaflets that would go with the ones that already exist for the Calver area. This is a fantastic holistic interpretation of the area of the National Park.

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There is not always a walk leader available to take people on walks, the self-guided walk leaflets would be very useful to people who would like to follow a trail by themselves and would like to

A podcast or an audio trail would be fantastic as this would provide information in an exciting, easy, accessible way and technologically versatile manner.

Another idea that has been presented is to look at incorporating our findings into walks that are promoted by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). The programme is called Discovering Britain http://www.discoveringbritain.org/ and the story of British landscapes can be discovered through the detailed set of self-guided walk routes that are available to download from their website. They are inviting ideas for new routes and they also propose that we do walks, which link Britain to other parts of the world! The website is really nice and attractive and the walks themselves are very informative and interesting. It would be great to apply for this scheme and get our research out to a greater number of audiences, probably global. This is something we should work on.

Walking and experiencing the outdoors is a highly valued part of the project, especially on the Carpenter side of the project. Carpenter’s emphasis on understanding nature and to live with nature involved going on walks. If we are impressed with what we have discovered about Carpenter and his Hindu ideals, then handing down a legacy of walks drawn from the stories we have uncovered in this project would be ideal. It would not just create a legacy but will go a step beyond that in addressing the purpose of such projects.

In itself, uncovering heritage is great, and has promoted the aims of a group like the Hindu Samaj, but the purpose of doing it in the National Park was to use the heritage as a lever to promote more use of the National Park, and thereby to engender a friendly feeling towards the National Park and its aims by experiencing the National Park directly. There is nothing vicarious about walking. The development of a modern environmental consciousness is a central facet and not a side-effect of the project. Hindus and Indians in the UK can contribute to the larger debate on the environment and its protection if they know the landscape better, have experienced it through stories that are linked to their heritage and become interested in connecting to the landscapes and the National Park more.

In discussing and deciding suitable legacy work, these are the main factors that need to be taken into account. Watch this space as our future plans unfold and we are discussing other legacy ideas too.

Thanks to Vibha for providing me with some of the material about Belper. Thanks to Vibha and Uday for sharing their photos with me.

Chamu Kuppuswamy

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One thought on “Cottoning on to new ideas, and people!

  1. Pingback: Back to blogging #2 – events | Global Cotton Connections: East meets West in the Derbyshire Peak District

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