March's Buildings of the Month: cottages at Lea Mills, near Matlock


Lea Mills in Matlock has been in continuous textile production since the end of the eighteenth century.  The original mill was built on the site in 1783 and still stands there surrrounded by later buildings.  The site is now part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site which celebrates the important early industrial history of this area including the nearby Richard Arkwright's Mills at Cromford, the first successful water-powered cotton spinning mills.

Standing just outside the Lea Mills factory gates, the mill workers' cottages at 1, 2 and 3 Lea Bridge were built in the late 18th century of coursed squared gritstone with blue clay roof tiles. They are three storeys high and a fair size, intimating that they may have provided housing for someone of higher status than the normal mill worker. The buildings are an important feature in the High Peak Junction and Lea Conservation Area.

The cottages have been empty now for over 30 years and their future remains very uncertain. The previous owners were unwilling to sell the cottages which stand next to the main entrance to the mills.

It was hoped for some time that the restoration of these buildings would take place as part of a wider project.  A consent for repairs and conversion to residential use will expire in June 2017.  As far as we know, no work appears to have been commenced on the cottages, although some essential repairs have been carried out in the past.  

In the meantime, it appears that these picturesque cottages continue to stand neglected and in a state of dereliction.  John Smedley Ltd's history of operation at the site dates from the late eighteenth century and the company rightly makes much of its long history of production here.  It is now an international and highly regarded producer of luxury knitwear.  Isn't it important to conserve the buildings which tell a part of that story?