The Cromford Mills in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales are home to inventor Sir Richard Arkwright’s first mill complex and birthplace of the modern factory system. Purcell’s strategic masterplan for the site, and our ground-breaking restoration of what is known as Building 17 at this UNESCO World Heritage Site has made Sir Richard’s work the focus of international interest, just as during the early Industrial Revolution, and achieved both a Europa Nostra Conservation Award and finalist in the Best Major Regeneration of a Historic Building or Place at Historic England’s 2018 Awards.
For the Arkwright Society, which has been restoring the complex since buying it in 1979, the building’s former existence as a dye works might have ruled against future use. But Purcell have supported the Society to overcome the considerable obstacles of decontamination and careful design to the listed Georgian warehouse structures to saving a set of buildings that played an important part in history. The building’s historic use as a dye works had left the area badly contaminated with lead chromate which had seeped into the very fabric of the buildings and this had to be removed or contained where possible, to make the structures usable.
Purcell’s masterplan scheme for this World Heritage Site was essentially focused on Building 17 to transform it into a northern anchor site and orientation centre for the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The introduction of a creative media centre on the building’s upper floors reflects the County Council and Development Agency research, consisting of small office suites with a central first floor reception facility, shared meeting rooms and other supporting accommodation. Both have been highly successful, both architecturally and economically. The complex employs over 100 people in 45 companies, with a waiting list of businesses that want to use the new lettable offices underlines the sustainability of the site and a rise in visits from school parties across the region reflects a surge in interest in its history.
Overall, 200,000 visitors arrive annually and the diversity of visitors to the site has increased significantly. The project has helped spread the word about the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site globally and attracted visitors from a broader area nationally. Through this masterplan transformation the worldwide interest Sir Richard Arkwright started nearly 250 years ago in Cromford is being stirred again, as his buildings and story are brought back to life.