Lying just outside the pretty town of Matlock, on the edge
of the Peak District National Park, the Lumsdale Valley is a hidden gem. It’s a place of fascinating history and
stunning natural beauty, with romantically overgrown ruins standing beside
cascading waterfalls which tumble through a wooded valley.
Past Industrial Greatness
Designated a scheduled ancient monument because of its historic
importance, the Lumsdale Valley was once a bustling centre of industry, with a
collection of mills all powered by water from Bentley Brook. The brook rises on Matlock Moor and has never
been known to dry up.
The Lumsdale Falls and Lumsdale Valley was used for industrial purposes from as far back as the 17th Century, although it reached the height of its production in the mid 19th Century. Some mills were used for cotton spinning and bleaching, and some for grinding corn, bone and minerals. The site was used until the 1930s. The Lumsdale Valley is now one of the best examples of a water-powered industrial archaeological site in Britain, unique in such an extensive use of water power over such a small area.
The origin of the name Lumsdale is open to debate, but it is most likely to be derived from the Scottish word ‘Lum’, meaning chimney, with Lumsdale therefore the Valley of Chimneys.
The Lumsdale Mills
The ruins of six of the mills in the Lumsdale Valley remain,
all in various states of disrepair. The last
private owner of the site refused to sell the buildings, despite lucrative
offers for the stone, preferring to keep them in their ruinous state as a testament
to their heritage and as a habitat for wildlife.
At the top of the Valley stand the ruins of the Bone Mill, which operated as early as
the 17th Century. As the name suggests
it was primarily used to grind bones for making pottery and fertilisers. It was abandoned in the 1920s.
Moving along the path the next remains are those of the Saw Mill, built in the 1850s, featuring
a large burr grinding stone imported from France. A further three or four pairs of millstones
were originally located inside the mill.
Water from the Saw Mill directly powered the mills below.
The third mill is the Paint
Mill, the oldest in the Valley, built in the early 1600s as a very early
lead smelting mill and bleaching mill.
Behind the Paint Mill a circular stone trough can still be seen, once
used for bleaching yarn.
The fourth mill, the Grinding
Mill, built in the 1770s, is situated beside the waterfall and features an
impressive wheel pit. Water would have
been fed on to the wheel from a cast iron pipe.
The mill was probably built as a corn mill but was also used for
grinding red lead.
The final two mills at the bottom of the Valley are the LowerBleach Mill (or Garton’s Mill) and Upper Bleach Mill, built in the early 1700s. The two mills were originally linked together
by train to transport cotton from one to the other, and the remains of the
track can still be seen.
The Lower Bleach Mill was originally built as a cotton mill.
It required a huge amount of water to
power the wheel, which was enclosed within the building and powered from the
waterfall. A number of the bleaching
vats and the smithy still survive, as does a circular trough used to cool down
the large iron rims of cart wheels. The
bleaching vats are believed to be the last surviving examples in the country.
The Upper Bleach Mill most probably dealt with the final
stages of the bleaching process, including drying, finishing and packing. A drying room was heated by a boiler, the position
of which is still evident, although the actual boiler and other metal parts
were removed from the site during WWII.
The Arkwright Society & Lumsdale Falls
The Lumsdale Valley is now owned by the Arkwright Society, a
charity devoted to the rescue of industrial heritage buildings. A committee made up of Lumsdale residents and
Arkwright Society members manage the site, maintaining the buildings in their
state of picturesque decay, allowing public access to the area and safeguarding
the important woodland and wetland habitats.
Wildlife in the Lumsdale Valley
The Lumsdale Valley is a haven for wildlife. The overgrown buildings, woodlands, flowing
water and pools provide a perfect habitat for a diverse range of bird, animal and
plant life. Visitors can see finches,
nuthatches, woodpeckers, kingfishers and heron, as well as bats, badgers, foxes
and frogs, and varieties of moss and lichen.