Short Walk from the North Mill

From the Mary Smedley Papers donated to the society shortly before her death in 2020.

Here are a few things to look for on a short walk from the Strutt’s North Mill car park.

The North Mill, originally built in 1784, was burnt down at 3am on 12th January 1803. William Strutt is responsible for the design of the present North Mill, which was re-built in 1804 as a fireproof building. It is iron-framed.

Moving to the roadside, the Gangway, the arched footbridge over the road was built in 1795 as a link between the North and West Mills on either side of the Ashbourne Road. The Gangway also served as a defence to the counting house in the West Mill. The gun embrasures were created in 1810 during the time of the Luddite troubles.

Gangway at Belper mill site
The Gangway connecting both sides of the mill complex

Moving on to the bridge over the Derwent, you can see the Horseshoe Weir, built in 1797 to power the West Mill, which needed a larger weir to power it. The building of this weir began in 1796. The height of the weir was increased in 1819 and 1843. When this weir was built it altered the course of the River Derwent and by 1820 it had added 5.8 hectares of water to the river at Bridgefoot, and provided 300 horsepower. It is one of the outstanding engineering structures of the late 18th century. The four sluice gates alongside the weir control the force of the water powering the mill wheel. The riverbed below the weir is stone lined to prevent the water force scouring away the riverbed.

Belper Bridge and mills
Building maintenance on the Belper Bridge by the Mills.

The bridge over the River Derwent was originally built in 1380, according to local legend by John o’ Gaunt, son of King Edward III. The bridge was rebuilt in 1796 after that bridge was washed away in a great flood, along with the bridges at Ambergate and Whatstandwell in 1795. It had wooden piles to support the piers. The bridge was widened in 1955/6 to allow for modern traffic.

On the right after the bridge, the cottage hospital was originally three cottages. George Henry Strutt converted it to a hospital for the mill workers, and his wife Agnes and daughters Susan and Lucy helped care for the patients. Originally there were gardens across the road where the patients were encouraged to take fresh air and exercise. When the hospital was no longer needed it was converted back to three cottages, known as the shuttle cottages because the people living there controlled the shuttles to regulate the flow of the river to the mills.

Cottage Hospital at Bridgefoot.
The cottage hospital at Bridgefoot

This area, Bridge Hill and Bridgefoot, had gas street lighting as early as 1834. The rest of the town began to have the same from September 1835.


Keeping to the right, the Talbot Inn on the left was rebuilt in 1660. The Talbot dog was the emblem of the Earls of Shrewsbury (who owned Alton Towers) but we are not sure whether the Shrewsburys owned the land or built the inn. The Earl of Shrewsbury was the last husband of Bess of Hardwick and gaoler of Mary Queen of Scotts. It was the refreshment stop for the teams taking coal along the turnpike road to Ashbourne and beyond.

The Talbot Inn at Bridgefoot.
The Talbot Inn at Bridgefoot

On the right is Wyver Lane, it would seem that there was some kind of crossing by Weir Cottage which was originally two houses. All the housing here was in Strutt ownership by 1818, to house the growing number of mill workers. The Strutts’ rebuilt Wyver Farm beyond in 1809 on the site of an earlier farm called Wyburs Clough.


Walking along Wyver Lane, turn left after number 31a and walk up Back Wyver Lane onto Belper Lane. These houses were in Strutt ownership by 1818 and originally had adjacent workshops, as did the cottages in the Scotches on the right. The scout hut was the workshop where Rydes the undertakers once made coffins.

Wyver Lane by Bridgefoot.
Wyver Lane cottages

Looking up, the house on the opposite corner on Belper Lane has a stone coat of arms (now badly eroded) on the gable end, which is said to have been taken from the original river bridge when it was rebuilt and to be the arms of John o’ Gaunt.

Cross the road and continue round the corner. On the left is a row of five brick cottages; originally there were only four with an arch in the middle, one of the original routes up to Bridge Hill House, main home to the Strutt family. The arch was made into a fifth cottage after the route ceased to be used, and a new route created which is now Lodge Drive, which you’ll see on the right as you return to your starting point.

East Lodge can still be seen at the Lodge Drive junction.

John O' Gaunt's shield on wall.
John O' Gaunt's shield on the wall of a cottage on Belper Lane.