Spectacular New Mills! But many people who drive through the town by car are completely unaware of the secret beauty that lies below. The Torrs Riverside Park provides access to a dramatic gorge and an area of stunning natural beauty. The Park also contains the remains of what was an important industrial area, with the elegant Millennium Walkway winding its way for 125 yards through the gorge, high up among the canopy of trees.
The area around where New Mills is established today was designated as part of the Royal Forest after the Norman Conquest. It was not until 1391 when a corn mill known as ‘Berde’, located near the site of the present Salem Mill, took the name New Mill, that the present town was born. The town marked the occasion by celebrating its 600th anniversary in 1991.
A small settlement grew up around New Mill, as part of a large administrative area known as Bowden Middlecale, consisting of ten hamlets. The inhabitants were mainly cattle and sheep farmers, who supplemented their incomes by building up a small cottage industry, spinning and weaving cotton and wool. A few others were involved in quarrying stone, mining coal and iron, and water powered industries.
In 1713, the ten hamlets of Bowden Middlecale were divided into three groups, with Beard, Ollersett, Thornsett and Whitle forming a separate township. After the division, a new corn mill was erected at Ollersett and the name New Mills gradually evolved, being adopted as the official name of the parish formed in 1844.
The ingenuity of Sir Richard Arkwright at Cromford in the 1770s, using waterpower to drive machinery, revolutionised spinning and weaving and it led to the eventual collapse of the cottage industry.
In the late 18th century, a rapid change took place with the implementation of the factory system for spinning and weaving driven by waterpower. The Torrs was an ideal place. Set in a natural gorge it had the joint waterpower of the Rivers Sett and Goyt. Rocky waterfalls and cascades allowed the construction of weirs to provide a controlled supply of water. The ledges along the riverbank, above the flood water level, were ideal to build on. The sandstone rocks at the side of the gorge meant the builders did not have to go far for their materials.
Soon New Mills became an important centre for ‘finishing trades’, bleaching, dyeing and the printing of cloth in the early 1900s. It was during this period that John Potts invented a method of engraving designs onto copper rollers, making it possible to print multiple colours by machine, an estimated 40 times faster than hand printing. This invention spread worldwide and was adapted for use on pottery as well as textiles.
The main problem for the mills set in the Torrs Gorge, was accessibility with narrow steep roads that put it at a disadvantage when steam power started to replace water. The next generation of mills were built on high ground on the other side of the gorge at Newtown, alongside the Peak Forest Canal and close to the railway station. The canal is now only used for recreational purposes and has a busy marina at Newtown. However, a railway service still operates from the station between Buxton and Manchester.
On the opposite side of the gorge New Mills Railway Station serves the Hope Valley and provides a regular service between Manchester and Sheffield.
One railway line that New Mills did lose in 1970 was to Hayfield, along the Sett Valley. It is now a two and a half mile recreational trail, very popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
In 1884, the problem of access between New Mills and Newtown, on opposite sides of the gorge was solved with the building of the mighty Union Road Bridge, one of the highest road bridges in this part of the country. Despite this, it hardly seems as if you are crossing a bridge, because the high parapets hide the view of the gorge.
One of the best of the many good viewpoints of the Torrs Gorge is from the platform outside the Heritage Centre. The centre, housed in a converted stone building, contains a finely detailed model of the town in 1884, when the Union Road Bridge was nearing completion. There are many other interesting displays, and along with an accompanying commentary, ‘The New Mills Story’ is told.
Only a short distance down the steps from the Heritage Centre is the Torrs Millennium Walkway, built at a cost of £525 thousand, almost half from the Millennium Commission. The Derbyshire County Council’s in-house engineers, not specialist bridge designers as might have been expected, constructed it. The walkway spans the otherwise inaccessible cliff wall above the River Goyt – part on stilts rising from the riverbed and part cantilevered off the railway retaining wall. It provides the final link in the 225-mile long Midshires Way. Most definitely, it is well worth making a special journey to New Mills to cross, as many people already have done.
Outside what used to be the town prison in Dye House Lane, is one of the most unusual notices that you are ever likely to read. It relates to Thomas Handford, who was never sober for the space of a whole week. He was out drinking with his friend Stafford, in the Cock Inn, next door to the prison, when his friend fell down dead. He walked out of the pub and resolved never to drink again. The notice entitled ‘The Drunkards Reform Cottage’, tells the rest of the story.
‘A working man, a teetotaler for ten years, who was formerly a notorious drinker and a notorious poacher has recently invested his sober earnings in the purchase of the town prison which he has converted into a comfortable dwelling house. Frequently an inmate of the prison whilst a drunkard and poacher, he is now owner of the whole and occupier of the premises. Thomas Handford 1854’.
In a town where flat land is hard to find, workers’ houses were frequently built in rows or groups on the steep hillside. There could be as many as four or even five storeys on the down slope beneath the main house on the top, creating an under-living. Even today, there are examples on Station Road and Meal Street, where one family occupies the upper half and the other the bottom half.
The Town Hall stands in a prominent position on Spring Bank, with the Carnegie Free Library at the rear. Built in 1909, the library contained nearly 7,000 books. But the readers were not allowed to examine them; they had to choose a book from a catalogue list and check the indicator board to see if it was available. The selection completed, the number given to the librarian and she would hand the book over, with a reminder, ‘Wash your hands’. On the opposite side of Hall Street, a plaque with the words ‘Constabulary’ identifies where the police station once stood. Here six ramblers spent a night in the cells in 1932, before standing trial at Derby Assizes, following the mass trespass on Kinder Scout.
St George’s Church consecrated in 1831, stands on the corner of Church Lane and Chapel Road. It has eight bells and a four-dial clock commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Opposite Torr Top Car Park is the site of the earliest textile activity in New Mills, where the weavers’ cottages once stood. On the corner of the bend in the road below is the location where the chain horses were stabled. The horses pulled heavy loads, by chains attached to the carts, rather than the more rigid wooden shafts. This assisted them in negotiating the steep hills and dangerous bends.
The Plain English Campaign headquarters are on Union Road, from where they conduct an important international business. They have been established in the town for over 20 years.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
The Torrs Millennium Walkway a much admired bridge set deep in the spectacular Torrs Riverside Park and gorge. The walkway forms the final link in the Midshires Way long distance footpath.
The Heritage Centre (Tel. 01663 746904) is housed in a converted stone building of great character and tells ‘The New Mills Story’ with the aid of a magnificent model of the town as it was in 1884. There is a viewing platform outside looking down over The Torrs gorge. A small café serves mainly drinks and biscuits and in the shop maps, guides and gifts are sold. Open all year Tuesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 11-4pm.
Lyme Park (Tel. 01663 762023) is a National Trust property comprising a magnificent mansion and a 1,400-acre park and formal gardens. The park contains a herd of deer. Ducks and wildfowl can be seen on the lakes and ponds in the park. In the house is a varied collection of historic furniture, textiles and tapestries. For further information website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The Royal Oak (Tel. 01663 743675) a popular family pub in the centre of New Mills where a good range of hot and cold food is normally available daily at lunchtime only.
Gio Mia Café Bistro (Tel. 01663 746893) Italian, Mediterranean and English food, hot and cold snacks served every day apart from Sunday. Licensed.
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NEW MILLS WALK
Many, who have only driven through New Mills before, will not be prepared for the dramatic start and finish to this inspiring walk.
Entering the Torrs Riverside Park, deep in a gorge below the centre of New Mills, it immediately becomes apparent that this walk is different from any other in Derbyshire. It is very special as only 20 years ago Torrs Gorge, now so beautiful, was notorious for dereliction and the heavily polluted river.
After leaving the gorge, the walk follows an easterly route through fields, before joining the Peak Forest Canal for a relaxing stroll along the busy canal bank. Newtown Marina is passed on the way before going under the A6015 to walk through open countryside.
On the route back to New Mills your walk takes you through the Torrs Riverside Park again by the side of the River Goyt.
A further surprise waits in the form of the spectacular Torrs Millennium Walkway for about half of its 125 yards length it hugs a tall retaining wall, before running along pillars rising from the river bed. The walkway forms the final link in the 225 mile long Midshires Way.
New Mills Website:
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