The poetry festival was held in one of Arkwright’s old cotton mills - Masson Mill at Matlock Bath - which has been preserved, partly as a shopping centre and partly as a museum. Unlike many museums, this is not a reconstruction. The machines have been preserved just as they were when they stopped working and the mill has the eerie feeling that you might have just walked in while the workers have knocked off for a coffee break. Not that they had many of those. They worked long hours and conditions were terrible.
My great grandfather came from northern Ireland to work the cotton mills of northern England, beginning at 12 as a cleaner, crawling under the machinery to remove the build-up of lint. It was very dangerous as the looms travelled backwards and forwards on rails, constantly moving.
|some very pink lint|
Then he became a loom operator and eventually a pattern maker, putting holes in the card that programmed the loom.
|A pattern punching machine|
|The pattern is hung in the front.|
I had the whole place to myself and it was a very moving experience to wander through what would have been his working environment - it made it all very real to me and made me feel that I should write about it. He died, like many mill workers, of emphesema.
It was great to be able to just wander around. The machines were complex and fascinating and the workshops were wonderful - at least to someone odd enough to love rooting about in hardware shops and ironmongers. They looked like my father’s toolshed on the farm - utterly chaotic - and they had that unmistakable smell of iron rust and old machine oil!
|first stage spun cotton|
|A bobbin machine|
It was all very dark, so difficult to take photographs even though it was one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been to. Every corner, every basket of bobbins, every strange machine was just posing to be photographed. And in the dying vats there were cubby holes of dyed cotton in every colour you could imagine.
For a lover of history, it was a fantastic experience and has given me a lot to write about -my notebook is crammed!