Derby Silk Mill sits on the site of the world’s first factory, built in 1721 by George Sorocold and owned by the Lombe brothers. John Lombe travelled to Italy sometime around 1716 and stole plans for silk manufacturing machinery from mills in Piedmont. These designs allowed silk to be thrown on machines driven by water power. Lombe returned to England in 1717, bringing a number of workers with him and secured a patent for this silk production method in 1718.
The Mill originally consisted of two main buildings, the ‘Italian Works’, the main mill on the site which was water-powered, and the unpowered doubling shop which was situated at the front of the aforementioned building. John Lombe died in 1722, allegedly poisoned by an Italian assassin as retribution for stealing the plans which allowed the Silk Mill to be built.
The Mill became a popular destination for tourists to visit, with Daniel Defoe visiting in 1742 and Benjamin Franklin in 1771. Defoe records his visit in ‘A tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain’, stating “This engine contains 25,586 Wheels, and 96,746 Movements, which work 73,726 yards of Silk-thread, every time the Waterwheel goes round, which it does three times in one minute.”
The original main building was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1891, with only the foundations and gates surviving. Another fire badly damaged the building in 1910 after which the mill was rebuilt as it can be seen today.
The museum is currently undergoing a project to redevelop the building in order to create a Museum of Making, to open in 2019/20. It will breathe life back into the building, revealing the whole building to the public for the very first time. It has a truly innovative approach – to actively involve the people of Derby in physically making the Museum itself, introducing manufacturing once again to the site of the world’s first factory.
In December 2001, the Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire was inscribed on the World Heritage List. This international designation confirms the outstanding importance of the area as the birthplace of the factory system where in the 18th Century water power was successfully harnessed for textile production.
Find out more information about the history of Derby here.
You can also find out what else there is to see and do in Derby here.