Twinkly guitar music plays in the basement of Belper’s North Mill as I look at the shimmering threads in a textile depiction of the weir at the “One in a MILLion” exhibition.
Threads, cotton reels and cogs all feature in the artworks and watercolour paintings of the mill, nail prints and a painted reel of twine with a “Strutts” label. Maps of Belper wound round Belper mill bobbins.
I look at the packaging labels to learn that in the early 19th Century a million children in England were working to serve the industrial revolution, which is where the title for the exhibition, woven into a handkerchief, comes from.
Cello music takes over, strident and industrious. Stella, the museum guide tells me how the Strutts were philanthropic in their attitude towards the millworkers, building a hospital, schools and houses for them. I go to look at the old mill machines and Stella explains the phrase “doffing a bobbin” (like doffing a hat), when an empty bobbin was replaced with a full one. Individual pedal brakes meant that this could be done while the machines were still running, winding and whirring and binding threads.
Millipedal machines, metallic insects of the industrial revolution, straggle a labyrinth of rooms. There is so much history, social, industrial and cultural associated with the mills. This small exhibition dips its toe in the water.
The exhibition ‘One In A MILLion’ will be displayed from October 14 to November 26 (11am – 4pm October: Wednesday/ Sunday & November: Saturday – Sunday).
Strutts North Mill Museum is a unique and historically significant grade 1 listed building which highlights the fascinating story of how the Strutt family developed the factory working system.
Photo: Belper North Mill