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Derbyshire Heritage: spotlight on Belper

Derbyshire boasts some of the greatest arts and heritage attractions in the country. In our series of articles about Derbyshire's cultural heritage, we included a feature on places which walks you through the best of the County's cultural experiences. In this article, we take a closer look at the town of Belper in Amber Valley. 

Spotlight on Belper

There’s often much more to places than immediately meets the eye. Derbyshire Gold Magazine puts the spotlight on Belper, delving into its past and discovering more about the town.

Today it is an attractive market town, resting in the Derwent Valley, towards the eastern side of the county. But Belper has a wealth of history, largely the legacy of the famous Strutt family. Who can miss those majestic mills? While other relics are less obvious, such as the lion’s head water pump and the old theatre hall where famous actress and singer Gracie Fields once performed.

Gaining prominence because of the Industrial Revolution, Belper underwent a transformation in the late 18 th century. Jedediah Strutt, born in 1726, had teamed up with another famous industrialist Richard Arkwright to pioneer the cotton spinning industry in Derbyshire. This resulted in the magnificent mills, including Belper North Mill, built in 1804, which now has a visitor centre, on the A517 Ashbourne Road as you head out of Belper. Its iron-framed construction with brick arches used for the floors, is believed to be the second oldest of this type in the world. Then there is Belper East Mill, which towers above the town as a landmark as you travel along the A6.

Also to be spotted along the A6, and especially visible if you happen to be travelling by bus, is the ‘Flying Geese’ sculpture. Set in the middle of the traffic island it is difficult to miss at five metres high. The plinth shows features of the area’s industrial history, while the flying geese theme was inspired by the bird life on the River Derwent which flows through the town. 

Carrying on towards Derby, the former Herbert Strutt school, now used as an arts and community centre, can be seen standing proud as testament to another of Belper’s famous benefactors George Herbert Strutt, who later went on to become a Derbyshire county councillor.

Strutt was considered a good employer providing acceptable accommodation at a fair rent for his workforce. The Strutt houses (Strutt Houses) in Long Row, Short Row and Mill Street and the four-house blocks known as ‘The Clusters’ give an insight into what was considered quality housing of the day.

Strutt died in 1797 and is buried in the Belper Unitarian Chapel, in Field Row, Green Lane, which he built in 1788. Three times the size of the original chapel, it is considered to be a fine example of nonconformist architecture.

Set in a quiet corner of the town, St John’s Chapel, in St John’s Road, the Butts, is the areas oldest building dating back to 1250 AD. Starting out as a simple rectangle, you can see how parts were added to the building over time to reflect Belper’s increasing population. Careful restoration in recent years means todays visitors can appreciate the building as it was centuries ago.

Near to The Clusters, in Joseph Street, is a quirky old nailer’s workshop. With plentiful deposits of local ironstone and coal Belper became well-known for nail making – and gave it’s nickname to today’s Belper Town Football Club.

With the warmer weather on the horizon Belper River Gardens, which are owned by Amber Valley Borough Council, are well-worth a visit. Enjoy a picnic in the recently-revamped gardens and take in one of the occasional band concerts played out in the bandstand in the centre of the park or if you’re feeling slightly more energetic take out one of the row boats for hire along the river. There’s also a childrens’ playground if you’re on a day out with the grandchildren and an ornamental pond.

Slightly off the beaten track, in Bridge Foot, is the lesser–known Beaurepaire Garden or ‘Lost Garden’. So named because it lay undiscovered for many years it now provides a haven of peace and tranquillity.

In more recent times, Belper Leisure Centre offers resident holder of the Derbyshire County Council Gold Card and under-16s the chance to swim for free, while Belper’s Adult Community Education Centre, in Holbrook Road, runs a range of courses, some of which offer discounts to older or concessionary students. Or if you’re in town at the weekend a farmer’s market is held in the Market Place on the second Saturday of each month.

This article appears courtesy of Derbyshire Gold and was originally published in the summer 2010 edition of Derbyshire County Council's Gold magazine.

Getting you there ...

Belper has good transport links from many parts of the county making it easy to visit.

By bus:

  • There are three main places to get on and off the bus in Belper in King Street, outside Somerfield and Wilko’s, and in Chapel Street outside the Trent Barton bus garage.

  • Derbyshire County Council contributes around £5million a year to support local bus services, so you can get to Belper quite easily from places like Alfreton, Ashbourne, Bakewell, Derby and Ripley. Or you can even travel in from as far as Manchester and Nottingham with other selected stops en route. And remember, as a Gold Card holder you get free bus rides after 9.30am weekdays up to 11pm or at any time weekends and on bank holidays.

Belper Train Station:

  • Hourly train services, Monday to Saturday, run by East Midlands Trains, connect Belper with Nottingham and Derby.

  • There are also direct trains to Nottingham weekdays and Saturdays. Plus some trains calling at Ambergate, Cromford, Duffield, Matlock Bath and Whatstandwell, also stop at Belper.

  • And because Derbyshire County Council contributes around £240,000 to support train services it means Gold Card holders can travel for half fare on local rail journeys.

There are several ways to plan your journey and find out the times of buses and trains to suit you.

By phone

  • Traveline 0871 200 22 33 from 7.00am – 9.00pm (Calls from landlines cost 10p per min. Other providers’ charges vary.)

  • National Rail Enquiries 08457 48 49 50 (For train times and fares)

In print

  • Area Timetable Books for Mid and South Derbyshire (includes the city of Derby), North East Derbyshire and the Peak District tell you everything you need to know about bus times in each of the three areas, plus they contain maps, tourist information and a free update service. Each costs £1.50 and is available from bus enquiry offices, local libraries, Tourist Information Centres, selected newsagents and post offices.


Get involved

Heritage articles in this series


Many thanks to Deborah Porter, Sharon Stevens-Cash, Carole Crompton, Bygonederbyshire, Peak and Fell Walking, The Derby Local Studies Library and Robert Steadman for picture contributions to this series.

Source materials for this article

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