which consists of the villages of Crich, Fritchley and Whatstandwell

Bobbin Mill, Fritchley

Peter Patilla

Bobbib Mill, old
Early photograph of the Bobbin Mill

The Bobbin Mill at Fritchley was originally a cotton spinning factory which came up for sale in July 1805. At that time it was described as newly erected.
The following notice of the auction contains a wonderful catalogue of terms used in the cotton spinning factories of the day, with reference to mules and carding machines. The succesful buyer would also have a share in a local lead mine known as “Pearsons Venture”. This was one of the Crich Cliff mines alongside “Glory” and “Wakebridge”. The sough mentioned is possibly the Ridgeway sough which went from these mines down to the river Derwent. The purpose of the sough was to drain water from the mines.

Derby Mercury: Wednesday 27 June 1805

To Cotton Spinners, Calico Makers, Hosiers, &c.


On the premises at Fritchley, in the parish of Crich, and county of Derby, some time in July next, subject to such conditions as will be produced at the time of Sale;


A Substantial New-Erected STONE BUILDING, four stories high, built for and used as a COTTON SPINNING FACTORY, with overshot water wheel, 20 feet high, with eight feet head from reservoir which is large; the stream of water equal to the machinery, except in very dry seasons. Also all the sanding and laying gear, with 444 spindles of water frame spinning, two mules containing 336 spindles, nine carding engines, the covers as good as new. with roving and drawing complete.
– Reels, bobbins, rollers, &c. Also a two cylindered opening Machine. Near the factory are two Dwelling Houses, also Stabling for four horses with rooms over, and adjoining is a Weaving Shop for 11 looms, with room over finished as a Store Room, together with two Fields of rich grass Land, comprising in whole of 5 Acres. – The buildings, water wheel, upright shaft, and Land are Leashold property, subject to the yearly rent of £42. Eighty-six years of which Lease are unexpired


A Steam Engine 7 horse power, made under the direction of Mr. Woodhouse, upon a wood frame, so constructed, that with a small experience it may be removed to a coal or other mine, for which it well adapted.


A modern-built Dwelling House, four rooms upon a floor, three stories high, with a pump of soft water at the door, a Garden, and Orchard well stored with choice fruit trees, at the bottom of which and near the stream of water is a Boil, Size and Die House, with stove and store room over; also a Weaving Shop for 5 looms, with room over used as a Warehouse and Warp-room; comprising two Roods of very rich Land, free-hold and tythe free; also a quantity of looms, reels, gears, lathes, warp mills, and every other utensil used in the manufacture of Cotton goods, with upwards of 100 pieces 9-8ths super printing and sheeting Calico, about 90- bundles of Twist, from No. 14 to 34. Also a quantity of modern and elegant Household Furniture, brewing utensils, &c. And 1-12th Share of the Mine called Pearsons Venture. Also 1-12th Share of a Sough which is now driving to lay the said mine and others dry, which when effected are known to be immensely rich.
Catalogues will be ready in due time, and the goods and machinery may be viewed any day previous to the Sale.


The spinning mule was invented by Samuel Crompton in 1779; it processed the raw cotton into yarn. Its invention revolutionised the British cotton industry.

The factory changed its role from cotton spinning to making wooden bobbins. In 1839 the Bobbin Mill was being run by the Wightman family employing forty men and boys. After James Wightman died in 1844 his wife Ann took over the running of the business until she passed it over to her son William in the 1850s. When the factory was sold in 1863 it was employing twenty-four men and six boys.

Derby Mercury: Wednesday 12th February 1862


To be LET, in consequence of the death of the late proprietor, the FRITCHLEY BOBBIN and GENERAL WOOD TURNING MILL, where the business has been successfully carried on for upwards of forty years. The mill is heald on Lease of which there are thirty years unexpired, and it is worked by both water and steam power. Included in the Lease are a House and about three acres of Land and four Cottages. Possesssion can be given at Lady-Day, or immediately if required.

For further particulars apply to Mr. PETER W. BOWNE and Mr. THOMAS BOWMER, Fritchley Bobbin Mill, near Derby, Executors to the late Wm. Wightman

The new owner was John Grant Sargent, a dissenting Quaker, from Cockermouth. Several Cockermouth workers came with him to work at Fritchley – it is reported that they walked all the way. The census records certainly show Cumbrian born residents living in Fritchley and working at the mill.
John Sargent was the founding father of the Fritchley Friends – he and his family became the most influential Quakers in the area.

John Grant Sargent (1813 - 1883)

1813 born in Paddington, London the son of Isaac and Hester Sargent, coach maker and brick maker.
1823 his parents moved to Paris leaving their sons to be educated in boarding schools at Epping and Islington.
1830 apprenticed to John D. Bassett, a Quaker draper, at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire.
1834 joined his his father in Paris, and was employed in the same trades as his father.
1835 attended Wesleyan services, discarding his Quaker costume.
1838 started attending regularly a Friends meeting promoted by his father at 24 Faubourg du Roule.
1842 dispossed of his businesses to take up farming in England.
1843 went on religious missions to the south of France.
1846 married Catherine Doubell.

1851 spoke for the first time in a Friends' meeting at Clonmel.
1853 published An Epistle of Love and Caution. This was critical of the growing influence of Joseph John Gurney's evangelical views.
1854 took over a wood-turning mill at Cockermouth, Cumbria.
1864 moved to Fritchley where he took over the bobbin mill.
1868 travelled to America with other Quakers to confer with the groups of primitive Friends known as 'smaller bodies'.
1870 a general meeting was held at Fritchley and then twice a year thereafter. The members of this were known as the Fritchley Friends or Wilburites. John was clerk of the meeting and its leading light.
1883 he died at Fritchley and was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Toadhole Furnace, near Alfreton.

Information: Kevin Quick


(Photos from Walter Lowndes Book: Quakers of Fritchley)
Sargent Family
John Grant Sargent and family Fernside in Fritchley
“Fernside”, on Bobbin Mill Hill, home of John Grant Sargent and his wife Catherine Doubell

Over the next few years the nature of the workforce certainly changed. In 1871 there were fourteen men and eleven boys whilst ten years later this became ten men and eleven boys.

In 1881 the bobbin mill passed into the hands of Edward Watkins. The census of that year has him living as a lodger with Catherine Sargent. John Sargent was not on the census, presumably out of the country.

It was in June 1885 that disaster struck. It was thought that a steam engine at the factory overheated and caused a fire that destroyed the factory. What made the disaster worse was that the fire insurance had run out the previous March so the full cost of the damage, some £1200 fell on Edward Watkins. The fire was reported in the Derby Mercury dated 17th June 1885.

Derby Mercury: Wednesday 17 June 1885


A disastrous fire broke out in Mr Watkins’s bobbin factory, Fritchley, early on Thursday morning. The building, which was four stories high, contained a quantity of machinery used in the manufacture of bobbins. On the night prior to the event the foreman, Mr Redfern, made the usual inspection to ascertain whether all was safe and the premises were locked up. The fire, which is supposed to have been caused by the overheating of one of the machines, originated in the third room and quickly developed. It was first discovered by a Mr. Allen, residing in the locality, who looking out at three o’clock saw flames issuing from the windows.
The alarm was immediately given, and the foreman and manager (Mr. Connell) arrived upon the scene. Two messengers were then dispatched to the Butterley Company and to Messrs. Smedleys’ hosiery mills, Lea and Cromford, for fire engines. A number of the operatives had by this time arrived, and buckets having been obtained, a copious supply of water was drawn from a pond in the vicinity.

All efforts to allay the flames were, however, unavailing, the fire having, through the inflammable condition of the interior, obtained complete mastery of the building. The direction of the wind rendered the store rooms, offices, and engineer’s house in danger of ignition. The stores were removed, but the wind then fortunately changed, thus saving the outbuildings and also several hundred tons of timber which lay in the yard. On the arrival of the Butterley Company’s fire engine the hose was directed to the boiler and engine houses, which after considerable difficulty were saved. At the back of the premises a quantity of mahogany took fire, but through the energy displayed by the men this was speedily got under. At six o’clock the building was gutted, the northern side having fallen inwards. The damage is estimated at £1,200. In consequence of the destruction of the factory a branch at Bull Bridge has been stopped throwing out of employment over 100 men and boys. The building was insured up to March 25th, 1885, but was not renewed, so the entire loss falls on the owner.

The fire engine sent to help quell the fire, would have been a fairly primitive machine. The most likely fire engine to have been used was the 1880 Merryweather; which was very widely used in factories and mines at that time, or the Neptune.


Built by Merryweather & Sons in 1880 this manual engine would of been used mostly on industrial premises but could be adapted for mansions and railway stations. Operated by eight men it could deliver fifty-five gallons of water per minute to a height of ninety feet. It would have cost £60 in 1881.

(Photo taken at Lanhydrock N.T.)

Merryweather fire engine

It is interesting to note the number of people working at the Bull Bridge branch – over a hundred compared to the twenty-one working at Fritchley in 1881.

Bobbin Mill after the fire
Aftermath of the 1885 fire, Bobbin Mill in ruins.

Edward Watkins tried to resurrect his business at the Bull Bridge site but was unsuccessful.

In November 1891 he was declared bankrupt and bankrupts were not allowed to remain Quakers. However, fellow Friends, George Smith and Thomas Davidson, bought his assets to stop his exclusion from their Society of Friends. As well as helping Edward out it was a shrewd business move for the two men. Thomas Davison owned the village post office and general store, whilst George Smith ran a successful grocery business in Belper.

Edward Watkines was most influential in the life of the Friends Meeting House in Fritchley. He lived at Chestnut Bank House, at the top of Bobbin Mill Hill in Fritchley.

Photo courtesy of Tony Lester

In this 1903 photograph are Charlotte Bell, A. Scanlow and Lydia Sargent (seated).
Note the Bobbin Mill chimney in the background.

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