I pondered why we anchor to a specific place this weekend while visiting Derbyshire. I’m well established in a corner of South London where I’ve lived for over 30 years. Coming to London itself in 1979 was job-driven and my first flat share a result of a university friend having a spare room at the right moment. But why did we end up where we did?
This train of thought came to me while watching a fascinating demonstration of the history of industrial weaving at Masson Mill in the Derwent Valley.
Masson Mill was the creation of Richard Arkwright in the 18th century and functioned as a cotton mill until 1991. It is the jewel in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site and, for the Textiliste, close to nirvana.
The demonstration, encompassing Yorkshire and Lancashire looms from 150 years ago, through the gorgeous and mind boggling Jacard loom with its early computing technology
to a Saurer from the 1970s was an hour of fascination and noise. The stories, of child labour, of regular employment after years of agricultural hardship, early education of the poor and egregious injury couldn’t but hold one’s attention.
And yet one question rattled around. Why, given this is a cotton mill, did they place it here, pretty much as far from the sea and the ports – where the American cotton would arrive – as can be found in England?
There’s a river that doesn’t freeze, and Arkwright was a local lad. But the canal system followed the Mill not the other way round so the transport logistics were complex to say the least – Manchester may be 50 miles away as a rather discombobulated crow flies but from here to there is still a case of ‘lad, I wouldn’t start from here’.. Maybe, it was because that, hereabouts there was a paper mill on which the Masson Mill was sited.
Maybe it was that convenience and local knowledge led to this siting, now in a fabulous setting. From these early beginnings, other mills flourished and fame, and for some, fortune, dropped onto an otherwise sleepy part of the country. By such convenient strokes of luck do we land somewhere and stay put.
And me and south London? It’s all due to cricket. We, the Textiliste and I were looking to buy somewhere. I had recently joined my law firm and asked to take part in an annual cricket match against one of its competitors. Normally the Textiliste had better things to do with her Saturdays than watch me pretend I could play cricket but this was a chance to meet some of my new colleagues and their families so she came along. I vividly recall looking across to the spectator group and noting a sea of attentive faces watching the game… save one deck chair that was at 90 degrees to the play – my girlfriend was following the sun round to get a decent tan!
At some point, when even sunbathing paled (quite soon in truth) she wandered off into the local village and looked in an estate agent’s window. This was Dulwich and the houses were priced in our range and offered more by way of gardens than where we had been looking. Serendipity. Never let it be said that cricket is anything other than a force for good in my life.
Let’s end with a song..