Belper is an attractive riverside market town, with a rich industrial heritage, located at the centre the Derwent Valley Heritage Site.

Mill Weir at Belper
Belper's Horseshoe Weir on the River Derwent © TAB

Belper's industrial past is closely associated with Jedediah Strutt, who built the world's first water powered cotton yarn mill here in 1776, harnessing the power of the River Derwent. The largest of the mills, 'North Mill', was destroyed by fire in 1803. William Strutt rebuilt the mill using an unique iron frame structure thus preventing its further destruction by fire. This iron frame design was the first of its kind in the world and is said to be the forerunner of modern day high rise construction.

The oldest mills have now gone, except for the huge North Mill complex. A stone archway (circa 1795) joins the mill buildings across the main road. The stonework in the archway incorporates gun ports, added to defend against possible industrial unrest in the 18th-c.

The North Mill complex houses an award-winning museum and visitor centre, which provides a fascinating insight into the early cotton industry in the Derwent Valley. Guided tours of the museum and the town can also be booked from here.

Belper Mill workers cottages

Mill workers houses on Long Row © TAB

The Strutt's provided housing for their mill workers, much of which still exists today. A walk along Long Row (just south of the mill site) illustrates some of the best examples. These include long terraces and back-to-back style cluster houses, with much of their original features still intact. The next three parallel streets, George Street, William Street and Joseph Street, were named after the sons of Jedediah Strutt.

The impressive horseshoe-shaped weir (near the town bridge), was built to create head of water to power the cotton Mills. The century old river gardens, built beside the weir, are the Jewel In The Crown of the Derwent Valley. The gardens are a lovely place to walk, relax or feed the ducks. There is ample car parking and a play area for children. During the summer months the gardens are the place to enjoy concerts with brass bands, folk music and outdoor theatre.

The Belper Memorial Gardens, Founded by George Herbert Strutt in 1922, also provide a pleasant open space in the centre of the town.

Belper nailer's hut

Traditional Nailers Hut © TAB

Originally called "Beauyepaire" (French for beautiful retreat), Belper originated as a royal park and hunting grounds during the Norman period. The remains of the hunting grounds (called Belper Parks), provide a pleasant nature reserve to the south of the town.

The town developed as an industrial centre for nail making in the early 18th-c. This industry dried-up once the cotton mills took over in the late 1700s. A traditional nailers' shop can still be found on Joseph Street. The workshop would have had a hearth, bellows and anvil, where the nailer and his family would have forged nails from iron rods.

St John's Chapel, a simple stone building located on one of the heights of Belper, was built around 1250 by William de Ferrers (the Earl of Derby). It has been a religious centre for over 700 years and is now a meeting chamber for the town council and a heritage centre. The chapel contains an exhibition of illustrated photographs of Belper, detailing it's long industrial past and many historic aspects of the town.

Ritz cinema Belper

Ritz Cinema © TAB

Belper's 200 year old marketplace hosts a farmer's market on the 2nd Saturday of the month and food fairs are held twice a year, in July and December. Free parking is available nearby.

Just down hill from the market square (in King Street), is an award-winning traditional Ritz Cinema, which provides a full programme of movies and art-house classics. The cinema has a relaxed atmosphere and you can even sit and enjoy the show on a comfortable sofa.

Belper was the winner of the Great British High Street competition in 2014. It has a pleasant town centre, which is well known for its independent traders. The High Street offers a mix of shops, offering a range of unique goods for sale, including bespoke jewellery, gifts and locally produced leather products. There are also fashion outlets, a florist, confectioner, deli and a traditional butchers and bakers. A good range of eateries and restaurants can be found around the town, along with some fine gastro pubs.

Railway Cutting Belper

Stephenson's Railway Cutting © TAB

George and Robert Stephenson's railway runs along a deep stone lined cutting that slices straight through the town. The line is crossed by seven fine stone bridges.

The town hosts a number of annual festivals including the Belper Arts Festival (May) with art, drama, dance music and film. The Derwent Valley Mills Walking Festival (May). The Belper food and Real Ale Festival (July) and the Belper well dressing Festival (July).

Visitor Information Point:

De Bradelie Stores, Chapel Street, Belper DE56 1AR

Places of Interest to Visit in Belper

Belper Parks

Belper Parks

Located in the heart of the town is an area of around 26 hectares, containing mixed and diverse habitats with some mature oak and holly trees, surrounded by areas of natural grassland. Designated a local nature reserve in 2004, it provides a relaxing place to visit. Originally it was part of a deer park belonging to the royal Estates. An information board is located at the park entrance (near the main car park).

Belper River Gardens

River Gardens Belper

There beautiful riverside gardens are set in a tranquil setting by the mill weir. Rowing boats can be hired in the summer for a three mile trip up river. During the summer months there are concerts in the bandstand, outdoor theatre and other events.

Open all year.

St John's Chapel Heritage Centre

St John Chapel Belper

The oldest building in Belper, build on the hillside overlooking the Deer Park. The chapel was originally dedicated to St Thomas, but change to become St John's Chapel during the Reformation. It was once the centre of religious and social life of the town. Inside the chapel there are display boards of old photographs with descriptions of the history of Belper. The chapel, is one of three built by William de Ferriers in 1250. Today is used as local council offices and as a heritage centre.

Opening times: Mon to Fri 9 am to 12:30 pm, Sat 9:30 am to 12 noon - Free Entry
Location: St John's Chapel, The Butts, Belper, Derbyshire - Tel: 01773 822116 - Website

Strutts north Mill

North Mill Belper

The remains of a large water driven mill complex built by the Strutt family. The original mill was destroyed by fire in 1803 and was replaced by its current Iron framed multi-storey structure. The integral museum houses displays on the history of cotton manufacture, spinning and knitting machinery of the early 19th-c. Parts of the mill site are still in use, producing stockings.

The museum foyer has light refreshments and a small bookshop There is also contains a visitor centre with tourist information, providing details of walks, guided tours, local facilities and accommodation.

Opening times: Mar to Oct, Wed to Sun and BH, 11am to 4pm; Nov to Feb, Sat and Sun 11am to 4pm - Admission Charge
Location: Derwent Valley Visitor Centre, Bridgefoot, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1YD - Tel: 01773 880474 - Website

Wyver Lane Nature Reserve

The Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve lies a just a short distance from the river and former Mill buildings. It is a wetland reserve and an ideal setting to observe many native British Birds. Local species include Canada geese, tufted duck and little Grebe. Migrating species include waders and curlew, the common Sandpiper and sedge warbler.

Map of Belper

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Towns and Villages in Derbyshire

Alfreton, Ashbourne, Belper, Bakewell, Buxton, Chesterfield, Derby, Glossop, Ilkeston, Long Eaton, Swadlincote, Matlock, Matlock Bath

Attractions in Derbyshire


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