Better in Belper with Bridge Hill House

23 April 2019

The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution fills your view when you stay at Bridge Hill House in Belper. It looks over Belper, a snapshot of Britain's glory days of industrial growth, a time of empire and achievement laid out before you in the Derwent Valley.

Belper started out as a royal hunting estate in Norman times, and the remnants of this remain as Belper Park to the south of town. In early days the town eked a living by making nails - and traditional nailers' huts can be still be found - but come the Industrial Revolution and all that was to change.

In 1776 the sonorously-named Jedidiah Strutt built the first water powered cotton yarn mill. This harnessed the power of the Derwent River to transform a sleepy but lucrative craft into a major industry. A large horse-shoe shaped weir raised the river to provide a decent head of water and Belper boomed. Jedidiah built accommodation for his mill workers, and you can still see the back-to-back cluster houses and long terraces named after his sons.

In 1803 Jedidiah Strutt's original mill burned down and to avoid the risk of it burning down again he rebuilt North Mill using a steel frame. This was the first use of this construction style that has gone on to enable all high-rise buildings that have followed, allowing Belper to claim to be the birthplace of the highrise. The town seems slightly less proud of the fact that he also built in gun emplacements in case Luddites came to smash his machinery. North Mill is now a museum and visitor centre as part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, giving a fascinating insight into the history of cotton production and the way this industry came to permeate society.

After your experience at North Mill the River Gardens Park is a great place to relax, have a picnic and maybe feed the ducks. In summer you can rent boats to row up and down the Derwent but at any time of year it's a restful place to breathe in the atmosphere.

The oldest building in Belper is St John's Chapel, dating back 700 years. This is now a heritage centre with artefacts and photographs of Belper through the ages. But in many ways Belper's charms are very much of the present day. Restaurants abound: you have a choice of Italian, Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisines as well as an array of pubs up to gastro standard. Check out Fresh Basil, an award winning delicatessen and eatery. For beer the George and Dragon on Bridge Street keeps the best: it's ten minutes walk away from Bridge Hill House.

For a town with so much history Bridge Hill House is refreshingly contemporary, a newly-built property with the latest comforts part of the design. With the town a few minutes walk downhill this is a great base from which to discover Belper.

Stephen Cavers, Bridge Hill House