Wirksworth – Lead, Red Tape, Mills Bombs and Testing Rolls-Royces

The July 2005 meeting of Ashbourne Section CROCA involved a visit to Wirksworth, a small town in Derbyshire, for a guided tour of the town and a visit to its Heritage Centre. The town itself developed before the days town planning and is a maze of narrow streets, alleys and steps.

In 1800, it was the third largest town in Derbyshire, its prosperity coming from the large amounts of lead which were mined locally. This industry declined over the years but its Barmoot Court, the oldest Industrial Court in the country, still meets twice a year to sort out any lead mining disputes There were also major quarries in the area (see article on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway) but these have also gone into decline

One of the other major industries in the town was the manufacture of narrow tape. Again, all the mills have now disappeared although Bowmer and Sons of Gorsey Bank Mill is still in operation as part of Bowmer Bond Narrow Fabrics at nearby Ashbourne. One of the main products was the miles and miles of red tape, beloved of officialdom at home and abroad. It was also Bowmer’s proud boast that it manufactured the fuse binding tape for every Mills bomb that was used in World War 1.

Running up from the main street are some very narrow and steep lanes and in the early 1900’s these were used as “test beds” for Rolls Royce cars which were being built at the newly opened works in Derby. I understand that motor cycle hill-climb trails used the same route.


If you are in the area, a visit is recommended to the Heritage Centre where there are exhibitions spanning the town’s history from prehistoric times to the present day. It is open Wednesday to Sunday (and on Bank Holidays) from Good Friday to the end of September, 1030 to 1630. Since it is run entirely by volunteers, a phone call beforehand is advisable. The tours are also run by the Centre but I suspect that they need to be pre-booked.

Contact: 01629 825225 Website: www.gilkin.demon.co.uk

[30jul05 22:00]