1947 Guide to Belper in Derbyshire
With the present population of 15,000, Belper is one of the oldest industrial towns in the Midlands for it was one of the first five places in Britain to possess a cotton mill. Yet, because of its situation by the winding Derwent, hemmed in by hills, it can claim to be a resort with attractively laid out river gardens, first class boating, and a neighbourhood abounding in stimulating walks.
Not surprisingly perhaps the first name was Beaurepare (beautiful retreat). [NOTE] It was a place of some importance in the extensive Duffield Forest. In 1139 the town was mentioned in a Royal Charter, Robert De Ferrars receiving certain lands at Heage in recognition of driving wolves out of the district. By 1272 there were three parks in the neighbourhood, all of them stocked with fallow deer. At Belper stood the great larder where venison was salted down every Martinmas and stored for winter consumption.
A Century later Belper had become a fairly important centre of the nail-making industry and not long afterwards gained something of a reputation for its pottery products. A few years before the pottery was closed and moved to Derby in 1834., it became famous for its grotesque bottles, bearing effigies of well-known reform leaders.
It was in 1768 that a poor Preston engineer named Richard Arkwright invented the mechanical spinning frame to produce cotton thread of sufficient tensity and strength to be used as warp. A few years later he met Mr Jedediah Strutt, of Derby, who was keenly interested in cotton machinery, and in 1776 Belper's first cotton mill was opened, by the two partners. From that time, the Strutts became Belper's first family and its greatest benefactors. The cotton mill became one of the best known in the country.
Today Belper includes among its industries the manufacture of cotton thread, hosiery, gloves, paint, fire grates and stoves, textiles, an oilworks and an iron foundry. The collieries are near enough at hand for a number of Belper men to work them.
Part of Belper's Urban Council's post-war policy is a determined drive for more local industries and conditions in the district are favourable for the expansion of its light industries. The half-yearly rate (1946/7) is 8/4d in the £ and the present rateable value is £77,000.
Housing needs are being met with new Urban Council estates and other services being improved.
King-street and Bridge Street, principal thoroughfares of the town have several good hotels and some attractive shops. King Street is further brightened by its War Memorial garden, a delightful retreat sheltered by leafy trees.
The broad back of the Chevin, the riverside, the bracing summit known as Windgap and the Depths o' Lumb and Blackbrook are all attractive and easy walks from Belper. It is in many ways the gateway to the Lower Peak and is within easy reach of Matlock, Wirksworth, Ashbourne and Dovedale. Derby is only eight miles away and Belper is well served by LMS Rly. And by buses which run regularly to Derby, Matlock, Ripley and elsewhere.
Both St Peter's and Christ Church, Belper are comparatively modern and the chief interest to the antiquarian is the ancient chapel of St John the Baptist which was used for a time as a school. It may have been built by Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Doncaster, who had a hunting box at Belper in the days of Duffield Forest.
It was certainly erected about 1250 and is attractive in its simple lancet architecture. Nave and chancel have a single roof on five ancient beams. There are two stone seats for priests and piscine niche, and the stone altar table in its original position. One of the five consecration crosses is still visible.
The Herbert Strutt School offers particularly good educational facilities for both boys and girls. There are also excellent swimming and slipper baths.
The town has good gas, electricity and water services.
[MY NOTE: This oft-repeated fact about the old name for Belper is, I believe, incorrect. Another explanation given in older books is that the name Belper is derived from "Bel-Perre" meaning beautiful stone because of the famous quantity and quality of the stone quarried in this location. That makes much more sense. It may be that a subsequent play on words by some wit (royal or otherwise) led to the joke of Bel Perre being such a beautiful location that it was Bel RE-Perre!! - or BEAU, to make it grammatical. (Beautiful Resort or Place.) Certainly this version of the name caught on and is found in many old documents, rendered as Beaurep'd]