New Mills is a former mill town which formed at the junction of the Rivers Goyt and Sett. It is located just outside the Peak District National Park and just inside the western boundary of Derbyshire. The town comprises several districts which merge into a conurbation - New Mills itself, Ollersett, Newtown and Low Leighton. Further up the Sett Valley are Thornsett and Birch Vale, which are separated from New Mills by some green spaces.
The whole area once formed part of the Royal Forest of the Peak and had a number of small scattered hamlets. The name 'New Mills' was first recorded in 1391 to refer to a corn mill on the River Goyt and by the 16th century this was in common usage as the name for the area around the hamlets of Beard, Ollersett, Thornsett and Whitle.
New Mills Torrs
Where the Sett joins the Goyt is an area of hard sandstone called Woodhead Hill rock, and the combined river has carved a spectacular gorge, called The Torrs, 30m deep. The river offered ample water power to early industrialists and from the 1780s onwards a series of cotton mills were constructed alongside the river. The first of these was Torr Vale Mill, which still stands and only closed in 2000, having been used continuously for over 200 years. The ruins of several other mills can be seen in the gorge.
To service the new industries communications were improved, starting with the Peak Forest Canal, which was constructed between 1794 and 1804, linking the town with Manchester. In the 1860s the arrival of the London and North Western line between Manchester and Buxton saw New Mills Newtown station constructed, followed soon after by the Midland Railway between Manchester and London which created New Mills Central station. Both of these lines are still operational but the branch line between New Mills Central and Hayfield has closed and is now the Sett Valley Trail.
Until the 19th century New Mills was virtually cut in two by the deep gorge of the Goyt and the only crossing involved a tortuous descent down to a bridge just above the river level, followed by an equally hard ascent the other side. Church Road bridge was constructed in 1835 to carry the turnpike road from Newtown to Thornsett across the river, but this only partially solved the
Union Road Bridge
problem, so in 1884 the 94 foot (29m) high Union Road Bridge was constructed across the centre of the gorge. Viewed from river level it looks very impressive and was constructed out of the rock from The Torrs itself.
Coal mining and printing were other local industries. The standard method of using engraving to print calico was invented in New Mills in 1821 and a large printing works was constructed at Thornsett. Poor quality coal was mined at several sites on the local moors, notably Ollersett Moor. These mines thrived in the 19th century and had all closed by the First World War, though some small-scale mining continued sporadically until 1947.
Modern New Mills looks like a typical mill town, perhaps owing more to Lancashire than Derbyshire, with the centre a warren of narrow streets and stone-built cottages. The town's post-industrial decline has been somewhat compensated for in it's growth as a home for Manchester commuters and there have been a lot of new houses built. A range of local industry still thrives - one former mill makes Swizzels 'Love Hearts' sweets, and other firms are involved in engineering, quarrying, textiles and computer software.
Recent developments include the opening of the stunning 'Millenium Walkway' above the Goyt and the Torrs Hydro - a community owned and funded hydropower scheme.