Lea Mills – An 18th century Factory…and It’s Still Open

John Smedley's factory, Lea BridgeJohn Smedley founded his clothing manufacturer in 1784  and was originally a spinning mill deriving power from the stream that runs through the Derbyshire village where the factory is sited.

It is still manufacturing quality clothing from the same site and is, I have been told, the oldest factory still in operation in the world. If you want to investigate their products go to the website above and I have posted an add (in suitable 18th century industrial setting) with models wearing some examples.

I like this story because it shows to me that manufacturing needn’t be something that conflicts visually with the environment around, or that makes ugly and low quality produce. Their workers cottages have classic three-storey musical proportions. It is sited in the village of Lea Bridge, just outside Matlock in Derbyshire in the north midlands of England. As an interesting aside, a co-founder with John Smedley of the company was a Peter Nightingale, who was a relative of Florence Nightingale – this is the source in part of the family fortune that allowed Florence to devote herself to nursing. It is a story that seems to have everything – an elegant factory and products, care for the workers and their accomodation, philanthropy and through God’s grace longevity!

I have been teaching a course in harmony and proportion in architecture at Thomas More College recently and one of my students asked me about early industrial buildings, so this has prompted me to make this the first a few such features.

David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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