Belper – a corruption of ‘beaurepair or beautiful retreat’ – is an attractive, small market town just eight miles north of Derby, alongside the River Derwent and the main A6.
Situated at the foot of the Peak District, Belper was a very small village, part of the Royal Forest and mainly concerned with making nails, until the Industrial Revolution arrived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when its population rapidly increased.
Today visitors come to the Peak District region from around the globe and Belpers Situation makes it ideally suited as a base for Peak District holidays and weekend breaks.
Fortunately there is a good selection Peak District B&Bs (bed and breakfast) accommodation as well some absolutely delightful Peak District Holiday Cottages to stay in both here and in the other towns and villages in the area.
Although Peak District tourism is one reason that visitors come to the town others are attracted by the legacy of the Industrial Revolution that shaped the towns original growth.
Jedediah Strutt and his family were the predominant developers of the industrial Belper, building in total 5 water powered cotton mills.
The North Mill, the building of which commenced in 1776, was destroyed by fire in 1803, and its replacement is the only remaining example of the early mills, now being used as the base of the Derwent Valley Visitors Centre.
This evocative environment now offers a fascinating insight into the communities of that era. This is the place for every schoolboy and girl to actually see Hargreave’s Spinning Jenny, Arkwright’s Water Frame and Crompton’s Mule, having heard about them for so long.
The North Mill was considered to be a technological marvel: it had a fire proof structure – in its second incarnation – as well as warm air central heating, believe it or not.
The large 7 storey mill that now dominates the town was built much later, in 1912, and finally finished its production in the late 20th century.
Beneath the mill complex there is a splendid example of a stone bridge from 1795, spanning the Derwent in its attractive natural setting, and notice the crescent shaped waterfall as well.
The River Gardens offer a good viewpoint of the area, before you go on to the more lively and pedestrianised town shopping area and the old market place.
There are the stores you would expect in a town of almost 21,000 people and some attractive gift shops and places catering for visits into the Peak District. There are some good places to stop for a snack and, in Bridge Street, two fine Georgian Inns – the Red Lion and the George and Dragon.
The Lion is also a hotel, with 22 bedrooms, and a recently refurbished bistro and restaurant. It would make a good base for exploring the local area as Crich Tramway Village is only 4 miles away; the fabulous Lea Gardens with its fantastic rhododendrons and azaleas is just 6 miles away and even the kiddies’ paradise of Gulliver’s Kingdom at Matlock Bath is a mere 7 miles.
If you’re searching for luxurious Belper accommodation, though, then the renowned Makeney Hall Hotel is just a couple of miles outside town.
Strangely, perhaps, another feature that is unusual in Belper is the deep railway cutting, a mile long, which is crossed by 10 bridges. Designed and built by George Stevenson in 1838, this was thought to be a masterpiece of engineering when it was built.
Perhaps even stranger is that there is a tradition of fine actors originating here as well – Timothy Dalton, Suzy Kendall and Tracy Shaw (Maxine Peacock to Corrie lovers) were all brought up and educated in the town.