BELPER, a chapelry and market town in the parish of Duffield, and Hundred of Appletree, in the county of Derby, seven miles to the Nth. of Derby, and 139 miles from London by the Midland and North-Western railways, on the former of which there is a neat and commodious station.
It is situated in a pleasant district, on the banks of the river Derwent, which is crossed by two bridges - one of three arches - built in 1795 in the town, and another of two arches lower down the river. Belper contains above ten thousand inhabitants, and is now one of the busiest and most thriving towns in Derbyshire, being second only in population to the county town.
It has risen to its present importance since the year 1777, up to which time it was only a small village, whose inhabitants were mostly employed in nailmaking. In that year a cotton factory was established here by Messrs. Strutt. The manufacture rapidly extended, and before the breaking out of the American civil war was carried on in five mills, giving employment to above two thousand hands. These cotton-mills were inspected by her Majesty and the Duchess of Kent in 1832. Belper is also the Seat of very extensive establishments for the manufacture of hosiery, both of silk and cotton.
Four or five thousand persons are engaged in this manufacture, who work mostly in their own homes, to supply the firms of Messrs. Ward and Co., and Messrs. Brettle and Co., who have very extensive hosiery warehouses, and carry on a large export trade in gloves, stockings, vests, and pantaloons. There are machine-making establishments connected with Messrs. Strutt's mills. Other important branches of industry are the manufacture of nails and of brown earthenware. Coal is found in small quantities near the town.
The town is irregularly built. It consists of several streets chiefly of modern erection, intersected by the Midland Counties railway which passes through the centre of the town, and divides it into two districts or ecclesiastical parishes. Many pleasant residences, with garden and orchard grounds adorn the neighbourhood, and many of the houses are built of stone. The town is lit with gas, and well supplied with water by the new water-works company, established in 1860. It is a polling place for the county elections, and petty sessions are held weekly. Belper is the head of a Poor Law Union, comprising 35 parishes and townships, and of a County Court District.
The living is a perpetual Curacy in the diocese of Lichfield, of the value of £240, in the patronage of the Vicar of Duffield. The church is dedicated to St. Peter. It is a spacious edifice, capable of holding 1,400 persons, in the perpendicular style of architecture with a fine tower surmounted by pinnacles, and stands on a hill overlooking the town. It was erected by a Parliamentary grant in 1824, at a cost of more than twelve thousand pounds, and contains a fine organ built by Holt of Leeds, and also a peal of six bells of cast steel, erected in 1861 by Messrs. Naylor, Vickers, and Co. of Sheffield.
The stone of which it is built (Hungerhill sandstone) is - it is said - already beginning to decay. Another church, called Christ Church, was erected in 1850 at Bridge Hill, which now forms one of the new Parishes for ecclesiastical purposes, the living of which is a perpetual Curacy, of the value of £150, in the alternate patronage of the crown and the Bishop of Lichfield. The ancient church, erected by John of Gaunt, is still standing, and is used as a Sunday-school. There are eight other places of worship, belonging to the Baptists, Wesleyans, Unitarians, Primitive Methodists, and Reformers.
A National School was established in 1849, in which several hundred children are instructed. There is a large school for the children of the factory people, and two other schools. The charitable endowments, which include the revenue of several almshouses, amount to £67 per annum. The town has a library, and the Union Workhouse, which latter is a handsome stone building in the Elizabethan style, situated on the road to Derby. At the distance of a mile from the town is the cemetery, opened in 1859. In the vicinity may still be traced the foundations of the ancient seat of John of Gaunt, who had a park and mansion here.
Bridge Hill, a pleasant seat on the river, is the residence of one of the Strutt family. The neighbourhood abounds in minerals, coal, ironstone, lead ore, limestone, etc., which are profitably worked. The market is held on Saturday, and fairs on the 12th May and the 31st October, for the sale of cattle and horses, and a Statute Fair on the 1st November, for hiring servants.