A future for Cannon Mill

After a long period in which no-one has come up with any ideas and the building was clearly deteriorating, a proposal has now emerged for the re-use of Cannon Mill, which we welcome.

Cannon Mill, pictured in early March 2023. Note the gable-end wall to the right, to which the purlins are no longer attached, presumably leaving it at risk of collapse.

This is a grade II listed building owned by Robinsons, which stands at the southern end of their Walton site. It was rather heavy-handedly ‘restored’ in 1957 in the belief that it was the last surviving building from the ironworks of Ebenezer Smith & Sons, founded in 1775, which stretched from Dock Walk to Wheatbridge Road.

The last surviving building from the ironworks of Ebenezer Smith & Sons?

It is not strictly true that Cannon Mill is the last surviving building from the ironworks of Ebenezer Smith & Sons. Indeed, this was not even strictly true in 1957 when, that year, Philip Robinson published his history of the Smiths of Chesterfield. Several ironworks buildings were still standing at the Wheatbridge Road entrance to Robinsons, including a warehouse containing the same early fire-resistant features as Walton Works, at the northern end of the site, which is now listed grade II*.

The buildings on Wheatbridge Road were not listed and were demolished by Robinsons in about 1970. Secondly, Cannon Mill as it stands today is a nineteenth-century flour mill, created from one of the casting houses at the ironworks. Careful comparison with a large-scale plan of Smiths’ ironworks, prepared in 1788, suggests that only the east wall of the present building, which appears once to have been pierced by three large archways, was part of the casting house, and that the rest of the building is later. The memorial plaque on that wall presumably does date from 1816 (the date on it) but most of the building does not.

Plans for the building

A local group – Cannon Mill Trust CIO – are seeking to use the building as a base from which to support young people. They have secured permission from Robinsons, who remain the owners of Cannon Mill, to carry out emergency repairs to the roof, where the purlins have failed at the northern end, leaving the gable-end wall (to which the purlins are no longer attached) at risk of collapse. Cannon Mill Trust have already attracted £13,000 in funding via a grant of £10,000 and £3,000 in “advance rental”.

This is welcome news, but the expenditure involved will only be worthwhile if there is a realistic prospect of devising and executing a scheme for the complete refurbishment of the building, which we hope will be forthcoming. Both stages of that process are likely to be lengthy and the second is likely to be expensive.

If a larger-scale scheme does go ahead, or if plans to redevelop the whole of the Robinsons site ever come to fruition, we feel that the opportunity should be taken to investigate the ground adjoining Cannon Mill, beneath which there may be remains of the ironworks, as shown on the plan of 1788.

Walton works must not be forgotten

Whatever is eventually decided, the most important point is that every effort should be made to restore Walton Works, which is now one of the very few fire-resistant textile mills of the late eighteenth century still standing anywhere in Britain. Cannon Mill is of local interest, but in the context of surviving remains of the iron industry of the same period, no more than that, but is worthy of conservation, it at all possible.

We wish Cannon Mill Trust success in what we hope will be a sensitive repurposing scheme and will be keeping our eye on developments.

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