The first ever photo book of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site has been published, the culmination of a dream by Ashley Franklin that’s been nine years in the making. Ashley talks through the project in this gorgeous photo-led feature

To the oft-heard question ‘Where are you from?’ my answer used to be a simple ‘Derbyshire.’

However, since the turn of the millennium, I preen like a proud peacock in declaring that I reside in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

In fact, I claim to live in its beating heart here in Milford because whenever I gaze out of my study window, I take in this verdant valley, with a river running through it - the Derwent - the very river whose power was harnessed to drive the mills of the Industrial Revolution.

I arrived in my millworker’s cottage in 1977, beginning my 23-year career at BBC Radio Derby. Fast forward to 2001, when my new career as a photographer and writer coincided with global recognition for the Derwent Valley.

Great British Life: Darley Abbey MillsDarley Abbey Mills (Image: Ashley Franklin)

When World Heritage site status for the valley was conferred by UNESCO in 2001, I could crow from the treetops that my cottage, village and valley were now of ‘Outstanding Universal Value to Humanity.’

I further discovered that the Derwent Valley not only lay in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution but also saw in the birthplace of the factory system, making us one of the most significant of the 1,000-plus World Heritage Sites on the planet.

Since then, I have been breaking the ice at parties by revealing that this seemingly unremarkable and narrow 15-mile-long valley is just as noteworthy as the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.

I have broken further ice - or would have if I had still been invited to parties - by declaring that without Milford, there would be no Manhattan.

If you want that explaining, you’ll need to buy my latest book, the first ever photographic record of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

It’s taken 22 years of World Heritage site status to realise this dream. Look, I’ve been busy, ok?

For one thing, from 2004 I invested 15 years of my career as a Derbyshire Life contributor. I have a lot to thank this magazine for: as I was largely writing about people and places in mid-to-south Derbyshire, it enabled me to capture the Derwent Valley on a regular basis.

Furthermore, Derbyshire Life effectively put my photography in the shop window, as it led to numerous jobs. One in particular was a turning point.

In 2010, I became the official photographer for the Arkwright Society at Cromford Mills, and in 2014 the Society’s CEO at the time, Sarah McLeod, commissioned a photo book of the Derwent Valley.

Work pressures frustrated my progress until, in 2018, I was galvanised by the photos I took of Paul Cummins’ spectacular cascade of Weeping Poppies at Derby’s Silk Mill.

At the same time, I realised that 2021 would mark the 300th anniversary of the Silk Mill, the 50th anniversary of the Arkwright Society, the 250th anniversary of Sir Richard Arkwright building his first mill at Cromford, and the 20th anniversary of World Heritage site status.

Four compelling commemorations reminded me of my commitment to the book and propelled me towards publication.

To achieve that aim, I needed a more focused approach. I decided the book should consist of three categories - Industrial Heritage, People & Places, and Wildlife – and, importantly, I had to accept that my contribution to nature photography was about as useful as an umbrella was to a duck.

Great British Life: Peregrine FalconPeregrine Falcon (Image: Ashley Franklin)
So, I needed help. Thus, I brought in my friend and fellow pro Ian Daisley, a gifted landscape as well as wildlife photographer. He became my book designer, too.

However, I didn’t stop there. As a member of the East Midlands camera club circuit, I was aware that when it came to capturing Derbyshire, most of my fellow photographers were drawn largely to the Peak District and had barely fired a shutter in the Derwent Valley.

So I thought: why not invite photographers to submit photos of the valley? And, after all, a photographer nowadays is anyone with a pulse. There would be cash prizes for the category winners, too.

The response from photographers was heartening. The only downside to this project was the wretched pandemic which robbed us of publication in that anniversary year of 2021.

However, the silver lining to the Covid cloud was an extension of our deadline and, in the end, we received over 1,000 submissions.

I realised that my invitation to Ian and other photographers would alter the original vision for this book, and I had to go through, in photographic terms, the torment of a writer advised by one’s editor to ‘kill your darlings’.

Yes, I‘ll admit to anguish over the exclusion of certain cherished images, but it meant we could include images from nearly 50 other photographers to add to the breadth, diversity and richness that Ian and I strove to capture of this World Heritage site.

It means that this book spans a wide spectrum of the valley. In the Industrial Heritage section, we celebrate the legacy that is the mills along with other heritage sites such as Leawood Pumphouse, High Peak Junction, Middleton Top and John Smedley, the world’s oldest surviving factory on its original site.

We also celebrate the resurgence of the valley’s mills, seen in the revitalised Textile Museum within Masson Mill, the resurrection of Cromford Mills, now a major visitor attraction and creative hub, the thriving business complex that is Darley Mills, and the award-winning Museum of Making in the Derby Silk Mill.

In the People & Places category, we reveal further rejuvenation: that of the old Wireworks at Ambergate in the form of White Peak Distillery and The Great British Car Journey.

Other people – those who live, work and play in the valley - are reflected in images showcasing arts, crafts, sport, leisure, religion and transport, and occupations as varied as charcoal-burning, wine-making and bookselling.

We highlight even more visitor attractions such as Cromford Canal, Crich Tramway Museum, Heage Windmill and the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

As for Places, the images here show landscapes that are verdant in spring, blooming in summer, ‘mistical’ in the autumn and serene in winter snow.

In the Wildlife section, we obviously couldn’t include every species known to David Attenborough but we still have a cornucopia of creatures.

Even though the valley’s returning otter proved elusive to our photographers’ lenses, the slippery grass snake didn’t. You’ll not be surprised to see a water vole – a cute one, too - on Cromford Canal, but did you know – because I didn’t - that the canal is also home to pike? Or that crayfish lurk in the Derwent at Darley Abbey? You’ll also see sparring coots, glorious orchids and Belper Mill’s resident peregrines.

Although the book is a celebration of the Derwent Valley, there is, admittedly, trouble at mill, reflected in a double page showing a deteriorating East Mill in Belper. However, there is a lot of work going on, at county council and community level, into the rejuvenation of the whole Belper Mill site.

Great British Life: Silk Mill weeping window poppiesSilk Mill weeping window poppies (Image: Ashley Franklin)

There is a further positive, namely Chevin Homes’ landmark riverside development on the site of the old Milford Mill complex which could complete in mid-2025.

There is another heartwarming plus to this publication: it would not have been possible without over 150 subscribers and three donors raising nearly £8,000 to pay for the printing. They are the saviours of this project.

Just as uplifting has been the reaction to the book. It’s not just the ‘stunning’ photography but also the ‘high quality’ printing, the ‘beautiful’ design and the ‘apt and succinct’ captions which ‘highlight so well the significance of each picture.’

The most touching tribute came from one of the photographers, Brian Denness, when he said: ‘it’s an honour to be in your book.’

The most poignant panegyric came from Derbyshire photography legend Prof. Paul Hill, the first photographer to receive an MBE.

In the foreword, he refers to the book as ‘a labour of love.’ He’s right.

This project really started to motor in 2019 and although I suffered a cerebellar stroke in 2021 and was diagnosed with ‘significant’ prostate cancer in 2022, they only served to drive me all the more towards this goal of publication.

I’m feeling fine, too, currently, though a sell-out of this book would make me feel even better!


Great British Life: Scarthin BooksScarthin Books (Image: Ashley Franklin)

Scarthin Books in Cromford is one of the finest independent book shops in Britain, offering 12 rooms containing over 95,000 books, new and old. Here, general manager David Booker is flanked by Eve Booker, assistant manager, and Sophie Barkerwood, bookseller.


Great British Life: Horse-drawn cartHorse-drawn cart (Image: Ashley Franklin)

In 2014, shortly after the Friends of Cromford Canal began to offer regular trips using their narrowboat, Birdswood, they organised horse-drawn trips on special days. Pictured is Corinne Rose of Arraslea Shires with Chelsea, one of two shire horses who became a popular attraction on the canal for five years. Sadly, due of other commitments, Corinne ended her association with the canal in 2019 but the Friends of Cromford Canal are hoping another business will return horse-drawn trips to the waterway.


Great British Life: Bobbins Room, Masson MillBobbins Room, Masson Mill (Image: Ashley Franklin)
The ceiling in the Bobbins Room at Masson Mill Textile Museum. The 680,000 in the room make it the largest single collection of bobbins in the world.


Great British Life: Autumn walk, ChevinAutumn walk, Chevin (Image: Ashley Franklin)
This wondrous walkway with its tangle of ancient trees is my Elysian Fields, especially in the autumn when it can feel magical. The Chevin is frequented by dog walkers, ramblers, runners, cyclists and horse riders, all of whom I’ve captured over the years. However, this is the kind of image I had long dreamt of: father and child holding hands as they walked through the mist. I savoured this poignant moment for a second before pressing the shutter.


Great British Life: The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site: A Photographic Record has been almost a decade in the makingThe Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site: A Photographic Record has been almost a decade in the making (Image: Ashley Franklin)The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site: A Photographic Record is by Ashley Franklin, Ian Daisley and Invited Photographers and available in hardback for £30 at Cromford Mills, Scarthin Books, Cromford and Hall of Frames, Belper, or ordered online at