The museum of industry in Derby stands on the site of a water-powered five-storey mill built in around 1721 by John and Thomas Lombe to accommodate silk-throwing technology that they had observed in Italy. The mill was the first powered factory of its kind in England and an important influence on the early development of textile factories. It was described by many travel writers, including Daniel Defoe, who in the 1720s called it ‘a curiosity in trade worth observing’. A Portuguese diarist in 1730 gave figures for the precise numbers of movements made every 24 hours by its machines. It is now part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
The mill continued in use but was destroyed by fire in 1910 and rebuilt to approximately the same dimensions with three storeys instead of five. The massive stone arches at the foundations of Lombe’s mill remain alongside the River Derwent. The staircase tower in the south-west corner of the building (its most distinctive architectural feature) was rebuilt in 1910 using the original materials.
The city’s industrial museum opened in the building in 1974. A major investment project led to it reopening in 2021 as The Museum of Making. Some 30,000 objects are used to inform and stimulate visitors in the subjects of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics and to represent 300 years of history. The main collections are arranged by the materials from which the objects were made. Galleries act as a gateway to textile history in the World Heritage site and explain the silk industry and how the original mill machines were laid out. Other displays tell the story of the Rolls Royce engineering company and include a 7-tonne jet engine suspended from the ceiling. The museum celebrates Derby as the engineering headquarters of the Midland Railway and shows a large-scale working model first displayed in 1951.