About this image
Showing the tall stone building known as Robinson's House. This refers to The Robinson family of Bulwell and Widmerpool who were early mill owning entrepreneurs in the industrial revolution, with mills ranging from Papplewick and down the River Leen to Bulwell. The River Leen at Papplewick was dammed to form pools which served as reservoirs to the early water powered mills around the village. After 1782 George, James and John Robinson set about building cotton mills or converting existing corn mills on the River Leen at a cost of £40,000. Unfortunately, the Robinsons were severely hampered in their trade by their neighbour to the north at Newstead Abbey, William, the fifth Lord Byron. He demanded royalty payments from the Robinsons for using the River Leen amounting to a £10,000 down-payment and £6,000 per year thereafter. To force the Robinsons into paying up, he started damming up Lower Lake at Newstead on 4th April 1785, refused to allow the Robinsons to regulate the river's flow, and threatened to release the water causing a 'sudden violent eruption of water...' The Robinsons took Byron to court, but the matter was passed back and forth between courts in Nottingham and London for several years. Only in 1790 did they finally obtain judgement in their favour but were unable to recover damages, with Byron pleading poverty. In this atmosphere of litigation and water shortage, the Robinsons had to seek alternative means of powering their mills. James set about purchasing a steam engine from Messrs. Boulton and Watt of Birmingham in 1785 that would supplement the existing water-wheel. They installed it in a mill on what is today Grange Farm and it became the first rotative steam engine in use in a cotton mill anywhere in the world. Apprentice boys were brought from the St. Marylebone Workhouse in London to work at the cotton mills. Numerous tales have been told of the hardships they endured, including pathetic nourishment, brutal treatment and excessive toil. Legend has it that many are buried in unmarked graves in Papplewick and Linby churchyards. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth! Evidence produced at a Parliamentary Select Committee details the education they received (out of 244 children under the age of 18 employed, only 17 could not read or write), the medical facilities they were afforded and outside observers told of their work being 'neither laborious nor sedentary.' There are 41 entries in Linby's parish registers relating to the burial of 'London' boys and but only one in the Papplewick registers. (Some of the 'boys' continued to live in the neighbourhood long after the mills were closed down.) On 16th September 1817, James Robinson died and was buried in Papplewick Churchyard alongside his wife, Ann. The mills passed into the hands of his sons and in September 1821, they were assigned to a partnership headed by Richard Hopper. By July 1828, cotton spinning had come to a halt due irreconcilable differences between the three partners, a dispute that dragged through the courts until 1830. Thereafter, the mills lay empty and largely deserted. All but Castle Mill and Forge Mill were dismantled in the 1840's and the materials used to construct new farm buildings. The family, however, still maintained a high status around Nottingham. James' son Frederick was a wealthy banker and his brother John was a rector at Widmerpool.