Cressbrook is located on the River Wye about 4 miles north of Bakewell. It grew up around a cotton mill and consists mainly of former mill cottages, though some of the oldest houses in and around the village are lead miners' cottages, testifying to a history that predates the mill.
The mill is still the major building in the village though now it has been converted into apartments. The original mill was built by Sir Richard Arkwright in 1779 but this burnt down in 1785 and was rebuilt by Richard Arkwright Jnr in 1787. A large extension (Wye Mill - Grade II* listed) was commissioned in 1814 and erected by William Newton on behalf on J L Philips and Brother, Cotton Spinners. Newton was a local character whom Anna Seward dubbed 'The Minstrel of the Peak'. Behind the mill are apprentices cottages, older than the current main mill building by several years. These were built to house orphans brought as child apprentices from London to work in the mill.
In 1820 the tiny cottages in Ravensdale (known locally as 'The Wick') were built followed in 1840 the model village of pretty cottages at the top of the hill. The Cressbrook mill owners were generally philanthropic and as well as fine housing they provided piped water pumped up the hill from a spring near the river and they funded the village band, which still survives.
Above the mill is Cressbrook Hall, the house of mill-owner Henry McConnel. The house stands on a bluff overlooking the river and is a fanciful piece of Gothic architecture. The position is superb, with magnificent views down Monsal Dale. Farther up the hill is the rest of the village, for the most part consisting of the cottages once occupied by the millworkers.
The heyday of the mill was the 19th century when it produced high-quality cotton for lacemaking. After World War I all the local mills struggled to make a profit and cotton spinning ceased here in 1965. The mill finally closed in 1971 after which it was allowed to decay for several years before being restored.
The demise of the cotton industry brought great changes to the village. As there is now almost no employment within the village the population has declined and faster transport links have meant that they have been replaced by an influx of older professional people who work within a wide radius of the village. House prices have risen so that local young people can rarely afford them. This has meant that the population has aged - to the extent that the local school closed in 1997, when its roll was down to 6 pupils. A number of the cottages have become second homes or holiday homes, and of course many of these are empty for much of the year.
The scenery around is magnificent. Along the River Wye, just upstream of Cressbrook Mill lies Water-cum-Jolly, a beautiful river gorge with fine limestone cliffs which attract many rock-climbers, bird-watchers, walkers and fishermen. North of the mill lies Cressbrook Dale, or Ravensdale, a fine gorge-like limestone dale with numerous crags and the remains of several lead mines. Most of this dale is a National Nature Reserve renowned for its range of rare flowers.
The village has a fete and well dressing each year in early June.