Pocket Britain

An East Midland city, famous for both its green spaces and its industry


Pickford's House Museum
Derby Museum
River Derwent Mills
Derby's sometimes described as "the city in the countryside". Part of the reason is because of the Peak District, which lies just a short distance to the north. It was Britain's first National Park, and it's easy to explore from a comfortable Derby base. The nickname's main origins, though, are the 300 green spaces that are actually inside the city borders. They're big, they're plentiful, and they have just as much history as any of the buildings. Take, for instance, Derby Arboretum. It was the first public park to be established in England, back in 1840. It's thought to have provided inspiration for New York's Central Park.
The River Derwent is another well-known natural feature. It flows past the stone steps of the Council House, forming an enduring image of the city. On its way to Derby it weaves through much of the Peak District, and past the old spa town of Matlock Bath. Nowadays it's mostly a quiet place, and the only water traffic is canoes and kayaks. This, however, wasn't always the case.
In the 18th century the river was covered in cargo ships and merchant vessels. They travelled to and from the many mills and factories lining the banks. These businesses used the Derwent to power their cotton and silk spinning machinery - an innovation that spread quickly across the country, and then the globe. Many of the mills are now open as museums, and the area as a whole is an official UNESCO World Heritage site.
Another of Derby's industrial success stories is a porcelain company called Royal Crown. After opening in 1750, its ornaments and tableware soon earned themselves an international reputation. In 1890 they were appointed as the official manufacturers of porcelain to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. The on-site visitor centre provides guided tours of the factory, plus a museum of rare and expensive items.
Clearly, the Industrial Revolution was a profitable time. One successful craftsman was the architect Joseph Pickford, who built himself a house on Friar Gate. The property has since been restored to what it probably looked like at that time, as a demonstration of life for a typical Georgian professional. There's a costume collection too, so you can see what Joseph and his family would have looked like.
Derby's most eye-catching building, though, was erected long before the Pickfords were even born. The Cathedral has been here since the 14th century. In truth, it's only been an official cathedral for one of those centuries, and compared to other citys' examples it's relatively small. Nevertheless, its tower offers spectacular views. Take care though - visitors have to share their perch with a pair of peregrine falcons, who took up their residence in 2005. A series of webcams provide a safer way to get close-up views of the birds.
Inside the cathedral is a memorial to a man called Joseph Wright. He was a local Derby man, who became one of the most important painters of the 18th century. His depictions of prominent scientists and alchemists made him one of the first professional artists to capture the spirit of the Industrial Revolution. The bulk of Wright's work is now housed within Derby Museum, inside its own dedicated gallery. Other exhibits cover a wide range of subjects, including military history, geology and wildlife. They even have two Egyptian mummies!
Ancient Egyptians aren't the only dead things to watch out for in Derby. Supposedly, this is the ghost capital of the UK! In years gone by, the city's jails executed hundreds of criminals - perhaps their restless souls are the source of the countless sightings.
Visitor Information
Derby Tourist Information Centre, Assembly Rooms, Market Place, Derby, DE1 3AH. Tel: 01332 255802

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