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  • Lost Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Loss, in environmental terms, is not necessarily a bad thing, but is an inevitable consequence of growth, modernisation, changing demographics and the demands of technology. It is a necessary thing, but needs to be managed, which is why the 1948 Town and Country Planning Act was adopted by the government of Earl Attlee. If one has a legal and statutory framework to work to, change can indeed be managed so that the best of what is already in place – buildings, landscapes, streetscapes – can be protected and the requirements of the modern world fitted round them in such a way as not to devalue them.

    Iron foundries sprang up from the 1780s, closely followed by brass founders, one of whom, Sir John ('Brassy') Smith, established his firm in 1844, later moving it to Cotton Lane and eventually having a nationwide reach. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    There is also the problem of human nature. Loss of the familiar can be traumatic and, whatever the reality of that loss, to look back on it in comparison with what has succeeded it creates nostalgia; the rose-tinted spectacles of times past, re-inforced by well-remembered and loved familiar surroundings. Change inflicted upon ordinary people de haut en bas inevitably causes pain.

    Yet change must come, and we have to endure the loss of the familiar to some extent and very often what replaces it can come to be enjoyed in its turn, softened by the passage of time. Historic buildings, however, are more than just pieces of equipment in which we live, work, buy & sell, or enjoy ourselves. They are very often the product of a creative process which starts with the architect in concert with the person paying the bills and moves through the creators: sculptors, artists, masons, bricklayers, joiners, stuccadori and so on. An architect designed building, however humble or workaday, is as much a work of art as a painting.

    The difference is that a building also has utility and cannot be moved into a gallery to be admired when time-expired. People who seek to make impressive profits from re-development and local politicians hoping to cut a dash, frequently have a problem remembering this. Which is why the 1948 Act gave us listing and subsequent legislation, adding scheduled ancient monuments, conservation areas, world heritage sites and so on.

    Derby is no different to any other medium sized semi-industrial settlement although, thanks to its history, it punches well above its weight in the historical baggage it carries, along with elements of the built environment that reflect that history.

    After four centuries of Roman rule, the original core of Derby at Little Chester was re-fortified by the Danes, who were ultimately evicted from the area in 918, after which modern Derby was founded nearly a mile further down the Derwent.

    The Old Mayor's Parlour, Tenant Street, was the largest fifteenth-century timber-framed town house in England when it was unforgivably demolished by the council in 1947. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    A prosperous county town grew up and from the early 18th century gradually became a leading site for the burgeoning industrial revolution. By 1723 we had England’s first factory in the Silk Mill, soon to re-open as the Museum of Making, an attraction of national standing. Derby was home to two members of the Lunar Society, the intellectual cockpit of the English Enlightenment and their circle included such creative men as Joseph Wright, Joseph Pickford and Peter Burdett – who painted them, built for them and inspired them. Then came Jedidiah Strutt and Thomas Evans with their cotton mills, a series of modernising Improvement Acts and ultimately the Railway age. Which refocused the industrialisation of the City from luxury products to engineering, ushering in an age from which the City, renewed, is only just emerging.

    Thus the 18th century gave us ‘high end’ products: silk, clocks, scientific instruments, fine porcelain, pottery, decorative ironwork, spar ornaments and cement render, whereas the 19th gave Derby heavy and railway engineering, iron and brass founding, narrow tapes, silk trimmings, and brickmaking alongside continuing prestige manufactures.

    The last century saw many of both these decline, especially the heavy industry, although the coming of Rolls-Royce cleverly combined ‘high-end’ products with a new aspect of engineering, the automotive. That, driven by the exigences of conflict, gradually mutated from luxury cars into aerospace. In the present era, aerospace continues, whilst the decline and re-invigoration (through de-nationalisation) of the railways, has revived many aspects of railway engineering, now almost as high-tech as aerospace, along related developments including those related to the digital age, in themselves an element of a totally new industrial revolution.

    All this has led to a continuous growth in population, which itself presents considerable challenges, and has driven environmental loss and renewal just as powerfully as the demands of industrial change. The key to achieving a balance between necessary development, and harmful destruction of historic environments, is to acknowledge the need to provide for quality of life and the retention of an urban environment which remain humane in scale.

    In the early 1970s the DRI was still expanding rapidly, at the expense of the terraced streets to its south. (c. Maxwell Craven, Lost Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early 1970s, there was much destruction of historic buildings and environments going on in Derby, but without much in prospect to replace them, leaving only empty spaces, frequently turned into ad hoc car parks.  Come the prosperity ushered in during the 1980s, and the battle then was to get new buildings on these sites of real quality, but this was often a losing battle.

    Today the fight is to get humane scale, good quality, new buildings on the remaining empty land, without resorting to thoroughly inhumane residential tower blocks, much canvassed by business leaders (who do not have to live in them or near them). This concept of living uniformly packed vertically into compact units, goes back to Le Corbusier, a grim Anarcho-syndicalist, who believed that the mass of people should live where they are told to live. His famous Unité d’Habitation was just such a misguided piece of utopianism, wherein people were to be decanted into tiny living spaces in huge brutalist blocks, producing a dystopian nightmare which came to fruition throughout the Soviet Empire, not to mention post war London, Birmingham, Glasgow and other places. Where pleasant municipal semis were discarded as outmoded under this philosophy.

    Miraculously Derby, ever a little behind the times, escaped all that. Only one municipal high rise was built, a mere eleven stories, quite well designed and low-set, barely visible. The worst was the DRI Nurses’ home, 15 storeys and on a hill, demolished in 2017.

    Some losses have been entirely unnecessary, some preventable, others not. Thus, as the reader proceeds through the images assembled here they will be able to make their own judgements. But in the end it is important to stress that for all the lost city on display below there remains in Derby the core of a fine Georgian Market town which, with its later overlays, is still easy to discern and enjoy, aided by the friendly people who inhabit it and the compact size of the City centre still with its Medieval street plan.

    Maxwell Craven's new book Lost Derby is available for purchase now.

  • A-Z of Derby by Maxwell Craven

    Derby, Lowell & Joseph Wright

    Derby has a long-established but little known connection with the American mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, stemming from the Derby family of Francis Boott. He was a market gardener, florist and seedsman with premises in Derby Market Place and a house in Queen Street. He died suddenly in middle life leaving seven children, amongst whom was Kirk Boott (1756-1817). In January 1783, the artist Joseph Wright’s elder brother John decided to accompany his life-long friend Kirk Boott to America too seek their fortune. They proceeded to London, where they appeared to have enjoyed two months enjoying the high life, before Boott took a ship to Boston, but leaving Wright behind. He arrived on 13th June 1783 and shortly afterwards married Mary Love, daughter of the Captain of the ship Rosamund on which he had crossed the Atlantic.

    Why John Wright stayed behind is something of a mystery, but the explanation probably lies in those two months socialising in London. It would now seem that he had been offered a job, and indeed, he became a banker, rising to a partnership in the concern of Messrs. Smith, Wright and Gray, Lombard Street. It is well known that he stayed in touch with Boott, for the latter named his eldest son John Wright Boott (born 1788) after him. Like the Derby Lunar Society luminary John Whitehurst FRS, whom he undoubtedly knew well, John Wright later corresponded with Benjamin Franklin. Indeed, Whitehurst may have arranged an introduction when Wright decided to remain in London. It is possible too that he was able to provide the finance for his friend Boott.

    Joseph Wright: The Indian Widow… (1785). (c. Derby Museums Trust)

    According to Brad Parker, Kirk sent enthusiastic letters back to John Wright and his sister, Mrs. Horrocks, from the time of his arrival, most of which appear to be lost but their contents is to some extent reflected in his journal. It also seems likely that he also sent artefacts in exchange for saleable goods. That some of the earliest letters may have well included the material that inspired Joseph Wright to paint The Indian Widow, completed by 1785, carries more conviction than the suggestions floated by Benedict Nicolson, and concur with his asseveration that some of the detail of the picture – tomahawk, knife, head-dress – may have been painted from life.

    In Boston, Boott established an import/export business, which included introducing the US elite to Derby Porcelain, compass dials (of which the latter could well have been products of Whitehurst’s Derby works) and many other mainly local products. He was naturalized a US citizen in November 1787 becoming very wealthy, leaving at his death in 1817 five sons and four daughters

     The most important outcome of this migration lay in the career of Boott’s third son, Kirk (1790-1837). Whilst the eldest son initially returned to London to run that end of the family business, Kirk II  was sent to England to be educated, going to school in Ashbourne and then Rugby and making numerous visits to family in Derby. After returning to study for three years at Harvard, he went back to Britain to join the army, seeing action in the Peninsula campaign 1812-1814 before getting a peacetime posting at Sheffield Garrison as a Captain in the 85th Regiment.

    He visited Derby frequently at this time, staying at St. Helen’s House with William Strutt, the Wrights, and his aunt, Mrs. John Horrocks. In 1818 he married Anne, a daughter of Alderman Dr. Thomas Haden, physician and protégé of Erasmus Darwin, who had been mayor of Derby in 1811 and 1819. Dr. Haden had been painted by Joseph Wright (as Edwin) when a child (and, as an adult, by Reinagle in 1813), and had been the junior partner and successor of Joseph’s second brother Richard in his medical practice in St. Alkmund’s Church Yard. Kirk Boott himself visited the local textile mills in 1817–18 as the guest of their co-proprietor, Strutt. Once married, however, he resigned his commission and returned to America. Anne and her sister Sarah Haden had been painted as children in 1796 by Joseph Wright, but Mary, Mrs. Francis Boott (née Tunaley of Derby, wife of Kirk Boott II’s elder brother) later had it copied by Wright’s friend John Holland of Ford in 1803 and from that had an engraving made. In 1954 the Ford copy was with Mrs. Robert Haydock of Dedham, Mass. a descendant and her kinsman, David Richardson of Charles River Mass., apparently owned the original.

    From 1821 Boott was co-founder with Francis Cabot Lowell, Nathan Appleton and Patrick T. Jackson of a new settlement at East Chelmsford, of the confluence of the Merrimack and Pawtucket rivers in Massa­chusetts. This was to be a cotton-spinning city, and Boott’s role was to set it up and run it. He had hoped to call it Derby, but the sudden death of Lowell led to its being given his name instead. Lowell himself had been the scion of a patrician family of Boston merchants and he had also visited Britain and originated the idea of a model textile industry in New England to rival Samuel Slater’s Pawtucket Mills, set up a little before using ideas pirated from the Strutts at Belper. Boott, on the other hand, had the support of the Strutts in his enterprise, which was an important difference.

    Kirk Boott of Lowell, unknown artist. (Collections of the Lowell Historical Society, A-Z of Derby, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1824, Boott appointed Rev Theodore Edson as incumbent of his new settlement and personally designed St Anne’s Church, which he based on St. Michael’s, Derby, in which he had been married, whereas the dedication was in honour of his wife. It will come as no surprise that the Edgeworths (offspring and sister of the Lunar Society maverick Irish landowner Richard Lovel Edgeworth, who had extensive American property) kept William Strutt fully informed of Boott’s enter­prise, which appear to have continued to have Strutt’s blessing.

    Like Strutt, too, Boott was a competent architect, designing not only the church but workers’ housing, mills and municipal buildings, some of which survive. In the end, the City of Lowell was a great success.

    Francis, a son of the Boott’s eldest brother, who had returned to London, later married Kirk Boott’s daughter, Eliza Haden Boott, and their daughter Mary married her English cousin Charles Sydenham Haden, thus squaring the Derby circle yet again. One of the entrepreneurs attracted to the new city by Boott was George Washington Whistler, who set up a works to construct railway locomotives there in 1832. His son was the eminient London based impressionist painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, later brother-in-law – and eventually, as with most of his friends, sworn enemy – of Boott’s nephew Sir Francis Seymour Haden, etcher and eminent surgeon. Boott himself was killed in a street accident in 1837, but his legacy – and posterity – continued.

    Exactly how much of Strutt’s own idealism and ingenuity went into Lowell and its extensive mills it is impossible to say, but the Derby intellectual revolution of the 18th century was a fundamental inspi­ration at Lowell and if it should prove to have been international in its consequences no one should be surprised. After all, had not Bostonian Benjamin Franklin been a friend of Darwin’s, a frequent guest of Whitehurst’s and eminence grise of the Lunar Society?

    Whilst Kirk Boott the elder imported and sold the products of William Duesbury’s Derby China factory, the two families seem to have remained in touch, for much later the under-rated William Duesbury III (invariably portrayed as a talentless ne’er-do-well by China enthusiasts) sold his interest in the china works in 1815 in order to set up a white paint factory at Bonsall using a new process of his own devising, omitting the toxic lead element. Indeed, Duesbury was a formidably talented chemist, but ahead of his time by about 150 years. The business at Bonsall failed, after which he went to America, following in the footsteps of his scallywag of an uncle, James Duesbury. Having known Boott from his Derby days, he settled in Lowell almost from its foundation as an industrial chemist working on dyes for the fabrics being manufactured there. He was a convinced Universalist also like Boott and William Strutt a competent architect, designing for his sect a fine chapel in Shattuck Street, Lowell. Once ensconced in the Massachusetts city he also married again – perhaps bigamously, for we do not know the fate of his first family in Derby. He duly fathered more children, before, tragically, doing away with himself for reasons that remain obscure, on 12 December 1845. Apparently, he was by no means the last migrant from Derby to settle at Lowell, the city’s textile mills attracting a significant proportion of their workforce from Derby and its region.

    Needless to say, this and many other well-known and not-so well-known aspects of Derby’s rich heritage are to be found in the pages of An A to Z of Derby.

    Maxwell Craven's new book A-Z of Derby is available for purchase now.

  • Derby in 50 Buildings by Gerry Van Tonder

    In the Christian calendar between 100 and 200 AD, the occupation forces of Roman Britain established a military revictualling military and trading station, Derventio, at a ford across the Derwent.

    Two centuries after the demise of Rome’s hold over the Britons, Saxon invaders levelled Derventio, forcefully asserting their authority over the settlement’s erstwhile owners. The defensive site, named Northworthige by the Saxons and bounded by the Derwent and several streams, witnessed the growth of primitive industries.

    In 597, the monk Augustine arrived in England, sent by the Papacy on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. As pagan worship yielded to the new religion, church buildings started to appear throughout England, typically basic structures made of wood. In the centre of Northworthige, St Werburgh’s was constructed, providing a focal market point for traders and farmers to conduct their business.

    In the ninth century, the much-feared Viking coastal raiders moved inland, and in 874, this warring wave of plunder and pillage overwhelmed Northworthige. Forty years later, the female warrior, Ethelfleda, gathered a strong enough Saxon army to drive the Danes from the village. Less than three decades thereafter, however, the Danes re-claimed their ownership, but this time compromise was the order of the day as Dane and Saxon elected to live together under one common law. Exercising their political majority, the Danes renamed the village Derby: the ‘town on the water’.

    The Norman invasion of 1066 and the death in battle of the Saxon King Harold, brought Saxon rule to an abrupt end. The agricultural town of Derby started weaving its own cloth and grinding its own corn in small mills. A corn market was established close to the St James’s monastery conglomeration of church and agricultural buildings.

    derby-in-50-buildings-1 The old and the new - 5 metres and hundreds of years of history separate St Werburgh's from her modern red-brick neighbour. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    As disputes grew over taxes and agricultural excise duties, central control manifested itself in the courts of assizes, responsible for civil and criminal jurisdiction. The assizes were held initially in the County Hall at St Mary’s Gate. By the middle of the fifteenth century, merchants and traders established their guild in the Town Hall, transforming its function towards that of a borough corporation.

    Agriculture and allied markets continued to fuel Derby’s expansion, and by the 1700s, the town boasted large residences in Full Street, the Corn Market and the Morledge. A post office and banks serviced the economy, while shopkeepers catered for the new wealth. The growth demanded significant improvements in the transport infrastructure. Turnpike roads were constructed and tollhouses sprang up to collect revenue from the road users. Coach inns proliferated, and bull-baiting, wild beast shows, theatres and fairs were held, as the town’s 1750 population of 7,000 centred their lives on the Market Place.

    The late 1830s would have a major and lasting impact on Derby: the railway had arrived.

    Iron and engineering works sprang up to cope with the demands of this revolutionary and efficient method of transport. New mills were built and the manufacture of Derby Crown china revived. New streets were laid and existing ones widened. The Market Place expanded, and gradually, Derby started losing much of its historic appearance.

    Typically, however, the increase in wealth had an undesired by product: the poor; members of the Derby community who gained no benefit from industrial prosperity. Legislation was promulgated to address the issue, but a major provision to qualify for aid, was for the poverty-stricken to move into the new Workhouse on Osmaston Road.

    The most profound event in the future economic strength of Derby, occurred in 1906 when Rolls Royce commenced the manufacture of that icon of luxury motoring: the Rolls Royce. The company’s factories and offices spread from Osmaston Road to other parts of the city, an expansion accelerated by their highly successful venture into aero-engines. The company would evolve into becoming the single largest contributor to the town’s future wealth and economic security, something that is reflected in many of Derby’s buildings.

    Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of the project was that of discovery. After having lived in Derby for more than sixteen years, I quickly found that I knew very little about the city that I now called home. I believe we are all guilty – to a lesser or greater extent – of going about our business without taking in our surrounds.

    derby-in-50-buildings-2 The 1601 St Werburgh's clock tower abuts the newer church. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Arguably, the greatest and most exciting revelation was the interior of the ancient St Werburgh’s Church on Cheapside. Surprisingly, I was given a key at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery (an enormous key at that) and told to go across the road and help myself – the church is generally not open to the public. After a struggle with the idiosyncrasies of a very large, very old door, I stumbled into darkness, my senses assailed by the smell of antiquity. I eventually found a few lights, which helped little, a gazed in awe at my surrounds.

    Founded in the seventh century, St Werburgh’s was the first Christian church in Derby, less than 100 years after the first Christian missionary, Augustine, had arrived in England. The building would have been a crude, thatched wicker and daub structure.

    Saint Werburgh, who died in AD700 was, at the end of her life, senior abbess of the kingdom of Mercia. The daughter of King Wulfhere and Queen Ermenhilda of Mercia, she took the unconventional step to become a nun, and although her father wished her to marry, he eventually relented and gave his permission for her to enter Ely Abbey. The Church Calendar now celebrates Feast Day annually on 7 February, to commemorate the day of her death.

    The church was rebuilt towards the close of the seventeenth century, with the 1601 tower being retained. Staffordshire-born lexicographer, poet and biographer, Dr Samuel Johnson married Elizabeth Porter (nee Jervis) in the church in 1735.

    derby-in-50-buildings-3 Highly ornate reredos and stained-glass window in the east side of the chanel. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Rebuilding work on the rest of the church commenced in 1893. Designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield in the Gothic Revival style, ‘Rough Rock’ sandstone for the construction came from the nearby Coxbench quarry.

    In 1990, the building was declared redundant and the inside of the building converted to commercial use. For a brief period, the church was used as a shopping mall, comprising small stalls. The venture never really took off, and access to the building is now restricted. With the church and its cemetery no longer in use, the headstones have been propped up against the outside walls of the building.

    Today St Werburgh’s, its tower refurbished in 2004, owes the fact that it is still standing to its Grade II-listed status. Volunteers from the Churches Conservation Trust look after the tower and original chancel, keeping in a good state of repair the 1708 reredos with its ornate panels and Queen Anne’s Coat of Arms overhead, as well as the stained-glass window and a monument to Sarah Elizabeth Winyates who died in 1828. This 1832 neo-classical figure of a woman in mourning is by prolific English sculptor, Sir Francis Chantrey, commissioned at a cost of £600.

    9781445658155

    Gerry Van Tonder's book Derby in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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