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A POTTED HISTORY OF DERBY
Derby is situated at the lowest point along the Derwent Valley, where it was possible to ford the river. In pre-historic times, there was an important crossing point at the Causey, near where the Old Silk Mill is located. However, there is little evidence of any settlement close to where the centre of Derby is now to be found, although tools used by Iron Age man have been discovered at Litchurch, Normanton and Little Chester.
The Romans were the first recorded settlers, when the army set up a fort in AD50 at Strutt’s Park, to protect the river crossing on the western side of the Derwent. They remained there for at least 30 years before establishing a large new fortified settlement, across the river at Little Chester, which they called Derventio. This fort not only protected the river crossing, but also stood at the junction and gave protection to five Roman roads. The most important was Ryknield Street, which connected Gloucester and the West Country with Yorkshire and the North East.
Little remains at Little Chester today, apart from two Roman wells, one on Marcus Street and the other in the garden of the vicarage of St Paul’s Church. However, a series of excavations in the last fifty years have established both its importance and prosperity, including the discovery of an underfloor heating system on Parker’s Piece and an abundance of coins.
The Roman occupation did not limit itself solely to the fort and the area directly outside. Recent excavations have revealed the existence of an industrial site on the edge of the Old Derby Racecourse and other scattered finds, including a farm at Willington.
Although the fort remained garrisoned until the mid fourth century, by then the Roman Empire was starting to crumble. The final break came in AD410, when Rome decided that its most northerly province could not be defended. This ended a period of considerable importance in British history.
Historians usually refer to what followed as the Dark Age, because so little is known about what took place. What we do know is that the Anglo-Saxons settled at Northworthy, where precisely that was is unknown; some historians have speculated that it may have been near to the present day Industrial Museum, but others differ.
The Anglo-Saxon occupation was ended by the arrival of the Vikings, in AD875, who after capturing Repton turned their attentions on Northworthy. After gaining control of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, they settled in Derby. Exactly where the settlement was located is uncertain, although some historians think; it may have been at the old Roman fort. What is certain is that they called their settlement Deoraby, a name that with some modification in spelling has survived to the present day.
At the time of the publication of the Domesday Book, Derby’s population had declined from about 1,100 people before the Norman Conquest to approximately 630, with over one hundred dwellings vacant. The number of mills had also been reduced from fourteen to ten. Houses were mainly of wooden construction with a few of the better-off living in stone built properties. The decline in the population may have been the result of men dying in battle, but the town slowly recovered.
In medieval times, Derby grew in importance as a busy centre of trade, attracting people from other towns and outlying villages. Henry III granted the town, in 1229, a charter to run a weekly market on Thursdays and Fridays and to hold fairs at Easter, Whitsuntide and Michaelmas. A century later, the scale of market trading had broadened with weekly produce markets held on Monday and Wednesday.
Other markets also began to spring up, including a cattle market at the top of Friar Gate, which remained there until 1862, when a permanent site was established at the Holmes.
During the period leading up to the dissolution of the monasteries, Derby was relatively prosperous because of the valuable mineral resources in the area and its central location. Following the dissolution, a great deal of land and property came onto the market and was bought by rich merchants. The demise of the monastery at Darley Abbey led to a number of local families setting up estates.
Daniel Defoe on his visit to Derby, in the 1720s, described it as ‘a town of gentry rather than trade’, but times were changing even before then. John Sorocold, nearly 30 years earlier, had set up a scheme to pipe water from the Derwent, providing Derby with the first town centre water supply in the country. At the time of Defoe’s visit, he was engaged in helping to set up the birth of the factory system.
In 1702, Thomas Cotchett asked Sorocold to build him a mill on the banks of the Derwent, where he and John Lombe were attempting to set up a silk mill to compete with the Italians, who were market leaders in the production of fine silk. The production of silk had since medieval days been an important cottage industry in Derby, but Cotchett and Lombe planned to change all that. Unfortunately, their efforts failed, the thread produced falling well short of the fine dress silk created by the Italians. Cotchett disappointed and on the verge of bankruptcy withdrew.
Lombe, resolved to continue the battle to find a solution. He went to Italy and whilst employed there he secretly made drawings of the machines used to produce the fine silk. These were then concealed in bales of fabric and smuggled back to England. With financial support from his stepbrother, machines were set up in Derby and a period of equipment testing began.
After he returned to Derby, John Lombe arranged for Sorocold to build a silk mill. It took three years to complete, was powered by a water wheel and the River Derwent. It was the first factory to be developed in England where all the processes took place under the same roof. John Lombe though came to an untimely end. Many believe that an agent sent over from Italy, in revenge for stealing their secrets, poisoned him.
On the 4 December 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army arrived in Derby, where an important decision in British history was made. On the previous day, the prince had been advised by his generals to withdraw and return to Scotland. They were not happy being so far into enemy territory without the expected support of the English Jacobites, and doubtful that the planned French invasion to support the venture would take place.
An advanced force had secured Swarkestone Bridge and the decision to withdraw was made against the Prince’s wishes, who wanted to press on towards London. If this course of action had been followed the course of British history could well have been changed. Many historians now think the Jacobites may have met with little opposition had they continued their march, and succeeded in recapturing the throne for the Stuarts. London itself was in panic with many people fleeing the capital and King George II had already made his own plans to escape.
For over a century, the Old Silk Mill was the town’s largest employer with a workforce of 300 people. Second in line was the Crown Derby China Works. Established in a small way on the Nottingham Road in 1756, it grew rapidly and long before the end of the century it had established a national reputation. Today, the factory is sited on Osmaston Road and its products are exported all over the world. The Royal Crown Derby Visitor Centre is open to the public daily and factory tours are available during the week.
On the 30 May 1839, the first railway train steamed into Derby. The excited crowds watching the train’s arrival, little realised how this event would change the face of Derby. Initially, three railway companies operated from Derby, until 1844, when they amalgamated to form the Midland Railway. This hectic activity attracted swarms of workers from all over the country and in 1851 records showed that 43% of the adults in the town had been born outside the county. Most had jobs in the railway works, but others were employed by companies that sprang up because of the railway’s arrival and the Midland’s expansion from a provincial company into the third largest in Britain, before the amalgamation into the LMS in 1923.
Derby’s reputation as an industrial town was boosted even further with the arrival of Rolls-Royce at the beginning of the 20th century. Motor cars were manufactured from a new purpose built factory in Nightingale Road, where production continued until 1946, when motorcar manufacture was transferred to Crewe. This left the company able to concentrate all its efforts on designing and building aero engines, work that had started just before the outbreak of the First World War. Despite going bankrupt in 1971, Rolls-Royce 1971 Limited emerged, and the company remains pre-eminent in the city.
In 1992, Toyota, the giant Japanese car manufacturer, opened a large new factory on the airfield at Burnaston, on the south western perimeter of Derby. Since starting manufacture, the company has extended and become a major employer in the area.
The latest development in the city - Derby having acquired city status in 1977 - has been the successful development of Pride Park, on land previously used by the railway industry. Pride Park Football Stadium, the home of Derby County is located here and forms the centrepiece of the development. Apart from visiting football matches, tours are available behind the scenes at the stadium.
Copyright @ October 2005 Denis Eardley. All rights reserved.
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PLACES TO VISIT IN DERBY
Derby Cathedral (01332 341201) dominates the skyline with its impressive Perpendicular Tower, the second highest in England to the Boston Stump. Light and spacious inside, the iron screen by Robert Bakewell is an inspirational masterpiece in this proud and beautiful building. Concerts and special events take place throughout the year. Open daily.
Derby City Museum and Art Gallery (01332 716659) houses the prestigious Joseph Wright collection of paintings. A programme of special exhibitions supports permanent displays relating to the city’s archaeology, history, wildlife and local regiments. The brand new Ceramics Gallery provides an additional attraction. Open daily apart from during the Christmas and New Year Break.
Derby Gaol (01332 299321) where executions once took place in front of the gaol, you can now find out for yourself the shocking facts about a condemned prisoner’s life. Then return to the present day and more enjoyable matters by having a traditional meal at Ye Olde Pie Shoppe. Please telephone to confirm opening times.
The Silk Mill – Derby’s Museum of Industry and History (01332 255308) was the first factory in England where all the processes were carried out under one roof and utilising one source of power and is now a World Heritage site. It has now been converted into a museum where you can discover the facts about Rolls-Royce aero-engines, the history of railways and coal mines and much more. Open daily apart from during the Christmas and New Year Break.
Pickford’s House Museum (01332 255363) housed in a handsome Grade I listed building, built in 1769 by Derby architect, Joseph Pickford for his own occupation. It was opened as a museum in 1988 and delightfully recreates a scene of Georgian domestic life with splendidly furnished rooms and fine costume displays. Open daily apart from during the Christmas and New Year break.
The Market Hall, the Borough architect and surveyor designed the covered market Hall in 1864. It had a spectacular vaulted roof using iron from a nearby foundry. The Market Hall opened for business on the 29 May 1866, when it was given a warm welcome with a gala concert and choir who sang the Messiah. The Market Hall closed for a short period in 1989 for a major refurbishment.
Pride Park Football Stadium (0870 444 1884) the home of Derby County Football Club, provides behind the scenes tours of the stadium, which will impress the visitor whether they are a football fan or not. Please telephone for bookings and full tour details.
Royal Crown Derby Visitors Centre (01332 712800) established in 1756, now exports fine china all over the world. The Royal Crown Derby Visitor Centre, shop and restaurant facilities are open to the public daily and factory tours are available during the week.
Derbyshire County Cricket Club (01332 383211) in recent years the face of the County Ground has been changed considerably, with the addition of a new Grandstand and a state of the art Cricket Centre. The permanent floodlights are a considerable enhancement from the playing point of view. Only two other counties have fixed floodlights.
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THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features on towns and villages with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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ABOUT THIS SITE
This non-commercial website is based on Discover Derbyshire Supplements published by the Derby Evening Telegraph.
The site, my first, commenced in December 2003, and is expanding quite rapidly. Every month an illustrated Newsletter is published giving details of:
What's New, What's Coming and What's On.
Further features on Derby and the surrounding area will be added on a regular basis, so bookmark this site so as not to miss anything.
The feature to be published at the beginning of December 2005, provided images of 25 city centre pubs. Many of which have interesting histories and some unusual tales to tell.
Why not try the pub challenge and see if you can answer all the questions correctly. All the answers are to be found in the features published under this section. Click below to try the challenge.