Neil Mcal­lis­ter en­joys a day out in his­toric Derby

Neil Mcal­lis­ter shares the high­lights of Eng­land’s most cen­tral city . . .

The People's Friend - - News -

BACK in the Six­ties, when we were all wear­ing “Back­ing Bri­tain” badges, I first be­came aware of Derby’s tex­tile in­dus­try when one of my dyer fa­ther’s work friends took a po­si­tion in the Mid­lands.

His move wit­nessed the last days of an in­dus­try which saw this once-mod­est mar­ket town be­come the hub of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion.

This set­tle­ment be­side the River Der­went was where a trad­ing route passed north­wards past the edge of what we now call the Peak Dis­trict, tak­ing the Norse name for “Vil­lage of Deer”.

One new­comer to the city told us how at first they weren’t that im­pressed by the city cen­tre, which suf­fered at the hands of 1960s plan­ners, but a short river­bank walk re­vealed Derby’s green heart.

“I was very quickly into what ap­peared to be an idyl­lic Dales vil­lage,” he told us, point­ing to­wards the Der­went Val­ley Her­itage Way, where the bound­aries be­tween city and coun­try­side blur, lead­ing to glo­ri­ous green spa­ces.

Derby has many fa­mous sons and daugh­ters, but a well-known char­ac­ter im­proved the city.

Percy Thrower of “Blue Peter” fame, who started his hor­ti­cul­tural ca­reer in lo­cal parks, helped turn Dar­ley Abbey’s grounds from a pri­vate es­tate into the wildlife haven of Dar­ley Abbey Park.

Af­ter an in­spir­ing early morn­ing ride through Der­byshire coun­try­side, our visit started in the marginally less pic­turesque Me­teor Cen­tre re­tail park, where we were able to park the car and en­joy bus travel into the city and back again.

The out­skirts host many at­trac­tive prop­er­ties, such as Kedle­ston Park, but we chose to con­cen­trate on the city’s his­toric cen­tre, where Derby Cathe­dral’s tower is rarely out of sight.

Alight­ing be­side the river, af­ter pick­ing up a town map from the TIC, we paused to en­joy the view along the river where a water­side path leads to­wards the Holmes.

A short walk brought us to the Intu shop­ping cen­tre, where huge rings framed the an­cient trad­ing track­way.

Drovers no longer take their live­stock through the cen­tre, but when they did, many would pause to pray at St Peter’s Church.

We be­gan talk­ing to lo­cal chap Ron­ald El­lis as we waited for the sun­shine to il­lu­mi­nate the church. Ron­ald grew up in Cal­cutta, but is now based in Derby.

“If you fol­low this road be­yond the cathe­dral, look out for the clock with a blue plaque be­low to Astronomer Royal John Flam­steed.

“The fa­mous artist Joseph Wright lived in the house in the late 1700s,” he in­formed us.

Op­po­site the church is a re­mark­able build­ing, once a Boots chemist, but now a Costa cof­fee shop, where we paused to ad­mire the dec­o­rated front, which fea­tures stat­ues of fa­mous Derby folk like Florence Nightin­gale.

Although Florence Nightin­gale was born in the Ital­ian town that gave her her name, her fam­ily were Der­byshire peo­ple with strong lo­cal con­nec­tions.

Another statue re­mem­bers silk man­u­fac­turer John Lombe who met a mys­te­ri­ous end in 1822 – sup­pos­edly poi­soned for steal­ing trade se­crets from Pied­mont when he smug­gled out draw­ings ex­plain­ing the tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate fine silk.

As if to prove that busi­ness has its ups and downs, in 1971 the city’s most fa­mous em­ployer caused a run on the lo­cal build­ing so­ci­ety.

Rolls Royce started car man­u­fac­ture in the town in the early 1900s and be­fore long started mak­ing aero en­gines, in­clud­ing the fa­mous Mer­lin Spit­fire en­gine.

To­day it has a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing the finest pas­sen­ger jet en­gines, but devel­op­ment of the RB211 en­gine in the late 1960s caused the com­pany to col­lapse.

Pan­icked lo­cals queued at the door of the Der­byshire Build­ing So­ci­ety when a ru­mour spread that it had in­vested in Rolls Royce.

The little café in Derby Mar­ket Hall serves good value lunches, but also en­joys a colour­ful view of the mar­ket from its el­e­vated bal­cony po­si­tion.

“It re­minds me of Cardiff,” Hazel noted, re­mem­ber­ing my home city’s fine in­door mar­ket, cre­at­ing a pang of nos­tal­gia as I pho­tographed the striped awnings.

Emerg­ing on to Mar­ket Place, the tall Guild­hall tower is a re­minder of past glory, whilst any­one who re­mem­bers the old As­sem­bly Rooms will have a sur­prise.

You will need a tele­scope to see the old build­ing, as fol­low­ing a 1963 fire, the façade was dis­man­tled and re­built at the Na­tional Tramway Mu­seum in Crich.

Its re­place­ment, which con­tains the town’s TIC, may have ex­cited Sir Hugh Cas­son who de­signed it in the 1960s, but has a face only he would love!

To get a glimpse of the more charm­ing as­pects of the Cathe­dral Quar­ter, as this part of town is known, we strolled to the Strand, an ele­gant curve of up­mar­ket shops.

For­tu­nately th­ese were spared devel­op­ment and give the area an es­tab­lished clas­sic ap­peal.

The Strand Ar­cade was built here to ri­val Lon­don’s Burling­ton Ar­cade.

Even though it is a bit out of the main com­mer­cial cen­tre, it pro­vided one of the high­lights of our visit as we gazed up at the splen­did glazed roof, then out to Sadler Gate which re­tains a few char­ac­ter­ful rem­nants of Old Derby.

At one end of the street, Ge­orge Yard is a nar­row cob­bled lane, hint­ing at how the area looked a cen­tury or so ago.

Fur­ther down Old Black­smith’s Yard is an at­trac­tive space, which il­lus­trated how de­vel­op­ers in the past were only con­cerned with build­ing more mod­ern façades.

Pass un­der the Old Bell Ho­tel’s or­nately carved gate lin­tel to dis­cover a much smaller yard, which re­cent ren­o­va­tions have con­verted into an in­ti­mate al­fresco dining space.

This old coach­ing inn stands near the junc­tion of Iron Gate, from where there is a won­der­ful view dom­i­nated by Eng­land’s sec­ond high­est church tower.

If you have legs like a moun­tain goat and no fear of nar­row wind­ing spi­ral stairs, ar­range to meet on the one day a month when the cathe­dral tower tours take place.

One hun­dred and eighty­nine steps scale the 212-feet-high tower, with breather stops part­way up to peek at the bell-ringers’ room, and a little fur­ther up the car­il­lon mech­a­nism which plays dif­fer­ent tunes every day.

The ring of 10 bells is the world’s old­est, the first be­ing hung in 1678.

We were for­tu­nate that our tour co­in­cided with mid­day, when we en­joyed watch­ing a huge mu­sic-box­like ma­chine ring the tune via a spider’s web of levers and wires.

The cathe­dral’s res­i­dent pere­grine fal­cons mustn’t mind the noise, as their nest is just be­low the lou­vres from which the

bells sound out over the city.

The view from the roof is breath­tak­ing, which even Mrs Wob­bly-legs en­joyed thanks to the sturdy stone wall.

Whilst the tower is an­cient, the church in­te­rior is un­mis­tak­ably Ge­or­gian, where the ar­chi­tec­ture clev­erly draws the eye to the al­tar, be­low an un­usual bal­dacchino – a tem­ple-like canopy which was once sus­pended from the ceil­ing.

Many vis­i­tors come to see the Cavendish Fam­ily tombs, in­clud­ing the or­nate ef­figy of Bess of Hard­wick – one of Bri­tain’s most pow­er­ful women.

But we aimed our gaze at the stun­ning metal rood screen, cre­ated by lo­cal crafts­man Robert Bakewell, which de­spite its ma­te­rial dis­plays a won­der­ful visual light­ness.

Af­ter a brief visit to the Silk Mill, which is in the process of be­com­ing the city’s Mu­seum of Mak­ing – cel­e­brat­ing the city’s many in­dus­tries – we had al­most run out of time.

We re­cov­ered our car, parked up at Pick­ford’s House on Friar Gate – another road lined with his­toric homes.

Joseph Pick­ford built the house 250 years ago to im­press his clients, and clev­erly in­cor­po­rated a sig­na­ture of tools of his trade above the front door.

Inside, the rooms have been dressed to recre­ate all ar­eas of the house from be­low stairs, through the for­mal ground floor re­cep­tion rooms right up to the rather spar­tan ser­vants’ quar­ters.

Our brief visit was our first to the town but won’t be

the last, as Hazel spot­ted a pro­gramme of lo­cal craft work­shops in Pick­ford’s House.

“Oh, I fancy do­ing some of th­ese,” she en­thused as we drove to­wards Ash­bourne and home, ring­ing dates on the leaflet to plan our next visit. n

The bus sta­tion path be­side the lovely River Der­went.

Pick­ford’s House Mu­seum, Friar Gate.

St Peter’s Street, a Costa cof­fee shop in Ed­war­dian build­ing.

The Spot sculp­ture – a nod to Derby’s engi­neer­ing his­tory.

Derby Cen­tral Li­brary.

Mod­ern apart­ments lin­ing the River Der­went.

Shop­pers in the Strand Ar­cade.

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