Her­itage at heart

Derbyshire Life - - Interview - WORDS: Cather­ine Roth

Adrian Farmer can cer­tainly be said to ‘put his money where his mouth is’, back­ing his role as Her­itage Co­or­di­na­tor for the

DVMWHS with sup­port for Belper’s his­tory and her­itage

It can be said that Adrian Farmer couldn’t be more in­volved in his lo­cal com­mu­nity. Not only is he the Vice Chair of Belper His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, he also leads the Belper in Wartime group, vol­un­teers for Belper North Mill and Belper in Bloom, creates ex­hi­bi­tions, leads guided walks and gives talks, as well as run­ning the His­toric Belper Face­book page.

Adrian says, ‘There are a sur­pris­ing num­ber of re­quests for in­for­ma­tion. A lot of peo­ple ask for in­for­ma­tion about Belper and its his­tory and I try to re­spond to as many as I can.’ He fits all these around his full-time work as the Der­went Val­ley Mills World Her­itage Site (DVMWHS) Her­itage Co­or­di­na­tor, whilst also find­ing time to re­search and write books – his lat­est, due to be pub­lished in Novem­ber, is about Belper in wartime.

Adrian was recog­nised for his com­mu­nity and vol­un­teer­ing work ear­lier this year when he was pre­sented with a Bri­tish Em­pire Medal by the LordLieu­tenant of Der­byshire Wil­liam Tucker at a cer­e­mony in Belper. He re­marks, ‘A medal wasn’t some­thing I’d ever thought about. I was just getting on and do­ing what I can, when I can, for whom I can, so it was quite a mo­ment – I quite lit­er­ally was hon­oured.’ Al­most as sur­pris­ing was the let­ter of con­grat­u­la­tions he sub­se­quently re­ceived from his for­mer his­tory teacher. ‘My in­ter­est in his­tory was re­ally down to Mrs White. In my first year at Ju­nior School she would come in once a week and talk about early Bri­tish his­tory. I was com­pletely wowed by that so I saved up and bought my first his­tory book!’

Born in Derby, Adrian grew up in Mick­leover be­fore pur­su­ing a ca­reer in jour­nal­ism. In 1990 he

be­came the editor of Belper News and moved to Belper with his wife Mary in 1993. Three years later the news­pa­per cel­e­brated its centenary and Adrian marked this im­por­tant mile­stone by read­ing every one of its back is­sues. Af­ter six months of close read­ing he pub­lished a spe­cial centenary edi­tion.

Adrian says, ‘I am a great lover of minu­tiae and as I read every pa­per I came across lots of lit­tle sto­ries. One that ap­peared in Belper News in 1908 fea­tured com­plaints about the sheer size of the pot­holes on Bridge Street. It was re­ported that a man was cy­cling along when his bi­cy­cle dropped down into a pot­hole. His false teeth shot out and bit a dog, caus­ing a sen­sa­tion in the street.’ Adrian laughs, ‘I love sto­ries like that. It’s nice to think lit­tle things like that got re­ported, although they must have been des­per­ate for news in those days!’

Pub­lish­ing the centenary edi­tion gave Adrian an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the rich­ness of Belper’s his­tory and through his ed­i­tor­ship the news­pa­per be­came in­volved in cam­paigns to save lo­cal build­ings as well as reg­u­larly fea­tur­ing sto­ries from by­gone years. Yet Adrian’s in­volve­ment in Belper’s lo­cal his­tory was only just be­gin­ning.

He says, ‘In 2001 Mary Smed­ley, then man­ager of the town’s North Mill, said to me, “If you’re that in­ter­ested in his­tory do some­thing at the Mill!” So I vol­un­teered as their press officer and it wasn’t long be­fore Mary then said, “If you re­ally want to know what’s go­ing on, be­come a guide!” I went from never say­ing boo to a goose to tak­ing peo­ple round the mill and town. It was ter­ri­fy­ing for a few weeks, then it be­came re­mark­ably easy!’

Af­ter 14 years at Belper News Adrian felt it was time to move on but he was keen to re­main in Belper. Se­cur­ing the job of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Out­reach Officer for the DVMWHS, he ex­changed what he de­scribes as one dream job for an­other. Now World Her­itage Site Her­itage Co­or­di­na­tor, his role in­volves con­ser­va­tion and plan­ning is­sues in or­der to pro­tect this spe­cial area as well as pub­lic­ity, event man­age­ment and train­ing peo­ple about its sig­nif­i­cance.

Adrian en­joys shar­ing his knowl­edge through guided walks as well as ex­hi­bi­tions and il­lus­trated talks. ‘I al­ways try to show new pho­tos at my talks and never give the same talk twice. Why would I?’ he smiles. ‘There is too much to tell!’

The same is true of his ex­hi­bi­tions – the next one, fea­tur­ing Ed­war­dian Belper, takes place this month dur­ing the an­nual Dis­cov­ery Days Fes­ti­val.

Adrian says, ‘Be­cause peo­ple come to my talks and ex­hi­bi­tions it en­cour­ages them to find their own pho­tos and many let me copy them. It amazes me how many pho­tos crop up in a year.’ He adds, ‘The best pos­si­ble way of en­sur­ing we un­der­stand the sto­ries bet­ter is to keep telling them. His­tory is so rich and com­pli­cated that it’s good fun try­ing to un­pick it from the ev­i­dence that re­mains. You can never be 100 per cent sure of what you’re piec­ing to­gether but it’s fun try­ing!’

TOP: Har­vest Fes­ti­val at Babing­ton Hos­pi­tal, c.1910, when it was Belper’s work­house ABOVE: Belper Mills in June 1912, shortly af­ter com­ple­tion of the East Mill

Bridge Street in Belper c.1910

Adrian Farmer re­ceiv­ing his Bri­tish Em­pire Medal from the Lord-lieu­tenant of Der­byshire Wil­liam Tucker

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