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Derby, Derbyshire

Historical Description

Derby, the chief town of the county of the same name, and a county borough, lies in the valley of the Derwent, about 6 miles from the point where that river joins the Trent. It is almost surrounded by gently sloping hills, is 127 miles from London, 58 from Manchester, 48 from Birmingham, 36 from Sheffield, 29 from Leicester, and 16 from Nottingham. Its central position and unequalled railway facilities have contributed much to its rapid growth and progress. It is a convenient starting-point for touring in the lovely districts of the Peak country, and is much used as a good point for breaking a long journey from London to the North.

History.-Whether a town on the site of Derby existed in Celtic times is matter of conjecture, though the Celtic place-names surviving in the neighbourhood, and the contiguous Roman camp, render it extremely probable. Little Chester, the site of this Roman station, now lies within the borough, and is situated about half a mile north from the centre of the town. It was known as the Castrum Parvum Derventio, and commanded a bridge over the river Derwent, the piers of which were still visible a century ago. This bridge carried the great road, known afterwards as Rykneld Street, which connected the NE districts of the country with the Severn, and it must have been considered a rather important point, as other main roads from both sides of the river converged upon it. The castrum appears to have been founded when the great road was made, about A.D. 86, and was most likely occupied till the Romans withdrew in 410. Some sixty or seventy different types of coins have been found in the vicinity, a rude but unique bas-relief of Mercury, probably a boundary stone, fragments of pottery, and other vestiges of Roman occupation. By the early Saxons the place was called North weorthig, probably referring to its position, which was north of the Mercian capital Repton. The Danes named it Deoraby, most likely from its contiguity to the river Dwr gwent (Dwr and by). From this its present name is easily derivable. The villa regalis by the Derwent, which the Venerable Bede mentions as the scene of the attempted massacre and subsequent conversion to Christianity of the Bretwalda Edwin in 626, is believed by many to have been Derby. This may be doubtful, but there is no doubt whatever about the reference made to the town a century and a half later by Ethelward, son of Alfred the Great. About this time Derby fell under the rule of the Danes (874), and became one of their principal strongholds and one of the five boroughs of the Danelagh. The Danes were driven out with great slaughter by Ethelfleda, the "Lady of the Mercians," in 917, but they repossessed themselves in the following reign, and were finally dispossessed by Edmund in 942. At this period Derby was a royal borough, and had a mint of its own from which coins were issued from the reign of Athelstane to that of Stephen. In the reign of the Confessor, there were 243 burgesses, and they with their families numbered some 1000 souls, and there were 14 mills, but at the taking of the Domesday survey there were only 100 burgesses and 10 mills a falling off not to be wondered at when we are told that half the fighting inhabitants perished in resisting William the Norman at Hastings. Charters were granted to the town by Henry I. and Henry II., and under John its privileges were extended, the right to appoint its own baliff being acquired in 1202. From this time forward its charters were confirmed and extended by successive occupants of the throne, with occasional suspensions when necessary to enforce tardy levies. Edward II. visited the town on his way to the battle of Boroughbridge. A Protestant martyr, one Joan Waste, was burned for her religious opinions in 1556, and Mary Queen of Scots stayed a night on her weary journey from one prison to another in 1585, lodging at Babington House. James I. visited Derby in 1624, Charles I. in 1686,1640, and again at the head of his army in 1642. In the Civil War it formed .a great military base for the Parliamentary party, under the command of the energetic and indomitable Sir John Gell. It suffered so severely from the plague in the years 1645-47, that the assizes had to be held outside the town, and a further attack occurred in 1665. The "glorious Revolution" was first publicly proclaimed here by the then Earl of Devonshire in 1688, and Prince Charles Edward touched at Derby, his most southern point, in 1745. His headquarters were at Exeter House, a fine old mansion demolished in 1854, and the fine oak wainscotting which was round the room in which he held the council that decided on his disastrous retreat, is now preserved in fine condition at the public library. In 1817 there was grave rioting in the town by the stockingers and weavers, under Jeremiah Brandreth, who was beheaded for his share in the business, and there was another serious riot in 1831, when the Reform Bill was rejected. In 1842 the town suffered from a sudden inundation still known as "the Flood," when the waters of Markeaton Brook rose so high that the principal streets of the town were flooded to the depth of five or six feet, the waters subsiding as suddenly as they rose. In 1846, the Shrove Tuesday Football Carnival, played in the streets from time immemorial between the rival parishes of All Saints and St Peter, and still kept up with more or less vigour at Ashbourne, was suppressed at the point .of the sword. In modern times, Derby has been considerably favoured by Royalty-His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales having paid state visits in 1871, and again in 1880, while in 1891 Her Majesty the Queen visited the town, and laid the foundation-stone of the new Royal Infirmary. Derby gave the title of Earl in 1138 to Robert de Ferrars, in the reign of Henry III. to a member of the royal family, and in the reign of Hemy VII. to Sir Thomas Stanley, in which noble family the title has since remained.

Streets.-The main thoroughfare of Derby extends nearly 1½ mile due N and S. The southern portion of this, at the extremity of which the M.R. station stands, is the London Road, a wide and pleasant street, planted with trees, which in summer afford an agreeable shade to the sidewalks. This leads on to St Peter's Street, and thence to the Corn Market, Market Place, Iron Gate, and Queen Street, where it terminates at St Alkmund's Church in old Derby. On this main line of street are situated four of the five ancient parish churches, the principal banks and places of business, the Royal Hotel, the Conservative club, the offices of the local ipapers, the Royal Infirmary, and practically the Grand Theatre and the post office. The main artery of traffic is crossed by several important thoroughfares, the most important of which is that crossing the bottom of St Peter's Street, and covering the course of a considerable stream. This is formed by Victoria Street, which contains the post office and the greater part of the Royal Hotel buildings, Albert Street, at one end of which is the corn exchange, the Wardwick, on one side of which are the mechanics' institute and the free library, museum, and art gallery, and on the other, part of a fine old Jacobean house dated 1611, the new poor-law offices lying a little back in Becket Street, and Friar Gate, a fine wide street planted with trees. This street contains the fifth of the ancient parish churches, the Midland deaf and dumb institution, and the G.N.R. station. A continuation of Friar Gate is the Ashbourne Road, lying back from which is the fine building of the Railway Servants' Orphanage. Other streets are the Osmaston Road, running nearly parallel with the London Road, and leading to the principal ironworks, and on this road are the Royal Crown Derby porcelain works, and also the entrance to the Arboretum, which is a handsome little park presented to the town by the late Joseph Strutt in 1840; St Mary's Gate, which contains the assize courts and a fine old Baptist chapel; King Street, with a fine Wesleyan chapel, and Derby school; St James's Street, in which is the hotel of the same name, and a great part of the post office; and the Strand, which is built over a brook course, and contains the Derby and the Liberal clubs, and the principal entrance to the art gallery. All the central streets are lighted by electricity. Tramcars and omnibuses traverse the main streets.

Churches and Public Buildings.-A castle once occupied the SE corner of the borough, and was known in Saxon times. The last authentic mention of it was its grant to a royal Plantagenet in 1266, and it appears then to have been in a ruinous condition, and at the present time there are absolutely no traces of it. Old Derby possessed at least six religious houses, the memory of which still survives in their local names. The Cluniacs had a priory dedicated to St James near the present street of that name; the Augustinians an hospital for poor brothers and sisters dedicated to St Helen; another, St Leonard's, was an hospital for lepers, and stood near the Osmaston Road; there was a friary of Dominicans in Friar Gate, and beyond the town a Benedictine nunnery of St Mary de Pratis. In very early times there was a sixth church of St Mary, but this fell into decay in the 13th century, and was never rebuilt. Few towns have changed more in recent years, and there is now but little of old Derby left. St Peter's Church contains the oldest work now surviving, going back to the 12th century. The fabric generally is of the Decorated period, but there are considerable traces of Norman work. It underwent partial restoration in 1852 and 1859, and further restoration in 1894. In the tower is a peal of six bells. In the churchyard is an extremely plain building, now the parish room, which was formerly the grammar school, and one of the earliest founded in the kingdom, dating back to 1160. Next in antiquity is St Mary on the Bridge, a chapel now used as a mission room for St Alkmund's Church. This dates back to the 14th century, and stands in the almost unique position of surviving the bridge it was meant to toll. Following this in time is the grand tower of All Saints. This structure, erected in the early part of the 16th century, is one of the best specimens of the Tudor Perpendicular period in the country. Its height is 174 feet to the parapet, and 210 feet to the top of the pinnacles, and its base is 50 feet square. It contains a peal of ten fine bells, on which the clock plays a separate set of chimes for each day in the week. The body of the church was built in 1725 from a design by Gibbs. It contains a very fine wrought-iron screen by Bakewell, a fine altar-piece, a Devonshire chapel, which contains numerous monuments to members of the Cavendish family, a unique wooden effigy, and other interesting memorials. The tower of St Werburgh's was built in 1608, and contains a peal of eight bells. The old church was pulled down, and a new and stately structure erected in 1894. The chancel, in which Dr Johnson was married, and which contains a fine monument by Sir Francis Chantrey, remains as a vestry. St Alkmund's, enshrining the remains of Derby's patron saint, was rebuilt in 1847 at a cost of £10,000. The spire, which is a very graceful one, rises to a height of 216 feet, and the tower contains a peal of eight bells. The church is in the Decorated style, and contains some interesting remains. St Michael's possesses no particular interest except for its fine communion plate. There are twelve other churches in Derby belonging to the establishment, beside mission rooms. St John's was built in 1828. Holy Trinity Church, on the London Road, was built in 1832. Christ Church has a good tower and spire, 110 feet high. It is situated on the Normanton Road, and was erected in 1840 as a memorial to Bishop Ryder. St Paul's, at Little Chester, is a small church, cruciform in shape, and with a fair tower; it was built in 1850. St Luke's was erected in 1870-71 as a memorial to Bishop Lonsdale. The architect was the late Mr. F. J. Robinson of Derby, and it is a very handsome and commodious church, with a noble tower containing a splendid peal of bells. St Luke's also possesses a very fine organ which cost upwards of £2000. St Andrew's, on the London Road, sometimes called the Railway Church, was commenced in 1863 from a design by the late Sir Gilbert Scott, and is probably the finest of the modern churches. Its style is Early English, the nave is 70 feet high, and the spire rises to a height of 170 feet. It has a very fine peal of eight bells. The remaining churches are St James's, Rose Hill, built in 1866; St Anne's, built in 1873; St Thomas's, built by Mrs Olivier in 1881 in memory of her father, the late Archdeacon Hill; St Chad's, built in 1882; St Barnabas', in 1885; and St George's, on the Firs Estate, in 1894. The Roman Catholics have two churches; one dedicated to St Joseph, is near St Chad's on Mill Hill, the other is the beautiful church of St Marie in Bridge Gate. This was erected in 1839, from designs by the elder Pugin; the style is Perpendicular. Of the various denominations there are 19 Church of England, 6 Baptist, 6 Wesleyan, 5 Congregational, 2 Roman Catholic, a Presbyterian, Methodist New Connexion, Methodist Free, Sweden-borgian, Unitarian, Plymouth Brethren, and Christadelphian chapels, and a Friends' meeting-house. The buildings erected by the School Board are commodious, well appointed, and flourishing, very handsome buildings having been erected in Gerard Street and on the Ashbourne Road.

The principal educational establishment in the town is the Grammar School, or Derby School, as now generally called. Founded by Bishop Durdant in 1160, it was held in high repute for centuries, and has within the present reign come again to the fore, most of its modern success having been gained under the late head-master, the Rev Walter dark. It was removed in 1862 from St Peter's Churchyard to its present premises, known as St Helen's, and formerly the residence of Lord Belper. Important additions to the premises were inaugurated by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales in 1872, and it now takes high rank among the public schools of the country. It has various scholarships and exhibitions of considerable value. Among its distinguished ahimni may be mentioned Archbishop Saville, Bishop Juxon, Thomas Lin-acre, founder of the Royal College of Surgeons; John Flam-steed, the first Astronomer-Royal; Sir J. Eardley Wilmot, Lord-Chief Justice; Anthony Blackwell, author of "Sacred Classics;" Joseph Wright, A.R.A., Derby's famous painter; Edward Vernon Harcourt, Archbishop of York, and in modern times it has produced a senior wrangler (Dr. E. W. Hobson, 1878), and a second wrangler (Mr E. G. Gallop, 1883). There is a Diocesan Training College for Mistresses on the Uttoxeter New Road, with accommodation for 44 students, Diocesan High Schools for boys and girls, and a branch of the Church of England Public Day Schools Company for girls.

Public Institutions. -The Guildhall in the market-place is a stone building of classic design, surmounted by a clock tower 112 feet in height. It was erected in 1842 on the same site as its predecessor, which was destroyed by fire. It contains the council chamber, offices of the town-clerk and magistrates' clerk, and the police courts, but is altogether unworthy of the size and importance of the town. The offices of the borough surveyor, and the sanitary and water departments occupy a good block of buildings in Babington Lane. Passing under the portico of the town-hall we come to the covered market, built in 1866. It is a fine building, 220 feet long and 112 wide, and with a single-span roof. The Assize Courts have a facade built in 1660, but the main body was extended and rebuilt in 1829. The provision for public convenience here also leaves much to be desired. Her Majesty's prison stands near to Friar Gate. It is a massive building in the Doric style, was built in 1823-26, and contains accommodation for about 350 prisoners. The Free Library and Museum building is in the Wardwick, and occupies the site of the old town and county library. It is a very handsome building in Gothic style, with a fine open timber tower and spire; it was completed in 1879, and was presented with all its appurtenances to the town by the late Mr M. T. Bass, M.P. The library contains about 28,000 books, and the museum contains an excellent collection of types in the various departments of natural history. The same munificent donor added an art gallery to the block of buildings in 1882, the ground in this case being the gift of the late Sir Abraham Woodiwiss. Here are held periodical exhibitions of modern paintings, mostly three in the year, and in the lower portion of the building is to be found a magnificent collection of old Derby china, principally the gift of the late Mr Felix Joseph. The borough -workhouse and the borough asylum are both modern buildings, erected on the Rowditch estate. An, infectious diseases hospital is situated on the hillside near Breadsall, and was opened in 1891. The poor-law offices. and the offices of the School Board are in Becket Street, the former occupying a handsome building, which was opened in, 1894.

The new Royal Infirmary, erected in 1894 at an estimated cost of £75,000, replaced an older fabric, which was founded in 1806. It consists of a series of groups of brick buildings, in simple Jacobean style, beautifully situated in their own grounds on the London Road. The Children's Hospital in North Street is another handsome building in brick, simple and graceful. It was founded in 1877, and the present building, with accommodation for 33 patients,. was opened in 1883. The Railway Servants' Orphanage,. standing back from the Ashbourne Road, is a very handsome building; it is a national institution, and commenced; in 1875 in a very modest way, but now contains accommodation for about 300 children. The Midland Deaf and Dumb Institution is a handsome brick building, in Queen Anne style, erected in Friar Gate, near the Great Northern station, and was completed in 1894. The Nursing Institution occupies premises in the London Road. The Devonshire Alms-houses, in Full Street, were founded by the famous "Bess of Hardwick" in 1599, and accommodate 8 poor men and 4 poor women. The Liversage Almshouses face the Royal Infirmary- they were founded in the time of Henry VIII. by a wealthy tradesman, Robert Liversage, and there are 22 houses, with. chapel, concert-room, and offices. Large's Almshouses, in Friar Gate, are for the widows of clergymen. The public halls of the town are numerous and commodious. The Drill Hall, in Newlands Street, seats 2000, and is largely used for concerts and large assemblies as well as for its original purpose. The Corn Exchange is another fine room, now used as a theatre of varieties. The lecture hall at the Mechanics' Institute, the temperance hall in Curzon Street, the masonic hall in Gower Street, the county assembly rooms in the market-place, and large rooms attached to the Royal and St James' hotels,. are also places of popular assembly for concerts and lectures,. and in the drill hall and temperance hall there are fine organs. The Grand Theatre in Babington Lane is a fine building in the Renaissance style, and is capable of seating an audience of about 3000 persons. It was built in 1884-85, and was burnt down six weeks from the opening in May, 1886. Other fine-buildings worthy of mention are the five banks, the Post Office and Inland Revenue Office in Victoria Street, the1 Municipal Technical College in Green Hill, the science section, of which was erected in 1894, and the art section in full work with about four hundred students; the Midland Institute,. opened in 1894, and containing a fine library, news, billiard, concert, and refreshment rooms. There are also five clubs,, the County, the Town or Derby, the Liberal, the Conservative, and the Beaconsfield. Derby is well off for recreation grounds, the principal being the Arboretum, which covers-about 16 acres, and is charmingly laid out. The recreation ground and free public baths were given to the town by Mr M. T. Bass, M.P., and are situated in the Holmes, near the spacious cattle market, and the recreation grounds at Little Chester and Rowditch have been acquired by the corporation, for the use of the public. The racecourse is now enclosed.

There is a fine grand stand, and in the centre a commodious pavilion which is used by the county cricket and football clubs. There are various societies in active operation in the town, each engaged in carrying on special work. Among these are the Derbyshire Agricultural Society, which holds an annual show in September of each year, the Derby Choral Union, the Derby and Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, the Society for the Extension of University Teaching, the Charity Organisation Society, the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, and the Derby branch of the Young Men's Christian Association, which occupies fine premises in St Peter's Churchyard.

Trade, and Manufactures.-Derby has a head post office and National Telephone Company Exchange. The Midland railway has one large central and two suburban stations, and the Great Northern railway has one station. The London and North-Western and North Staffordshire railways run their trains into the Midland central station. There is a Tramway and Omnibus Company, a Chamber of Commerce, and some excellent hotels. The Midland railway station has been recently reconstructed, and is one of the finest in the country. There are six platforms, the longest being some 1600 feet in extent. The chief offices of the company are at Derby, which is the centre of the Midland system, and so are the workshops for building both locomotives and carriages. The works cover over 190 acres of ground, and employ nearly 13,000 men. The old "Crown Derby" china industry originated about 1748, and continued for about sixty years to produce work which ranked with the best in Europe. It was, however, closed in 1848, but was again started in King Street, where it is still carried on. In 1877, the Crown Derby Porcelain Company was established by the late Mr Phillips, who took over the premises of the old workhouse. From this establishment, which has now the right to the prefix "Royal," issues work worthy of the traditions of the town in its best times, and employment is given to a large number of hands. Half a century ago, the silk industry was flourishing in Derby, and the many large mills in the town, now used chiefly as warehouses, were devoted to the throwing and manufacture of silk. The art was first introduced into this country from Italy by one John Lombe, in 1718, and for him was built a mill on an island in the Derwent, in the centre of the town. This mill survived till 1893, when it was demolished to make room for the central electric station. For many years silk was the staple trade of the town, but for some time past it has been in a languishing condition. Among important manufactures carried on in the town are ironworks, in almost every branch from railway bridges to stove grates, cotton, lace, clastic web, chemicals, colours, brewing, spar and marble ornaments, boots and shoes, and tanning. Cattle markets are held on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Friday is the day for the general market. There are nominally eight cattle fairs in the year, on Fridays, and six clieese fairs, on Tuesdays, but these are little more than survivals of functions once very important. Pleasure fairs are held on the Friday and Saturday of Easter and Whit weeks in the open ground called the Morledge. There are two evening daily and four weekly newspapers.

The Borough.-Derby is a parliamentary, municipal, and county borough, and has sent two members to Parliament since 1295, and its first mayor was elected in 1638. It is divided into eight wards, and is governed by a mayor, 16 aldermen, and 48 councillors. The borough was largely extended in 1877, and the parliamentary and municipal limits are now the same. It is the centre of the 45th regimental district, and the barracks are at Normanton, just outside the borough. It is the seat of courts of assize and quarter sessions, and the mayor and borough magistrates hold petty sessions daily. The population in 1891 was 94,146.

Among distinguished men connected with Derby-Flamsteed the first astronomer-royal, Richardson the novelist, Joseph Wright, A.R.A., the famous painter, Mawe the mineralogist, Hutton the historian, Joseph Strutt, Lord Belper, Bourne, the two Dethicks; and among living worthies, Herbert Spencer, greatest of living philosophers, and Captain W. de W. Abney, the distinguished scientist, were natives; while Pilkington the historian, Simpson the topographist, Whitehurst the cosmogonist, Degge the antiquary, Fox the Quaker, Erasmus Darwin, poet and physician, the first Earl of Macclesfield, and Matthew Arnold, poet and philosopher, were at some time residents.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyDerbyshire 
HundredMorleston and Litchurch 
Poor Law unionDerby 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records, in conjunction with the Derbyshire Record Office, have the Church of England Baptisms (1538-1916), Marriages and Banns (1538-1932), and Burials (1538-1991) online.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Derby from the following:

Land and Property

A full transcript of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Derbyshire is online.


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Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Derbyshire papers online:

CountyCity of Derby
RegionEast Midlands
Postal districtDE1
Post TownDerby