Derby has a rich cultural heritage, illustrious history and an ambitious future. It’s currently bidding to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2025. Rupert Parker takes a look
In its glory days, Derby played a major part in England’s Industrial Revolution, making everything from silk, bone china, machine tools, railway locomotives and Rolls Royce cars. Despite the decline of its heavy industries, it’s now back on its feet and has been long listed to be the UK’s 2025 City of Culture. Here’s a sample of what’s on offer.
Derby Silk Mill
A good place to start, this was the world’s very first factory, a water-powered silk mill built in 1721. It’s at the southern end of the Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site, a complex of cotton mills on the River Derwent. After a £17 million redevelopment the factory has been transformed into the Museum of Making, opened in 2021 Over 30,000 objects celebrate Derby’s rich history of creativity, making and innovation. They include the world’s smallest engine, running on a single human hair and a seven ton Rolls-Royce aircraft engine suspended above visitors’ heads. https://www.derbymuseums.org/museum-of-making/
Darley Abbey Mills and Village
A village within the City of Derby, Darley Abbey contains the most complete of any of the cotton factory sites within the Derwent Valley. The Evans family built four mills on the site: the West Mill, the Long Mill, the Middle Mill and the East Mill, all still intact. You can only see them from the outside but the houses where the millworkers once lived, as well as the church, school and the landscaped gardens, complete the 18th century industrial village. https://darleyabbeymills.com/
Derby Museum and Art Gallery
Established in 1879, this is home to the largest collection of works by the 18th century Derby painter Joseph Wright. He was the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.His landscapes depict scenes of science, experimentation and exploration, while portraits show enlightened men of industry and learning. The museum also administers Pickford’s house, the Georgian home of the Enlightenment architect Joseph Pickford. The rooms illustrate aspects of domestic life from the 18th to the 20th centuries
A talisman of the new Derby, this modernist steel-and-glass cube arts centre was opened in 2008. It contains a futuristic art gallery exhibiting local, national and international artists, three cinemas showing the best in World, Hollywood and Independent films and a cafe bar. The centre also has available spaces for people to create their own artwork. https://www.derbyquad.co.uk/whats-on
Derby Theatre (previously Derby Playhouse) has a long and rich history of delivering high quality drama to audiences. It’s staging the world premier of The Palace of Varieties, a home grown play about local MP Denis Skinner. Other performances going on throughout the year include a children’s ballet version of the classic tale of Pinocchio and the dramatic Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The park is a stunning natural amphitheatre, perfect for music and the annual Darley Park Concert is one of the UK’s biggest outdoor classical concerts and a highlight of the summer in Derby. Sinfonia Viva are an innovative orchestra and music education charity from the city who work across the country to create meaningful musical experiences with everyone from the young, the old. They’ll be appearing at the event on the 28th August 2022 together with a spectacular firework display.
Visit Derby has information about the city.
Culture Derby has more information about their bid to be City of Culture 2025.
The Coach House is a historic boutique hotel and its restaurant uses locally sourced ingredients.
The Cotton Works bistro and pizzeria occupies an 18th century building in Darley Abbey Mills.
The Wonky Table is a quirky restaurant offering rustic dining with a contemporary twist.