The City of Derby

From County Town – to First City!

Until 1977 Derby was the county town of Derbyshire, but since July 27th of that special Jubilee year when Queen Elizabeth 2nd granted it Letters Patent, it has been Derbyshire’s first and only city and appropriately it is the largest settlement in the county in both area and population; in fact today, at the beginning of the Second Millennium and on the eve of the city’s 30th birthday, Derby has spread to include a dozen suburbs and is home to approximately half a million people.

The Heart of England

A glance at the Ordnance Survey map shows that Derby, which lies on the banks of the River Derwent, is almost ideally situated in the very heart of England, equidistant from both east and west coasts and thus at the hub of the major road and rail networks – and with a first class air service spanning the globe from East Midlands Airport at Castle Donington, just fifteen minutes drive from the city centre.

Perfectly situated for industry and commerce and with the MI just ten miles to the east, the city lies in the south-east quadrant of the county about ten miles from the county boundaries with Nottinghamshire (east), Leicestershire (south) and Staffordshire (west).Near neighbour Nottingham is barely a dozen miles away to the east and the natural wonders of the Peak District National Park just thirty minutes drive to the north-west.


Derby’s recorded history dates back to the Romans who built a fort on the west bank of the Derwent, with a vicus (civilian settlement) on the east bank in the area now known as Little Chester, which grew into a town named Derventio. When the Roman empire fell the Anglo-Saxons occupied the settlement beside the Derwent, which was part of a large Royal Estate called Northworthy in an area then known as Mercia, with it’s capital at Repton twenty miles away to the west.

History: The Village of the Deer.

Around the end of the 7th century a minster church was built and a century later (800AD) the body of St. Alkmund was brought from Northumbria for burial here and a major settlement of early Christians grew around the church. But in 874 AD the Danes occupied the area and changed the name to Deoraby (Village of the Deer) and the town became one of the `Five Boroughs’ of the Danelaw. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (C 900 AD) state that `Derby is divided by water’, and it is believed that the Saxon `Northworthy’ and the Danish `Deoraby’ occupied two pieces of land surrounded by water, which were located at the north side of the city.

In 917 the Saxon King of Mercia expelled the Danes and ten years later the new minster church of All Saints was built and the Burgh of Derby was founded, with its own mint. The Vikings invaded again and occupied Derby between 924 and 931, after which Saxon & Dane co-existed side by side for the next hundred years until the Norman Conquest.

Domesday Derby

By the time the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 Derby had grown to become a large town of some two thousand inhabitants, with no less than fourteen mills and six churches, and seventy years later in 1154, in recognition of its growing status, Henry 2nd granted the first market charter.

Mainly owing to its central location and accessibility via road and river, Derby flourished as a mercantile centre throughout the Middle Ages, with a growing number of mechant guilds setting up in the town, and regular cattle and sheep markets.

All Saints Cathedral

The magnificent tower of Derby Cathedral is surmounted by four ornate pinnacles and rises 178 feet above the city; built between 1511 and 1531, it is the second highest church tower in the country.There has been a church on this site for a thousand years, but the present one was designed and entirely rebuilt, apart from the tower, by James Gibbs in the early years of the 18th century and the first sermon was preached in the new church on 21st November 1725.

The Cathedral has a number of attractions, not least the fabulous wrought-iron entrance gates, and the superb screen fashioned by the celebrated Derbyshire craftsman Robert Bakewell. However, most come to visit the delightful little Cavendish Chapel, below which is the crypt containing the most elaborate and magnificently carved tomb of the famous Bess of Hardwick, builder of many mansions including Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall. Her memorial was designed by England’s first architect, Robert Smythson who also designed and built many of her mansions, and is made entirely of finely worked Derbyshire marble.Here also lie many Earls & Dukes of Devonshires, and this is also the last resting place of famous scientist Henry Cavendish, and John Lombe, who built Derby’s famous Silk Mill beside the Derwent.

Other noteable fine buildings include the Derby Museum and Art Gallery in the Wardwick, the 16th century timber-framed Dolphin Inn in Queen Street and others in Irongate, the Market Place, Sadler Gate and St. Mary’s Gate – and especially in Friar Gate which is considered to be one of the finest Georgian townscapes in the East Midlands.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was here!

During the Civil War Derby was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops commanded by Sir John Gell of Hopton Hall, and a century later the town was the scene of the famous Jacobite Rebellion when Bonnie Prince Charlie made camp here in his way south to seize the English throne in 1745.* The Prince stayed at Exeter House on Exeter Street, now demolished, but the actual wall panels from Exeter House and the setup of the interior are on permanent display at Derby Central Library on The Wardwick – and a statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie mounted on horseback stands permanently on Cathedral Green. The Charles Edward Stuart Society meet here every December and the pageant of troops in 18th century costume is one of the highlights of Derby’s social calendar.

Industrial Revolution

First Water-Powered Silk Mill in Britain

Derby and Derbyshire were the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and as early as 1717 Derby was the site of the first water-powered silk mill in Britain built by John Lombe and George Sorocold. Today the Silk Mill doubles as Derby Industrial Museum and is well worth a visit.

Derwent Valley Mills – World Heritage Site

In 1759 Jedediah Strutt, Unitarian and Industrialist, together with other local hosiers, built and patented the Derby Rib which revolutionised the manufacture of hose.

Ten years later Strutt, along with Richard Arkwright built the world’s first water-powered cotton-spinning mill at Cromford which proved the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution and made both men a considerable fortune. Strutt went on to build further mills at Belper and Milford, and his son William built the iron-framed, fireproof, Belper North Mill in 1804, which is the only Strutt mill still standing. Now part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, the mills at Cromford and Belper are open to the public and attract millions of visitors from all over the world.

National Railways HQ.

In 1840 the railway came to Derby courtesy of engineer George Stephenson, who under the auspices of the Midland Railway Company, made the town the headquarters of the North Midland region and opened the door for Derby to become one of Britains major engineering centres.

World Famous Engineering!

The 20th century saw Derby grow in national importance with the advent of the world famous Rolls Royce company**, for many years the cities biggest employer, firstly in the manufacture of motor vehicles, and then especially in the latter half of the century, airoplanes and aero engines. In recent years the Toyota Motor Corporation has made it’s home in Derby and has brought further employment and prosperity to the city.

….And Much More!

Such is Derby’s long history, but there is much more which is impossible to catalogue in such a short space, for example:

There are over one hundred public parks and open spaces within the city, including Derby Arboretum which was the first public park in England and was reputedly the inspiration for Central Park in New York; Derby has a wonderful university, several museums, including the 17th century Pickford House Museum; it is also home to Royal Crown Derby porcelain, and to Royal Academy artist Joseph Wright whose work is on permanent display at the City Museum & Art Gallery. There are notable statues to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Florence Nightingale – and Brian Clough – and there is also the Brian Clough Way, which appropriately links Derby to Nottingham!

A relatively recent addition to the city skyline is Pride Park, the magnificent new all-seater stadium of Derby County Football Club, and the face that Derby presents to the world has been radically changed in the last fifty years as much of its early architectural heritage has been swept away and replaced.

Even now at the beginning of the 21st century, the city centre is undergoing a major face-lift as part of the controversial Riverlights Project; a new bus-station is being built on the site of the former 1930’s art-deco structure and other new civic buildings are in the process of construction; all is scheduled to be finished and fully operational by 2008 and the new facilities will complete Derby’s transformation into one of the UK’s most modern cities.

Derby is also a national cultural centre for the Deaf community, with the Royal School for the Deaf on Ashbourne Road; holds the largest open air jazz festival in the UK annually in Darley Park…and finally, according to the BBC Inside Out programme, the city has been named `Ghost Capital of Britain’ with over 1,000 paranormal sightings recorded in recent years!

Whether you’re hunting engineering work, public parks, museums, education, sport & leisure activities – or just ghosts – Derby is the place!