Derby, and Museums Victorian and Community Designed

A piece of a weekend in Derby with my partner, he on his way to Sheffield and myself down from the farm.

Lovely.

I had traversed part of it once already, very briefly on my way to the farm. I had already cursed the planners of several decades ago who apparently never considered what it would be like for people walking from train to bus station or to the city centre. Close to a mile of unfriendly main road and roundabouts, all designed for the car and serving as a big ‘screw you’ to the pedestrian. Not well signed. They are trying to make residential areas of the old industrial bit between the train station and the mall on the main road now though, and actually succeeding more than most places I have seen, lovely old red brick and nice, simple-almost-Georgian new brick. I wandered through there a bit and it was a nice way to come until you hit the mall, though google thought it still didn’t exist.

The centre of Derby itself is mostly red brick also, some of it quite charming but not where it is stretching itself to become like every other city with their sanitised and slickly branded centres — the Cathedral quarter they are calling it. We walked through it to dinner on Saturday and like other centres in our strange days it shuts down at night but for the junkies and occasional groups of youth heading out in their battles dress of very little material and much make up.

There are many unexpected corners and closes or mews to look down, many buildings of odd shapes and angles — I loved that about this city.

Derby

An old arcade, with a patchworked cityscape beyond that invites exploration

Derby

But it does feel all of these corridors and corners have been closed off, shut down, all become dead ends.

It felt also that they could possibly open up again. But something would need to change here.

Derby feels small, different. The bite of poverty is visible here. Its past of factories and mills seems almost invisible, perhaps lying in the rubble beneath the concrete buildings or the two large open areas being developed now. It is more diverse than I was expecting. Its cathedral is also small, and rather than stone it is white plaster and gilding inside. I saw no tourists there, only a couple with their child lighting a candle for someone. The city can no longer be contained in a painting, though, the bus drove through sprawling outskirts for some time, and they feel like many another place.

Here it is from 1725:

Derby Museum

This painting hung in the old silk mill — and I confess I was looking forward to more about silk and mills and this earliest of silk factories after visits to the other mills along the Derwent Valley, especially the Masson Mill. Instead it was something possibly more interesting — a several year project to recreate the museum in dialogue with the community — and a museum of making at that. I like the idea of this — a museum in this beautiful old factory celebrating makers of the past, the present and the future.

Derby Museum

This framing around Designing and Prototyping, Hacking and Reuse is also quite cool I think, visible storage feels a bit odd in that list, but that is exactly what a museum is in many ways.  I do wonder how this is speaking to youth and how it is speaking to elders and how it speaks to everyone in between. I wonder how this very particular language engages different groups. It would be interesting to explore more how this is working.

On designing and prototyping:

Derby Museum

On hacking:

Derby Museum

On reuse:

Derby Museum

And an example of visible storage — an amazing wheelbarrow. Wheelbarrows have been key to my daily life for many weeks now, and this home-built one is quite marvelous. But really fucking heavy I bet. I wouldn’t want to push this up top field, even empty.

Derby Museum

I went on a Saturday afternoon and it was quite active, with a little cafe and someone being drawn by a group of a children, someone else ready to explain some kind of old engine. In these spaces I realise what an introvert I am, and I creep through them not wanting to interact. Which is a bit rubbish of me as I have also spent much of my life trying to create some of these spaces — I can interact not as a user, but as a provider.

I sent them a silent apology.

We went also to the Art and History museum, which contained some of the same kind of opening up as the silk mill, but also a lot of the fabulous old Victorian kinds of exhibits that I also love.

Things in jars:

Derby Museum

Derby Museum

With funny faces

Derby Museum

Derby Museum

Things stuffed and rather the worse for wear

Derby Museum

Derby Museum

Things quite gothic and extraordinary

Derby Museum

Things inaccessible in those lovely and so Victorian wooden galleries:

Derby Museum

And things wonderfully ancient and awesome:

Derby Museum

Derby Museum

Derby Museum

It also had the largest collection of Joseph Wright paintings, and chocolate chip cookie dough cake available to eat in the porcelain room.

Derby Museum

Delicious, and I for one, could barely move after and did not want dinner.

We found two nice pubs as well, the Old Bell Inn and the Exeter Arms, and the Book Cafe and a most beautiful Waterstones. There are places I would love if I lived here.

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