Derby (/ˈdɑrbi/ dar-bi), is a city and unitary authority in the East Midlands region of England. It lies upon the banks of the River Derwent and is located in the south of the ceremonial county of Derbyshire.
It is a gateway to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which lies to its North.
In the 2001 census, the population of the city was 233,700, whilst that of the Derby Urban Area was 229,407. According to the 2001 census, Derby was at that time the 18th largest settlement in England, measured by urban area.
The city has Roman, Saxon and Viking origins.
The Roman camp of ‘Derventio’ was probably at Little Chester/Chester Green; the site of the old Roman fort is at Chester Green. Later the town was one of the ‘Five Boroughs’ (fortified towns) of the Danelaw.
Djúra-bý, recorded in Anglo-Saxon as Deoraby “Village of the Deer”. This popular belief is asserted by Tim Lambert who states, “The name Derby is derived from the Danish words deor by meaning deer settlement” without reference or proof. However some assert that it is a corruption of the original Roman name ‘Derventio’. The proven origin of the name “Derby” would seem to be elusive.
The town name appears, nevertheless, as ‘Darby’ or ‘Darbye’ on early modern maps, such as that of Speed (1610).
Modern research (2004) into the history and archaeology of Derby has provided evidence that the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons probably co-existed, occupying two areas of land surrounded by water. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (c. 900) says that “Derby is divided by water”. These areas of land were known as Norþworþig (“Northworthy”, = “north enclosure”) and Deoraby, and were at the “Irongate” (north) side of Derby.
During the Civil War of 1642–1646, Derby was garrisoned by Parliamentary troops commanded by Sir John Gell, 1st Baronet, who was appointed Governor of Derby in 1643. These troops took part in the defence of nearby Nottingham, the Siege of Lichfield, the Battle of Hopton Heath and many other engagements in Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, as well as successfully defending Derbyshire against Royalist armies.
A hundred years later, Bonnie Prince Charlie set up camp at Derby on 4 December 1745, whilst on his way south to seize the British crown. The prince called at The George Inn on Irongate, where the Duke of Devonshire had set up his headquarters, and demanded billets for his 9,000 troops.
He stayed at Exeter House, Exeter Street where he held his “council of war”. A replica of the room is on display at Derby Museum in the city centre. He had received misleading information about an army coming to meet him south of Derby. Although he wished to continue with his quest, he was overruled by his fellow officers. He abandoned his invasion at Swarkestone Bridge on the River Trent just a few miles south of Derby. As a testament to his belief in his cause, the prince – who on the march from Scotland had walked at the front of the column – made the return journey on horseback at the rear of the bedraggled and tired army.
Each year at the beginning of December, the Charles Edward Stuart Society of Derby lead a weekend of activities culminating in a parade through the city centre and a battle on Cathedral Green.
Derby and Derbyshire were centres of Britain’s Industrial Revolution. In 1717, Derby was the site of the first water powered silk mill in Britain, built by John Lombe and George Sorocold, after Lombe had reputedly stolen the secrets of silk-throwing from Piedmont in what is now Italy (he is alleged to have been poisoned by Piedmontese as revenge in 1722).
In 1759, Jedediah Strutt patented and built a machine called the Derby Rib Attachment that revolutionised the manufacture of hose. This attachment was used on the Rev. Lee’s Framework Knitting Machine; it was placed in front of – and worked in unison with – Lee’s Frame, to produce ribbed hose (stockings). The partners were Jedediah Strutt, William Woollatt (who had been joined in 1758 by John Bloodworth and Thomas Stafford, all leading hosiers in Derby). The patent was obtained in January 1759. After three years, Bloodworth and Stafford were paid off, and Samuel Need – a hosier of Nottingham – joined the partnership. The firm was known as Need, Strutt and Woollatt. The patent expired in 1773, though the partnership continued until 1781 when Need died.
Messrs. Wright, the bankers of Nottingham, recommended that Richard Arkwright apply to Strutt and Need for finance for his cotton spinning mill. The first mill opened in Nottingham in 1770 and was driven by horses. In 1771 Richard Arkwright, Samuel Need and Jedediah Strutt built the world’s firstwater-powered cotton spinning mill at Cromford, Derbyshire, developing a form of power that was to be a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution.
This was followed in Derbyshire by Jedediah Strutt’s cotton spinning mills at Belper. They were: South Mill, the first, 1775; North Mill, 1784, which was destroyed by fire on 12 January 1803 and then rebuilt; it started work again at the end of 1804; West Mill, 1792, commenced working 1796; Reeling Mill, 1897; Round Mill, which took 10 years to build, from 1803 to 1813, and commenced working in 1816; and Milford Mills, 1778. The Belper and Milford mills were not built in partnership with Arkwright. These mills were all Strutt owned and financed.
Other famous 18th century figures with connections to Derby include Dr Johnson, the creator of the English dictionary, who married Elizabeth Porter at St Werburgh’s Church in 1735; the painter Joseph Wright, known as Wright of Derby, who was famous for his revolutionary use of light in his paintings and was an associate of the Royal Academy; and John Whitehurst, a famous clockmaker and philosopher. Erasmus Darwin, doctor, scientist, philosopher and grandfather of Charles Darwin, whose practice was based in Lichfield, Staffordshire was a frequent visitor to Derby, having founded the Derby Philosophical Society.
The beginning of the next century saw Derby emerging as an engineering centre with manufacturers such as James Fox, who exported machine tools to Russia.
In 1840, the North Midland Railway set up its works in Derby and, when it merged with the Midland Counties Railway and the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway, to form the Midland Railway, Derby became its headquarters.
The connection with the railway encouraged others, notably Andrew Handyside, Charles Fox and his son Francis Fox.
Derby was one of the boroughs reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and it became a county borough with the Local Government Act 1888. The borough expanded in 1877 to include Little Chester and Litchurch, and then in 1890 to include New Normanton and Rowditch. The borough did not increase substantially again until 1968, when under a recommendation of the Local Government Boundary Commission it was expanded into large parts of the rural district of Belper, Repton and South East Derbyshire. This vastly increased Derby’s population from 132,408 in the 1961 census to 219,578 in the 1971 census.
Despite being one of the areas of Britain furthest from the sea, Derby holds a special place in the history of marine safety – it was as MP for Derby that Samuel Plimsoll introduced his bills for a ‘Plimsoll line’ (and other marine safety measures). This failed on first introduction, but was successful in 1876 and contributed to Plimsoll’s re-election as an MP.