• Derby makes a good stopover for a Nottingham art trip, and has merits of its own. Here are nine of them: three exhibition venues, three pubs, and three decaying buildings
• An idiosyncratic selection perhaps – find the map here – but then there isn’t that much actual art to see in Derby. My building choices may suggest urban decay, but the reality is a stolidly built small provincial town with interesting buildings from many eras dotted between a predictable array of tired malls and shops. It’s an industrial heritage area with pleasant strolls along the Derwent River and three noted real ale (aka craft beer) pubs, though two are somewhat unreconstructed – which would be a plus point for many. Highlight is the art and multimedia venue Quad Derby, whose rolling programme of arthouse films means there’s usually evening entertainment for the transient art fan; they do decent light meals and good bottled beer too, at half London prices. Note: the train station is a long, confusing and rather unpleasant walk from the centre, the so-called Catherdal Quarter, but it’s nicer if you go via the riverside path.
THREE DERBY EXHIBITION VENUES
Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3AS
• I stayed in Derby while visiting Nottingham, and it’s fair to say that without this cultural oasis I’d have been pretty lost, especially on a quiet Sunday evening. The art shows are intermittent, but there’s a civilised cinema with a fast-changing roster of films, performances, talks and events, plus a BFI Mediatheque with free access to over 1,700 film and TV classics, so there’s always something new to see. I was able to amuse myself with an extensive Ian Breakwell exhibition, followed by Banksy‘s film, which I’d missed in London, topped off with a good value locally-sourced burger/poncey beer combo. The glass-walled cafe/foyer/bar area is quite small and starkly trendy in an Ikea-baroque kind of way, but it’s got comfy corners and a panoramic view of the square outside, not that there’s much to admire out there unless skateboarding goths are your thing. It opens till late, spilling light onto its bleakish surrounds, and is a pleasant place to while away time; so it was heartening to see a wide mix of ages and races enjoying the facilities, from trendy asian youngsters to crusty caucasian ancients – all seeming equally at home. With the high profile failure of provincial noughties archi-star venues such as Nigel Coates‘ drum-like Hallam Union in Sheffield (once a pop museum, now a student dive) and West Brom’s The Public (a Will Alsop-designed multimedia pink elephant, fighting back from administration), it’s good to see a millennium-style arts emporium confidently meet, and even exceed, local needs. For more on noughties architectural hubris, see Owen Hatherley’s The New Ruins of Great Britain, discussed here.
Derby Museum and Art Gallery
The Strand, Derby DE1 1BS
• A typical small municipal museum, worthy but frozen in hessian-clad time due, presumably, to lack of funding. The world’s largest collection of Joseph Wright of Derby paintings (which means one medium-sized room-full) is genuinely worth seeing, and deserves finer surrounds than this dowdy gallery – which won an award in the 1990s, but must have lacked love since then. It was also sad to see a collection of 1960s ecclesiastical sculptures – made by a local artist and rescued from a hospital chapel, details of which I’ve been totally unable to excavate via Google – distributed across three floors, and literally propped up in corners. On the plus side, there are regular shows of local and national contemporary art, and it’s an interesting accretion of buildings melding Victorian Gothic with a classic early 1960s frontage. It just felt as if the decent art holdings could be displayed much better. (Update 2012: in 2011 the Joseph Wright room closed for refurbishment with planned reopening on 25 February 2012.)
The Silk Mill / Derby Industrial Museum
Silk Mill Lane, off Full Street, Derby, DE1 3AF
• An industrial relic housing yet more industrial relics, this was one of the first factories in the world: the Lombe brothers’ Silk Mill, completed circa 1723. It is now part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and currently showcases, in slightly ramshackle fashion, historic examples of local industry – which will be of most interest to those with an insatiable curiosity about the innards of Rolls Royce jet engines, which are manufactured nearby. It’s a subject which was more artfully treated in Jane and Louise Wilson’s film installation “Spiteful of Dream” (2008), specially created for the launch of Quad Derby. (Update 2012 – it was “mothballed” in 2011 due to cuts; there is no set reopening date, though it’s interesting from the outside too.)
THREE DERBY REAL ALE PUBS
The Brewery Tap
1 Derwent Street, Derby DE1 2DE; T 01332 366 283
• Offers a superb array of beers, including some Belgian fruit varieties, plus beer’n’cheese sampler trays; a top pub with nice decor, though considered a trifle identikit-sub-gastro for the knowledgeable punters on beerintheevening.com. I can see their point, as it was a bit characterless and suit-friendly, but I still preferred it to the two real ale dens below – maybe because I’m not a bloke.
The Old Silk Mill
19 Full Street, Derby, DE1 3AF; T 01332 369748
• Swirly carpeted old-style boozer with around 12 beers and two cats. It’s favoured over The Brewery Tap by beer purists but a bit old skool for my taste; it used to be a bikers’ pub apparently, and still has that grotty feel.
23-25 King Street, Derby DE1 3DZ; T 01332 204 955
• This has a big fan following for its in-house brewery and multiple ales, but both times I attempted entry I was instantly repelled by a mixture of shouty men, amplified rock music, and sticky-looking decor. Guess I’m just a girlie sap.
THREE DECAYING DERBY BUILDINGS
Bath Street Mill
Bath Steet, Derby DE1
Above: the ruins of Bath Street Mill from the river (l) and hill behind (r)
• Or ex-mill: Google satellite view shows this as still intact, but what was once a historic ex-silk mill is now a sorry if romantic ruin on the riverside, just upstream from Derby’s only high-rise tower block. Built around 1850, for most of the 20th century Bath Street Mill was home to various small industries, but in 2009 it was bought by a developer and subsequently went up in flames – a similar tale to the Hippodrome, below. There seems to be a lot of “mysterious” developer-related destruction in Derby, which is sheer cultural vandalism given the town’s industrial heritage. For anyone who’s interested, there are a few links to this intriguing building below.
- derelictplaces.co.uk – Some photos inside the derelict building, including a bonkers orange sofa (relic of a furniture workshop)
- picturesofderby.co.uk – Historic photos
- flickr – A good photoset including the mill on fire
- thisisderbyshire.co.uk – Video of the fire
- wikipedia – Historical overview
Green Lane, Derby DE1 1RT
Above: the decaying Hippo in early 2010 from in front and behind
• Another tale of destruction in the name of development: an important building that, under shady circumstances, has become a burnt-out wreck – though rescue may be on the horizon. This historic theatre started life as Derby Hippodrome in 1914, became a cinema in 1930, and was more recently a Walker’s bingo hall. It was sold to a property developer in 2007, and while the locals tried to save it, the poorly-protected premises became a target for vandalism and arson. Then, while “renovating” the roof in 2008, the owner’s contractors started “accidentally” smashing the walls with an immense digger, as the videos below demonstrate. The unauthorized demolition was stopped, and the case went to court, but the damage was done. The Hippodrome was left in an unhappy state, its frazzled auditorium open to the elements (you could peer in from the car park behind), and many original features lost. Meanwhile, the developer submitted plans to erect a multi-story car park on the site, and further demolish the building. Derby’s citizens have been putting up a fight against such philistinism, and there’s lots more info at the links below, including a Save Derby Hippodrome Facebook campaign. The latest news is that the council appears to have rallied behind the campaigners, threatened to bankrupt the developer, and a realistic rescue operation may now be possible. Good luck to them – you can support their Facebook campaign above, and there are links below giving the fuller story.
- youtube – The disgraceful demolition in progress
- youtube – The back-story and the developer’s so-called plans
- derbyhippodrome.co.uk – Excellent site with all you need to know about the Hippodrome and the campaign
- youtube – Mini-history-doc on the Hippodrome
- derelictplaces.co.uk – Inside the ruin with Derelict Places
- facebook – Save Derby Hippodrome Facebook group
Public loos and clock tower
The Spot, St Peter’s Street, Derby DE1
• A bit of easily-missed architectural interest: Victorian-style civic pride in an art deco stylee. You often see these thrusting clock tower / public loo combos in Victorian and Edwardian guise (draw what Freudian connotations you will), but this rectilinear 1930s version is less common. It’s opposite a large curved terrace of run-down shops in matching style, which was probably Derby’s finest mall in the 1930s, but is now at the fag-end of town (in the British sense). And it’s at the fag-end of my Derby guide, too.
Above: the art deco loos and matching shopping precinct