Derby: City of Invention

Derby: City of Invention is a series of 12 images which form a striking visual narrative.  They tell a story about the history of Derby: a history formed by a series of strong characters with big ideas that changed the world.

Invention is part of Derby’s DNA – past, present and future.  These images portray inventive activity across arts, design, engineering, construction, physics, philosophy, astronomy, gastronomy, fashion and technology.  They tell stories of personal, local, national and globally significant innovations which shaped our past and continue to inform our present and our future.

12 images
4 locations
7 new artist commissions
Illustrating over 300 years of inventive activity in Derby.

Artists & images

James Thomson

Derby Arboretum
The first public park in England.

Our parks are part of everyday life; they are a place with no other purpose but enjoyment. They are places to walk, play and meet. They are places to sit and think. For most of our history, however, there has been no such thing as a public park. If you owned enough land you might be able to enjoy a walk in your private grounds, but for most people, formal gardens or landscaped grounds were difficult to access. In 1840, that changed, and the Arboretum Park near Osmaston Road was created and donated to the working people of Derby by Joseph Strutt, to a design by the famous architect and landscape gardener, John Claudius Louden. For the first time, anyone, regardless of wealth or power, could ‘go to the park’. This idea was so good that it spread across the country and across the world; thousands of other parks have been created but the first was here, in Derby.

Derby Museum & Art Gallery

Atlas Coelestis, first published in 1729
John Flamsteed’s study of the stellar constellations – first published in 1729.

The first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed (1646–1719), was born in Denby and educated at Derby School. His calculations recorded over many years at his new observatory at Greenwich form the basis for the Atlas Coelestis. It was published by his wife with illustrations by James Thornhill and Abraham Sharp ten years after his death. The Atlas Coelestis formed the basis for the study of the Heavens for almost 100 years.

Derby Museum & Art Gallery

The Works on the Site of the Midland Railway Terminus on Euston Road Engraving c.1867
St Pancras Station was constructed using Derbyshire steel, stone and brick, and used by trains engineered and built in Derby and adorned by a Smith of Derby station clock.

The Derby-based Midland Railway completed their London terminal, St Pancras, in 1868. The grand building was not only the height of fashion but also at the cutting edge of construction and engineering technology. The roof of the engine shed was, at the time of construction, the largest single span structure ever built. Built by Derbyshire’s Butterley Company in Ripley, it cost £117,000 (about £8,000,000 in 2011) which was about 30 per cent of the total cost of the building. The station is often seen as a little bit of Derbyshire in London.

Thomas Phillips

Herbert Spencer (1820 –1903)
Derby-born philosopher, writer and Derby Philosophical Society Secretary.

My illustration focuses on the theme of philosophy, which was inspired by researching the achievements of Derby-born philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). Spencer’s ideas on ethics and ‘Synthetic Philosophy’ became popular as people looked for a scientific alternative to religion. Credited with being the originator of the modern study of sociology, he sold over a million copies of his works, and his views on evolution followed in the footsteps of earlier scientists such as Charles Darwin and Derby’s own Erasmus Darwin (Charles’ grandfather).  Spencer was Secretary of the Derby Philosophical Society, but also had a practical nature, designing a scheme for mobile flood defences for Derby.

The image consists of a profile of Spencer, whose physical attributes are reminiscent of the stereotypical image of a philosopher – a bald head accompanied by a large beard. To highlight his intelligence his brain appears in the form of the beard. The museum has casts of his hands, which were unusually large.

Royal Crown Derby

Old Imari Solid Gold Band Litherland Vase
A masterpiece in the making.

Royal Crown Derby can trace its roots back to the founding of the Derby Porcelain factory in 1750, producing English Fine Bone China tableware, vases and ornaments.  Each piece is decorated by hand, making every piece subtly different and therefore a unique piece keenly sought after by collectors and discerning gift buyers around the world.These beautiful images show the making of the Old Imari Solid Gold Band Litherland Vase. This magnificent vase is based on a version of a shape from our museum archive collection dating back to 1903.

Bench Caster Supervisor Trevor Warner pours liquid slip into the Litherland Vase mould. This will make the main body of the mould. The mould is then drained to allow the excess slip to run off.

The mould is then opened up and the body of the vase is taken out – very carefully so as not to damage any of the intricate patterns. It is placed on a device called a whirler, upside down, and the next piece to be added is the foot of the vase. The foot, handles and lid are all brushed with slip and joined to the body of the vase. All excess slip is brushed away and all the lines are smoothed out to leave a clean finish. It is then fired in a kiln.

The handle on the lid of the vase is perhaps the most tricky to apply as it needs to be centred perfectly. If it isn’t, the gilders will encounter problems when applying the 22-carat gold after the piece has been decorated.

Finally, the finished piece is ready and fully decorated in our traditional Old Imari Solid Gold Band pattern consisting of iron red, cobalt blue, pretty stylized flowers and 22-carat hand-applied gold.

Derby Museum & Art Gallery

Whitehurst’s Franklin Clock 1750-70
An ingenious prototype clock exported to the British Colonies.

In the early years of the British Colonies in North America there was a distinct lack of raw materials available for making clocks and other household items. Benjamin Franklin worked with James Ferguson to design a clock that had fewer cogs thus reducing the quantity of materials required.

The Derby clockmaker and friend of Franklin and Ferguson, John Whitehurst (1713–1788) manufactured this clock as a prototype.  The difficulty of reading the time meant that it never caught on, but Whitehurst’s skill as a clockmaker and engineer is clearly shown.

Smith of Derby

Whitehurst Mechanical Clock, 2009
18th-century technology informing 21st-century design and engineering.

This clock connects our time with the 18th-century age of invention, and embodies the philosophy, genius and engineering discipline of scientist and inventor John Whitehurst (1713– 1788). Built to the same exacting standards in materials, finish and design, it has a global time, world polar view in engraved crystal glass which rotates in synchronisation with the turning of the earth. The jewelled movement is hand finished, polished and gold plated. It is living proof of the uncompromising and perfectionist skills which are as much part of our city today as they were 300 years ago.

Inset images:
Restoring the 1386 Salisbury Cathedral Clock
George Fox, Blacksmith, forging a replacement ‘verge’ escape wheel blank for the world’s oldest working clock in 1956.  Embracing the latest technology of their time, churches and cathedrals in the medieval period made the hours of the day known to the outside world through the invention of such bell chiming mechanisms. The word clock derives from cloche (French) and glocke (German), literally bell.

Restoring a copper ‘skeleton’ clock dial, 2010
Ian Inglis is pictured soldering the components of a traditional pattern clock for the Old Guildhall, Winchester.  As part of a major refurbishment project, the original dial was carefully dismantled to salvage as much of the historic original as possible. With computer aided design input to assist reassembly, this landmark timepiece has now reassumed its role as a centrepiece of its home city.

Building the St Pancras Station Clock, 2007
Kevin Allen welds the dial of a clock which is now looked up to by thousands of travellers a day.  Built as a faithful replica of the original Victorian timepiece, the clock blends the craft skills of pattern carving, casting, slate splitting and gilding with modern laser cutting and welding, with timekeeping accuracy provided by satellite GPS signal.

Jon Legge

The Plimsoll Line
Samuel Plimsoll, Liberal MP for Derby (1868–1880) revolutionised the shipping industry with this life-saving graphic which prevented overloaded ships from setting sail.

My image celebrates the adoption of an effective load line on sea-going ships. Samuel Plimsoll, Liberal MP for Derby (1868–1880), was a tireless campaigner for this cause, devoting much of his life to the safety of sailors and shipping. Before his reforms, hundreds of so-called ‘coffin ships’, overloaded by unscrupulous owners, sank in rough weather.

After one of the longest ever popular and parliamentary campaigns, the struggle against ship-owners and their supporters at Westminster was finally won in 1876.The Plimsoll Line became a legal requirement for British ships, resulting in an immediate drop in the number of ships sinking. The Plimsoll Line is a series of marks, painted on the hull of a ship showing its maximum safe loading, in different types of water.

Although Derby is not normally connected with maritime innovations, it is fitting that so simple an idea that saved so many lives, should be associated with a city responsible for much of the technology that drove the industrial revolution. My image represents the hull of a steamship displaying the Plimsoll Line.

Sally Lemsford

Harry M Stevens
The 19th–century Derby milkman who emigrated to America and invented the Hot Dog.

Harry M Stevens was a milkman from Derby who emigrated to America in 1880. He began by providing ice cream and soda to baseball fans. In 1887, Stevens redesigned the baseball scorecard that is still in use today. He also invented drinking straws so fans could drink soda and score the game at the same time.

On a cold day in 1901 he came up with the idea of selling ‘red hot dachshund sausages’ in long bread rolls to the crowds. They became known as Hot Dogs and are eaten and enjoyed all over the world.


Anna Boyd, Foundation Diploma in Art and Design student, Derby College

Body Sculpture
Fashion and architecture meet experimentation and innovation.

In this project, Art Foundation student Anna was required to design and construct a sculptural form that could be worn on the body. The sculpture was constructed out of circles, squares and triangles. Since the 1980s, a growing number of avant-garde designers have come to approach garments as architectural constructions, while many in the field of architecture have boldly embraced new forms and materials using techniques like pleating, seaming, folding, and draping.

Students considered the link between fashion and architecture through experimentation and innovation with structure, form and shape, using a range of methods and processes.  Anna used recycled drawings, created on a variety of papers, which she cut into squares and rolled to create her sculptural outfit in two days. Anna has completed her Art Foundation Diploma Course at Derby College, and has secured a place to study Fine Art at Kingston University, London.

Adrian Riley

Cathedral of Steam
The Derby Roundhouse – architecture in praise of the locomotive industry.

Derby Roundhouse (built 1839) is the world’s first round locomotive shed built around a turntable – a design which was much copied later elsewhere. Designed by architect Francis Thompson with engineer George Stephenson, this innovative building was part of the North Midland Railway’s impressive locomotive works. At its peak the works buildings alone covered 20 acres of land and were constructing 50 new steam locomotives a year. The Roundhouse gave 120 years of service repairing locomotives. It has now been given a fresh lease of life as part of the new Derby College campus which includes, appropriately, the engineering department.

Whilst some railway buildings consciously sought to imitate ecclesiastical architecture, the Roundhouse’s beauty is born of its functionality and to my mind, is as impressive as any cathedral. The addition of colour amongst the latticework of beams in this image forms a fictional stained-glass window. It is my homage to the brilliant minds that worked in the building, and anticipates those to come.

Original photograph © Andrew Cowell

David Booth, BA (Hons) Fine Art student, University of Derby

Sculptural Enlightenment
Cables that have the power and potential to transmit and communicate ideas.

My inspiration was the world of fibre-optic cables that lies beneath our feet. These cables have the power to transmit an immeasurable number of voices, words and images. My image is a visualisation of the ideas that hum and crackle beneath our feet.

As a futuristic visualisation of the hidden superhighway, the image straddles the extremes of outer space and the microscopic, providing a landscape in which the traveller can discover aspirational, enlightened thoughts and infinite possibilities.

I selected this image for Derby: City of Invention because the work arose from taking advantage of a mistake: I had been creating a vacuum mould of a sculptural piece when the mould cracked. I was drawn to how its fractured contours had an organic aesthetic. I have called it ‘Sculptural Enlightenment’ as a reference to Derby’s proud heritage. I wanted to express the wonder of the journey to invent. Only by experimenting and evaluating can true invention occur.

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