Derby : Its Rise and Progress

By H.W. Davison

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2016

Derby - Its Rise and Progress


AUTHORITIES:- "Lichfield Diocesan History", Beresford - Itinerary, Edward I., Gough - "Historical MSS. Commission", Appendix to Third Report - "Dictionary of National Biography" - "Life of Wright", Bemrose - "Hutton's Autobiography".

ON a September day in the year 1279, a party of horsemen entered Derby by the Burton Road, their general appearance denoting the monastic brotherhood, whilst their long black cloaks, their hoods of lambs' wool, and their red hose, distinguished them as Cluniacs. Three Priors rode at the head of the party - one a stranger from France, travelling through the country, inspecting and reporting on each of the priories of his order; the other two, acting as guides and advisers, were Priors of English houses. They had journeyed along the Roman way from Wenlock Abbey, in Shropshire, where they found matters in a worldly and unsatisfactory state, and were now on their way to visit the Priory of St. James in Derby, before proceeding to


Lenton Priory, near Nottingham. Such a party, clattering through the narrow streets, and conversing loudly in Latin or Norman-French, was a common sight to the inhabitants of old Derby, giving the sort of life and colour to the town which in our day would have a strange effect.

The Religious Orders formed a large part of the community in the Middle Ages; the clergy, secular and regular, were constantly travelling on the business of their houses, and Derby, during the summer months, saw much of them. The rich abbey at Darley afforded lodging to these travellers, for hospitality was one of the humanising agencies of the time. The intercourse between Darley Abbey and the Cathedral authorities at Coventry was very close and friendly, and in the reign of Henry III, when the King wished to lay hands on several of the clergy of Coventry for disobeying his commands, they were hurried away to Darley Abbey, where they were safely hidden until the storm blew over.

The regular visitations of the more energetic of the bishops of those days often brought a large concourse of clergy together at Derby. In 1307, Walter de Langton, Bishop of Lichfield, held services at which 93 sub-deacons, 69 deacons, and 116 priests were ordained. In 1310, the Black Friars held a General Assembly at Derby, when they solicited the prayers of the King, from whose father they had received many favours. On this occasion, the Derby people would witness the spectacle of a concourse of Friars mounted on asses or mules, for although their rules forbade them to ride on


horseback, they were not disallowed the use of the humbler animals.

The royal progresses of those days were memorable events, whether made by the King personally, with his officers and retinue, or whether he travelled with his Queen and court, when the procession moved with its vanguard of four-and-twenty archers in the royal livery, carrying their long-bows, and followed by tilted wagons, emblazoned with gold and rich colours, yet lacking springs. The monastic houses were, on such occasions, the hostels for such royal and noble guests, and Darley, as the itinerary of Edward I. shows, was no exception to this rule. Several of the Plantagenet monarchs thus passed through Derby, although no details exist, except of the visits of this energetic sovereign, who may almost be said to have died in the saddle. In 1291, he travelled from Repton to Darley Abbey, where he stayed on Friday, March 23rd, passing on to Belper on Saturday; and in 1292, he came from Duffield to Darley Abbey on Sunday, February 22nd, where he lodged for the night, leaving for Garendon Abbey, across Trent.

The periodical visits of the Judge of Assize afforded occasions for the local gentry to journey to the county town to do homage to the representative of the Crown. The tradespeople, and the town generally, profited by this influx of wealthy people, and the Town Clerk of 1610 voiced the public discontent (on the Assizes being temporarily removed to Ashbourne, because of an election battle which had occurred in the streets of Derby), when he says: "It was Judge Forster's pleasure so to use the town".


An Old Court, Off Sadler Gate Bridge.


The account-book of John Rhodes, of Barlborough, High Sheriff in 1591, gives an insight into the feasting and drinking which these visits occasioned. The Assizes occupied two days in August, although the festivities lasted a week. Provisions for the Sheriff's table were brought from his country residence, including ale, flour, a fat ox, a tierce of claret, and poultry; also twenty score of loaves for his yeomen's table, with malt for their ale, which was apparently brewed in Derby. This country fare required to be supplemented by luxuries purchased in the town - white wine and sack. The judges were presented with a fat buck, a fat lamb, and five couple of rabbits, the provision bill for the week amounting to upwards of seventy-six pounds, a sum which represents only a portion of the total cost of the display, when we consider the charges, for dress and retinue, which the occasion demanded.

These visits of the county gentry to Derby, when each family brought its crowd of servants, partly for convenience, and partly for display, did not always conduce to the peace of the borough, and the picture which Shakespear has drawn of the rivalries of the Montagues and Capulets, when the servants took sides with their masters, was capable of extended application. The town scribe records in 1576, that "Sir John Zouch and Sir Thomas Stanhope assembled great numbers of persons who would have fought in the streets of Derby, but the town's bell was rung, calling the burgesses together", so that the fight was prevented The election quarrel of 1610 was a more serious affair, in which Peter Manser, coachman to Mr. Gresley, was killed, being


stabbed in the back; "slaine", says the register of All Saints', "in an ungodlie fight".[39] The townspeople were summoned as usual, by the ringing of the bell; but this time it seems that they took sides in the fighting, instead of preventing it, for after the affair the town was in a state of ferment, and the Assizes were consequently removed to Ashbourne, where five persons were indicted for the murder of Manser, and were sentenced to death, but subsequently pardoned. The other party to the quarrel, Sir Philip Stanhope, did not appear at the Assizes, and forfeited his recognisance of five hundred pounds, although ten years later, an inquiry was held to prove that he was free from blame.

These brawls and quarrels represent the manners of the time, and such conduct did not stamp a man with the mark of opprobrium, for we find Sir Ralph Sadler recommending Sir John Zouch, noticed above, in connection with the attempted riot of 1576, as a suitable man to succeed him as guardian of the Queen of Scots, being, he says, "as mete a gentleman as can be chosen.[40]


Even the clergy, in early times, were occasionally involved in quarrels. In 1252, there was a dispute between the priests of All Saints' and the monks of Darley, who "obtruded", by forcing their way into the church, to celebrate mass or to hear confessions. In 1381, William, Abbot of Dale, complained to the King that Thomas, son of Godfrey Foljambe, John Smith, of Stanley, and others, lay in wait for him at Derby, where they assaulted and threatened to kill him, driving him and his servants out of the town.

Seeing that the clergy and gentry of the Middle Ages settled their disputes with force of arms, it is no wonder that the common soldier, drawn from the poorest ranks, was often engaged in broils and riots. The custom of permitting criminals to choose between imprisonment and enlistment did not tend to raise the moral standard of the army. So late as 1803, an instance of this custom occurred at Derby, and so early as 1327, Edward III. granted a pardon to Oliver Lightlad, of Derby, for causing the death of one Simon, on condition that he joined the expedition against the Scots.

In early times, the soldiery passing through the town occasionally came to blows with the people. In 1299, the Earl of Gloucester complained to the Crown that, during his absence with the royal army in Scotland, some of his Welsh servants, carrying home his goods, were assaulted whilst passing through the town of Derby, and his property stolen. Welshmen were regarded as foreigners, for Wales had but recently been subjugated, and during this particular expedition against the Scots, the English and Welsh


composing Edward's army had quarrelled among themselves, so that the Derby people regarded the Welshmen as fair plunder. In 1601, two hundred soldiers passing through the town on Sunday, on their way to Ireland, attacked the townspeople going to church, the disturbance being quelled by the Bailiff, who rang the town's bell, and called the burgesses to arms.

Wars, domestic or foreign, continually demanded their tale of men and provisions, the former easily found, but the latter difficult to supply, by a community often suffering from famine. In 1308, the King demanded from the counties of Derby and Nottingham, for the Scottish expedition, 500 men, together with 300 quarters of wheat, 300 of oats, 200 of barley-malt, and 200 bacon hogs. In 1322, the town of Derby was held to supply armed footmen, to be chosen from the strongest men of the town, their expenses to he charged on the community.

The French wars, always popular, also drained the country of men and money. In the famous expedition of 1415, in which the great Battle of Agincourt was fought, the Derby men served under Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor, and would "remember with advantages the feats they did on Crispin's day". In the reign of Henry VIII, levies of men were still being raised for his useless French expeditions, and the subsidies to pay for them extended over four years, one of the collectors in Derby being the master-dyer, Liversage. The men were to be able-bodied, and to be furnished with liveries and badges, but nothing is said of weapons, for every yeoman could draw his own long-bow or


trail his pike. Conditions changed during the next generation, when the bow gave place to the arquebus, the primitive firearm which took so long to prepare before it could be used with effect In the muster of array for the town of Derby, taken in 1539, the old state of things prevailed - the mounted archers numbered ten, the unmounted, thirty-nine; the mounted billmen, fifty-six, the unmounted, one hundred and twenty-six. Thirty years later the Commissioners report that they cannot enforce the order respecting the exercising of the arquebusiers, part only being armed with the new weapon, also the purchase of ammunition and the providing of shooting-butts were difficulties not yet surmounted. These defects lasted many years, but in 1619, the Commissioners report from Derby that they have provided powder for the train-bands, and it is evident that the long-bow had become a weapon of the past.

Whilst kings and nobles, abbots, merchants, and soldiers were continually passing through Derby, wealthy townspeople occasionally went abroad to see the world, and to bring home wonderful stories. In 1327, Richard de Overton, of Derby, obtained the King's protection, or passport, for five years, he "going on a pilgrimage beyond seas". At the same time, Payn, the draper, one of the merchants of the Market Place, obtained a similar permission for six years. In 1519, William More, a sutler, obtained permission to go in the train of Sir Richard Wingfield, Deputy of Calais.

During the Tudor period, the ancient baths at Buxton were recommended by John Jones, "Phisition at the King's Mede nigh Darby" (1572), and in the


seventeenth century, the chalybeate springs around Quarndon must have attracted a number of substantial townspeople, for during the time of the Commonwealth, Swetnam, of All Saints', preached there on Sunday afternoons, for the benefit of visitors. The accommodation was of the same slender character as that at Buxton, and a traveller who passed through about 1720, says that the village was "pretty full of company", but afforded "wretched lodging and entertainment".

The town life of by-gone Derby was filled with variety. Like the colours of the dresses in the streets, the sombre and the gay mingled together; people took short views of life, they were easily impressed with its realities, but not deeply. The county gaol, built over St Peter's Bridge, where the prisoners might eke out the daily prison-fare of a penny loaf by begging from passing travellers, was constantly in evidence. The cries for charity were shared with those of the authorised beggars in the streets, who, in 1608, were provided by the town with money-boxes, fastened to the girdle by a chain. The poor leper from the Hospital of St Leonard, swinging his clapper to warn the passers-by of his approach, was too common an object to enlist much sympathy; so also was the parish idiot, who wandered about in a conspicuous red gown provided by the church;[41] but the unusual sight of a nun leaving the town voluntarily to immure herself in a hermit's cell for the rest of her days might probably draw a crowd of gazers. Such an


incident happened in 1509, when Joan Hythe left Derby to be enclosed in a cell of the church at Macclesfield.

During the fourteenth century, when the stone bridge, with its chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built, some of the churches in the town were replaced by structures in the Decorated style of architecture then becoming general. The old church of All Saints', whose tower is all that remains, dates from this period, the only one which has survived to our time being St. Peter's. Smaller, and perhaps less elaborate, than its neighbours which have disappeared, it still possesses points of interest. Here may be seen the remains of the chantries, where the priest officiated at masses for the soul of the benevolent Liversage and others; and high in the chancel-wall is the aperture or "squint", affording a secret watch over the altar ornaments. The east window is one of the few pieces of Gothic work remaining in Derby, the tracery showing transition towards a later style, which fixes the time of its execution in the last years of the fourteenth century.

The interior of the churches afforded more entertainment and interest than the bare and sombre appearance they present to-day. The inventories tell us of altars and side-chapels, the tapers ever burning, and the images decked in gay robes and ornaments. In All Saints' Church, the wax candles lighted before the altar were contributed by the various trade guilds of the town; those used at the altar of St Nicholas were paid for by the scholars, the task of collection being part of the schoolmaster's


duty. In the will of Richard Robinson, dated 1518, he directs that at his burial at All Saints' Church, "the choir should sing Placebo and Dirige", that five wax tapers should be lighted on his hearse in the church, and five on the seventh day ensuing.

This pomp and show displayed at the funerals of the rich did not seriously decline at the time of the Reformation, as we have already observed. Hutton gives a description of the funeral of John Lombe, of the Silk Mill, who was buried at All Saints' in November, 1722, when the procession extended from his house at the corner of Silk Mill Lane to the church, passing through the Market Place. "Besides the row of flambeaux on each side of the procession, one person in every fourth couple carried a branch with four candles weighing a pound".

A survival of the mediaeval custom of burning candles on the hearse over the grave lasted well into the nineteenth century, for on the occasion of the death of the Princess Charlotte, in November, 1817, and also on the death of George III., in February, 1820, the Mayor and Corporation of Derby, at seven in the evening, the hour of the state funeral, went in procession from the Town Hall to All Saints' Church by torchlight.

Funeral display by the rich was imitated occasionally by the poor. In January, 1834, during the great strike, one of the trades-unionist members died, and a long procession followed the corpse to the grave. Eighty women, in white dresses and hoods, walked three abreast, followed by the officers of the society, carrying the Bible and other insignia, after whom came sixteen hundred people, representing the


numerous trades, walking three abreast, and wearing white rosettes with a sprig of laurel.

Intimately connected with the churches were the charities of the town, which date, for the most part, from the seventeenth century, when, the population being small, the rich took individual and personal interest in the poor. The doles of bread or of small sums of money belong to the times when famine was periodical, and food often difficult to obtain. Richard Crowshaw, whose monument is in All Saints' Church, was a native of Derby, who migrated to London, where he grew rich as a goldsmith. His character as an active philanthropist stands high, for it is recorded that during the plague of 1625, he stayed in the city to relieve the sick poor, and at his death, in 1631, not forgetting his native town, he left a sum to provide the poor with bread and cheese, and with threepence in money on stated Sundays. Joseph Swetnam, minister of All Saints' during the Commonwealth, left sixteen shillings for ever, to be distributed among sixteen poor widows every Good Friday; and Samuel Ward's will provides that fourpence in bread shall be given each Sunday to six poor people, "of whatever persuasion, but especially them that come to church".

Of the more important charities, one, the Greycoat Hospital, which stood in Walker Lane, has disappeared, said to have been "conveyed", after the manner of much of the burgess' property. The Wilmot Hospital, for ten poor men and women, was built in Bridge Gate in 1630, being known as the "Black Almshouses", because of the dress prescribed for the inmates. The original timbered


houses were replaced in 1814 by more modern cottages.

At the east end of All Saints' Church stand the Almshouses, now untenanted, originally built by "Bess of Hardwick" (1599), towards the close of a long life spent in amassing wealth and power. Her instructions to the inmates show the strong business characteristics of this lady, also her love of order and detail. She appoints Richard Hayward and his wife, Dorothy, to be custodians of the Almshouses, and to be responsible for the behaviour of the inmates, who must assemble in All Saints' Church each morning and evening, to pray for the foundress and her family. Moreover, Mistress Dorothy is to be entrusted with the key of the chapel in All Saints' Church, where she "shall at least every week, once or oftener, as need shall require, cleanse, dust, and sweep over the monument" of the Countess.

Alas! for the vanity of human greatness. The vault containing the coffins of this proud lady and her descendants, with all the tawdry and mouldering surroundings of the charnel-house, was for many years made a peep-show for the benefit of the church officers.[42]

The Liversage trust is one of those few charities which has grown with time. Its modern proportions would probably astonish the founder, who, in pre-Reformation times, left his property, partly to the


mass-priest of St. Peter's, and partly to thirteen poor men and women, who should attend Friday's mass, and receive each a silver penny; and Hutton draws a picture of the weekly scramble in the church porch, where there were always more applicants than pence. As the property grew in value, almshouses were erected in St Peter's Churchyard, to be replaced later by others, which have long formed a pleasing picture on the London Road.

The religious life of the Middle Ages was mingled with a strong belief in the miraculous. In Derby, the shirt of Thomas à Becket, the Red Book, with its wonderful power, and the relics of St. Alkmund, were among the objects of veneration. Even after the Reformation, when their sacred character had disappeared, Fuller tells us that the chapmen from the north country were accustomed to lay their packs on St Alkmund's shrine for luck. Another instance of the credulity of the people is shown in the account of the execution of the Popish priests in 1588, when one of them, unrobing himself for the punishment, exposed a hair shirt which, according to the custom of his faith, he wore next his body for penance, and the crowd, imagining something supernatural, at once cried out: "A devil! a devil!"

In the thirteenth century records of Burton Abbey appear several detailed accounts of marvellous signs displayed in the heavens, all elaborately done into Latin by the Abbey scribe. On October 14th, 1253, according to this chronicle, a wonderful sight was witnessed at Alvaston, near Derby, by a large number of people, one of whom, Nicholas of Findern, duly reported it to the Abbey authorities. About


the hour of vespers, the sky being clear, suddenly a large bright star appeared out of a black cloud, with two smaller stars in the vicinity. A battle royal soon commenced, the small stars charging into the great star again and again, so that it began to diminish in size, and sparks of fire fell from the combatants. This continued for a considerable time, and at last the spectators, "stupefied by fear and wonder, and ignorant of what it might portend, fled".[43]

Along with these marvellous stories, our monastic annals nevertheless preserve much of the history of the time - remarkable local events, including records of serious floods in the Trent valley, and town fires, which caused the Abbot to remit his dues.

Even the religious houses, the most substantial buildings of those days, did not escape the ravages of fire, and the narrow streets and low thatched houses made the danger greater to the general community. A fire at St. James', in 1335, destroyed the church, the priory, and the hospital, being practically the whole of the monastery; and the fire at the Nunnery, about the year 1400, has already been noticed.

Thatch was a common feature in the town as late as the seventeenth century, for in the report of a hurricane, in 1662, which untiled the Town Hall and worked much other mischief, it is curiously stated that, north of All Saints' Church, "not a tile, scarce a straw, stirred off any house". Every great fire


caused general alarm, as it was not uncommon for towns to be completely gutted, and during a fire in the Wardwick, in 1668, the fear of a general conflagration spread as far as Irongate, where people began to remove their goods. It is evident that the impression caused by the great fire of London (1666) was still fresh in the public mind.[44]

In the year 1717, the records of All Saints' mention a fire-engine, showing that the primitive method of extinguishing fires by ladder and bucket had then been superseded. These parish engines, however, threw only a feeble stream of water, and being fed with buckets, instead of suction-hose, were never very effective. In March, 1769, a fire broke out in a row of thatched cottages at Abbey Barns, which burnt off the whole roof, although several engines were present; and the accounts of later fires show very similar misfortunes. In June, 1817, a fire began at night at a mill in Bridge Street, used for several purposes, the upper story forming the newly-established Bell's School. The watchman gave the alarm, and the bells of the different churches woke up the town, yet, despite the efforts of seven parish engines, the flames reached Davenport's mill, adjoining, which was destroyed, story after story, the neighbouring dwelling-houses being saved only by a constant shower of water. Many people were thrown out of employment, but the school children rejoiced that the desks and books were destroyed,


promising a long holiday. The crowd was kept at a safe distance by the soldiers of the 95th Regiment, who formed a cordon around the conflagration.

There was always abundance of help on these occasions, and alacrity was generally shown in getting the appliances to work. On the occasion of a serious fire at the Exchange Buildings, in Nottingham Market Place, on November 26th, 1836, expresses were despatched to summon engines from the neighbouring towns, and St. Werburgh's engine, from Derby, was on the scene in less than three hours after the trooper left Nottingham with his message. In April, 1838, a trial was made with St Peter's engine, which threw a jet of water over the weather-vane of the Town Hall, but the delivery hose was found to be defective, although the engine had lately undergone repairs; and it was not until the system of water-mains and hydrants was instituted that any effective use of the engines could be made in case of fire.

This was unfortunately made too plain in the conflagration which destroyed the Town Hall on Thursday, October 21st, 1841. A policeman discovered the outbreak at two o'clock in the morning, the town being at once aroused by the cries of "Fire!" and the noise of bells and rattles. The engines were quickly on the spot, and cordons were arranged to pass water along, but the buckets were few and organisation was defective. The "Niagara", in front of the Town Hall, was fed by a line of buckets from the Market Place pump, but the waste was great, the helpers were wet through, and the report says that the engines played "as long and


as frequently as they could obtain supplies of water".[45] The fire broke out in an upper room at the rear of the building, and the first engine began to play at this point, several others being stationed at the front, but all without the slightest effect, the cry for water being general.

About four o'clock, the roof began to give way, the flames rising above the building made an awful spectacle, and the Cross Keys Inn and adjoining houses being in danger, it became necessary to remove the furniture. About five, the fire had burned downwards to the ground floor, and from the Market Place the building, with its many windows, presented one immense blaze. By daybreak, the fire was deadening for want of fuel, and by six o'clock, it had practically burnt itself out, leaving nothing but the shell of the building; the town records, extending over centuries, being destroyed, and "nothing saved except the Chamberlain's papers, which were in the safe. The building was insured for five thousand pounds, estimated at about one-half of its value.

A periodical calamity which has already been noticed, was flooding, caused by the overflow of the Markeaton Brook. Although the first record belongs to the year 1587, the chronicles of Burton Abbey mention disastrous inundations in the Trent valley as early as the thirteenth century, and the flood in Derby in 1611, described as "in the memory of man, the like was never seen", implies comparison with a


succession of earlier visitations. In September, 1659, there wa s a serious flood, "the lower parts of Derby town being almost drowned", the inhabitants being compelled to betake themselves and their goods into the upper stories. On Sunday, July 19th, 1673, the water rose in the night, standing two feet high in the middle aisle of St. Werburgh's Church, the warden assuring us "it weare masured". "Such a flood", he says, "was not known in our age before". In the town, the destruction caused was widespread; bridges were broken down, one at St. James' Lane being carried some distance down the stream, and "landed at the pump in St. Peter's Parish". The hay lying on Nun's Green was carried away, along with other property, the inn-cellars in the Corn Market were flooded, the water rising "near, if not quite, to the Shambles' End". This flood seriously interfered with the Assizes, the Judges having arrived; but very few magistrates or jurymen appeared, as some of the roads were impassable.

The flood of 1740, already noticed, is described as "the greatest ever known", although its height is not officially recorded. The height of the flood of 1795 was marked on the door of an outhouse near St. Werburgh's Church, showing that the brook rose about twelve feet; the statement that it was a greater flood than had occurred for fifty years avoiding comparison with that of 1740.

The last deluge of any serious moment occurred on the morning of Friday, April 1st, 1842, the town at that period having attained to a high degree of wealth and prosperity. A temporary check was caused by this outbreak, which did damage to the amount of

 THE FLOOD OF 1842.209

twenty-five or thirty thousand pounds - the most disastrous, from a financial point of view, of the many floods recorded. The brook began to rise about midnight, and by two o'clock, the watchmen, perceiving through the deluge of rain that the adjoining streets were becoming flooded, proceeded to alarm the town. By this time, the water was rising rapidly, and much difficulty was experienced in removing cattle into places of safety. Numbers of sheep and pigs were drowned, and horses and cows belonging to small tradesmen were, in many cases, lost before the owners could reach them; although Mr. Wedge, a brewer, whose stables were near the Wardwick, managed, with the assistance of a few energetic neighbours, to release his horses, and remove them up Green Lane . A gentleman staying at the King's Head Inn looked out about four o'clock in the morning, to find the yard a huge tank, the horses in the stables standing in the water up to their bodies.

The pressure of water eventually burst open the shop doors, damaging or destroying the goods of grocers, silk-mercers, drapers, and others, the local papers giving a long list of tradesmen affected. Mr. Joseph Strutt's collection of pictures and curios, always freely shown to strangers at his house, in St Peter's Street, was damaged, to the extent of £1,000. The gas-works was drowned out, and the following night was made gloomier by the absence of gas. The brook rose fourteen feet, the water in St. Werburgh's Church standing one foot, and in the Corn Market five feet six inches, high, and receded about noon, leaving a deposit of mud and filth which made business for a time impossible, the


loss being the greater as the shops held extra stocks for the Easter fair visitors. Unfortunately, a fatality occurred in Brook Street, where a woman, on being awakened by the strange noise, attempted to follow her husband downstairs, and, missing her footing in the darkness, was drowned. Since then a modern system of drainage has prevented these occasional rises in the brook from working serious mischief.[46]

Four years later, another ancient feature of social life, regarded by many as an annual nuisance, disappeared, when the Shrove Tuesday football was finally suppressed.

This rough game, which in earlier times had been the sport of the whole of the apprentice element in the town, gradually became relegated to the lusty few, who retained the ruder characteristics of their ancestors. There is no record of the origin of this custom in Derby, although several local traditions exist; but as it was played on Shrove Tuesday, an old apprentice holiday; as the custom had been for the Mayor to throw the ball from the Guildhall window, and as the game was not peculiar to Derby, but was a national sport in the Middle Ages, it may have come down from the establishment of the Trade Guilds and the apprentice system.


Hutton tells us that the game went on merrily in his day, players often leaping into the river in hot pursuit of the ball, even when snow lay upon the ground. Some of the neighbouring gentry, also, strongly advocated it, although conducted without much rule, the roughest horseplay being allowable, and the shortest road to the goals being taken, often to the destruction of property. On the morrow, the victorious crew, bearing aloft the Tunchy Shenton of the hour, who had punched the ball at midnight on to the mill-wheel at Nun's Green, or "the Gallows balk", near the Depôt on Rose Hill, paraded the town, soliciting contributions.

A letter in the Mercury of February, 1815, indicates that the intelligent section of the population were averse to this annual suspension of law and order. The writer, a commercial traveller, finding business suspended for the day, went with a friend to the Market Place, where the crowd soon separated them. He himself was struck over the face with a "dirty clout", and found it necessary to retire up a court, and wash at the pump; yet, in spite of this rough treatment, the writer evidently enjoyed the fun, and pours his scorn on those Derby "philosophers".[47] who exclaimed, "What low work, what a contemptible object!" whilst the multitude of men, women, and children applauded the sport. The Market Place was given over for the day to lawless jesting, people of


gentle manners avoiding that quarter of the town; although a letter in the Mercury of February, 1844, complains, that the rough element did not confine themselves to this recognised quarter, for the writer and other peaceable people were assaulted in the Wardwick by a band of men carrying small bags of soot, with which they begrimed the clothes and faces of the passers-by.[48] Another letter from a gardener on the outskirts bewails the damage done to his fences and crops by the passing of players over his property, and complains that, being outside the borough, he has no remedy.

As early as 1731, Hutton records that the Mayor, Isaac Borrow, attempted tb suppress the game, and again, in 1747, it was forbidden, but the populace proved too strong for the authorities during another century. In 1832, the Mercury denounced football, and in 1845 characterised it as "dirty, unmanly, and absurd play". The Mayor in that year attempted to stop it by substituting sports in the Holmes, on condition that the ball was not thrown, but about two o'clock, a small crowd commenced to play, whereupon the sports in the Holmes were abandoned, much to the disappointment of the people assembled there.

In 1846, it was determined to adopt stronger


measures. Two troops of Dragoons were brought in from Nottingham, and the centre of the town was patrolled by special constables. Footballs were thrown in different places, some near the Morledge, and one coming from a public-house. The crowd attempted to play, but was broken-up and interrupted by the special constables, under the supervision of the Mayor, Mr. W. Eaton Mousley, who, whilst moving in the midst, was struck on the shoulder with a brickbat; but finding after about an hour's play that his powers were insufficient, the Riot Act was read, whereupon the troopers scattered the players. During the remainder of the afternoon, Derby was under martial law, and the old townsmen, ignorant of its meaning, and stopping at street corners to exchange the time of day, as usual, suddenly beheld a dragoon bearing down upon them with uplifted sword, and were obliged to retire precipitately into the nearest shop or entry.[49]

In the sequel, several "rioters" were brought before the magistrates, and committed for trial at the Assizes, when the prosecuting counsel summed up the situation by showing that when the town was small, the game was allowable, the number of players being comparatively few, but the population had grown considerably during the past fifty years, and the custom had become an insufferable nuisance. The court admitted the force of the complaint,


although it dismissed the prisoners, considering the charge not of a serious nature.

Next year, troops were again brought into the town in readiness, but nothing unusual occurred, and Derby football of the old style became a tradition of the past.

Another rough sport of an age which took and gave hard knocks was cock-fighting, associated with Cockpit Hill from early times, although, in 1617, a new cock-pit was built on Nun's Green for the gentry of that quarter of the town. It was a sign of the improvement of the age that, during the latter part of the eighteenth century, this sport was practised more privately by being held at some public-house, sometimes in Derby, but oftener at the "Saracen's Head" at Brailsford

A contrast to these rude traits of character is the picture of the Town Waits - a small company of musicians who, at intervals, perambulated the streets after nightfall, serenading the more substantial burgesses, and not forgetting the county gentry at the Assizes and at other times. In the list of expenses incurred by John Rhodes, Esq., High Sheriff in 1591, occurs an item, "The waytes of Derby 2s. 6d". On State occasions, they preceded the Mayor and Corporation from the Town Hall to All Saints' Church, their instruments being a hautboy, three violins, and a bass viol, together with a trumpet and French horn.

Another species of town music more highly prized in its early days, was the carillon of All Saints', constructed by Sorocold, the millwright, and improved by Whitehurst, the clockmaker, who bears the credit


of having added the tune for Friday - Handel's "March in Scipio".[50]

To the names of those men who have helped to make the commercial position of the town, from John de la Cornere and his successors, Liversage, Lombe, Whitehurst, Duesbury, and Strutt, down to its capable men of to-day, may be added the names of the few who, connected with the town by birth or association, have attained to fame, national or world-wide.

John Flamsteed, the son of a maltster, was born at Denby in 1646, whither his parents had removed from their home in Queen Street, on account of the plague. He lived in Derby for the first twenty-five years of his life, being educated at the Grammar School. An inclination for astronomical work showed itself early, for at sixteen years of age he observed a partial solar eclipse, and constructed a quadrant, after the manner of the old astronomers, with which he measured roughly the sun's altitude, pursuing his studies under the "discouragement of friends, want of


health, and of all other instructors, except his better genius". At fourteen, he contracted rheumatism, due to bathing, and his life henceforth was a long struggle between a strong will and feeble health. At twenty-two, he observed another eclipse, using his clumsy instruments with sufficient skill to discover that the old tables of the positions of the heavenly bodies were very inaccurate. He thereupon began his life-long work of correcting and supplementing these tables, a labour of fifty years, during which he worked with inefficient instruments and straitened means.

At the age of twenty-four, he went to London, where he was introduced to Sir Jonas Moore, Surveyor-General of Ordnance at the Tower and a great mathematician, who noticed his genius, and procured lenses for his telescopes. These he used on his return to Derby, afterwards removing them to the new Observatory at Greenwich, together with his three-feet quadrant, when he was established there by the King, at the age of thirty.

During the following thirteen years, he fixed the positions of twenty thousand stars, his object being to provide tables which should enable the mariner to find his longitude at sea. At forty-two, his father died, and his circumstances being improved, he extended his apparatus, and secured still greater accuracy, his results being largely used by Newton, his contemporary, whose superior genius has overshadowed the importance of the work which Flamsteed accomplished. He died at the age of seventy-three, correcting and extending his great scheme to within a few days of his death.


Evelyn, a man possessing wide experience of human nature, says, in his diary, under date September 10th, 1676: "Din'd with me, Mr. Flamsted, the learned astrologer and mathematician. An honest sincere man".

Another town celebrity was Joseph. Wright, the painter, known as "Wright of Derby", who was born at No. 28, Irongate, in 1734 Like Flamsteed, he received his education at the Grammar School, but unlike the astronomer, he, after various wanderings, returned to his native town, most of his best work being done at St. Helen's House, where he resided. His pictures include landscapes, portraits, and studies in chiaroscuro - the curious effects of strong lights and deep shadows, with which he is most generally associated. The result of a century's criticism, however, has established his reputation chiefly as a portrait painter, the best of his pictures in this class showing "sincerity and thoroughness, a true insight into character, being finely modelled and well painted". Among the local people of note whose features were handed down to posterity by Wright, are Erasmus Darwin, the philosopher; Christopher Heath, the banker who figured in the election trial of 1776; Whitehurst, the clockmaker; and several portraits of Wright himself. He died at No. 26, Queen Street, August 29th, 1797, and was buried in St. Alkmund's Church three days later.

Erasmus Darwin, although not a native of Derby, lived in the town and its immediate neighbourhood from 1781 until his death in 1802. One of his residences was the large house situated at the southern bend of Full Street, the water supply


being obtained in his day from an artesian well which he bored on the premises. As already noticed, he was connected with much practical work in the town, and a story is also told of his addressing the Derby working-men from a tub in the Market Place, on the importance of sanitation. "Do not suppose", said he, "because I give you advice without a fee, that it is useless. Open your windows, to let in the fresh air".[51] He was, nevertheless, regarded by many of his neighbours as a man of extreme views, and his circle of admirers among the Derby gentry must have been limited. To people with strong religious convictions, like Dr. Johnson, a short acquaintance with this outspoken philosopher was sufficient; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who spent three days in Derby in January, 1796, gives, in his Biographia Literaria, a one-sided account of his meeting with Dr. Darwin, when they engaged in a religious discussion, which appears to have been of a somewhat heated character. He traverses the doctor's arguments at great length, yet allows that he "possessed, perhaps* a greater range of knowledge than any man in Europe, and was the most inventive of philosophical men".

Without endorsing this eulogium, it may be remembered that Darwin's Botanic Garden, published five years before, contains the prophetic lines:-

"Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam! afar
Drag the slow barge and drive the rapid car".


The theory of evolution, originated by Erasmus Darwin, was elaborated by a later townsman, Herbert Spencer, whose father and grandfather were school-masters in Derby. Spencer, in his autobiography, states that he was born on April 27th, 1820, at No. 12, Exeter Row, and that the family afterwards lived at No. 31, Wilmot Street, much of his youth and early manhood being spent in Derby, where he planned some of his work. During the series of lectures for the winter of 1830-1, he heard Spurzheim, the phrenologist, and was somewhat awestruck at the row of skulls ranged in front of the lecturer. During these early years, he did work in connection with the Philosophical Society, and in 1842, as a young engineer, he contributed a report to the Town Council on the recent flood, suggesting measures for its prevention. His principal works were written in London and at Brighton, where he died on December 8th, 1903.

Among local celebrities, the man whose personality is best known to the people of Derby is William Hutton, the town historian, who was born in Full Street on September 30th, 1723, and whose autobiography is a fund of information respecting the working-class in Derby in the early half of the eighteenth century.

His father was a woolcomber, shiftless and improvident, and, like many of his neighbours, too fond of the ale-house. Nevertheless, he was a man of some mental capacity, who taught his children to read, borrowed the local newspaper, and was able to give sound opinions on many subjects. During the two years after finishing his apprenticeship he dressed


well, having saved thirty pounds, and wore a watch, unusual in those days. Marriage, however, soon exposed a lack of application; and debts accumulating, poverty and misery became their general lot His wife, although a prudent woman, could do little to remedy these evils, which grew worse after her death in 1733, when William was nine years old, being one of five children.

Their poverty was indeed pitiable. At times, mother and children passed the day fasting, and when food came, she divided her own share among them. On Christmas Day, 1728, one of the children was sent from King Street to the Morledge to borrow a dinner-knife, and the girl was returning unsuccessful, when she found one in the road, the family-rejoicing over this fortunate circumstance making an impression on Hutton's memory.

Naturally, their food was of the coarsest. Even in the early married days there was nothing, excepting ale, which could be called a luxury. Hutton remembered that at two years of age, when he and an elder brother began school, a girl, on market days, brought their dinner of buttered oat-cakes, a common food in Derby at that period, and earlier, for an aunt of his, whom he could well remember, "supplied Derby with oat-cakes during three-score years". White bread was a rarity, "blencon", or blended corn - a cheap mixture of wheat and rye - forming the household loaf. Their breakfast was milk porridge when their father was steady, but when work was thrown aside for the ale-house, there was often nothing in the cupboard. "At one time", says Hutton, "I fasted from breakfast one day to noon


the next", and then dined upon a hasty pudding, made of flour and water. The height of luxury was apparently boiled beef and cabbage, his brother Samuel boasting that when billeted as a soldier at a public-house in Derby, he lived on this fare for six months.

Hutton's schooling was naturally of a fragmentary character, and was soon completed. From the school mentioned he was removed, when five years old, to that of Thomas Meat, who sought to impart knowledge by seizing his pupils by the hair, and "jowling their heads against the wall".

Neither were home influences more softening. His father, morose when not in liquor, was a strong believer in the power of the rod. Kindness and gentle behaviour were unusual; when Hutton, aged five, was brought home by his mother, after an absence in Leicestershire of fifteen months, his father simply saluted him with "So, Bill". In 1734, Hutton's sister, aged fourteen, paid them a visit, after an absence of five years. On returning, her father called her to his bedside, gave her a kiss and two shillings at five o'clock in the morning, as she departed alone to find the Leicester wagon in the darkness. A glimpse of parental affection was shown on Hutton's tenth birthday, when his father treated the household to a quart of twopenny beer.

An aunt who married well, and who lived in Herefordshire, paid a visit to her relations in Nottingham in 1736, and Hutton, with his father and brother, meeting her, their lack of etiquette attracted her notice. "Billy", said she, "it is not good


manners to sit in the house with your hat on" - a lesson which Hutton never forgot.

At seven years of age, he began work at the Silk Mill, the hours being from five in the morning until seven at night, and the wages one shilling a week. As he was too small to reach the machine, a pair of high pattens was specially made for him, and these clumsy contrivances he dragged about for a year.

The recollections of his seven years at the Silk Mill were mainly of a miserable character. He speaks of the "ignorance and vulgarity" of the mill-hands, who neither learned, nor wished to learn, anything of an elevating nature; the mill was "a bear garden", where impudence and rudeness were the general characteristics. The slightest mistake on the part of these children was a signal for the rod, the culprit being hoisted on the back of a tall fellow, Bryan Barker, whilst punishment was inflicted. The child Hutton was terrorised by these constant cruelties, the story being well known of his awakening one morning to find it daylight, and hurrying to the mill in fear. The frost and snow had glazed the streets, and the boy fell nine times in his short journey along Full Street. He was surprised to find the mill in darkness, for the light from the snow had deceived him, and on returning home, the church clock struck two. Even at the age of thirteen, when his apprenticeship was nearing its close, the same rude discipline prevailed. His master, Richard Porter, beat him severely with a cane, leaving a wound, which, by a succeeding punishment, was seriously aggravated, and Hutton was advised to betake himself


to Kedleston Spa, where, by bathing, he effected a cure, although he carried the mark to the grave.

Still, there were occasional pleasant interludes, even in this sordid daily round at the Silk Mill. The clerk who bribed Hutton to leave the Meeting House and attend church, privately observed the boy playing push-pin; but his method of correction dispensed with the rod. Approaching Hutton in the mill, he went through the game of push-pin in dumb show, to the chagrin of the culprit, for, says Hutton, "he brought the laugh of the whole room upon me". On another occasion, his hat blew off in the mill-yard into the Derwent, whereupon Mr. Thomas Bennett, the manager, sent him to a hatter's for a new one. Such an opportunity seldom happened, and Hutton chose one with a silver tassel, and was the envy or admiration of all the mill-boys. During the summer of 1735, the mill, owing to the river being low, was partially stopped, and the children enjoyed a holiday.

At fourteen, he left the place which had given him a "seven years' heartache". With his knife, he cut his initials and date, "W.H., 1737", on one of the frames, and at Christmas he was free.

After some uncertainty, he bound himself, at Nottingham, for another seven years to a stockinger, during which period he often came to Derby for a few days. In 1745, he spent Christmas at home, when all the talk was of the rebels. The next year, he began to bind and repair old books, and in 1749, having decided to adopt this trade, he walked from Nottingham to London to purchase suitable tools, performing the double journey in nine days. In


1750, he removed to Birmingham, where he established himself as a bookbinder and bookseller, and where he spent the remainder of his long life, becoming wealthy and respected.

As old age crept on, his native town saw him at intervals; in 1790, the year before the publication of his History of Derby, and again in 1803, when he found that every person he had known at the Silk Mill was in the grave. "I frequently singled out and accosted an old man", he says, "when it appeared that I had known his father". In 1808, he went to the Silk Mill, and saw the initials which he cut with his knife, sixty-six years before. In 1810, he passed through Derby, and saw the workmen demolishing the house between the Town Hall and the Corn Market, where, when he first went to school, the maid brought his dinner of buttered oatcake.

During one of these later visits, he remarked that the "town is increasing and rising in opulence", yet he never forgot the harsh treatment meted out to him as a boy, and drew an unfair contrast between Derby, slow and old-fashioned, and Birmingham, the town of freedom and progress.

He was so little remembered in Derby, that, when chronicling his death in September, 1815, the Mercury stated that "he was a native of Nottingham".

[Image] EXETER HOUSE, FULL STREET Pulled down 1854.

[39] The entry in the Register-book thus appears: - "1610. March 9. Buryed one Peter Manser who being servant to Mr. Grieslie, an esquier of Staffordshier, was here slaine in an ungodlie fight, being wounded in the back". The man was probably an Irishman, and his name Mansergh.
[40] This practice of local fighting between gentlemen aided by their retainers gradually changed into personal fights, or duels. In 1736, an encounter of this nature came off at the Shakespear Tavern, between Lord Southwell and the Honourable John Stanhope, M.P. for the borough; and a later somewhat ludicrous "affair of honour" is reported in the local press in 1794, when two young bucks, Mr. S. and Mr. M., having quarrelled the previous evening, repaired to Nun's Green in the early morning, with their friends and a surgeon, whose assistance, however, was not required, for after firing several rounds without effect, the seconds decided that honour was satisfied, and we are told that all ended amicably.
[41] The wardens' accounts of 1695 record "A new gown for Mad Margery, thirteen shillings".
[42] The principal object of curiosity in this vault was a leaden coffin, into the corner of which a hole had been broken by some sacrilegious rascal, enabling the sexton to thrust in a lighted candle to afford a view of the skeleton, supposed to be the remains of "the long-armed Duke who could tie his garters below the knee without bending his back".
[43] Against this story, it may be noted that in 1255, about Ascension, a sturgeon, eight feet long, was caught in the Trent at Castle Donington, when old people remembered that a similar fish was caught in the same place the year before King John was crowned, or fifty-seven years earlier.
[44] Thatched roofs were not at all uncommon in Derby at a much later date. The Old White Horse and the Rising Sun Inns in Friar Gate, with cottages adjoining, will be remembered by many as examples, as well as the half-timbered cottages opposite to St. Werburgh's Church and others in Silk Mill Lane.
[45] The old "Niagara" became the recognised type of public inefficiency, and no sarcastic squib-writer failed to adopt it when drawing attention to the mighty promises and slender performances of local politicians.
[46] A Derby man, whose family at that time occupied a humble position in the town, recollects, as a boy of five, sitting at the stair head, in their old cottage in Bold Lane, observing the household effects afloat in the room below. Meanwhile, an elder brother reaped a small harvest of coppers by cruising around, on an old door, acting as errand boy for the flood-bound neighbourhood. One who is still living, nine years old at the time, well remembers being launched in a wash-tub in the cellars of the Bell Hotel, to save some rare old wines laid down in the previous century by his great-grandfather, Mr. Campion.
[47] This curious use of the word "philosopher" is stereotyped in Boswell's account of a conversation between Dr. Johnson and his old college friend, Mr. Edwards. "You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson", said Edwards. "I have tried too, in my time, to be a philosopher; but I don't know how - cheerfulness was always breaking in".
[48] This delightful amusement was known as "dusting"; bags of loosely-woven canvas were filled with powder-colours procured from Ellam's or Pegg's works. The victim was attacked first from the rear, and then, as he turned round to identify his assailant, he was "dusted" on all sides - blue, white, red, yellow and black until, half-blinded and wholly angry, he managed to make his escape. The "dusters" worked entirely among lookers-on upon the outskirts of the play, and any unpopular person was certain to be the object of their attention.
[49] More amusement than sympathy was aroused, when a trooper, cantering down College Place in the dusk of the evening, and ignorant of the existence of the steps at the further end, rolled with his horse into Full Street.
[50] There is no other authority than Woolley's MS. for Sorocold in this connection, the church accounts being silent about him. He was an ingenious mechanic, and may have taken the chimes in hand for repair, but certainly did not originate them, their existence from the sixteenth century being proved by the records of "the church. The books are equally unmindful of the elder Whitehurst, who is known to have entirely remodelled the chiming apparatus, and to have set new tunes to the cylinder, most likely between 1745, when the clock was set up, and 1762, in which year the churchwardens paid a guinea "for setting two tunes on the chimes". One of these was Handel's "Grand March" in the opera of Scipione He died in 1788, and in 1798, the churchwardens' books record that they "paid Mr. Whitehurst's bill for setting a tune on the chimes. God save the King. £5 5s. 0d." It is, therefore, to the younger Whitehurst that Derby is indebted for the National Anthem.
[51] Miss Seward places the delivery of this speech at Nottingham, but as a writer in Chamber's Journal for 1847 (p. 221) locates it at Derby, the incident may have occurred at both places.

OCR/transcript by Rosemary Lockie in November 2016.

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