I was looking for a cute surprise birthday present for Victor and I turned to Groupon for some help. Though I did not find a deal I was smitten with, I did become inspired and decided to surprise him with a weekend getaway to a random English town: Derby. And no, it has nothing to do with the Kentucky Derby. This town is pronounced “DAHr-bee.”
Derby is the UK’s most central city (as it’s smack dab in the middle of Great Britain) and has plenty of history due to it being settled by the Romans. Derby then became one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution, and followed suit by incorporating railways in the 19th century. In 1717, Derby was the site of the first water powered silk mill in Britain. Supposedly John Lombe had visited the successful silk throwing mill in Piedmont in 1716 to steal the Italian secret to silk mills. This was an early example of industrial espionage! And apparently, Lombe was poisoned in an act of revenge.
Well today, the mill is a little museum which also discusses the industrial revolution in England.
Like many post-industrial towns, Derby has seen better days but is still a going concern. About 240,000 people live in and around Derby, and there is still a cultural hub to this small city. Fun fact: many deaf people moved to Derby because there is a great support system, by way of facilities. Who knew?
Downtown is humble and charming. There’s a central cathedral, a main street, and some great things to have a look around. From boutiques, to cafes, to bookstores, Derby is a perfect afternoon stroll kind of town (especially in the Cathedral Quarter).
A bigger attraction in the Cathedral Quarter is the Old Market Hall. Derby Market Hall is Britain’s first purpose-built market hall. Victor and I happened to be there for its 150th anniversary. The market has a wide range of fresh produce, as well as craft stores and places to eat.
Another major attraction is the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. While it may seem like a small, random museum at first, the museum actually displays many paintings by Joseph Wright (of Derby). For those of you who may not know, Joseph Wright was an English landscape and portrait painter and was also “the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution.“ This makes him particularly appropriate for Derby.
Besides attractions, Derby has a charming main street as well as offshoot streets full of cute cafes, shops, pubs, and restaurants. Victor and I chose one that appealed to our eyes: The Old Bell Hotel. It looked like it had a lot of character and history, and we had a great night!
So, all in all, Derby is off the beaten path when it comes to small towns to visit in England. Places like Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, and Dover usually come to mind… but Derby has a lot of real town feel.