12 reasons to visit Derby if you live in the north of the county

Friar Gate, Derby

Friar Gate, Derby - Credit: Archant

Mike Smith sets off from his High Peak home to explore the county city and give his choice of its highlights

Vernon Street

Vernon Street - Credit: Archant

For those of us who live in north Derbyshire, our cravings for big-city entertainment, culture and shopping can be satisfied by travelling to Manchester or Sheffield, both within fairly easy commuting distance. Derby, the one and only city in our own county, is located at almost twice the distance. Would we have any reason to go there when we can find all that we need closer to hand?

To my mind, there are at least twelve good reasons why the longer trip to Derby would be a day well spent. To discover those reasons for yourself, make an early start to your journey in order to secure a place in the RCP car park in Friar Gate, where, for only £3.50, you can leave your car for the day and begin your exploration of a dozen of the city’s most delightful attractions.

Joseph Pickford's House in Friar Gate

Joseph Pickford's House in Friar Gate - Credit: Archant


Your tour begins with two of the finest streets in Derbyshire. Vernon Street, just a few yards west of the car park, may be short but it is surprisingly wide and is lined along its entire length by white-fronted houses, all designed in Regency style. The road is closed off at its far end by the massive gateway of the former County Gaol, framed by Doric columns that neatly match those on the porticoes of the houses. Friar Gate is a much longer street and is characterised by its elegant, perfectly proportioned Georgian town houses, one of which is the former home of Joseph Pickford.

Joseph Pickford at home

Joseph Pickford at home - Credit: Archant


During the reign of George III, Joseph Pickford was one of the country’s leading architects. He moved to Derby in 1763 and designed his house on Friar Gate as a means of impressing his potential clients. Opened as a museum in 1988, the house has been re-furbished and decorated in a manner that makes it easy to imagine the Pickford family living there 350 years ago. On your visit, you will meet the architect, in the form of a life-like effigy, and you will be able to pretend to be one of his clients by trying on a Georgian wig. After leaving this wonderful museum, don’t fail to visit its gardens.

'The Orrery' by Joseph Wright, Derby Museum and Art Gallery

'The Orrery' by Joseph Wright, Derby Museum and Art Gallery - Credit: Archant

Most Read


The Pickford children and their pet dog are featured in a well-known portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby, an artist who merits an entire room dedicated to his work in Derby Art Gallery. A visit to this fabulous collection will surely convince you that Wright could have been regarded as the equal of Turner if some London critics had not thought of him as a provincial artist. One of the best pictures in the room is a perfect illustration of the artist’s mastery of light and shade. It shows onlookers staring in fascination at an ‘orrery’, a model of the solar system illuminated by an oil lamp acting as the sun.

The carved doorway of the Old Bell Hotel in Sadler Gate

The carved doorway of the Old Bell Hotel in Sadler Gate - Credit: Archant


A representation of an orrery features on a plinth dedicated to Joseph Wright in Iron Gate, which is linked to Sadler Gate, a street of fine shops, including fashion outlets, interior design shops, a jewellers and a florist’s, as well as an inn with an elaborate carved doorway. Iron Gate itself is an equally attractive street, which has many bars and eating places. To interrupt your walking tour for morning refreshment, you might want to have a coffee at Birds, the well-known confectioners, or even decide to order a Champagne breakfast at Bennett’s, the oldest department store in the world.

The tower of Derby Cathedral from Iron Gate, with the Joseph Wright Memorial in the foreground

The tower of Derby Cathedral from Iron Gate, with the Joseph Wright Memorial in the foreground - Credit: Archant


Iron Gate commands a perfect view of the magnificent 16th-century tower of Derby Cathedral. After passing through the church’s elaborate entrance gates, you are likely to be surprised by the simple elegance of the interior, designed by James Gibbs in the 18th century. The east end of the cathedral was remodelled as recently as 1972, when colourful stained-glass windows, designed by Ceri Richards, were placed at the head of the two aisles. The rhythm of the abstract patterns on these stunning windows could well have been inspired by Richards’ great love of poetry and music.

The Ceri Richards window in the north aisle of Derby Cathedral - 'All Souls'

The Ceri Richards window in the north aisle of Derby Cathedral - 'All Souls' - Credit: Archant


If this is your first trip to the city, you could easily mistake the tower of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church for that of the Cathedral, because it is almost as grand. The church, designed by Augustus Pugin, sits proudly and symmetrically at the head of a footbridge over the city’s inner ring road. Everything about its interior emphasises height: the nave is tall and narrow and the pillars are slender and plain. Hailed as ‘Pugin’s Masterpiece’, the church has a simplicity that is in marked contrast with the extravagant decoration of Cheadle’s St Giles’ Church, known as ‘Pugin’s Gem’.

The soaring nave of St Mary's Church

The soaring nave of St Mary's Church - Credit: Archant


Although Pugin was inspired by medieval architecture, St Mary’s Church was actually designed in 1837, three centuries after the building of Derby’s oldest pub, the half-timbered Olde Dolphin Inne in Queen Street. If you decide to pop into the inn for a drink and a meal, you will enter a warren of cosy, oak-beamed rooms, where you will be able to choose from a wide range of cask ales and a selection of speciality steaks. You might even encounter one of the pub’s ghosts.

Ye Olde Dolphin Inne

Ye Olde Dolphin Inne - Credit: Archant


The quirkiness of the Dolphin’s 15th-century architecture is matched by the 21st-century design of Quad, Derby’s creative arts centre. In keeping with its name, the building has three façades that look like jigsaws made up of quadrilaterals, whereas the fourth side, facing the Market Place, is topped by a box-shaped, glass structure of many colours. The centre has a café, spaces that can be hired out for creative activity, two cinemas and an art gallery, where changing exhibitions make each visit to Quad a unique experience.

Quad (photo: Graham Lucas Common)

Quad (photo: Graham Lucas Common) - Credit: Archant


You will find another innovative 21st-century design inside Derby’s Council House, even though the appearance of the outside of the building is very traditional. When architect Mike Lampard was asked to re-fashion the interior so that 2,000 office staff could be fitted into a building designed for 500, he came up with open-plan office spaces on three levels and a central council chamber which looks like a flying saucer that has landed from outer space. Even if you don’t require the council’s services, make sure that you pay a visit to see this great re-fashioning of inner space.


Another imaginative internal refit took place at a Grade II-listed former bank building on Cornmarket when it was transformed into the very popular Book Café, a venue that could be likened to a 20th-century version of a London club, because delicious food and drink can be enjoyed whilst reading the daily newspaper or browsing through a good book. If you visit the Book Café on Friday or Saturday evening, you will find it has been transformed into a candle-lit restaurant with live music.


If you want to ‘shop until you drop’, Cornmarket, St Peter’s Street and the Intu indoor shopping centre are the places for you. St Peter’s Street even has two buildings of outstanding architectural interest. The medieval St Peter’s Church contains two impressive stained glass windows: a large and colourful east window and a smaller window dedicated to Florence Nightingale which was originally made for the old Derby Royal Infirmary. A statue of Florence Nightingale is one of four effigies of Derbyshire worthies which overlook the corner of St Peter’s Street and East Street from the façade of a building that was built for Boots in 1912, but is now occupied by a popular Costa Coffee Shop.


No visit to Derby should be completed without seeking out the Derby Ram, which can be spotted in statue form at the junction of East Street and Albion Street. The city’s obsession with a ram of enormous proportions stems from a legend popularised by ‘The Derby Ram’, a traditional folk song that tells of a ram that was ten yards high. Derby County FC are known as The Rams and the 2nd Battalion of the Mercian Regiment march behind a real-life ram. Our sighting of Derby’s mascot concludes our visit to a dozen top attractions that make a trip to Derby more than worthwhile for those of us who live in the north of the county, just as it is for those who have a much shorter distance to travel.

Comments powered by Disqus