Discover Derbyshire

Take a tour through the historic county of Derbyshire in the heart of England.

Langleys New Map of Derbyshire (1817) by Edward LangleyDerbyshire Record Office

About Derbyshire

Derbyshire lies in the English Midlands, with sheep-dotted hills, dales and cliff edges to the north, and clay-rich southern plains. The city after which the county is named lies on the River Derwent. It was founded by the Romans as Derventio and renamed Derby by the Vikings.

Duke II, ram mascot of the 6th Battalion Notts and Derbys Regiment (1911) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

The Derby Ram

The symbol of Derby originates in tales of a giant ram that probably date back to pagan rituals. They evolved into a folksong sung on New Year's Eve. It was already commonplace by 1739 when the vicar of St. Alkmund's, Derby, wrote of 'as long a tale as that of the Derby Ram'.

Creswell Crags (1789) by V. GreenDerbyshire Record Office

Prehistoric Derbyshire

In the North East district of Bolsover lies Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge filled with caves and rock shelters used by Ice Age hunters over 45,000 years ago. Church Hole cave contains the oldest cave art in the UK with images of bison, reindeer, birds, and abstract symbols.

Bronze fibulae found in excavations at Creswell Crags, Jackson J W, 1920, From the collection of: Derbyshire Record Office
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Engraved bone found in excavations at Pinhole Cave, Creswell Crags, Jackson J W, 1920, From the collection of: Derbyshire Record Office
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Archaeologists have found fossil animal bones including mammoth and hyena, as well as flint and later bronze artefacts at Creswell Crags.

Illustration of the crypt of Repton Church (1850) by S F EveryDerbyshire Record Office

The Dark Ages

Repton in South Derbyshire was the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the church's  Anglo-Saxon  crypt is the burial place of two Mercian kings. Ninth century Viking burials have also been found nearby from when the Vikings overwintered at Repton.

Church of Saint Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, known as the Crooked Spire (1905) by Scott Russell & CoDerbyshire Record Office

Chesterfield

One of Medieval Derbyshire's most recognisable buildings is in Chesterfield, the county's largest town. The crooked spire of St Mary's and All Angels, built in the 1300s, leans nearly 9 feet to the south. The twist is probably due to the spire being built with unseasoned timber.

Mam Tor, Castleton (1980/1990) by D D BrumheadDerbyshire Record Office

The Peak District

The hills and valleys of North West Derbyshire are recognised as an area of outstanding beauty.  This part of the county is known as the Peak District and is England's first National Park.  It is divided into the rugged Dark Peak and the more gentle White Peak.

The Opera House, Buxton (1907) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Buxton

The attractive spa town of Buxton is surrounded by the Peak District. The Buxton Opera House, built in 1903, is the cultural heart of the town.  It is the home of the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, part of the annual summer Buxton Festival.

Sheep shearing at Booth Farm, Hayfield in Derbyshire (circa 1900) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Sheep farming

The Derby Ram is a fitting symbol for Derbyshire as the hills of the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales are ideal for grazing. Sheep farming has been an important element of the county's economy for hundreds of years. Elsewhere in the county, other industries took hold.

Photograph of miners finishing their shift at a Clay Cross Company colliery (Circa 1920) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Coal mining

Derbyshire is rich in metals, stone and coal.  People mined coal for centuries, but with the coming of the railways, coal could be exported around the country and coal mining became a major industry around Chesterfield, in North East Derbyshire and South Derbyshire.

Richard Arkwright's Mill at Cromford (1787) by Derbyshire Archaeological SocietyDerbyshire Record Office

Cotton spinning

In the Derbyshire Dales, Britain's first water powered cotton spinning mills were established along the Derwent Valley.  Built in the 1770s they introduced the Factory System and changed industrial practices throughout the world.  They are now a World Heritage Site.

Workers operating machinery in R Granger and Sons Ltd lace factory (circa 1930s) by R Granger and Sons Ltd of Long EatonDerbyshire Record Office

Lace making

Along the Erewash valley, which borders the neighbouring county of Nottinghamshire, a different textile industry predominated. Nottingham is famous for its lace and much of the industry was based in the Derbyshire town of Long Eaton, where labour was cheaper than in the city.

Construction of St Pancras Station, London (1867) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Engineering

With abundant coal and iron ore, Derbyshire excelled in engineering and heavy industry.  The Butterley Company in Ripley, for example, was responsible for building the impressive single-span iron roof at London's St Pancras Station in 1867.

View of the Hope Valley (1905) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Derbyshire today

Derbyshire is a county of contrasts. Today. landscape, farming and tourism characterise the North and West while the rail, aerospace and automotive industries continue Derby and Derbyshire's proud industrial tradition in the South and East.

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Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

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