Derby: engineering the twentieth century

Matthews, Chris (2017) Derby: engineering the twentieth century. In: The Twentieth Century Society, 2 September 2017, Derby.

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Abstract

“Derby’s contribution to the national heritage has, appropriately enough, been concerned less with culture than with industrial endeavour and innovation.”
R. H. Obsorne.

In the early twentieth century Derby town council pursued a policy of attracting new industry with low cost municipal energy. This successfully attracted Rolls Royce, who are today the largest engineering company in Britain, and the only one capable of delivering power for land, sea and air. The company's progress was marked on the western side of the city, with Marble Hall (1912, 1938) and the Rolls Royce Engineering Centre (1961-8, Fry, Drew & Partners). Partly thanks to Rolls Royce, Derby’s growth during the interwar period was considerable, necessitating a significant improvement plan by the Borough Architect C. H. Aslin, (including law courts, police station, council house, swimming pool, gardens, housing), and commercial rebuilding. Derby gained city status in 1977, and The Assembly Rooms (1971-6, Casson, Condor & Partners), and Quad Arts Centre (2004-8, Feilden Clegg Bradley), are reflective of that continued ambition.

Yet Derby has often been conveniently sited for other industries too, in the nineteenth century it was home to the Midland Railway company, which was later submerged into the LMS and British Rail. The LMS Transport School (1937-8, W. H. Hamlyn), and BR Railway Technical Centre (1964, Dr F. C. Curtis with A. H. Cantrell), were billed by their propagators as the biggest and best in the world. Today, despite a relative decline in railway engineering, Derby is currently home to Bombardier, the only place in the UK able to design, manufacture, assemble and test new trains for domestic and export markets. Derby’s central location was also key in the siting of Olivetti’s regional offices (1970-1, Edward Cullianan), recently described by Hugh Pearman as a ‘pioneering building’ with its ‘rakish kit-of-parts plywood superstructure’.

In a negative sense the subservience of the town to its industries can be witnessed in its belligerent road engineering and negligent approach to conservation. But this is also an historic county town with a medieval street pattern, and many good buildings from the age of enlightenment onwards. In fact Derby’s contribution to the modern era and scientific thought has been significant, including the works of Erasmus Darwin, John Flamstead, Herbert Spencer and J.A. Hobson. The 1963 modernist art gallery and museum extension (by Borough Architect T. W. East) houses the most extensive collection of paintings by Joseph Wright – a late eighteenth century artist most notable for his depicture of science and industry.

Led by local historian Chris Matthews, the tour will conveniently take in all of the above via a morning walk and afternoon bus tour. Internal visits have been arranged for the Art Gallery, law Courts, Olivetti building, and LMS Transport School.

Keywords:Urban History, Town planning, Conservation, architecture
Subjects:K Architecture, Building and Planning > K250 Conservation of Buildings
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V360 History of Architecture
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V321 Local History
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:28690
Deposited On:12 Sep 2017 13:47

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