Wanderer at Large: Derbyshire

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the Northern Midlands including Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

University of Derby, Buxton – St John’s Road, Buxton – domes by ell brown is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


The county town of Derby is now recognised as a city. It was formerly an industrial town famous for its silks (while Nottingham, Derby’s rival along the Trent, was known for lace). There is a legend that industrialist John Lombe (1693-1722) stole the secret of silk-making from Italians and brought it to Derby, building England’s first silk mill in 1718. It still stands in Italianate design. An Italian apparently murdered Lombe in revenge in 1722. However, the silk-spinning trade made Derby a wealthy town and built its reputation. A relief sculpture of Lombe is on Derby’s Exeter Bridge. Perhaps Derby’s most globally known company today, and a source of local pride, is Rolls Royce who build aviation engines. The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust runs a fascinating museum tour.

Alongside, Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, Cromford in Derbyshire is one of the great cradles of the Industrial Revolution. In 1771, Richard Arkwright developed the first purpose-built water-powered cotton-spinning mill here. With the River Derwent supplying the power source, horse-power was replaced by a series of water-powered operations which multiplied the output of the home hand-weaver by a hundred-fold. The cotton was also washed in the local spring water which gave it a much sought-after silky feel. Arkwright’s mill is now a museum. By 1784, Arkwright has lost the monopoly over his water-powered roller looms. His financial director Peter Nightingale (related to Florence) set up a rival mill nearby with John Smedley. Long Johns were invented here, named after John Smedley. Smedley’s descendants are still producing textiles today, in what is the world’s oldest factory. They are still at the cutting edge of technology, with their latest machines producing comfortable seam-free knitwear.

Buxton is England’s highest market town. So picturesque, it is known as ‘the theatre in the hills’. With a population of around 20,000, it is famous for its mineral spring, the water from which is said to be good for rheumatism and gout. Buxton has a long history as a spa town. Initially developed by the Romans around AD78, it was known as Aquae Arnemetiae (spa of the grove goddess). Only two Roman spas in England had ‘aqua’ in name at the time: Bath and Buxton. Elizabethan power-countess, Bess of Hardwick, and her husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, took the waters in 1569, and they also brought their captive charge Mary Queen of Scots here in 1573.  Buxton grew in importance in the late 18th century when it was developed in the style of the town of Bath by the fifth Duke of Devonshire with money from his copper mines. The Crescent is a replica of the one in Bath. A Pump Room was added in the late 19th century and an opera house constructed in 1903. The seventh Duke’s stables now form part of a university which is covered by one of the largest domes in the world. At 44 metres it beats the churches of St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. A factory near the springs produces bottled mineral water, and is now a division of Perrier. Free spring water is available from St Anne’s Well in the town.

About one eighth of the beer drank in the UK is made in Burton, Derbyshire. The local temperature is apparently just right for winter fermentation. The local water also is hard and salty with a high calcium sulphate content making the beer crisper, cleaner and lighter. The purity makes the beer sterile enough to be stored over long periods of time. Practically, up to six months. This was long enough for it to be exported to India for consumption by the British army and administration. IPA or India Pale Ale is the name still given to ale that has been stored for this long. Burton Ale was also popular in Russia where there was special toast while drinking it in bygone times: Pivo Burtonski!

Generally, the perfect Burton beer involves a one-month process: one day to convert the hops and malt into a ferment vessel; one week to ferment; two weeks for cask conditioning and one week to settle in pub storage. There were once over 30 breweries here. Coors now own the Bass brewery and Burton Bridge Brewery are the largest of the independents. Try the Bridge Bitter in the Burton Bridge Inn.

The Peak District will be covered separately.

Derbyshire – you’ll be alright, me duck!

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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