The the 2nd century AD the Romans built a fort by the side of the River Derwent at Derby. In Norman times Derby became a busy market town. Later it developed as a manufacturing centre making woollen cloth, beer and soap.
The 18th century saw new industries emerge in Derby. England's first silk-mill was opened in 1717. This was followed by the porcelain industry in 1756, when William Duesbury started making china of great beauty. In the 19th century Derby became the headquarters of the Midland Railway.
The Museum and Art Gallery (1876-79) contains an impressive collection of the paintings by the local 18th century artist, Joseph Wright.
(1) Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)
Derby is a fine, beautiful, and pleasant town; it has more families of gentlemen in it than is usual in towns so remote, and therefore here is a great deal of good company. The town is situated on the west bank of the Derwent, over which it has a fine bridge, well built, but ancient, and a chapel upon the bridge, now converted into a dwelling house. Derby is a town of gentry, rather than trade; yet it is populous, has five parishes, a large market-place and very handsome streets.
There are about 35 silk manufactories engaged in the various branches of the trade in Derby, and in the different factories it is estimated that about 5,000 people find employment. The town possesses minor resources in its iron-founding establishments. The population of the town in 1841 was 35,019. The total number of marriages in 1840 was 450. Of these, 382 were celebrated according to the rites of the Church and 74 in other modes. Of the 456 couples married, 103 men and 189 women signed with their marks. The number of illegitimate births during 1846 was 111.
The sewers and drains are very defective; refuse accumulates in house drains to a great extent; there are no local regulations for systematic drainage, but there is a regular service of scavengers. The town is supplied with water, principally from pumps and wells. The sanitary and structural state of matters are not particularly favourable. Nevertheless, in point of building arrangements the working population of Derby are very decidedly better off than their neighbours at Nottingham. Derby, in fact, has always had more elbow room. Its suburbs spread freely forth, and the town exhibits none of that structural piling and huddling, characteristic of Nottingham.
(3) Dr. Robert Baker, Report on the Sanitary Condition of Derby (1839)
At the back of the whole row there runs a series of little gardens, each house possessing one, in width equal to the frontage of the house it belongs to, and in length 56 feet. To every five houses there is a pump; and at the bottom of each garden a double privy, answering for two houses, the cess-pool shallow, and open to the air; and to this nuisance many have added a pig-sty, and dung or rubbish heap. The inhabitants of this street are poor people, chiefly silk-weavers, and what are here called framework-knitters or stockingers.
My friend Mr. Harwood, surgeon of the Derby union, informs me that in Canal Street five sisters in one family were successively attacked with typhus fever, caused by the escape of foul air from a drain. Four months elapsed before the family became free from disease; no return of which, however, has taken place since the removal of the drain, which now passes at a greater distance.
(4) Edwin Chadwick, The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1842)