Tag: Derbyshire

Story of the week: Urban regeneration in Derby



Derbyshire is back on the silver screen with Keira Knightley, who spawned a local tourism boom in 2005 while filming her role in Pride & Prejudice, returning to the region to depict Lady Georgiana Spencer in the film The Duchess.

Many of the scenes were filmed at Chatsworth House, where Georgina lived following her marriage to the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, with Kedleston Hall, five miles from Derby, standing in for the Spencer’s family home of Althorp.

But Derby is causing ripples in more than just the film-location business these days.

The ongoing £2bn transformation of the city highlights the potential of this lesser-known East Midlands city as a place for relocation.

With strong employment growth, a vibrant high-technology sector and blue-chip endorsement from the likes of Toyota, Bombardier and Rolls Royce, the latter this year celebrating its centenary in the city, Derby is attracting an influx of well-qualified professionals seeking a higher quality of life.

The Masterplan 

The Derby Cityscape Masterplan is designed to transform the city centre by 2020, but the first fruits of regeneration are already on display.

The £340m Westfield Derby shopping centre opened last October, incorporating the UK’s first Cinema de Luxe with its Director’s Lounge for airline business class-style service.

The Cathedral Quarter Hotel, Derby’s first boutique hotel, opened in May in a £3.8m refurbishment of the former council offices. The old safe vaults are now a particularly well-stocked wine cellar.

Finally, QUAD, a major new arts centre, will open its doors late September in time for the annual Derby Feste weekend, while Cathedral Green Bridge, an iconic new bridge across the River Derwent, will be unveiled around the same time.

Pouring over the 12-project regeneration masterplan amid the genteel surrounds of the Cathedral Quarter Hotel’s Opulence restaurant with John Cadwallader, the avuncular CEO of urban regeneration company Derby Cityscape, we map out the future of the city centre over lunch.

When completed, it will add 5,000 new houses to the city centre, mixing townhouses with apartments, plus 1.5m sq ft of office space and a host of leisure and cultural developments.

“Derby has been described as a Southeast city in the Midlands but the city centre didn’t reflect the strength of the local economy.”

“When I first walked around the city I felt it lacked impetus. It was very understated and lacked the right retail offer,” says John, tucking into an apple and raspberry streusel with crème fraiche sorbet.

“But, by 2020, it will a complete place to live and enjoy the amenities of a city centre, appealing to a broad range of people – young professionals, downsizers and retirees.”

City tour 

After lunch I head off to explore the progress at grass roots level.

Strolling down Amen Alley behind the imposing Cathedral, the Cathedral Green area marks the start of the Unesco-listed Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, which stretches 15 miles down the river Derwent from Derby to Matlock Bath.

The Mills were the crucible of the regional industrial revolution in Derby’s heyday. Cathedral Green Bridge, designed for pedestrians and cycling, will bring the region into the 21st century, linking the riverside apartments, office space and restaurants of Cathedral Green to the proposed hotel, retail and leisure developments of North Riverside.

Over the next two years, further developments will add 1,000 new homes as part of the Friar Gate Goods Yard development, 30,000 sq ft of retail at Saddler Square and the opening of the Roundhouse, a new vocational centre and visitor attraction, plus the completion of the £20m regeneration of the central train station.

Having found my bearings, I then don a hard hat and plastic-bag overshoes for a sneak preview of the finishing touches at QUAD.

The £11m project, comprising an arthouse cinema and community arts centre on the fringe of the currently unloved Market Square, aims to foster regeneration via culture.

“It’s a real statement of intent, a symbol of the changing face of Derby,” says QUAD Director, Keith Jeffrey, a former deputy director of BALTIC, which helped to bring urban regeneration to NewcastleGateshead.

House prices

Chris Brown, of Boxall Brown and Jones, President of the National Association of Estate Agents, who has worked in Derby for 40 years, says:

“Derby has finally stopped playing second fiddle to Nottingham. Ten years from now, I doubt I will even recognise the place.”

“I sense a move towards more development in Derby with apartments, but also two- and three-bedroom houses, fostering more of a community feel. And the planners are on board.”

Brown believes affordability is a key selling point for Derby with houses prices below the national average.

A typical three-bedroom semi in a reasonable location costs around £170,000, an estate-type, three-bedroom semi £200,000. A substantial, four-bedroom detached house with a garden and a double garage costs around £400,000.

Transport links are good with easy access to East Midlands Airport and strong rail links, while families are attracted by the good reputation of local schools, notably Ecclesbourne at Duffield and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne.

“The north and west of Derby, market towns like Ashbourne and Belper, are known as the Golden Triangle. It boasts more green space, good access to the train station and the M1, and a weekend escape to the Peak District right on your doorstep. Prices start from £200,000 for a semi up to £1m,” adds Brown.

“The market is down but I still have several homes on the market at over £1m.”

“I think Derby is better placed than most to withstand the current economic climate.”

New start

Patrick Welsh, Development Director of the Creative Industries Network (CIN) has certainly been won over.

He relocated the family from London to Derby in 2006, exchanging a two-bedroom flat in North Kensington for a five-bedroom family house in the Darley Abbey area, close to Derby’s university district, for £300,000.

“People don’t know Derby like Nottingham and Leicester, and it’s still got a way to go, but I find the quality of life is superb.”

He adds: “We park on the street, have a decent-sized garden, a good school for our two children round the corner and the countryside is just a few miles away. We’ve even formed a little neighbourhood group.”

“But it’s not a provincial life. I find a lot of people have come from London and brought their skills with them. People have traditionally moved to Derby for the high-tech industries, but there is an increasing number of outlets for the creative arts – and the opening of QUAD will help to foster the city’s cultural life.”

So, if Keira and her current co-stars, Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling, are back filing in the region over the next few years, they may find a city changed beyond all recognition. John Cadwallader certainly hopes so.

“By 2020, Derby will be, in a word, busier. Quite simply,” he smiles, “that’s our goal.”

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This article was first published in the Weekend FT in June 2008.

Liked this? Try also Well-dressing traditions in Derbyshire.

Walking the National Forest Way


It was Dot to the rescue.

I was struggling to find an angle on the story for a walking piece about the National Forest Way, the new long-distance walking trail though the Midlands.

Thankfully, Dot Morson [pictured above], a stalwart of the local rambling group in South Derbyshire was on hand with mugs of tea, route-planning advice and a potted history of the post-industrial social history of the region – all while guiding me along sections of the then-unfinished trail.

The final story is out now in the latest issue of Walk magazine. Read Exploring the National Forest Way.

And makes friends with your local Dot. Evey local rambling group should have one.

Liked this? Try also Walking the Wales Coast Path.

And post your comments below.

Story of the week: Well-dressing traditions in Derbyshire



* With May Bank Holiday approaching, this piece takes a look at one of Britain’s more unusual summer traditions.

As ever, follow me on Twitter, or subscribe to the RSS, for weekly updates from my travel-writing archive in the months to come.

* Image: www.peakdistrictinformation.com/features/wellart.php

The villagers around rural Derbyshire do it every year.

It draws on ancient English folklore relating to the natural environment. It is the ancient art of well dressing and retired joiner, Roger Stubbins, 72, from the Derbyshire farming village of Barlow, is one of its leading exponents.

Well, he does have 48 years of experience. “My parents brought me to see the well dressing as a little boy,” he says.

“I still remember the sense of occasion that day with the fair and the main street full of people.”

Celtic origins 

Well dressers decorate springs and wells with materials provided entirely by nature. The tradition is thought to originate from a Celtic thanksgiving rite for fresh water and has become a cornerstone of Derbyshire’s rural heritage.

The process takes a wooden frame, packed with soft, wet clay, and transforms by it into a colourful but transient artwork.

Each year a new picture, often depicting a biblical scene, is hand drawn and the outline craved out before being filled with freshly gathered flowers, moss and heather. It’s an organic process with a team of seven to ten people working solidly for nearly two weeks.

Of the 80 wells around Derbyshire to be dressed between May and September, the Barlow well is one of the best know.

Records show villagers have been dressing it every year since at least 1800 with the pump added in 1840. Today, it still attracts huge crowds of visitors, including coach parties touring local wells, and raises over £1,000 for local charities in the process with its on-site collection boxes.

Each village has a different technique. Barlow uses whole flowers, not fragments or petals, and late-summer flowers coming into season, such as marigolds, yarrow and chamomile.

The team spends a week foraging for materials and preparing the frame, then a further five days actually dressing the well itself. The final stage comes when the local vicar blesses their handiwork and leads a procession of over 200 people through the village to the fairground.

“I started dressing in my early twenties. I used to take a week off work and we would work 5am to 10pm, eating all out meals in the pub garden opposite,” says Roger.

“Today we take a bit longer over it, but I still enjoy the banter and the companionship. We have a good laugh together.”

Visitors are welcome to watch the work in progress and some even feel moved to join in. For details, collect a booklet from the tourist office in nearby Chesterfield with dates for dressings and blessings around the county.

Handed down

To the well-dressing cognoscenti, however, it’s an intricate and time-consuming affair. The process follows a strict set of guidelines passed down through the generations from father to son and, in recent years, father to daughter.

The secret, explains Roger, is to mark out the outline of the picture with bark before applying the flowers.

“Everyone has their own bark,” he says, his work-worn hands clutching slithers of larch. “I’ve used the same bark for 48 years and I’m the third owner of it. It was passed down to me by the men who taught me how to dress and I vowed to keep it safe.”

This year Barlow is departing from the usual triptych design to produce one large, single image, based on the story of Christ and the fishermen.

Over the years Roger and his co-workers have tackled the likes of The Last Supper, Adam and Eve and Saint Francis of Assisi. The year they marked the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar proved a particularly testing one.

“It’s always hard getting it in proportion,” says Roger. “We use yarrow for the sky but, some years, supplies are scare, so we simply have to make a smaller sky.”

Another problem is training up the next generation of well dressers. Many of the villagers started dressing as children but move away in search of work and never come back.

“I’m the oldest now. We’ve got a couple of young ‘uns in their forties. Some people are very enthusiastic in the first year but, when they realise how much hard work is involved, they’re not so keen to come back,” he says.

Autumn leaves 

Like the changing of the seasons, the well-dressing tradition reaches its crescendo in September. As the last flowers wilt, the frame is taken down and stored for another year at the local pub.

“When we take it down and I go home, I feel a bit lost. I’ve lived with the well every day for a fortnight,” says Roger.

“But we’ll be back next year as it’s a huge part of the local community,” he adds.

“I think it’s essential to keep these village traditions alive.”