I first came to Derby when I studied at the university for my creative writing and English Literature degree. Derby was a different place when I was student, with highlights including the epic Pink Coconut and Eclipse. Fast forward to 2021 and Derby is looking even more exciting. There are more things to do, there are even more cultural places to visit. Derby is a city that I am really fond of and proud to live in.
Two towering Derby landmarks have shaped the city’s physical and cultural landscape, and they are the Museum of Making and Derby Museum & Art Gallery.
I wanted to explore Derby and learn more about Derby’s history and the buildings that attract visitors from far and wide. In order to do this, I collaborated with Visit Derby, who created an itinerary involving a Derby based excursion. I spent the day in Derby, flitting between the Museum of Making and Derby Museum & Art Gallery, managing all important pitstops including lunch, supper and cocktails in between. Here is how I got on.
The Museum of Making
Silk Mill Lane, Derby DE1 3AF | 01332 641901
The Museum of Making opened to great fanfare earlier this month, whilst its official launch was on Friday 24 September 2021.
It is a bright Sunday morning as we make our way to the Museum of Making. We hop onto a trentbarton bus that gets us into the city centre in just over 10 minutes. Several marquees dot the Cathedral Green and there is activity from various local charity and befriending organisations as we approach the museum.
The first thing we see upon entering the Museum of Making is a dismantled car suspended in mid-air. It’s difficult to miss. This attention grabbing display hooks you and you cannot help but marvel, slack-jawed in wonder as you think about the logistics how the airborne car came to be. Sections of the car hover in mid-air, as if an invisible giant is slowly piecing it together and holding it aloft. The exploded floating car is utterly beguiling.
On the day, Jane is our tour-guide, whose knowledgeable and dulcet tones take us on a learning journey as we traverse through the building. If you think you can visit the Museum of Making and be done in 30 minutes, you’re wrong. You will want to spend the full day there, then return for a second session. What you’ll find out, is that there is always more to unearth, see, and therefore the learning journey with Museum of Making is never-ending. And that is exactly how I like it.
There is loads to do at the Museum of Making. I cannot list everything here and do the building justice, so I’ll list the highlights and leave you to plot your own adventure there.
Top 10 Highlights at the Museum of Making Derby
- That floating Toyota Corolla in the entrance. You cannot help but wonder how they managed to get it up there in the first place and the painstaking detail and measurements involved in ensuring each piece was perfectly positioned.
- The Museum of Making has a rare Lowry painting ‘Houses near a Mill’ that was bought for £42 but is now worth an estimated £1 million. It is a painting that you instantly recognise as a Lowry, replete with matchstick men and matchstick animals. Interestingly, the scene depicted isn’t industrial like Lowry’s usual work, but something more local and intimate.
- The River Kitchen at Museum of Making Derby is the perfect way to indulge in selfcare. Switch your phone off, hunker down in one of the seats as you cradle a steaming hot coffee then spend a few hours enjoying the hustle and bustle of the museum whilst you people watch.
- The Civic Hall is one of the first collections you will see, directly behind the concierge of friendly greeters. Contained in the glass section (the display is categorised into materials including wood, metal, ceramic, organic, textile, stone and synthetic) is an actual, real life glass eye, which by the way isn’t round, but has a straight hard edge. I love quirky items and this really made me thoughtful. Who did it belong to? How did the person come to have a glass eye in the first place? Oh so many questions to ponder as the museum fills you with curiosity.
- There is co-working space available at The Prospect situated on the top floor of the Museum of Making Derby. It is a 20 desk capacity area that is light, airy and available for those who have Museum of Making membership. There’s also a fully kitted Workshop replete with CNC machine, laser cutters and textiles that has workbenches to rent out by the hour. The reason I mention both The Prospect co-working space and the Workshop, is because collaboration and creativity lies at the beating heart of the Museum of Making. By carving out physical areas in the museum that nurture talent, the museum is giving the gift of creative opportunity to everyone who walks through their beautiful doors.
- The Rolls Royce Trent 1000 aero engine hanging in the first floor shop weighs 6 tonnes and is so heavy it is fixed onto the steel roof girders. (Yep, it’s not going anywhere.)
- Part of Bronze age log boat (3,400 years old) and a Palaeolithic flint hand axe (at least 300,000 years old) are two of the oldest items on display.
- 11,000 bricks were cleaned by volunteers for use in the renovation project.
- 242 metres of railway track was rewired for the model railway, that’s nearly 794 feet.
- Jane is a fountain of knowledge whose unbound enthusiasm makes you engaged and delighted by default. If you see her at the Museum of Making, rest safe in the knowledge that you are in the presence of a walking, talking encyclopedia.
There is so much to explore at the Museum of Making Derby. The Assemblage (where you can make your own trail to search for subjects), The Gateway (which is an introduction to Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site) and Railways Revealed (to explore the Model Railway showing impact of railways on Derby’s landscape) are just a few exhibitions that I thoroughly enjoyed and that I will be revisiting again soon.
The Museum of Making Derby is one of those rare places that is steeped in tradition yet embraces the 21st century through its innovative exhibitions. Be ready to make the Museum of Making Derby one of your favourite spaces in the city and beyond.
Derby Museum & Art Gallery
The Strand, Derby DE1 1BS | 01332 641901
Joseph Wright Gallery for collection viewing and Derby Museum & Art Gallery Gift shop visit
We were booked onto a Joseph Wright talk given by art expert Nigel Cooley at Derby Museum & Art Gallery. Nigel is an enthusiastic creative whose admiration for the comprehensive collection of Joseph Wright’s art remains unchallenged. We started the talk at the painting titled ‘Master John Prideaux Bassett’, which is Joseph Wright’s earliest known drawing.
From there we made our way around the room and studied Wright’s paintings that have been displayed in chronological order. The talk was interspersed with fascinating facts about Wright’s life – did you know our Joe was born on Iron Gate in 1734? The informative discussion included Nigel’s background knowledge on the paintings’ history and of course his opinion on the artwork that forms the world’s largest collection of works by Wright.
‘A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on an Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in the Place of the Sun’ is the most famous painting but one of my favourites is ‘A Philosopher by Lamp Light’. By painting the background figures much smaller, Wright draws the curious eye in as you wonder if the people are elfish by design or if the philosopher is a giant. Which is it? I love how Wright invites you to linger over his paintings by including such obscure details and I look forward to researching this great Derby artist more in depth. Call it part of my learning journey.
A special mention to Derby Museum & Art Gallery’s Gift Shop that is stocked with tasty tipples from local suppliers, cutesy Derby Rams (I caved, bought one and named him Blair) and some unique, hand crafted gifts.
Upcoming events and exhibitions
- MOM Wet felting workshop, 27 October 2021
- MOM Bats, birds and bugs woodworking taster course 31 October 2021
- Derby Museum & Art Gallery: Drawing for Relaxation online video streaming available from 29 September 2021
- Derby Museum & Art Gallery: Poetry Writing Workshop for children with Aoife O’Connor 9 October 2021
- Derby Museum & Art Gallery: White Christmas Ball at Derby Museums 3 – 18 December 2021
Lunch at The River Kitchen was a very good. My chicken pot pie was hearty and delicious, whilst partner’s salmon and oatcake was a nod to Derbyshire’s food.
Supper at The Quad was quick and tasty. My flatbread pizza was substantial and topped with fiery Cajun chicken, whilst dining partner’s steak sandwich was draped with succulent steak.
Cocktails at The Palfrey were proper thirst-quenchers. We had a Mai Tai and Penicillin, which we sipped in the cobbled courtyard after an eventful day in Derby.
Travel on the day was with trentbarton, who operate a region-wide network of public transport covering destinations including Nottingham, Burton, Chesterfield, Mansfield, East Midlands Designer Outlet and the Peak District.
If you are travelling into Derby and seeking an overnight stay, there is a range of accommodation available from The Stay Company, The Cow Dalbury, Holiday Inn Express Derby and a host of others.
If you do visit any of the places mentioned in this blog, I would love to know how you got on. Thank you to Michelle, Stella and the entire Visit Derby team for the coordination and assistance during my Derby excursion.