Derby’s Past and Present

Derby is a city that is surrounded by its wonderful history and beautiful architecture. When you walk along the streets of Derby, you see a segment of its history in nearly every direction you go. You simply can’t escape it. In this post, I will explore a part of Derby’s history that highlights a few points of interest that I observed as I was walking around the city.

Vernon Gate

The first gaol in Friar Gate was closed and demolished, being replaced by houses. In 1825 to 1828, the new county gaol was opened. It was positioned off Vernon Street. It was designed by Frances Goodwin. The surrounding walls of the prison were built 25ft high to make the prisoners feel isolated. The prison has room to accommodate for 315 prisoners. It then got expanded, with more cells being added and could then fit 330 prisoners inside. The first person to be hanged in the jail was John Leedham on the 17th April at 12pm. The last public execution at the jail was on the 11th April 1862. In 1873, the jail held its first private execution on the 24th April. The last hanging at the jail was in 1907. The jail was then closed in 1916. From 1919 the prison acted as a military prison until it was demolished in 1929, leaving just the front of the prison where the entrance was.

Vernon gate is now a square of businesses in Friar gate. They are all situated behind the entrance of the jail. It holds businesses such as architectural & town planning services, Business management consultancy, Design and marketing, Healthcare, and Recruitment services

Friar Gate Bridge

The Friar Gate Bridge was built by the Great Northern Railway when it realised the train had to cross the street so they needed a line and somewhere for it to cross. However, they realised a simple plate bridge was not suitable so Andrew Handyside & Co had to design something that was more suitable for the task and its surroundings. There were two almost parallel bridges built, an arch in cast iron, they were both double tracked for the train to cross. in 1968, the train line was closed and the bridge was made redundant. In the 1970s, the viaduct was demolished and the bridge almost was too. It was not demolished but in 1974 was listed a Grade 2 structure. A grade 2 structure is an interesting structure that people go to a lot of effort to preserve.

In 1985, the Derby City County Council purchased the bridge from the Great Northern Railway for £1 and was expected to maintain and preserve it as it was a listed Grade 2 structure. It has had some restorations over the years but it can no longer be repaired anymore.

In 2014, there was a conservation survey done on the bridge, which found a great deal of corrosion and some problems with the drainage. Full restoration of the bridge would require completely new castings and for many parts of the bridge to be removed, repaired and replaced in order to make the bridge safe again. The bridge still stands in Friar gate but it can not be used as it is too unsafe.

Derby Hippodrome

The Derby Hippodrome was opened in 1914 on the 20th July. The show for its opening night was ‘September Morn’. The theatre was designed by Marshall and Tweedy, who were from Newcastle on Tyne. It has a foyer on the first floor, lounges and a balcony that was full of decorations. During the first 16 years of when it opened, there were top acts who performed there, including international stars. Bud Flanagan composed ‘Underneath the Arches’ at the Hippodrome. It is said that the song was inspired by the Friar Gate railway bridge. As well as the star performances, there were acts that included performing pigeons, racing whippets, and aquatic shows that were available to watch at the hippodrome. In 1930, on 15th September, the hippodrome was converted into a cinema and showed ‘Sunnyside Up’ on its first night of being a cinema. It remained a cinema for the next twenty years until 1950 when live theatre was performed again.

The hippodrome was closed in 1959 and made into a bingo hall in 1962 but in 1996 was listed as a Grade 2 structure. The bingo hall then ended in 2006 and the building was no longer used. The roof of the hippodrome collapsed in 2008. The building had stood there untouched since.

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