The starting point for my walk was a video that is 75 years old. It is a short campaign video made by the Labour Party in 1945 that shows my great Nana, Violet Wilson, talking about how she lives and how she wishes to live. She mentions wanting a two water taps instead of her current one and also that she would like an indoor toilet in an ideal world. The video is about housing and her house in particular. But it got me to thinking about how we both inhabited the same space, namely the city of Derby (although it was a town then) and how we both saw and experienced the same city.
I started the walk not really knowing where I wanted to go or what I was going to encounter. As we walked along The Strand my fellow ramblers started taking pictures of statues and buildings for their own blog. Then it came to me, how did my great Nana see the same spaces when she walked through Derby 75 Years ago? This was my new lens for seeing things as we walked.
It quickly became apparent that many of the spaces she would have seen are now abandoned or repurposed. I walked along The Strand and saw buildings that showed evidence of their former life. The Post Office and the Gas Light and Coke Company building on Friar Gate are more generous with their origins as their names are etched in the masonry. I wondered if Violet had ever entered the buildings to send letters or needed to enquire about her gas supply. And, what she would think of the excessive drinking and partying I had done in my youth in the same buildings as they have more recently been occupied by nightclubs and bars.
We moved onto Victoria street where the old Debenhams/ Ranbys building is located (I know it as Debenhams, but Violet would have also known it as Ranbys) This has always been a landmark in Derby City Centre but has fallen into disrepair in recent years due to the arrival of the Intu Centre. My great grandmother would have actually remembered the old Ranbys store that stood on the site until the 1960’s when this new art deco style building was built. I could imagine her going to see her daughter (my Nana) on her lunch break when she worked in Ranbys in the early 1960’s. If she was anything like my Nana, and I think she was, she would have been outraged by the state of the store now and the apparent imminent demolition of the site.
At this point in our walk we went to see some places my fellow ramblers were interested in such as the waterfall (no longer working) on the market place and the mechanised (no longer working) Albion Street Clock. Neither of these would have been in place in the Derby my great Nana knew 75 years ago. I reminisced about being told off for running under the Waterfall on shopping trips when I was younger. Part of the reason these elements of Derby are no longer in use is due to the arrival and domination of the Intu centre and the much-reduced footfall in these areas of the city centre. I mentioned the Hippodrome to the rest of my group and none of them knew of it, so I decided to show them. I know it was my Nana’s (Violets daughter) favourite Bingo hall but I wanted to look at it for as the theatre it once was and that my great Nana would have frequented.
We made our way towards the Hippodrome on the corner of Green Lane and Macklin street with me them telling them the little information I knew about it. All were surprised to see the state the building was in. I always knew it was there. I’ve walked past it hundreds of times and hearing stories of my Nana spending hours in there playing the Bingo. I remembered seeing photos in the local paper describing the state the building and its interior were in. I showed my fellow ramblers the images on my phone and we said how cool it could be to go inside and have a look but the boarded doors, windows, chain fences and our own sense of danger told us it was a daft idea. I tried to match the old images with what I could see in front of me. There was an extra layer of façade on the building showing off its days as a bingo hall, but the original entrance could be seen. I know from family stories that my great Nana would have seen shows in the theatre as she loved going to the theatre and cinema.
With time pressing on, we decided to head towards our rendezvous with our lecturer and other students. This was the old goods warehouse on the wasteland at the bottom of Uttoxeter New Road. This I knew would have been a place my great Nana Violet would have been acquainted as her husband and various other family members worked on the railways in Derby. She will have seen it in its heyday as a working goods yard for the areas train cargo and it will have been of large importance to Derby as a hub for the local economy and transport. Now of course it is derelict and falling into ruin. We walked around the building seeing the path where the old train tracks stretched over towards Friar Gate Bridge. The lower portion of the building is now covered in graffiti, or in my view art. My great Nana would have seen it as graffiti and vandalism, but I think it is giving some beauty and interest to a building and area that is derelict and in ruin.
These generational attitudes, I think frame how we experience where we live. Much of what is in Derby now, I think, is endearing and different whereas she would maybe think that Derby has gone ‘downhill’ to coin a well-used Derby phrase. This walk made me realise that my family and my family’s history are very much intertwined with the buildings of Derby, even though many of them are now abandoned and awaiting demolition. It also makes me wonder what my children and grandchildren will see and make of the buildings that I am used to. Will they also soon become abandoned and consigned to the annals of history.