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The History of Derby


Derby began as a Roman fort. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD. Around 50 AD they built a fort west of the river Derwent on the site of Belper Road. Then, about 80 AD, they built a new fort on the east bank of the river. The Romans called the fort Derventio. There may have been a civilian settlement outside the fort at Derby. The civilians could sell goods to the soldiers.

However in the 4th century Roman civilisation declined. The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD. The Roman buildings at Derby were abandoned and fell into ruins.


There may have been a Saxon village on the site of Derby after the Romans left. However the Danes founded the town of Derby about 873 AD after they invaded England. They created a fortified settlement at Derby. It was an easy place to fortify. To the east the river Derwent protected it. To the east and south a tributary of the Derwent protected Derby. All the Danes had to do was to fortify the northern approach between the two rivers. They dug a ditch and erected an earth bank with a wooden palisade on top.

The name Derby is derived from the Danish words deor by meaning deer settlement.

However in 917 the native Saxons captured Derby and it became part of the kingdom of England. Derby was more than a fortified settlement. Derby was also a place of trade. In the 10th century it had a mint and a market. Craftsmen would have worked in the little town, men like blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters and comb makers.

By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Derby had a population of about 2,000. That might seem very small to us but by the standards of the time it was a fair sized town. (A typical village had only 100 or 150 inhabitants).


In 1154 Derby was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). In 1204 a new charter gave the people of Derby the right to rule themselves. They were allowed to elect 2 bailiffs who ran the town. The merchants of Derby were also allowed to form a merchant's guild. The guild regulated trade in the town and protected its member's interests.

Several trades were carried on in Medieval Derby. There was a wool industry. The wool was woven then fulled. This means it was cleaned and thickened by pounding it in a mixture of water and clay. The wool was then dyed. There were also many leather workers making gloves and saddles. There were also the same craftsmen found in any town such as butchers, bakers, brewers, carpenters and blacksmiths.

During the Middle Ages Derby grew in size and prosperity and may have had a population of around 3,500 in the 14th century. By then Derby was quite a large and important town.

St James Priory (a small monastery) was founded in Derby in 1140. In the 13th century a 'hospital' was added where the monks cared for the poor and unwell. There was also a leper hostel outside the town on the site of Leonard Street.

About 1230 Dominican friars (known as Blackfriars because of the colour of their habits) came to Derby. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach and help the poor.


In 1536-39 Henry VIII closed the priory, the leper hostel and the friary in Derby. However during his reign the tower of All Saints church was built. During the reign of his daughter Mary a woman named Joan Wast was burned for heresy in Derby.

Like all towns in those days Derby suffered from outbreaks of plague. There were severe outbreaks in 1636 and 1665.

However Derby continued to grow in prosperity. Its cloth industry flourished. Other industries in the 17th century included brewing and, from the end of the century clockmaking.

In 1637 Derby was given a new charter and gained a mayor.

In 1695 Derby gained a piped water supply (for those who could afford to be connected). The water was pumped along wooden pipes by a watermill.


In the 18th century Derby was a fair sized market town. In 1717 the first silk mill in England opened in Derby.

All Saints Church was rebuilt in 1726.

Then in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops occupied Derby but they left after only 2 days. From the middle of the 18th century porcelain was made in Derby.

In 1773 George III visited Derby and agreed that a picture of a crown could appear on china. Afterwards it was called Crown Derby. (In 1890 Queen Victoria agreed it could be called Royal Crown Derby).

Conditions in Derby improved in the 18th century, at least for the well off. From 1735 oil lamps lighted the streets. In 1768 an act of parliament formed a body of men with responsibility for paving, cleaning and lighting the streets of Derby.

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