Derby Museum

I visited Derby Museum back in June when I was in Derby for the Download Festival and found a lovely Museum with lovely staff. Unusually for a museum you enter rather than exit through the Gift Shop and I had to resist the temptation to buy before I’d been around the Museum! I was given a brief overview of the Museum, which originally opened in 1879, by a welcoming member of staff and then headed off.

I started in the Archaeology Department with artefacts from Roman and Anglo Saxon Derby. This contains the sarcophagus of St Alkmund, a son of King Alhred of Northumbria, whose attempt to restore his family’s fortune in battle led to his murder. The sarcophagus was discovered when St Alkmund’s Church was demolished to make way for the new ring road and as we were staying at Jury’s Inn Hotel on the ring road it was lovely to discover the origin of the name St Alkmund’s Way. These are the kinds of priceless gems of information which make visiting any local museum so worthwhile.

Upstairs you will also find a Natural History Gallery with brightly lit cases and a wide variety of species. With a resurgence in the appreciation of taxidermy this is a focal point of interest for adults and children alike.

My favourite part of the Museum though was the Joseph Wright Gallery which I had been looking forward to seeing since it opened. Joseph Wright (1734-1797) was born in Derby and the Gallery houses a large range of his paintings which have been collected over the past 130 years – no mean feat. Wright was a product of the scientific and industrial discoveries of the eighteenth century and his technical ability shines through his work. The ‘Don’t Miss’ painting is A Philosopher Giving A Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in the Place of the Sun, which was completed in 1766. In the painting a philosopher demonstrates the workings of the solar system using an Orrery, which is a mechanical model depicting the positions and motions of the planets and moons. An oil lamp is visible behind the foremost boy’s elbow which is used to represent the rays of the sun and a young girl points to the shadow of the moon on Saturn. You will need to take some time to stand in front of this masterpiece to take in all its detail and to understand why it established Wright’s reputation as a highly original artist. I was hugely impressed with the text panels in the Museum in general and in this room in particular. Each panel, which provided substantial information on the artist as well as each painting, offered an in-depth knowledge of Georgian society along with an understanding of the artist’s life and work. The Museum also houses a Study Centre for information and research on the artist. Look out in the City Centre for a pillar with an Orrery atop which is dedicated to Joseph Wright.

Within the Museum you will also find a reconstructed room displaying Bonnie Prince Charlie’s arrival in Derby following his successes in Scotland and Carlisle. The Jacobite Revolution of 1745 attempted to return the Stuart dynasty back to the throne but his stay in Derby was short-lived as a lack of support from France and England forced his return to Scotland. The display’s audio is very well done along with atmospheric flickering candles. You will also find statues and commemoration plaques to the Bonnie Prince around Derby.

Other galleries include a large and impressive exhibition on Derby’s contribution during the First and Second World Wars, which has plenty to keep children interested, and a small Egyptian display with information on mummies and sarcophagi.

I then came across a further Gallery which was as goldmine of notable artists including works by L.S. Lowry, J.M. Whistler and William Powell Frith as well as a sculpture by Jacob Epstein.

You must stop in the Café before you leave. This is a gallery in itself containing impressive examples of Royal Crown Derby and Derby Porcelain in glass cases. Having written about Derby Porcelain for my work in many stately homes it was nice to be surrounded by some of the best examples in the home of porcelain. The coffee was also very good…..

I can definitely recommend a morning or afternoon surrounded by Derby’s history and marvelling at one of its greatest artists. It is a welcoming and friendly Museum with a cafe which is a mini museum in itself. If you’ve visited we’d love to know what you thought.


  • St Alkmund’s Sarcophagus
  • The Orrey painting by Joseph Wright