Chris Harris - An Obituary

Chris Harris, a member of the forum since its inception, died on 30th June 2014 and his funeral took place at the Parish Church of St Edmund, Shelton Lock, Derby, on Friday, 18th July 2014. He was laid to rest in Melbourne cemetery with family and friends in attendance.

It was about ten years ago that Don Farnsworth, Charles Clark-Maxwell and myself were having our regular Tuesday morning meeting in the Heritage Centre. We were three of the directors of the Derby Heritage Society and were discussing business when we were approached by Chris. He introduced himself and explained that he was interested in finding out about the history of The Arboretum. “Sit down here lad”, said Don as he pulled out a chair, “We need people like you”.

In this way Chris was 'inducted' into the heritage fraternity. We told him what we knew about the history of The Arboretum and introduced him to Glover's Derby which was a directory and history of Derby published in 1843. It was not long before we learnt that Chris was a careful researcher who could sift the fact from the fiction and I was to spend some time with Chris discussing the various 'anomalies' that he found in the accepted history of the park. As I carried out my own research in the Local Studies Library I would make a note of any Arboretum related material and alert Chris. One day I found an architectural drawing of the gates in Harriet Street which were wrongly placed amongst maps. Chris investigated and found that the architect was not the one quoted by the 'experts'. When Kevin archer produced his revised and detail coloured 1815 map of Derby the design and location of Edward Strutt's Park leapt out of the page. The similarity of the then Derby M. P’s garden to the later constructed Arboretum was unmistakeable. Again Chris was on to it and found that the probable designer was not the quoted one. Eventually Chris pieced together the story of the park showing that it was Joseph Strutt and not J C Louden that was the driving force. He found that the Florentine Boar had already been placed in the park that Strutt was building even before Louden was employed to carry out his work.

There is so much more to tell but Chris died before he had put his findings into book form and we can only hope that his records will surface so that his dedicated work can be placed before the public. He did relate much of his findings on his Derby Arboretum website. He also gave a lecture about the Derby Arboretum to an International Conference held at the Linnaean Society in London during September 2006.

Perhaps the reason Chris never got round to finishing his Arboretum book was because he threw himself into the Derby Hippodrome Theatre preservation fight. It was a cause that raised his heritage passions as much as The Arboretum did and he immersed himself in the cause in a way that only Chris could.

Chris was a regular contributor to the Derby Telegraph Opinion Page and Bygones as well as having Soapbox articles published; he was also a contributor to my heritage column in the Derby Trader free newspaper.

I know from everyone I have spoken to that Chris will be sadly missed and I am hopeful that his work will eventually be recognised. It would be a fitting tribute to a very pleasant and amiable character and a good and trusted friend.

Ron McKeown

The above picture was taken on 17th December 2013 when the Forum visited Sculpture Works Ltd, 38-40 North End, Wirksworth who were responsible for the artwork at the new Castleward site in Derby. Chris is second right next to Derek Palmer. The other members are Denis Eardley, (left), Kevin Archer, (third left) and myself, (fouth left).  

The text of an article I put in The Derby Trader in March 2005 about a conversation between Chris and myself can be found here.