Any investigator into the history of Derby makes use of the various maps and sketches of the old town and in most cases these either carry a specific date or can be easily dated. One old picture that is often discussed as far as dating is concerned is the one I have reproduced here. I have taken this digitally enhanced copy from the book by John Keys who describes it as “Derby, from an old painting in possession of Mr Harwood, Surgeon”

I assume that it came into the possession of a later historian and collector because a copy of it is included in The Alfred E Goodey Collection of Old Derby Pictures, 1936, which is the catalogue of his collection held by Derby Museum. It is listed as Entry 349, a sepia drawing by S H Parkin.

The dating evidence for this picture often includes references to Cock Pit Hill House and the Goodey catalogue is no exception. It notes that the view is from a time before the Silk Mill was built in 1715 but after Cockpit Hill House was erected in 1690 giving a possible time span of twenty-five years. I have come to realise that a more precise date may be possible because the picture shows the advanced mill built by the famous Derby hydraulic engineer, George Sorocold, who installed Derby's first piped water supply in c1691-93. This mill had a patent wheel which rose and fell with the changing height of the river. He was able to raise water to a tank behind St Michael's church using 'forcing pumps' operated by beams moved by water wheel powered cranks to lift water into his cisterns, from where it was distributed in wooden pipes to a number of public locations in Derby town centre.
Page 641 of the book, A biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: 1500-1830 by A. W. Skempton gives the following information.

On 5 March 1692 Sorocold took over Gunpowder Mill, by deed with Derby Corporation, together with Byfleet Island and two adjoining sluices on the Derwent, with a view to supplying Derby with water on a three year contract, at the end of which he could give the works up to the Corporation. The waterwheel, which was employed to pump water from the river to a cistern near St Michael's Church, for onward distribution by pipes, could be raised or lowered according to the river level. The works were still in use in 1829.

There is a further dating clue in this picture and that is the tower on St Werburgh’s church which appears to differ from the one shown on the later 1728 East Prospect. We know from the flood records that in 1696 a great flood washed down part of St. Werburgh’s church and the steeple fell and if the steeple shown on this picture is the old one than it cannot be later than 1696 giving us a window of no more than four years for this view of Derby, that is, the most probable date being between after 1692 but before 1696.

My thanks to Maxwell Craven for pointing out the fact that the mill was previously the Gunpowder Mill

Revised December 2010 - Ron McKeown

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