Art Deco architecture is not the first thing that might spring to mind when you think about Derby. However, look around more carefully and you will find it.
The Old Bus Station
The building that curves gracefully around the corner of Iron Gate and Market Place now houses a Nando's restaurant. This early example of Art Deco was built in the late 1920's and was originally home to a private department store, Barlow and Taylor, but will be remembered by many as the main city branch of the Derbyshire Building Society. It is instantly recognised by locals, and if you take a moment to step back and appreciate the detailing you will understand why. The bas-relief work on the façade is superb and is best appreciated when the building is floodlit at night.ocal Studies Library
THE MARKET PLACE
The building that curves gracefully around the corner of Irongate and Market Place now houses a Nando's restaurant. This early example of Art Deco was built in the late 1920's and was originally home to a private department store, Barlow and Taylor, but will be remembered by many as the main city branch of the Derbyshire Building Society. It is instantly recognised by locals, and if you take a moment to step back and appreciate the detailing you will understand why. The bas-relief work on the façade is superb and is best appreciated when the building is floodlit at night.
A less well-known Art Deco gem is the National Westminster Bank situated on Derwent Street. This building was designed by Naylor, Sale and Widdows and construction was completed by 1932. It is a good example of the Art Deco style and the mosaic-work clock is now restored to working order.
The bank is complemented nicely by buildings on the opposite side of Derwent Street - the Exeter Place apartments block. Although relatively modest, this building is evenly proportioned and includes mosaic tiling detail in the horizontal banding between floors, picking up on the clock across the street. These flats were built to provide low-cost housing as part of a significant remodelling of the city centre by Borough Architect Charles Herbert Aslin.
The 'Central Improvement Scheme' also included the Magistrates Court on Full Street, the Council House, a covered market on Morledge where the Crown Courts now stand and the old Derby Bus Station.
Queen's Leisure Center
Queen's Leisure Centre, originally named Queen Street Baths, was built in 1928 to a design by the Borough Architect, Charles Herbert Aslin. The Baths are noted for their classic design and the high quality of materials, the barrel-vaulted ceiling and polished three-tiered limestone seating of the Gala pool being of particular note. The Chamber of Commerce had insisted that shops be incorporated into the façade to help finance the scheme, and the King's Chambers on Queen Street were Aslin's solution to this. Following a renovation and remodelling which emphasised Aslin's original features, a more accessible entrance was created on Cathedral Road and the facility was reopened in 1992 by the Queen. The original Baths entrance on Queen Street, flanked by two tower-like structures, was reused as an art gallery for many years.
The Co-operative Department Store
The co-operative department store
The Co-operative Department Store on the corner of East Street and Exchange Street was built in 1938-9 by the Society's own building department. There have been many threats to its existence over the years of re-development in the City Centre, but fortunately it has survived, complete with its curving sweep of thirties "Streamline Moderne" glazing and original metal frames on the upper storeys.
The Zanzibar Night Club
Zanzibar Night Club on London Road was originally built as the Gaumont Palace cinema, which opened in 1934 and quickly became renowned as Derby's finest. Designed by British Gaumont's chief Architect, Mr W E Trent, the Gaumont boasted a restaurant and an airy, spacious auditorium. The interior included many Art Deco features in the plasterwork, light fittings and other detailing. It is the last remaining Art-Deco cinema building in the city centre.
The Spot boasts a cluster of Art Deco features. Perhaps the most surprising being the underground public conveniences, refurbished in the 1990s to create a piece of decidedly Art Deco street furniture, with the stylised square clock tower. The building facing you as you reach the top of St. Peter's Street has a distinctive, if not exactly pretty, curved Streamline Moderne frontage. This is flanked by two towers, now echoed by those of the public conveniences opposite. The final item in this cluster is perhaps the most worthy; number 96 St. Peter's Street, built c1930 and now Higg's Restaurant offers a modern ground floor shop front, but above this the reconstituted stone first floor offers three bays of windows, separated by perpendicular columns topped with a sculptural torch motif, and a stepped parapet.
a history of innovation
The area of Derby just south of Victoria Street is known as Beckets Well. This rather neglected looking part of the city centre is currently awaiting redevelopment. Various proposals have come and gone, including a complex of pubs and bars, council offices and most recently a low-cost housing development.
The current vacant plot, now cleared for development, was once home to one of Derby's first pedestrian-only retail areas, Duckworth Square. Constructed in the 1960s, it was successful in attracting some of Derby's long-standing businesses of the time such as Amos Wright, the city's first tour company, and James Harwood, a stationery and office supplies company.
The Victoria Electric Theatre
The Beckets Well area also boasted the presence of one of the earliest cinemas in the town, the Victoria Electric Theatre in 1910. From 1954 to its close in 1960, it was called The Black Prince. Sadly, Duckworth Square and the surrounding area fell into decline. Described in a 1980s study as a 'retail cul-de-sac', it became the victim of neglect, businesses moved away from the area, and the Square was eventually demolished in the 1990's.
So, you might be thinking, why dwell upon a part of town that's in danger of being labelled an 'eye-sore'? Well, a clue to the area's historic significance lies in its name.
The Victoria Electric Theatre
Beckets Well Lane is so-called because an actual well existed right up to the 1960s. In terms of Derby's engineering history, this artificial well formed an important aspect of George Sorocold's piped water supply to the town in the 18th century. The origin of Beckets Well is one of Derby's enduring mysteries.
During repair work to the well in the late 19th century, archaeologists and scholars came across an engraved date of 1652 and what could have been constructors' initials. However, this was only a 'modern' feature of the well, as it was believed that the lower part of the well was much older, perhaps dating to some time in the 1200s. If this is true, it perhaps supports 19th century scholars' claims that the well could have served as a stopping-off point for travellers on their way to pay their respects to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. Further, albeit unsubstantiated, debates surround the possible existence of an ancient holy building being located on, or near, the well.