Silhouette of Thomas Steel (1772-1850)

Derby Museums bought this silhouette at auction in September 2012.

Thomas Steel, porcelain worker

Thomas Steel was a Derby Porcelain worker who was trained by John Davenport. He moved from the Potteries in Stoke to the Nottingham Road Works in Derby in 1815. He was greatly admired for his still life painting and specialised in fruit.

He moved to Minton in 1832 where his flower designs were popular. You can see an example of one his plaques which sold at Bonhams here, and also a vase from the V&A’s collections here.  They are a bit blinging for my tastes!

View of Richard Arkwright’s Mill, Cromford – Derby Porcelain saucer

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has bought a Derby Porcelain cup and saucer dating from 1795. The saucer was the main attraction as it shows a named view of Sir Richard Arkwright’s Mill in Cromford.

The painting in a naïve style appears to be a simplified copy of the Zachariah Boreman watercolour of ‘The Lower Mill’ painted eight years earlier in 1787. The A frame in the foreground is intriguing and after various discussions it is thought to be a frame for bleaching yarn in the sun. Other thoughts were that it might have been linked to a tannery (although no tanneries are thought to have been in the area) or it could have been a tenter frame (although the size is all wrong for this).

You can find out more about the Lower Mill on the DVMWHS website .

The cup shows a view near Little Eaton. We haven’t done much research into this piece but 1795 was the date that Benjamin Outram opened the Little Eaton tramway linking the village with Derby. This might have sparked an interest in the village or it could of course just be coincidental.

‘Revealing the World’ exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Last week we opened our latest exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, ‘Revealing the World’. The exhibition looks at the curios and artefacts brought back by travellers, scientists and explorers who travelled the world. The exhibition includes loans from the British Museum, Derby Museum Service and Bakewell Old House Museum, and includes some of our Enlightenment! purchases. Other items were donated by Enlightenment figures with Derbyshire links such as Joseph Banks and Thomas Bateman.

On display there is an oil painting called ‘Near Tokyo’ by Frank Beresford that Derby Museum and Art Gallery bought from Ebay earlier this year. Frank Beresford was born in Derby in 1881 and trained at the Derby School of Art. In 1908 – 1909 he went to Japan on a painting tour, you can find out more about the artist and his visit to Japan here.

The other two loans from Derby Museum Service look at how far-away places influenced fashions and designs back home. On display are the two Derby Porcelain plates that the project bought in 2009. The plates painted by John Brewer show Arctic scenes including a Newfoundland dog rescuing a sailor and a rather docile looking Polar Bear. Their production shows the level of interest in the Arctic explorations that were happening at the time.

Another loan from Derby is a mettzotint of Joseph Wright’s painting ‘The Widow of an Indian Chief Watching the Arms of her deceased husband’ – showing the fascination there was for the image of the ‘Nobile Savage’ in late 18th century Britain.

Other loans include a pyramidion collected and donated to the British Museum by Sir John Wilkinson Gardner, an Aleut Indian canoe donated by Joseph Banks and three Peruvian figures collected by Thomas Bateman.

The exhibition is free and runs until the 24th November.

Freeman Collection Sale – Derby Porcelain

In March Derby Museum and Art Gallery bought seven lots from a large private collectors sale at Mellors and Kirk Auction House.

They had professional consultation to determine which items would most compliment their existing collection. Three of these purchases were bought with funding from the Enlightenment! project.

An early Derby Porcelain salt cellar, c.1758-60.

A Derby Porcelain or Cockpit Hill oval dish/plate, c.1764-5.

A Derby porcelain large transfer printed mug/tankard, c.1765-70.

Derby Porcelain notebook – 1822


Derby Museums have recently purchased a 19th Century Derby porcelain worker’s notebook. 



The inside cover is inscribed ‘James Fairbanks, Derby 1822, No of Watch 28538’ and contains recipes and receipts for the production of Derby porcelain. James Fairbanks was a potter who in 1822 succeeded William Porter as overseer of the useful ware department at the Nottingham Road Factory, where he remained until his death in 1837.




Bamfords auctioneers pointed out that the titles of some of the recipes perhaps indicate the level of industrial espionage. It also illustrates the amount of competition between the factories of the day to produce the best and most commercially successful products.



This is a rare addition to the important porcelain collection that the museum holds.


Cockpit Hill mug – “Clarke for Ever Huzza”.

 Derby Museum and Art Gallery have bought a Cockpit Hill mug dated 1768.  It has the painted inscription ‘Clarke for Ever Huzza’ and depicts Godfrey Bagnall Clarke (1742 – 1774), MP for Derbyshire.


Clarke beat the sitting MP for Derbyshire Sir Henry Harpur in a contested election in 1768.  He went on to be re-elected unopposed in 1774 but died only a few months later. 

He was great friends with the historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’.  They first met in Lausanne in 1763 and spent time together on the Grand Tour.  . 

 Clarke’s father Godfrey Clarke helped finance his son’s political campaign and when he died in 1774 he left Godfrey Bagnall Clarke in debt.  Gibbons mentions this in a letter to John Baker Holroyd (later Lord Sheffield), April 13 1774:

  ‘If my esteem and friendship for Godfrey had been capable of any addition, it would have been very much increased by the manner in which he felt and lamented his father’s death … He is now in very different circumstances than before; instead of an easy and ample allowance, he has taken possession of a great estate, with low rents and high encumbrances.’

Courtesy of Miss Frances Webb and

The great estate was Sutton Park (Scarsdale Sutton Hall) which Godfrey Clarke Senior bought in 1740.  Today it is in ruin, but at the time it was one of the finest houses in Derbyshire.  It was later owned by Richard Arkwright Junior and stayed in the Arkwright family until 1920.

Scarsdale Sutton Hall in 1980 (Courtesy of

Godfrey Bagnall Clarke fell ill in 1774.  On 17th December Gibbons wrote ‘I know not what to say about him, he is reduced to nothing, and his disorder is attended with every bad symptom.’  Clarke died 9 days later on 26th December.

 An elegy was written for him and printed for J. Bradley & T. Trimer at Derby; and J. Gregory at Leicester.  I haven’t managed to look at a copy of this yet, but it is on my list.

The Gibbon letters are taken from John Brooke’s article on the History of Parliament website.


Derby Silk Mill


Derby Museum and Art Gallery have purchased two 19th century Derby porcelain plates showing the Silk Mill painted by H.S Hancock. 



The Silk Mill stands on the site of the world’s first factory and is the Southern gateway to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. It was built on an island on the river Derwent around 1715 and housed machinery used to manufacture silk thread. Its size, output and number of workers was unprecedented and wasn’t surpassed until Arkwright built his water powered cotton mills at Cromford.

The factory was built by two enterprising half brothers Thomas and John Lombe and part financed by their uncle William Lombe. In 1718 Thomas Lombe obtained a standard 14 year patent for:

A new invention of three sorts of engines never before made or used in Great Britaine, one to winde the finest raw silk, another to spin, and the other to twist the finest Italian raw silk into organzine in great perfection, which was never before done in this country.’

Stephanie Hitchcock from Belper North Mill has researched the Lombe brothers and you can find more information on the WHS website.

A 19th Century Derby blue ground and gilt plate with panel depicting The Silk Mill by H.S Hancock. The scene also shows the St Alkmunds Church (left) and St Mary’s Church (right). In the foreground there are two fishermen in a boat.

A 19th Century Derby blue ground and gilt plate with panel depicting Derby from the Meadows by H.S Hancock. The scene also shows the Cathedral of All Saints, Long Bridge and the Shot Tower.

These two plates compliment a H.S Hancock painting that the Museum already has entitled ‘Silk Mills, from Exeter Bridge, 1896’. 

Zachariah Boreman plates donated to Derby Museum and Art Gallery

In July 2011 we kindly had two Derby porcelain plates donated to the Enlightenment! project. Both plates have a Derbyshire scene and are named ‘Lower Brook Bredsall [sic], Derbyshire’ and ‘View of Worksworth [sic] Moor, Derbyshire’. The plates were painted by Zachariah Boreman (1738 – 1810)  in around 1790.

Derby Museum and Art Gallery have the original Zachariah Boreman watercolour designs for these plates, which are on loan from Derbyshire Archaeological Society.

According to Samuel Keys, an apprentice and then gilder at Derby porcelain from c.1785 – 1830, Zachariah Boreman ‘excelled in landscape painting, and was on intimate terms with Mr Wright, the celebrated artist’.

Earlier this year we bought a plate also dating from the 1790s that was painted by Zachariah Boreman, take a look here.

Derby polychrome cup and saucer, c.1770

In June the Enlightenment! project bought a rare Derby polychrome miniature or toy tea bowl and saucer from Mellors and Kirk auction house in Nottingham. 

The cup dates from around 1770 and is enamelled with a principle floral spray and scattered flowers.

Derby Porcelain & John Boydell

A Derby porcelain lozenge shaped dessert dish, c.1790

This dish has a white ground with a cobalt blue border and is gilded with eight small reserves containing a rose. The oval central reserve is bordered by a fine blue overgilded line and contains a landscape showing a river scene with a bridge, windmill, castle, house and three figures.

The roses on the border were probably painted by Derby porcelain artist William Billingsley (1758–1828) and the central reserve painted by Zachariah Boreman (1736 – 1810). The dish dates from the Duesbury period, circa 1790. It is marked with the numeral 1 for the gilder Thomas Soar.



A Derby porcelain oval shaped dessert dish, c.1820

This dish has a cobalt blue ground, a gilded arrowhead border and a gadrooned rim.  The large central reserve contains a townscape of Derby viewed from the weir on the River Derwent.  It depicts St. Marys Church and the Shot Tower and was possibly painted by Daniel Lucas.

It dates from the Bloor period, circa 1820 and is marked ‘Bloor Derby’ enclosing crown in red printed circular mark.




Portrait of John Boydell (1720-1804)

Mezzotint published 1772                                 
Valentine Green after Josiah Boydell

John Boydell was one of the richest and most powerful print publishers of the late 18th century. He started his career as an engraver and eventually saved enough money to establish his own print publishing business.  He acquired the license to reproduce paintings by Thomas Smith of Derby.  His print shop in Londonwas well patronised by travellers and people wanting to look fashionable and knowledgeable.

Valentine Green is considered to be one of the greatest mezzotint engravers of the 18th century.  Green produced affordable mezzotints after the paintings of the most leading and contemporary artists of his day, including Joseph Wright.


What is mezzotint?

The mezzotint is a form of engraving, or intaglio printmaking. Unlike linear engraving methods, in which the desired image is incised and ‘scooped’ out of a metal plate creating a sharply defined line, mezzotint involves the roughening of a metal surface (the resulting texture is called the ‘burr’), which enables the achievement of smooth gradations of tone. The result is an impression that appears velvety and painterly. Due to the finely worked surface of mezzotint plates, the lines of the engraving were easily worn away by the production of repeat impressions, so the first and darkest impressions were considered the most valuable and of the highest quality.