Is there an appetite for further Enlightenment?

Guest post by Ros Westwood

I have just returned from the Museums Association conference where I was lucky enough to be asked to share some of the lessons we have learned during the years of the Enlightenment! programme. I shared the platform with Isabel Hughes of the Museum of English Rural Life, and there was a great contrast between their 20th century collections and ours. Have a look at their blog here.

Also on the platform was Fiona Talbot, head of museums, libraries and archives at the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). She announced another tranche of Collecting Cultures support . This is the money that allowed Enlightenment! to happen. This is really good news – it shows that HLF recognises how important this work is, and how with a modest amount of money some extraordinary work can be done on museums’ collections.

The new programme has a top award of £500,000 – I suggest that is far more than we should need (and we will need to have a match fund of money and volunteer time). HLF has also broadened the eligibility, and so we can include the Record Office and libraries. Whatever we do, we’ll need to put Derbyshire as a centre for innovation and technological development into the heart of the mix.

The question is – do you, our followers, want us to pursue this? We won’t be able to do Enlightenment! the same way again, but if we can be sure of the commitment, we can think of how we can make the project grow and still meet the HLF requirement. Please let us know, either through the blog or by e-mailing me directly

Walker Art Gallery

Walker Art Gallery

The conference this year was in Liverpool, so I took the opportunity to call into the Walker Art Gallery. Liverpool has a good collection of paintings by my Enlightenment! hero Joseph Wright of Derby. His picture Three Persons viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight c1764 -5 was just amazing. It is hung at just the right height, and you feel you are looking with the three men, standing in the dark outside the glow of the lamp.  A very intimate experience – and a forerunner of the much larger ‘Orrery’.  I think the two pictures are on a par in my response to them.

Fleetwood Hesketh Mrs Frances Hesketh,-c.1769 











And the portraits of Hesketh Fleetwood and his wife Mrs Frances Hesketh held my attention too – there was obviously a rapport between the two men which does not seem to have been reciprocated by the lady! Or am I wrong?

 There were other Wrights to admire amongst lots more pictures and decorative art – some fabulous things – some absolute horrors, but that is what makes museums such amazing places.

Derbyshire curators head to the Yale Centre for British Art

 Next week I fly to America to take up a 4 week curatorial fellowship at the Yale Centre for British Art.  This was something that I applied for back in July, when it all seemed a very long way off…

One of the aims of the Enlightenment! project has been to undertake collections mapping and gain a clearer overview of relevant Derbyshire collections in the public domain. This has been an on-going project and included Neil Howe’s ephemera report and the object catalogues that Ruth Litton worked on. My 4 weeks at YCBA will build on their research to give us a better picture of what Derbyshire artworks are out there.

I will also hopefully uncover more information about  Derbyshire; the chronology of its buildings, road infrastructure, water engineering, and evolution of industries. I plan to make myself useful indentifying some of their Derbyshire sketchbook views too.Our engraving of the De Loutherbourg

YCBA have a fantastic collection including several Joseph Wright’s, a couple of Stubbs’s showing Creswell Crags, and theoriginal ‘View near Matlock’ by De Loutherbourg – of which we have an aquatint in our collection. I am most excited about seeing their watercolours from John Webber and William Day’s 1789 tour of Derbyshire. Through the Enlightenment! project we’ve bought 3 pictures from this tour, with a fourth possibly on the cards – watch this space…

I plan to share my findings on the blog and hope that my fellow travel companion, curator and ‘fellowshipee’, Lucy Bamford might do the same. Lucy is the art curator at Derby Museums and her fellowship will focus on the works of Joseph Wright. All very exciting and a tad nerve-wracking, but I am sure we’ll have a fantastic experience.

Help us fill the frame… by walking to Alderwasley!

On Sunday 24 March, Derby Museums will be leading a sponsored walk from the Museum and Art Gallery to the Hurt Arms in Ambergate.

This is a vital part of their campaign to raise £11,000 for the purchase of Francis and Mary Hurt, two key figures in the industrial revolution that rocked Derbyshire and the world over 200 years ago.Fill this Frame

We would be delighted to see as many people as possible on this 12.5 mile walk, which will be following historic roads, tracks and paths, as it makes its way north to the edge of the Hurt family’s historic estate in the heart of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.

How you can help –

We would like people to talk to their friends, family and work colleagues, and get as many offers of sponsorship as they can – this can either be a set amount, or per mile (eg £1 per mile).

The walk takes place a week before our deadline to raise the money – so any proceeds need to be back with us really quickly (cheques to ‘Derby Museums’).

We will leave the Museum and Art Gallery (entrance at The Strand) at 9am, and aim to reach the Hurt Arms by 2.30pm. Food is available throughout the afternoon there, but it’s best to book ahead if you want to secure a table! (Details at or by ringing 01773 852006).

The route takes in some wonderful scenery, but parts may be muddy, so walking boots (and of course wet weather gear) are strongly recommended.

Buses and trains run directly from outside the pub back to Derby (trains at 14.54 and 16.54, and trains at 14.45, 15.45, 16.45, 17.45)

Further details are available from Roger Shelley, Principal Keeper, Derby Museums 01332 642229 or on their website.

Download a walk sponsorship form here.

Mr and Mrs Hurt – Derby Museums needs your help

Derby Museums need to raise £11,000 to purchase two portraits by Joseph Wright. The portraits are of the industrialist and land owner Francis Hurt and his wife Mary. 

 Francis Hurt

Francis Hurt, was a key figure in the economic development of Derbyshire.  He was a wealthy landowner and industrialist who exploited the iron and lead on his land – in his portrait you can see he has a piece of galena, lead ore on the table.  Their son Charles married Richard Arkwright’s daughter, cementing the bond between minerals and textiles, which underpins the inscription of the Derwent Valley Mills as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mary HurtFrancis is on display at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, while Mary Hurt is currently on loan to Buxton Museum as part of the Enlightenment! Exhibition.  She is painted with an opened book on the table and a snuff box in hand.


The paintings are being offered to Derby Museums for £122,000.  They have to raise the remaining £11,000 to secure the purchase by the end of March.  For more details on their fundraising events and activities and info on how to donate, visit their website.

World Heritage Site Discovery Days 2012

Matt Edwards is giving a talk about the Enlightenment! project on Friday 2nd November, 1pm – 2pm at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

There will be a chance to see some of Derby Museums’ purchases up close and personal at the end of the talk.  It is FREE but places are limited so please call Gwen Wilson , Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Administrator, during office hours on 01629 536831.

The talk is part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Discovery Days.  The festival is in its eighth year and there are over 160 events happening up and down the Valley between 27th October and 4th November.  You can see the full programme here.

I’ll just flag up a few events that might be of particular interest:

Joseph Wright’s Derby

Saturday 27th October

11.00am -12.30pm, starting from the Joseph Wright Gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. FREE. Suitable for adults. Booking is essential on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Internationally respected 18th century artist, Joseph Wright, had a strong connection to Derby – the place he lived, worked and died. Join the Assistant Head of Museums, Jonathan Wallis, for this fascinating walk around Joseph Wright’s Derby.


Joseph Wright’s Life and Work

Thursday 1st Nov

1.00pm – 2.00pm, Derby Museum and Art Gallery. FREE. Suitable for adults. Booking is essential on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Join the Assistant Head of Museums, Jonathan Wallis, for his ever-popular talk on the life and work of the internationally renowned 18th century artist, Joseph Wright.


John Smedley’s Mill – 228 Years of Production at Lea Bridge

Saturday 3rd Nov

7.30pm at the Gothic Warehouse, Cromford Wharf. FREE. Pre-booking recommended on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Illustrated talk by Jane Middleton-Smith, to include the history of the mill, the Smedley family and the project to catalogue the company’s unique heritage.

Arkwright Housing – From Cottages to Grand Houses

Sunday 4th Nov

2.00pm – 3.30pm, from outside the Greyhound Inn, Cromford Market Place. FREE. Pre-booking recommended on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Barry Joyce reveals recent research on Alison House, one of the lesser known Arkwright Houses, on a walk from Cromford Village, past the housing built for the mill-workers on North Street.

Lichfield – An Enlightenment City

Last week 7 of us from the Enlightenment! team visited  Lichfield.

We started our day at the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum, which is a fantastic museum in the house where Samuel Johnson lived.  The museum opened in 1901 and houses a great collection of personalia, manuscripts and art relating to Johnson and 18th century Lichfield.  In the attic there is a first edition copy of his most famous work, his dictionary which was published in 1755 after 9 years of research and revision.

Although Johnson spent most of his life living in Lichfield and London, he was no stranger to Derbyshire.  His father Michael Johnson was born in Cubley, Derbyshire and Samuel Johnson visited the County many times, even getting married at St Werburgh’s in Derby in 1735.  It is not known why he wed in Derby, but it may have been to escape disapproving family members– his wife Elisabeth was 20 years his senior and considerably wealthier than him and neither side of the family were thrilled with the match.

Joanne the Museum Officer  got out various Derbyshire related manuscripts for us to look at, including Johnson’s wedding certificate – front row, second from the left.

Johnson visited Derbyshire many times with his friend and biographer James Boswell.  He was good friends with Dr John Taylor who lived at the Manor House in Ashbourne and Taylor’s table from the Manor House is on display at the Birthplace Museum.

On a bit of a tangent, but earlier this week I came across a fab watercolour allegedly featuring Samuel Johnson.  ‘Vauxhall Gardens’ painted in 1784 by Thomas Rowlandson depicts the fashionable gardens during a concert with people eating, drinking and gossiping.  The supper box below the orchestra on the left hand side apparently contains Dr Johnson, Boswell, his friend Mrs Thrale and the novelist and playwright Oliver Goldsmith.  (There seems to be some debate about the accuracy of this, not least because by 1784 Goldsworth was a decade dead).

One of the women under the tree has been identified as Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire – Rowlandson has been somewhat kinder in his depiction of her here than in the caricatures that he well known for.

Anyway back to Lichfield…. We had a lovely lunch at Chapters, the Cathedral Café and we managed a very quick look into the Cathedral itself. It is an amazing building which we didn’t have to time to do justice.  They had on display some of the Staffordshire Hoard plus there is a sculpture by Francis Chantrey, who was born in Norton which was then part of Derbyshire (Yes, I am shamelessly plugging yet another Derbyshire link).

In the afternoon we visited Erasmus Darwin’s House.  Erasmus  was a surgeon, poet and general Enlightenment thinker who amongst other things was the founder of Lichfield’s Botanical Society, Derby’s Philosophical Society and the Lunar Society.   The Erasmus Darwin house is an impressive Georgian town house with great views over to the Cathedral. The highlight of the visit for me was Erasmus’ Commonplace Book which was full of drawings of his inventions, scientific musings and medical records.

Among his many achievements E.D had a progressive stance on female education. He helped his two illegitimate daughters Susan and Mary set up a school for girls in Ashbounre in 1794.  Three years later he published Plan for the Conduct of Female Education, in Boarding Schools.

E. Darwin was a serious procreator and had 14 children and many grandchildren including Charles Darwin and  Francis Galton.

By 1782 Darwin had moved to Derby where he continued to practice medicine.  He died in 1802 and is buried at Breadsall Church.  Derby Museums and Art Gallery hold collections including his microscope and his portrait by Joseph Wright.

‘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.

Enlightenment! poem – Luminary by Ann Atkinson



 Set the scene with a full bright moon,

 note Flamsteed’s Crater in the Ocean of Storms,

 the impact; now think of the tide-swell,

 the collision and ferment of curious minds,

 a beginning, then, of modern times.


So at full-moon they come to Erasmus,

unfolding ideas like charts, maps to a future,

these friends – the maker of buckles, the potter,

the clock-maker working with minutes,

but dreaming of eons, engineers, mechanics,


and you, Joseph Wright, artist and witness,

 frame new perspectives, cast your light

 on these moments advancing the times.

 We think of you stretching your canvas, mixing

 a spectrum of colour, planning balance and form.


Those intimate nocturnes – faces, keen and alight,

 drawn close by the candle’s flame; and there,

 a lamp is the sun, and the orbit of planets, moon,

 demonstrates an eclipse; in the foreground,

 another – the dark silhouette of a child.


 There, is the clamour and heat of the air

 in the blacksmith’s forge, a glimpse of moon

 behind clouds; and the same moon shines

 as the Alchemist kneels, like prayer, and gasps

 at the instant, the phosphorous flare.


You write from Italy, wishing John were there

 to see Vesuvius redden the sky, say

 that he would think deeply into the mountain

 while you skim the surface, the glare in darkness,

 the moon floating palely over the bay.


John is our clock-maker. He explains the heave

 and uprising that opened up strata, like pages

 recording the layers of time. You paint him,

 pen and diagram in his hands, a smoking volcano,

 the image you choose for the power of his mind.


You give us your views in the changing light,

 Arkwright’s Mill, Matlock Tor, Dovedale

 by day, by night, and the stories you frame

 come like news from your time. You set these scenes,

 the storm and the vision of these luminous minds.


Ann Atkinson: Derbyshire Poet Laureate: 2009 -11

Luminary was commissioned to celebrate ‘Faces in the Crowd: Joseph Wright and Friends in Georgian Derbyshire’, an exhibition at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery from 5th March to 30 May 2011. 

Ann Atkinson was Derbyshire Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011 and before that Poet Laureate of the Peak from 2008 to 2010. Her book From Matlock to Mamelodi: 5000 miles of poetry is available from Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer on 01773 831359 or email  Ann’s pamphlet Drawing Water is available from Smith/Doorstop.

Peter Perez Burdett’s sketch of Full Street, Derby



Pen, Ink and Wash on laid paper watermarked J Whatman.

Bought by Derby Museum and Art Gallery at Mellors and Kirk Fine Art Auctioneers, Nottingham.

Burdett was a cartographer, surveyor and topographical artist. In 1765 he moved into the tall house on the left hand side of the street (next but one to the alms houses) which he had his friend, the architect Joseph Pickford (1734-1782) remodel in the fashionable Gothick style.

A friend of Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) – who painted a double portrait of Burdett and his wife – his circle included many of the leading figures in the Midlands Enlightenment. Amongst others, he corresponded with such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin. His many interests ranged from astronomy and music to printmaking, producing the first aquatint printed in England.

This apparently unfinished drawing shows the east end of Derby Cathedral on the extreme right hand side which is all that now remains of the scene. It was copied by George Bailey (1832-1925) and published as a postcard by Richard Keene, Junior of Derby in 1905. In 1768 Burdett left Derby for Liverpool so as to avoid his creditors, before settling permanently in the Margraviate of Baden in 1774.


 On the back of the sketch there are various inscriptions that read:

 ‘Full Street, Derby 1769’

bottom right ‘East side of All Saint’s Church’

left side. Different hand in ink ‘Bought Mr Thos Chubbard(?) _ _ _ _ _ _’ across bottom left. Inscription on verso in pencil: ‘by P.P.Burdett, a celebrated Surveyor and Mathematician of Derby who became Chief Engineer for the Prince of Baden in Germany. Throsby’s Select Views of Liecestershire 1789. Mr Burdett is represented in Wright’s painting of the Orrery as taking notes on the left side of the picture, also with Wright in his picture of the Gladiator. He was a personal friend of Wright. See Bemrose’s Life and Works of Joseph Wright 1885. In the catalogue of the late(?) of the collection of Prints and Drawings formed by Wm Roscoe Esq published in 1816 there appears the following “P.P. Burdett, Eight of States(?), Historical Lanscaper of  specimens of different processes in aqua-tuita. Six ditto_ _ _ _of_ _ _ _ _ _ , sold £1.17 6. These attempts to execute prints in aqua-tuita were made about the same time as those of J.B de Prince (to whom the invention is attributed) by Mr Burdett, an amateur artist of Liverpool, who is chiefly known to the public by his excellent maps of Derbyshire and Cheshire’ page 165.’

New Perspectives on Joseph Wright of Derby

As part of the Wright of Derby Festival, Derby University is holding a one-day conference on Thurs, 12 January 2012.

The conference explores Joseph Wright and his relevance to Derby in the 21st century.   Speakers include academics from Nottingham, Derby, Keele and Glasgow Universities as well as our lovely Enlightenment! colleague Lucy Salt –  Keeper of Art at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

For more information including the conference programme visit the University of Derby website.