Derbyshire Felons and Fellows (March 2013)

At our March meeting, Joan Ward stepped in at short notice and gave a fascinating talk on Derbyshire Felons and Fellows.  She followed her previous talk on Derbyshire women and looked at some men who were either born or settled here.  Some were well known and others almost forgotten, but all had made a major contribution in their field.  One similarity appeared to be that they many of them had lots of children, so they did have some spare time.

Derbyshire produced the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, who set up the Greenwich Observatory and argued with Newton.  Famous engineers associated with Derbyshire were the canal builder James Brindley, who was born at Tunstead, whilst the railway engineer, George Stevenson, came to work here and retired in the County.   Less well known but with a lasting legacy was Samuel Fox of Bradwell whose experiments with hollow wire lead not only to improvements in Victorian lady’s crinoline supports but also to modern light-weight umbrellas.  Almost completely unknown now, was Peter Fiddler of Bolsover who explored the Canadian Rockies,

On the artistic front, Joseph Wright of Derby was well known for his paintings and Robert Bakewell for his ironwork, which can be seen locally in the gates to Okeover Hall near Ashbourne.  Less well known, but worthy of acclaim, was the carver James Redford of Hartington, whose work graces Salisbury Cathedral as well as the Albert Memorial.  Another carver, Samuel Watson, worked at Chatsworth on a fixed time contract which had to be completed on time or he would not be paid.  A sadder tale was that of George Turner of Cromford – the Derbyshire Constable – who painted landscapes of Derbyshire, but made no money from his paintings although they now sell for several thousands of pounds.

On the medical front, the well respected doctor and member of the Lunar Society, Erasmus Darwin, moved to Derbyshire in the 18th Century whilst much earlier Thomas Linacre of Brampton near Chesterfield was tutor and doctor to Henry VIII.  In the 19th Century another doctor, Thomas Bent, pioneered the treatment of mental illness in a new hospital at Mickleover.  He must have been very popular with his patients as he advocated the medicinal value of alcohol.  On the other extreme, John Smedley built up an empire based on water treatments at Matlock whilst encouraging patients not to smoke, drink or dance.  Joan’s description of his natural cure for constipation – the ascending douche – brought tears to the eyes.   Joan said that she had only scratched the surface of her subject.  Let’s hope she can return in the future with more entertaining tales of people of Derbyshire.