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October 2002
Derby's Arboretum Park
Entrance to the Arboretum
The impressive entrance to the Arboretum
The Arboretum is of great historical interest and has a claim to fame of being Britain's first public open space in the 19th Century, thanks to Joseph Strutt.
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arrow The Arboretum today
arrow Elvaston Country Park
arrow Virtual Tour of Derby
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WHERE IS IT?

Map showing location of the Arboretum
Close to the city centre, the park’s entrances are on Reginald Street and Arboretum Square (off Osmaston Road).

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History of the Arboretum
The Arboretum was the first public park in Britain…..and it was a trend-setter overseas as well, for Central Park in New York was based upon the design of the Arboretum.

It is certainly a place of great historical interest. The park forms the major part of the Arboretum Conservation Area designated in 1975, contains two listed buildings, and it is included in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens.

Joseph Strutt
Joseph Strutt in 1842 (courtesy: Derby Local Studies Library)
The Arboretum was given to Derby in 1840 by Joseph Strutt, a local cotton mill owner and the first Mayor of the reformed Borough of Derby.

He had previously used the 11-acre site on the then outskirts of Derby as his summer retreat, but concerned that there was no provision for fresh air recreation in the rapidly growing town he decided to donate it to Derby.

In his presentation of the Arboretum to the Town Council on 16th September 1840, Strutt made it clear that his motives were twofold: first, to provide an area for ‘exercise and recreation in the fresh air’ in an increasingly industrialised town; and second, ‘to offer the means of instruction to visitors’ by collecting and labelling a valuable collection of trees and shrubs.

Strutt also saw the park as a kind of ‘thankyou’ gift to those people whose work had helped him to acquire his fortune.

arrowThe Arboretum today

Concluding his address he said: "It would be ungrateful in me not to employ a portion of the fortune which I possess, in promoting the welfare of those amongst whom I live, and by whose industry I have been aided in its acquisition."

Joseph Claudus Loudon, whose writings in the early nineteenth century had a large influence on horticulture and garden design, was commissioned by Strutt to design the park.

In his writings he had already expressed an interest in creating a public park, and thus he was a natural choice to develop the Arboretum.

A pathway in Arbortum
One of the park's serene pathways
At first it was thought a botanical garden would be constructed on the site, but this would have been too expensive to develop and upkeep and so an Arboretum was created instead.

Originally, over 1000 species of tree, shrub and rose were planted in the park, acquired from all over the country and labelled and recorded in an official catalogue.

Strutt requested that no species was to be repeated throughout the park, in order to encourage people to walk all the way around it. Loudon tried to create a feeling of seclusion within the park by the construction of mounds of soil planted with trees and shrubs, which disguised the boundaries of the park and concealed the paths around it. This design also helped to make the park feel much bigger than its actual 11 acres. Two lodges were also built at the edges of the park – at Strutt’s request – to provide covered seating and public conveniences for visitors.

The park was formally presented to the Town Council and the public on 16th September 1840. The Council declared a 3 day public holiday to mark the occasion, and there were great public celebrations.

About 25,000 people attended the opening events, including visitors from outside Derby who were eager to see the country’s first public park.

On the first afternoon, a procession of the town’s dignitaries was greeted by volleys of canon and a fanfare of trumpets as it reached the Arboretum.

Portraits of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Joseph Strutt were put among the shrubbery, and there was music, tea and dancing.

The next day, the attractions included a hot air balloon, although it took three balloons before there was a successful flight – the first balloon caught alight before being launched, and the second was blown off course into a tree where it became stuck!

There was a firework display in the evening, and on the final day a Grand Ball was held for around 450 guests. For the next 50 years the anniversary of the park’s opening was moved to August 15th – the birthday of Joseph Strutt.

This day was a public holiday in Derby and the celebrations attracted thousands of people annually, including visitors from places such as Leeds and Manchester who were brought to Derby on special excursion trains.

Lodge at the Arboretum
One of the Arboretum's lodges

A week after the park was first opened, the Arboretum management committee decided that although it would be free for the public to enter on Wednesdays and Sundays in accordance with Strutt’s wishes, there would be an admission charge on the other days of the week to cover the upkeep of the park.

A single ticket would cost 6d (3d for children under 12), or an annual season ticket was available for 7s 6d. This would have been unaffordable for the majority of workers whose average wage at the time was about £1 a week, and so the Arboretum became a fashionable place frequented by the more prosperous inhabitants of Derby, except for on the anniversary days when large crowds flocked to the park for the entertainment provided.

Only in 1882 were all entrance charges finally abolished. Many changes have been made to the park over the years. Around 1860 a scaled down version of the Crystal Palace was built by Charles Fox at the Rosehill Street side of the park.

Pollution from the growing town destroyed many of the trees and shrubs from the original collection, and to combat this many London Plane and Lime trees were planted around 1880, which still remain today.

In the 1890s both an aviary and a bandstand were added. The aviary remained until about the 1960s, but unfortunately the bandstand was destroyed by a direct bomb hit in the Second World War (A piece of the shattered bandstand knocked the head off the Florentine Boar – an earthenware statue moved to the Arboretum from Strutt’s garden in 1840 and known to locals as ‘the Pig’).

A second concert stand erected in the 1930s survived until 1995 when it was destroyed by fire.

The Second World War also saw other changes to the Arboretum: the two bronze cannon donated to the park by Lord Palmerston following the battle of Sebastopol in 1857 were melted for the war effort; the park was used in the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign; and it was a site for air raid shelters.

Despite these disruptions, however, the park managed to remain fairly intact.

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