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