A major new museum this week in the historic English city of Derby. Occupying the building of one of the world’s oldest industrial facilities, the Museum of Making will focus on manufacturing and industrial heritage. The building already lies on part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site which attracts numerous visitors. Derby Silk Mill, the site of the museum, is considered to be the first modern manufacturing centre that ever enjoyed sustained commercial success.
According to the museum’s board, the Grade II listed Silk Mill dates back over 300 years but had been unused for a number of years before the proposal to turn it into Derby’s Museum of Making. The museum will offer more than 30,000 exhibits in its collection. Highlights are expected to be some Rolls-Royce engines, a well-known engineering employer in the city, as well as a Silk motorbike.
The visitor attraction replaces a museum that used to occupy the site. Derby Museums, which gained National Lottery funding as a big proportion of the £18 million needed for the redevelopment, has taken just over a decade to bring the project to fruition. Because of the World Heritage Status, which runs from Cromford to Darley Abbey along the River Derwent, the site of the former mill in Derby could only have certain changes made to accommodate the new museum. Nevertheless, the site remains a good choice for a manufacturing and making museum since it is where the modern factory system first came into existence.
A New Museum Design
On arrival, visitors will be able to see a Rolls-Royce Trent 1,000 engine weighing seven tonnes, suspended from the museum’s ceiling. Then, there is an iconic Silk 700S motorbike which was also a famous product of the area, having been produced at Darley Abbey in the 1970s. However, not everything at the Museum of Making is completely new. The much-loved Midlands Model Railway, which operated on the site previously when it was simply called the Silk Mill Museum has been retained for future visitors to enjoy. Other visitor attractions on offer at the Museum of Making include a workshop where skilled staff will help visitors to work on their own making skills in the fields of furniture production and jewellery making. The museum also has a large room that can be used for formal education, ideal for school groups visiting the institution.
Anne Jenkins, director of the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund for England, Midlands and East, said that from the outset of the redevelopment journey, Derby Silk Mill was thought of as a sleeping giant with huge potential. After her organisation donated £10 million to the conversion project she said that it was hoped that the Museum of Making would become an exemplar as a cultural attraction. She said that the older Silk Mill Museum had been under-appreciated by local people and was at risk of closing. “Now, the new Museum of Making is [something]… local people can be proud of, a driver for the city’s wider regeneration and will become a reason for tourists to visit,” she said.
Derby Museums’ executive director, Tony Butler, echoed Jenkins’ sentiments. He said that the museum would ‘tell the story’ of Derby’s industrial and creative past as well as that of the wider region from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution onwards. However, Butler also said that the Museum of Making was not merely a backwards-looking institution but one that would shape the future. “[It will also be…], a hub for modern makers thanks to the facilities and the support we will provide.”
The Museum of Making has displays that have been put together in tandem with local residents in Derby, some of whom have been involved as curators and designers while others have been given the role of makers. This is what the management team at the museum have referred to as a human-centred approach to the look and feel of the museum. The overall design was led by Hannah Fox, Derby Museums’ director of projects and programmes.
Along with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the redevelopment project was supported by funding given by Arts Council England, Derby City Council and D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), one of the largest LEPs in the country which covers all of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. There was also a significant private funding stream that came from Rolls-Royce, the carmaker and engineering firm which has a long-standing presence in the city.
A Wider Project
With the redevelopment of the Museum of Making now complete, Derby Museums has already announced that it intends to carry out a similar project for the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. Butler said that there would be a ‘short pause’ before work would begin on its other major institution. Butler said that Derby Museums’ intention had been to seek out a new future for the museum and art gallery for some time. “It has the most extensive collection of works by Joseph Wright in the world,” he said, “and his work.. speaks to the themes of the Museum of Making as the [best-known]… artist of the Enlightenment.” According to Butler, Wright’s images frequently depict scenes of scientific development and industry so they are very fitting given the contexts of the gallery and its new sister institution, the Museum of Making.
Entry to the newly opened Museum of Making is free, although there are some temporary exhibitions planned that will need to be paid for. However, due to the country’s current social distancing restrictions, members of the public are currently being encouraged to book a timeslot in advance before they attend. The museum said that it will be releasing a new batch of tickets for visitors each week, on Tuesdays, for admission to the institution over the course of the following week.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.