Visit to Town or Country House – Pickford’s House

For the visit in this section of the course you could choose to visit a town or country house with a view to looking for evidence in how art was used as a way of life.

IMG_1866We are lucky here in Derby as we have Pickford’s House which was built by Joseph Pickford between 1768 and 1770.

The first thing I note is the classical style of the exterior of the building with the columns and capitals and facade that is reminiscent of Greek temples – it is one of an immediate display of wealth as it is grand and imposing as befitted his status as a respected architect within the locality.

Joseph Pickford was born in 1734 near Warwick in around 1748 left to join his uncle as an apprentice at his premises in London.  Uncle Joseph was considered to be one of the leading architects in the country and during the course of his apprenticeship the young Joseph worked on two very notable buildings – Horse Guards in Whitehall and also University Library in Cambridge.

Most of young Joseph’s training came about through practical work but he did also learn to do accounts and the ability to write letters to potential clients of a standard that were very attractive and flattering.

Eventually in around 1759 Joseph moved to Derby to become an agent for one David Hiorn of Warwick (another architect) and he moved with the idea of attracting potential clients through the contacts he had made.  He married in 1762 to Mary who was the daughter of the agent Thomas Wilkins of Wenman Coke of Longford Hall, Derbyshire – this was a hall which he worked on during that year and then then continued to do work in the Midlands area in the fashionable Palladian style of the Georgian period.   Some of Pickford’s work included buildings at Kedleston Hall and also Chatsworth and within Derby the original Assembly Rooms.

assembly roomsThere is a poignancy to discover that Pickford designed and built the original Assembly Rooms between 1765 and 1774 as they were destroyed by fire in 1963 – the photo to the right is the facade.  The facade was eventually taken down brick by brick in 1971 and re-built at Crich Tramway Village where fortunately it still is to this day.  The poignancy comes from the replacement building opened in 1977 – sadly it too has been closed due to a fire in 2014 and it is never to re-open so history sadly repeated itself. The style of the original Assembly Rooms is similar to that of the style he built his own house with the balustrades on the roof and beneath the windows as well as the design of the roof and the sculpture.

As well as the Assembly Rooms young Joseph Pickford designed and built his house in Friargate and the front 3 reception rooms were designed to impress clients – his family lived in simpler rooms at the back of the house.  One of Joseph Pickford’s close friends was Joseph Wright of Derby, the landscape and portrait painter who later painted his two sons.

IMG_1865In one of the bedrooms dedicated to the family hangs a picture painted by Wright of the Wood children of nearby Swanwick Hall, Derbyshire and a portrait of the Pickford children can be seen in the drawing room below.

The house is now obviously a museum and acquired from a subsequent private owner in 1982 by Derby City Council after it had been upgraded from a Grade II listed building to Grade I – sadly the Council didn’t pay attention to the listed status and consequently did alterations to floors and chimneys without permission but although noticeable  this does not detract from the overall feel of the museum.

IMG_1813What I do like is that 3 of the rooms are furnished as they would have been in the late Georgian period around 1770 – the dining room downstairs, a second reception room and also the Pickford’s bedroom and dressing room.




This house was not one for the aristocracy but was that of a professional and the reception rooms were, as said above, styled and done very much to impress potential clients – there is an air of luxury and success.

At the time the house was built lighting would have been primarily still candle light or oil lamps although the latter tended to smoke heavily – the candles were often in sconces either side of fireplaces of chandeliers in the larger houses.  Gas lighting started to really come in in the 1800’s but took its time to become common place and eventually electricity in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s – this house would have seen and had to be altered to these changing lights.

The art within this dining room seems to be very much done to impress as Pickford would have wished – the tables of the period were set in a manner designed to show off the wealth and taste of the owner.  The room is one of opulence with the art work arrange prominently and is very much part of that ‘first impression’ to potential clients here and the prominence it is given is that of the aforesaid display of wealth and taken in consideration with the decor of the rest of the room it is clearly saying ‘I am a professional of some note or reputation’.

IMG_1793The other  room towards the back of the house, the drawing room,  appears to be the one used by the family – much simpler and homely and plainer.

IMG_1792In this room the furnishings are not necessarily purposefully to impress clients although it was used for entertaining and was very much an adult room.

There is a grandfather clock and also bust which combined with the other furniture still show considerable wealth but what strikes me is still the prominence of the art – the one of the children is I believe is  by Joseph Wright and I will be checking about the origins of the portrait of the male – these appear to be family portraits and displayed in much the same way as we display family photos today but costing considerably more.

IMG_1796The family room was the Morning Room – this was very much the place the family could relax informally but it is this room that is believed to have been used as Pickford’s office as there has been discovered evidence of shelving either side of the fireplace which may have been used to house the architectural drawings of his profession.  Although this room has been set up as a Morning Room of around 1770 obviously it is not as it would have been as Pickford’s office and also is apparently different due to the Reverend Pickford making considerable alterations after he inherited the house.

The art on display has been lent by Derby Museums and Art Gallery from the 18th century and do include works by Joseph Wright – my only problem with this is whether it accurately reflects how both the Reverend Pickford and Joseph Pickford displayed the art within the house.  The landscapes and portraits are without question in keeping with the works of other prominent of the time notwithstanding Joseph Wright himself – what is a shame is that the individual artists of each piece are not made clear to visitors as this would enhance the experience and give additional information.

Art clearly was important to Joseph Pickford and like countless patrons that have gone before him and after is used both as decor in his home but also importantly as a display of wealth – there is much more in his formal dining room where he impresses his future clients than there is in his own family room but nevertheless it is still prominent and in opulent frames. Artistically this is the period which encompasses J. M. W. Turner, John Constable as well as the likes of Thomas Gainsborough and also indeed the poets William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, William Blake, Lord Byron and John Keats amongst many more.  The artist world was flourishing and the architectural world included John Nash and Robert Adam with a revival of the Gothic style but here the house is one of classical styling with an overriding Greek influence in the design of the columns and entablature and pediment.  The flourishing of the arts would have been of interest to a professional and educated man and his family.

IMG_1823The  Reverend Pickford’s bedroom is probably my favourite room of the house and this has been displayed as it would have been around 1815.  It is simple but luxurious and notably there are no paintings – this was not a room that would have been seen by either clients or indeed any friends that would have been allowed in the drawing room.  The furnishings are clearly those of a family of reasonable wealth with the linen cupboard and drapes around the bed, not least the breakfast table and ladies dressing table.

IMG_1817In addition this room had a simple dressing room adjoining it which consisted of a wash stand where the man of the house could shave or along with his wife have a wash and often also had a chamber pot which a servant would have emptied in the morning.  This room was sparse but functional. On the floor there is a reproduction floor cloth which became common in the 1800’s.  Again there is no art work as there was simply no need for it.

IMG_1843When you compare these two rooms to the the one used by the servants on the top floor there is the clear distinction between the wealth and luxury of the family rooms and that of their staff.  The servants room consisted simply of a camp bed with the drapes that are attached to the canopy and was designed to sleep 2 female servants.  The other furniture in the room would simply have been a chest draws and some hanging pegs for their clothes along with a mirror and basin and ewer placed on the wash stand – it is a room of functionality rather than a place to retire to.  As a point of note the check fabric is one that was commonly used where functionality took over from any luxury and was used in rooms less important within the house.

Like the dressing room and indeed master bedroom there is no art work displayed as the rooms were about function and sleeping or dressing.

Overall as I type this I wonder at the lives of the Pickford family and how they lived their lives.  There is no question Pickford had a number of influential friends as he was a member of the Lunar Society and apart from Joseph Wright he also included Josiah Wedgwood and the inventor Matthew Boulton.  What is strange to realise as I write the last name is there is a possibility he also knew Matthew Boulton’s partner William Murdoch – until I recently proved otherwise it was family myth passed down from my own great grandfather that we were descended from him so this blog could have potentially had a very personal note!

Josiah Wedgwood became not just a friend but a considerable client as he entrusted Pickford with the building of not just his own home and that of his partner but also 42 houses for his workforce and a new model factory too at Etruria.

The time Pickford lived in was one of great change – it was the beginning of the industrial and agricultural revolution and this directly affected him through the commission to design and build Wedgwood’s factory amongst other commissioned works.

It was also a time of social reform which included the abolition of slavery and prison reform as well as change within the church.  John  Wesley is one name to be found amongst the men and women of the Evangelical revival – the Wesley Memorial Church of Oxford is where the Methodist Church began and it is a chapel I know well due to a love of its beautiful wood carvings which I now understand are in keeping with the period.

Britain also expanded its empire throughout this period despite warfare around the world including the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the French Revolution, the Seven Years War and the Irish Rebellion – politically it was a time of great change and uncertainty too with great depressions economically following behind.

When you stop and consider the period Pickford lived in it is quite remarkable and must have been, to an educated man, a time to take advantage of the flourishing of the arts which included the need for architects and the respect with which his profession had.  He was able to enjoy the arts of the great painters of the time as well as the writers such as Jane Austen and Mary Shelley or the poets such as William Blake – the class system was very much in evident and the divide between rich and poor expanding and his fortune was to be in the wealthier classes.  The house Pickford designed and lived in was very much in keeping with his position within Derby society and afforded him the luxury to be able to display the art of his time within his home.

Pickford was only 47 when he died and despite all his achievements local history wonders whether he achieved his full potential.

IMG_1788Upon his death he left the house to the aforesaid Reverend Pickford whereby considerable alterations were undertaken and the house divided into two homes which meant the closing of some doorways amongst other renovations.  The Reverend Pickford also added the rear wing of the house to house a new kitchen and washing facilities – these have been re-created within the museum and are a fascinating insight into life at the time.

IMG_1785The wash room has considerable space to accomplish the tasks to be done and would have been a busy part of the servants days – something you rarely see on our tv dramas is the humdrum part of the servants life and also a part of life not seen by masters of the house.

IMG_1830Further evidence of change is seen by the installation of a bathroom with a shower in the Edwardian period – if you consider it art the lavatory was elaborately painted and a somewhat unusual display of wealth!  The wealth of the owners further continued to be seen in the fact this was an indoor bathroom at a time where the poor were still using outhouses never mind the fact it has a shower over the bath.

IMG_1815During the 1930’s another bathroom was added  as the house continued to change owners – it was occupied by a succession of surgeons from the early 1900’s which coincides with the building of the Royal Infirmary on London Road in 1891 (the term ‘royal’ was granted by Queen Victoria who opened it).  Friar Gate is within walking distance of London Road so it would be reasonable to presume this is why is became a surgeon’s home.

It is interesting to see how the house has developed and the rooms have changed and this is one aspect I do like about the house as I have said earlier but I still find the house is under used. IMG_1834 The reason I say this is there is a wonderful collection of model toy theatres gathered by a Frank Bradley and although they are fascinating they are also stuck literally in a room at the top of the house – personally these would fit better perhaps in another of the Derby Museums (the recently redeveloped Silk Mill would given them the space they deserve for instance to be fully appreciated or perhaps Derby Museum and Art Gallery).

There is also a collection of fascinating old Derby maps which you are able to see Friargate on at the time the house was built as well as my fiance and I being able to see how our own area looked at the time (it didn’t exist until the 1930’s). Again these are displayed in a room at the top of the house in a very sparse and under used room which could be something so much better despite the exquisite nature of the maps and the sheer artistry that went into them – the obvious connection to the house is Pickford’s friendship with Peter Perez Burdett who was a cartographer.

IMG_1852The house does contain a small collection of textiles from around the time of Joseph Pickford for both men and women and it is a real glimpse into the lives of well-to-do professionals and the life of the wealthy but not aristocratic classes.

IMG_1857I am in awe, as a textiles student, of the embroidery and the clothes are an art form in their own right – I bear in mind here that Britain has a long history of skilled embroiderers going back to the Opus Anglicanum of the Medieval period.   The needlework is exquisite and will no doubt be part of some separate research for my textiles course – time for a second visit for this alone.

IMG_1827The garden at Pickford’s House was added in the late 18th century by the Reverend Pickford and is planted using plants available at the time – previous to this  the back of the house had the workshops that Joseph Pickford required.  The garden was apparently based on a formal garden in Louth, Lincolnshire and I will be doing additional research to find out where as I was at school in Louth so this is of personal interest to me.  The garden is designed very formally and was clearly one to entertain or impress – a point of note is there would have been a well within the garden too at the time that supplied the water for the house and this was discovered during the replanting of the garden in 1989.

Much to my sadness this Museum House is under threat of closure due to the council needing to make cuts and this is the case with other museums within Derby too and having had the pleasure of researching and visiting this house feel this would be a great loss to the city.  The house has a history and almost a personality of its own and could be developed into something really special – it has the potential to be a working museum if the rooms were restored further or indeed under used rooms perhaps showcasing how they would have been used in the different periods. The house is also set in historic Friargate and is a beautiful location – just across the road is The Friary pub which as another blog post will explain is a former medieval friary and the reason for the name of the street (a fact I only discovered during lunch there prior to visiting Pickford’s House!).

The art on display is from the Derby Museum and Gallery and show cases 18th century art that would have been around in the heyday of the house and I question the authenticity of how it is displayed purely on the grounds of how I found Nottingham Castle art gallery but also trusting the curators of this museum.  Nottingham Castle has been granted the funding to be restored to its original condition and Pickford’s House has the same potential. The house has evolved over the time as its inhabitants have and lastly and strikingly includes the air raid shelter of the 1940’s too –  this is protected behind glass it has been hard to photograph without the flash of my camera bouncing back so I have been unable to get a clear picture.

Overall it has been a fascinating research post and enabled me to understand this house from both an art point of view and historically too – it is also teaching me to look more about how art has been perceived within our historic houses and how it continues to tell its own story now of how the inhabitants once lived.  For me now art is changing – a painting is no longer just a painting but the photographs of the time that allow you a glimpse into a moment of time even if it is through rose coloured spectacles or an idealised viewpoint.  Joseph Pickford designed a beautiful house that so far has withstood the test of time and left a work of art in his right.


Art UK. (date unknown). Pickford’s House Museum of Geogian Life and Historic Costume [online] Available at: [Accessed February 2016]

Cathedral Communications Limited. (date unknown). Light Fittings in Georgian and Early Victorian Interiors [online]  Available at: [Accessed February 2016]

Derby Live. (2016). Our History. [online] Available at: [Accessed February 2016]

Derby Museums. (2015). Pickford House Collection. [online] Available at: [Accessed February 2016]

Derby Telegraph. (2016). Demolition of Derby Assembly Rooms – in 1971 [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 February 2016]

Mallet C. Derby Telegraph (11 February 2015). Derby’s Pickford’s House Museum to stay open at least another year [online] Available at: [Accessed February 2016]







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