Upstairs Downstairs at Pickford’s House

When it capickfords houseme to designing his own home, the renowned Georgian architect Joseph Pickford (1734-1782) did not hold back, but then he didn’t just have the comfort of his family in mind. He saw the project as the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills, building a show home to prove to potential clients exactly what he could do. Built in 1770, 41 Iron Gate, Derby has all the fashionable neo-classical flourishes you’d expect. The façade looks like that of an aristocratic country house, albeit in miniature, and bears more than a passing resemblance to the central block of Etruria Hall – the Staffordshire home Pickford build for Josiah Wedgewood between 1768-71.

Inside the space is split into separate social, private and domestic spheres. Downstairs, the kitchen, laundry and scullery show what life was like for the servants, whilst upstairs you can see the drawing room and dining room staged for sociable evening’s entertainment – the table all set for dinner, and a hand of cards left on a side table like the family have just popped out for a moment.

Pickford's children painted by Joseph Wright

Pickford’s children painted by Joseph Wright

Surprisingly for a city with a record of demolishing historic buildings throughout the 1960s and 70s, Iron Gate is still lined with grand Georgian townhouses, but sadly most are now divided into rather soulless offices or have been converted into pubs as opposed to remaining the family homes they once were. Pickford’s House is unique in that it survives intact as a Museum of Georgian Life and Historic Costume, at least for now. The museum has recently faced the threat of closure as part of Derby City Council’s money-saving measures. Thankfully, it has just been announced that the proposed funding cuts can be spread over two years, meaning Pickford’s House can remain open. It is not only a valuable resource for school trips, but for anyone with the slightest interest in the Eighteenth Century. The costume collection includes some exquisitely embroidered stomachers and a mourning brooch made with a lock of Princess Charlotte’s hair, whilst up in the attics there’s a collection of toy theatres and a gallery space which at the moment is home to an exhibition featuring paintings of Derby’s lost pubs from the Goodey collection.

Pickford’s House is free to visit and is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am-5pm. On Wednesdays there are costumed guided tours, where one of the volunteers – kitted out in full Eighteenth-Century garb – will take you behind the velvet ropes. I’m looking out for the next Crafternoon Tea event, where I expect one can drink tea, eat cake and sew something inspired by Eighteenth-Century embroidery like a proper Georgian lady.

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