Joseph Wright

AND THE DERBYSHIRE ENLIGHTENMENT

By

Joseph Wright (1734-1797) was a remarkable painter from Derby, who portrayed the scientific experiments, industrial scenes, portraits and landscapes of his day, from Derbyshire and beyond.

His celebrated ‘Orrery’ painting, chosen for the front cover of this issue of History West Midlands, is seen by many as a metaphor for the Age of Enlightenment.

By the second half of the eighteenth century Derby was a flourishing Georgian county town, which provided opportunities for professionals such as lawyers and medical men. It also served as an agricultural and industrial centre with important brewing, textile and china industries. Manifestations of Georgian urban renaissance prosperity included a late seventeenth-century county court building, a new assembly rooms adjoining the Market Square, improved roads and pavements, fashionable neoclassical townhouses, elegant inns and the magnificent reconstructed parish church of All Saints (designed by James Gibbs), although a growing concentration of poorer folk lived in more overcrowded conditions beside Markeaton Brook.

Other Derbyshire urban centres were also being transformed, albeit on a smaller scale. These included Chesterfield and Ashbourne, which benefited from being on the coaching routes to Manchester and the North-West, and Wirksworth, whose Moot Hall and Georgian mansions were reminders of the wealth flowing into the area from the burgeoning Peak lead mining industry.

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