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The Derby Arboretum

The city of Derby recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of Britain's first publicly-owned park, the Derby Arboretum. Officially opened on September 16th, 1840, it was the gift of one of the foremost citizens of the town (as it then was), Joseph Strutt.

Former mayor of the borough, the seventy-five year-old Strutt was a silk merchant and mill-owner who, for a small charge, opened his house near the centre of town to the public on Sunday afternoons to view his art collection. Strutt and his family had been used to spending part of every summer at a small estate of eleven acres about a mile south, on the edge of town; it was this that he presented to his fellow citizens, suitably transformed, which became known as the Derby Arboretum.

The idea of a 'park' had long been associated with the private activities of royalty, nobility and the owners of land. Walled enclosures symbolically represented made a charming feature on county maps from Elizabethan times onward. In 1673, royal Hyde Park in London was opened to the public. But over 200 years later a park owned and operated by a town corporation was something new. Derby's example was soon to be followed throughout Britain, particularly in the industrial towns and cities of the North with their growing populations and emerging sense of civic pride: first at Birkenhead in 1847 where Joseph Paxton of Chatsworth was designer, then near the end of the decade with three parks opening in Manchester, followed in 1850 by Peel Park in Bradford.

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