Friargate Station – All Change

One of Derby’s largely forgotten treasures is on the verge of a renaissance some 50 years after it was abandoned. Under plans lodged for the redevelopment of the Friargate station area the imposing old warehouse will become home to retail outlets while industrial land along the old approaches will be used for new housing.

This brownfield site has been earmarked for redevelopment for a number of years but the completion of Derby’s neighbouring inner ring road (I wrote about this last year) was always a prerequisite for reasons of access. With the ring road complete the plans have been lodged and it is only a matter of time before the transformation begins.

Goods warehouse
Goods warehouse
Out of bounds
Out of bounds

While I am happy to see life breathed back into the area I remain concerned about the manner in which the site is revitalised. Of course it has to make commercial sense but all too often our heritage has been irrevocably lost or besmirched by insensitive redevelopment. With redevelopment imminent I wanted to capture the Friargate goods yard as it is today before the builders move in.


I have been visiting the derelict site for a few years now to poke around the outside of the warehouse and follow the path of the lines past the old platforms up to the top of Friargate bridge.

The end of the line
The end of the line

An area once characterised by the soot and machinery of the railway industry had been almost completely reclaimed by nature in the manner of some forgotten Mayan city.

Urban decay
Urban decay

The crumbling brick and rusting iron of a decaying infrastructure had been subsumed by an urban jungle of saplings, bushes, grass and flowers.

Peacock butterfly
Peacock butterfly

Birds, bees and butterflies thrived in numbers here oblivious to the noise and bustle of the city centre close by, yet a world away. You could walk into this undergrowth on a sunny day and lose yourself. The foliage was so dense that it took me a couple of visits to find the platforms.

Platform before clearing
Platform before clearing

I’m using the past tense because on my return last month I discovered that the entire platform area had been cleared of undergrowth in preparation for the next stage of work. The loss of this habitat is a huge shame but inevitable and now the general layout of the site is much clearer.

Platform after clearing
Platform after clearing

On the day I visited a fashion shoot was exploiting a graffiti covered wall of the warehouse and some students were sitting in the sun reading and talking.


Art and nature
Art and nature
Very wild life
Very wild life

My mediocre research into the history of the line has turned up some interesting nuggets of information. The station opened 1878 and was called Derby Station but subsequently renamed as Derby Friargate Station in 1881. The line was built by the Great Northern Railway primarily to enable coal to be moved more cheaply in the face of Midland Railways’ transportation monopoly. It is ironic that construction of the line was carried out with minimal consultation of local Derbeans who saw swathes of land lost as the line was dispassionately carved though the heart of the town. The iconic iron bridge over Friargate built by Handyside & Co of Derby was one of the few decorative concessions to the affluent residents of the Friargate area who were vocal in their opposition to the new line. For all of our reservations now about public consultation on planning laws it seems that the wider public interest holds more weight than it once used to.

Friargate Bridge
Friargate Bridge
Bridge detailing - Derby coat of arms
Bridge detailing – Derby coat of arms

The route of the line has long captured my imagination and this interest has increased since I moved to the nearby Rowditch area in 2002. I vaguely remember the brick bridge that spanned Agard Street prior to it’s demolition in the 1970s and the line continued on past the spot now occupied by Radio Derby and then into a tunnel not far from St Helens House.

It then emerges near the river Derwent where you can still walk across the iron bridge that led to Chester Green and through Breadsall to the east. An excellent map courtesy of Andy Savage (who also has a related blog) illustrates the route and highlights a number of points of interest.


Perhaps more than anything it is the social history of Friargate station that has drawn me in. From another time but in touching distance – the echoes still resonate. The line closed before I was born but there is a living history for people of a certain generation who fondly remember catching the train to Skegness from Friargate station. I have come across individual recollections of the final years of the line but a book called “Memories of Friargate Station” by local author Susan Bourne tops my reading list and ought to provide more substance. Hopefully it is still in print.

Open plan living
Open plan living
Absolutely floorless
Absolutely floorless
Fire damage
Fire damage
Basement on view
Basement on view

The station would have been at the peak of its importance in the late 19th and early 20th century from a strategic point of view and in terms of local employment. I took it upon myself to explore my local cemetery in Uttoxeter New Road on the off-chance of finding some memorial to former workers. I love poking around cemeteries – you can learn a lot from them. Amidst this modest sized plot I predictably found memorials to war casualties, church ministers and successful locals – solicitors and the like – but railway workers were proving elusive. This came as little surprise to me as I presumed they would be low in status and wealth but all the same I expected to find a few small headstones in a corner. Finally I found what I was looking for, and I was amazed when the two memorials in question…

Gone...
Gone…
...but not forgotten
…but not forgotten

…turned out to be amongst the tallest on the plot. That in itself raises more questions than it answers, although some subsequent research on John Holloway Sanders and Matthew Kirtley reveals that they were not run of the mill railway employees but Locomotive Superintendent and Company Architect respectively.


If the redevelopment of Friargate Station and it’s surroundings pans out anything like a typical Derby construction project then it will be a long time before anything actually happens but I would implore you to visit the site as soon as possible to appreciate a piece of our industrial heritage before it is completely sanitised by the developers. From a personal perspective the more I learn about the history of this site the more I want to know.

There’s life in the old dog yet

My week so far. Returned from New York on Monday after an 18 hour journey with little sleep. Jet-lag on Tuesday but back to work; body zombified, mind aslumber. Knackering football on Wednesday – an act constituting my first exercise in two weeks but feels like two months. Thursday – a nice quiet night in – surely!Then it dawns upon me that I have agreed to be guest of honour this evening at a very special event where I have a ribbon to cut and a speech to make. OK, that’s a little licentious. Technically I have been blagged an invite to this auspicious VIP preview by a (now also very special) friend with a slightly less illegitimate claim to be in attendance. It starts at 6pm. It’s 5pm now. Can I make it? While the rest of my body said no my mouth went and said Yes please and due to the lack of proportional representation asserted by my physiology the mouth got the nod. What an earth am I talking about?

The Greyhound is an iconic Derby pub, situated on the beautiful Friar Gate stretch of Ashbourne Road. Or at least it was until four years ago when it closed. But now it’s back…

The great and the good await the grand opening
The great and the good await the grand opening

Furthermore, it’s not just back – it’s new, improved, better than ever. You see The Greyhound has a fabulous pedigree. It was built in the 1600s and served ale to its first customers in 1734. The thick stone walls and ancient wooden beams have played witness to many fascinating events and people over the years. In recent decades the inn has arguably been one of the two best known pubs (The other being The Wardwick) situated on the famous “Derby Mile”. I know these things because I have drinking history in these parts and also because I’m holding the press release issued to all the listed guests on entry.

The Greyhound returns
The Greyhound returns

My last visit was probably 5 years ago and I remember what a charismatic albeit tired place it was. That the lighting was poor was a bonus because the sticky beer infused carpet, stereotypical lumpy off-white pub wallpaper and nicotine stained ceiling were not its best features. The beer garden was nothing more than an old brick wall enclosed patio with a few bench tables, accessed via a dark brick corridor. It’s closure, along with a number of other pubs on the mile, was symptomatic of the diminishing returns for publicans in the face of the economic downturn and cheap supermarket booze, plus I dare say the lure of new city centre pubs.

That’s all history. Today the pub is reborn and we have Trevor and Paul Harris of the Derby Brewing Company to thank for this divine intervention. This organisation and these people are brewing deitys in this city. I’m sure many people aside from myself would be happy to see Trevor enshrined as a latter day patron saint of beer.

A brief history… (click on the DBC link for full details)

  • Trevor rescued the vacant Brunswick Inn and transformed it into a legend. He brought a fabulous old inn back to life (it originally opened in 1842) and started to brew some of the best award winning beer you will find anywhere. His achievements were recognised in 2001 when the pub won the title of UK Beer Pub Of The Year.
  • Founded The Derby Brewing Company, produced yet more tremendous award winning ales and sold them via numerous local pubs and supermarket outlets.

    Old Intentional - Derby Brewing Company's successor to Old Accidental
    Old Intentional – Derby Brewing Company\’s successor to Old Accidental
  • Sold up and rescued another superlative old (1862) pub The Royal Standard in Derby which he converted into arguably Derbys hottest real ale venue (aka “The Brewey Tap”) – no mean feat in a city blessed with a many tremendous pubs, local real ale breweries and tipples. It won the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award in 2009.
  • Acquired The Greyhound transformed it into what we are seeing for the first time today. After one evening here I have a sneaky idea where the Derby CAMRA pub of the year award is going in 2010.

Can you see a trend here? Iconic old pubs in distress. Sympathetic re-imaginations. Amazing beer. Packed out.

Tonights invited VIPs (plus me) are marvelling at the complete transformation The Greyhound has undergone within a barely plausible three (?!) months. Transformation is the right word – the venue is bright, accessible, attractive, seemingly more spacious and yet it retains it’s sense of history and charm. This isn’t an identikit chainy style redecoration. There is a stylish coherent brand, thanks in large part to the considerable design input of Derby designer Martin Hyde. Characters from his darkly humorous Dead good Kids theme pop up on signage, stationary and in decorative contexts: they subtly fuse themselves into those old walls and beams. It’s not the safe or conventional option but boy does it work!

Drinks Menu
Drinks Menu
Dead Good Kids - great fun!
Dead Good Kids – great fun!

First impressions on entry – a bright front lounge with clean lines served by a curved bar. Feet moving freely on an attractive old stone floor – no more unsticking of shoes from an ancestoral peat bog style beer soaked carpet. Onward to the seemingly extended rear lounge with a continuation of the curved bar.

View of rear bar
View of rear bar

Graham the Greyhound watches thirstily over the punters.

Graham the Greyhound looks on
Graham the Greyhound looks on

And if this wasn’t enough you realise that the unaccustomed visibility in this area is courtesy of natural light with a long glass door section opening up on hot days (like today) onto the sun-trap of a courtyard. Indoor and outdoor come together.

The courtyard (if that’s the correct term) looks so clean and inviting. The brick walls appear to have been blasted and remortared. The space seems to have been extended substantially with the removal of … I can’t remember what exactly, but there is a cleverly retained and opened up chimney structure that suggests a room has been demolished.

Beer Garden - a view that does it no justice
Beer Garden – a view that does it no justice

The subtext here is quality and style. This is the kind of space you want to meet friends in, to spend time, to talk, drink and chill.

A toast to Mine Host
A toast to Mine Host

Just add people. Build it and they will come. And when the doors open to the eager public at 8:30 they come in great numbers. And behold, it is rammed. I realise that my intentions to do photographic justice to the place have just gone down the pan because it is no longer possible to get a clear photo of anything!

Things are heating up
Things are heating up

The truth is that since the champagne reception and BBQ I have spent over 2 hours doing important networking and drinking so I could present this report with the integrity and authority it deserves. You will have to make do with the few lazy shots I took when it was still light and there was room to move. You will for instance have to envisage the triumphal roof terrace that takes this already formidable hostelry to (literally) another level. For some reason I managed to get a shot of the old roof slates but not the terrace itself.

A night on the tiles
A night on the tiles

And then it went dark and the imaginatively illuminated chimney stack took on a character of its own.

Chimney after sunset
Chimney after sunset

Everybody bar none is staggered with what has been achieved here. I’m not the least surprised because Trevor and Paul have long since proven their innate understanding of brewing, hostelry and the Derby drinking public. I hear a voice saying that the Greyhound was an obvious choice – the history, the location (students, office workers and the city centre nearby), but nobody else came forward to take on the challenge and it is hard to imagine anybody else pulling off the venture with such flair and attention to detail. It’s going to be a deserved roaring success. I will be back. Regularly.

It’s 10:30pm. I’m shattered. Again. Still. I have enjoyed a wonderful evening with some great people while quaffing the sublime Mine Host – a new light summery ale courtesy of Derby Brewing Company. I have work tomorrow. Thank you and Good night!

Friday. Tired. Strange that. Another lovely hot sunny day. No plans tonight – I can relax at last! Must just post this blog entry while it’s fresh and current and then I’ll chill.

Midnight – finished. Bugger.