Posted on 3 October 2013
The importance of restoring the Georgian, Grade One-listed St Helen’s House has been further underlined with the official unveiling of a plaque on Tuesday 1st October to two key figures who lived at the property: inventor, industrialist and scientist William Strutt and anti-slavery campaigner Reverend Thomas Gisborne.
The King Street property, which was faithfully restored and brought back to life thanks in part to the dedication of Derby City Council’s conservation officers, and which is now the offices of accountants Smith Cooper, has seen a Blue Plaque erected to Strutt and Gisborne following suggestions from local people.
The plaque is the fifth of about 20 plaques that the Council will erect this year, having formed a partnership with Derby Civic Society to establish Blue Plaques across Derby to celebrate famous people who have strong links with the city. Blue Plaques are traditionally erected on a building or a site to mark the connection between that location and a famous person or event. The Council and Derby Civic Society asked local people to suggest who could be honoured with a Blue Plaque in the city. They needed to be people who had been dead for more than 20 years and had a long-lasting effect on the city and beyond, and who had a clear link to a building or site in Derby. Amongst the many suggestions, William Strutt and Thomas Gisbourne were both recommended for the honour.
William Strutt (1756-1830) was the first son of Jedediah Strutt and, after joining his father’s cotton spinning business, focused his efforts on developing fire-resistant structures and technology in textile mills. He went on to become an architect and builder who designed many mills and cast iron bridges. He also designed the original Derbyshire General Infirmary in 1810, which was seen as a leader in European architecture and architects and visiting royalty were brought to see its features. In 1779 he was made a freeman of Derby and Burgess of the Borough, allowing him to vote in Parliament. In 1801 he bought St Helen’s House and used it as his family home until his death.
Thomas Gisborne (1758-1846) was a landowner and Anglican priest who became a member of the Clapham sect and a close friend and ally of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. He wrote several books and pamphlets to support the work of his friend. St Helen's House was designed by Joseph Pickford for Thomas' father, John Gisborne.
Along with Richard French and Erasmus Darwin, Strutt and Gisborne were co-founders of Derby Philosophical Society.
Paul Duffin, Senior Partner at Smith Cooper commented: “As a firm we are dedicated to the development of Derby and it is this tie with the city that led us to make such an incredible and historical building our office. St Helen’s House satisfies both our current needs and our future ambitions as a firm and we are obviously very proud to be able to unveil a Blue Plaque here. On behalf of Smith Cooper, I would like to thank both Derby City Council and Derby Civic Society for their support with the Blue Plaque scheme, and we hope people who come to our office or pass by see the plaque and recognise our building’s important cultural contribution to Derby.”
Councillor Asaf Afzal, Cabinet Member for Planning, Environment and Public Protection said: “We are delighted and proud to celebrate these two famous Derby citizens, who in their different ways changed the way we live and work today. It’s also very pleasing that we are erecting the plaque at St Helen’s House given that Derby City Council played such a key role in the partnership which brought it back to life.”
David Ling, Chairman of the Derby Civic Society added: “Derby Civic Society campaigned for years to have this historic and important building restored and put to a sustainable use. We are delighted that this has now happened and to be able to put up a Blue Plaque in honour of two of Derby’s most distinguished former residents is the icing on the cake. The building is Grade I listed and described by English Heritage as one of the finest examples of a Georgian Town house anywhere outside London.”