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Honour for freeing slaves and building bridges


Posted on 25 September 2013

A slave emancipator and a Derby bridge builder are to be honoured with a blue plaque on the same Derby landmark.

The Rev Thomas Gisbourne and William Strutt will have a plaque unveiled at St Helen's House.

The pair both lived at the grade I-listed building on King Street, which has recently undergone a renovation to return it to its former glory.

Alan Grimadell, vice-chairman of Derby Civic Society, which jointly runs the blue-plaque scheme, said: "It is always very special when two names are associated with one blue plaque.

"St Helen's House was the family home of both the Rev Thomas Gisbourne and William Strutt.

"The Rev Thomas Gisbourne was renowned for his anti-slavery campaign with his close friend William Wilberforce.

"William Strutt was a very successful Derby architect, designing many of the bridges in Derby, and the original Derbyshire General Infirmary in 1810.

"He purchased St Helen's House from the Rev Gisbourne in 1801, and lived there for 29 years until his death in 1830.

"Both individuals are very worthy recipients of a blue plaque."

A ceremony on Tuesday, October 1, will not only unveil the plaque but also host the official move of accountancy firm Smith Cooper to the building, which will act as its headquarters.

It was originally built for Mr Gisbourne's father, John, by architect Joseph Pickford between 1766 and 1767 and stood in 80 acres of parkland.

It is said to be the finest and largest 18th-century townhouse to survive in any city outside London.

Paul Duffin, senior partner at Smith Cooper, said: "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.

"We are obviously very proud to be able to unveil a blue plaque here at St Helen's House and would like to thank both Derby City Council and the Civic Society for their help in doing so.

"We hope people who come to our office or pass by see the plaque and recognise our building's important cultural contribution to Derby."

The blue plaque scheme is being run by the city council and Derby Civic Society and has already recognised a number of the city's historic figures.

Some of the Derby luminaries already recognised are Dr Percival Willoughby, author of the ground-breaking book, Observations in Midwifery; anti-war campaigner Alice Wheeldon; engineer George Sorocold; and the Lombe brothers, John and Thomas, who built the Silk Mill, Britain's first factory.

There will be 25 figures, nominated by local people, who will be recognised by the current wave of plaques.

There is also a plan to add electronic tags to the plaques that would link to a website where there would be more information about the person.

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