The museum of industry in Derby stands on the site of a water-powered five-storey mill built circa 1721 by John and Thomas Lombe to accommodate silk throwing technology that they had observed in Italy. The mill, the first powered factory of its kind in England, prospered and was described by many travel writers, including Daniel Defoe, who in the 1720s called it ‘a curiosity in trade worth observing’. A Portuguese diarist in 1730 gave figures for the precise numbers of movements made every 24 hours by its machines. The mill continued in use but was destroyed by fire in 1910, and subsequently rebuilt to approximately the same dimensions but with three storeys instead of five. The massive stone arches that provided the foundations of Lombe’s mill remain alongside the River Derwent, and the staircase tower in the south-west corner of the building, its most distinctive architectural feature, was rebuilt in 1910 using the original materials.
The building now houses the city’s industrial museum which includes substantial sections relating to its principal industries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Derby was the headquarters and the location of the engineering works of the Midland Railway. There is a large-scale working model showing the railway’s methods of operation, and the museum includes a Midland Railway study centre. The principal aero engine works of the Rolls Royce company are located in Derby and the museum displays a large collection of engines, from the celebrated Merlin, used in many British aircraft in the Second World War, to those supplied for the latest generations of jet airliners.