Joseph Pickford

Architect of Iconic Buildings.

Born in Ashow, Warwickshire in 1734. He may not have been born a son of Derby but he made his life there from a young age and left an lasting impression on the city’s skyline. Many believe he was the first London-trained architect to relocate to the area but, regardless of whether he was the first or not, there is no doubt that he achieved a lot in his short life.

Joseph Pickford plaque


Joseph Pickford the London apprentice.
The first real records of Joseph’s life and work relate to London rather than his birthplace of Warwickshire and there is little known of his early years. This is because it was in London that he came of age and learnt his future trade under the talented eye of his uncle, Joseph Pickford Sr. Pickford Sr. was a stonemason and sculptor who was based in Hyde Park and, for ten years, the younger Joseph learnt from him, first as a mason and later as an architect. This turn towards architecture was a move that was no doubt inspired by watching his uncle work on such impressive structures as the University Library Cambridge and Horse Guards in Whitehall, one of the many privileges of an education in the capital.

Etruria Hall built for Wedgwood's factory

Etruria Hall built for Wedgwood’s factory

 Pickford’s move to Derby and an influence of another kind.

Joseph could easily have stayed in London to make his own name as an emerging talent, he certainly had the opportunity to when he inherited property there, but he gave up the house and the city in 1760 for a new life in Derbyshire. This decision to relocate permanently and build up his business in Derby was largely the result of his relationship with Mary Wilkins – the pair marrying in the city just two years later – and his growing relationships with his in-laws and other wealthy clients. In addition to taking on work from his father-in-law, Pickford became closely associated with the Lunar Society and members including Josiah Wedgwood and the Joseph Wright; the former providing him with one of his more well-known projects and the latter later painting the Pickford children.

St. Helens House built for John Gisbourne

St. Helens House built for John Gisbourne

 His most interesting and famous buildings.

Once Joseph had established himself within his new Derby practice, he started work on buildings for the county’s wealthy clients and ended up with a long list of impressive structures to his name. Shortly after his marriage he worked on Longford Hall, brought his experience of Palladian and Georgian styles to projects like the Derby Assembly Rooms and created buildings for his new society friends, such as Wedgwood’s factory in Etruria and John Gisbourne’s St Helen’s House – a building that is still respected and admired to this day. All of these buildings found their way to the top of Pickford’s resume because of their grand design and status but the house at 41 Friar Gate deserves just as much recognition. This is the house that Pickford built for himself in 1769; a grand, misleading Georgian façade on a modest family home with some workshops out the back to allow him to continue with his craft.

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 Remembering Joseph Pickford and his contribution to Derbyshire.

Picking one building that stands out as the most iconic out of all of his creations is difficult but many people lean towards the Pickford house over St Helen’s House or his work out of town and it is here that people can come to learn about him and remember him. There should have been far more buildings to Pickford’s name but he died at the young age of 48 in 1782 and, after the death of his son who inherited the house, the family home became a museum and is now Grade 1 listed. Here visitors can learn about his designs first hand, see his former workshop and even Joseph Wright’s painting.

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 In 2013, the museum celebrated its 25th anniversary and this occasion coincided with the unveiling of a blue plaque by the Derby Civic Society to further commemorate the life and work of Joseph Pickford. The plaque is short and to the point, saying little more than “Architect” and the dates of his occupation, but there is little more that needs to be said for a man that studied the subject all his life and ultimately transformed Derbyshire with his iconic buildings.

Visit Joseph Pickford’s former home here