8 Themes, 8 Objects from the Silk Mill Archives

In his essay in the book, Culture and Climate Change: Narratives, Joe Smith reminds us that,

“Increased sensitivity to the interdependence between social, economic and ecological systems will help to take most people to a more accurate notion of humanity’s rather modest place in the world. And our notion of that the world won’t be of a fragile thing, or a tool in the hand, but rather a dynamic system that we inhabit and help to make, and that we need to respect and love for its complex and changeable nature”

In building our scenarios for ‘Future Works 2050’ together at the Silk Mill, we took the opportunity to draw on the incredible archives there and give some of these objects a voice in the futures that we imagined together.

Daniel Martin, curator at the Silk Mill brought us 8 items from the Silk Mill museum collection which responded to the themes of each of our base maps on which the scenarios would develop. Participants were challenged to take the objects into account and to let them have a voice in the scenario. The  themes and objects were as follows:

WATER: Lead Water Spout


Dated 1780, this water spout would have been placed above an accompanying lead trough to form a drinking water fountain. Very little is known about the provenance of this particular item but it is known that Derbyshire was once a principle lead producing area of the UK. The 150ft lead shot tower of Cox’s Lead Works was only demolished in 1932.

POLITICS: The Battle of Steel Book


Recording the contribution of the British steel industry to the war effort, this book was published in the late 1940s by the British Iron and Steel Federation. Anticipating the difficulties that would later befall the steel industry, this neat piece of pro-industry propaganda was designed to drive home the importance of the industry to the nation.

POWER: Model Horizontal Engine


This model engine was built in the 1880s by Thomas Hope, a blacksmith of Shirland, Derbyshire. It is a working model of horizontal fan or screen driving engine. Model building was a common hobby amongst engineers and smiths alike. Models were often used to help train up apprentices in the skills of a given trade.



Double sided bus stop sign that dates from the period immediately after August 1949 when the Derby Corporation Public Transport Department began running a bus service in partnership with Trent Motor Traction Company. These two firms continue to operate buses in Derby today but in competition as Arriva Derby and TrentBarton.

GEOLOGY: Copper Slag


This small piece of copper smelting slag, dating from c.1740, was found at the ‘Copper Yard’, a lost hamlet in Denby, Derbyshire. Copper smelting was a small-scale industry in Derbyshire compared to the lead extraction industry. Slag is the waste product of metals during the smelting or refining of ore.

TRADE: Comptometer


This mid-20th century mechanical calculator was so productive in the hands of a trained user that it remained in operation in the Waste Disposal department of Courtaulds Chemicals in Spondon, Derby until 1992, eventually being replaced by digital calculators and computers.

CLIMATE: Miner’s Dial


A Miner’s dial was used for underground surveying and wayfinding. This example was produced by John Davis and Son of Derby in the 19th century. The firm itself, specialists in mining equipment and explosion-proof electrical equipment, was founded in 1779 and continues to operate today.

WASTE: Exhaust Manifold


Produced by Jobson’s in 1966, this engine exhaust manifold is from a 1966 Vauxhall Viva. John Jobson moved to Derby from Sheffield in 1849, owing to the city’s fine reputation for ironwork. The firm would later be more widely known as ‘Qualcast’, famed for their lawnmowers.

Many thanks to Daniel for the descriptions and sharing the objects themselves with us for the day…


One response to “8 Themes, 8 Objects from the Silk Mill Archives

  1. Pingback: Imagining our futures with scenarios | Everyday Lives·

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