Derby Museums’ Friends help to bring Lucy Hardcastle manuscript back to Derby

Friends with Hardcastle Manuscript

Image above: Derby Museums’ Friends look over the Hardcastle manuscript at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

The Derby Museums’ Friends have raised an astonishing £6251, matching an Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Fund Grant to help Derby Museums acquire a very special, unpublished manuscript, dated 1825, created by Derby botanist and artist, Lucy Hardcastle (1771-1835).

The manuscript is a rare find, being one of only a handful of Lucy Hardcastle’s original drawings and watercolours known so far. These include Hardcastle’s manuscript for the book An Introduction to the Elements of the Linnaean System of Botany, for Young Persons, which was published in Derby in 1830 (now in the archives of the Natural History Museum, London), as well as a single watercolour of a mushroom, sold at auction in 2002.

Image above:  A watercolour illustration from the Lucy Hardcastle manuscript © Rick Tailby / Derby Museums

Purchased with support from the Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Derby Museums’ Friends, the manuscript was acquired by Derby Museums from the Antiquariaat Schienrenberg in Amsterdam in December 2021. It contains eight watercolour illustrations of flowers and mushrooms from life, including two specimens of Agaricus, which the artist records as having been ‘found near Derby’ by her daughters Antonietta and Mary.

Research carried out by Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers (University of Derby) and Anne Powers (a professional genealogist and historian) has confirmed that Lucy was born in Derby around 1771, the second child of Lamech Swift and his wife Dorothy. Lamech was a ‘Silk Throwster’ and ran the Silk Mill, on what is now the site of Derby’s Museum of Making.

She later received lessons from Erasmus Darwin before going on to set up a school of her own in Derby after her husband, John Hardcastle, a Birmingham Tea Dealer, became ill. Now the main breadwinner, Lucy balanced the roles of mother, carer, and teacher, with her serious research interests. Her manuscript illustrated her first-hand study of Meadow Saffron and revealed for the first time why it was that the plant appeared to set seed in spring but then flowered in autumn.

Lucy Bamford, Senior Curator of Fine Art and the Joseph Wright Collection at Derby Museums, said:

“We are delighted to have had the support of the Derby Museums’ Friends and Arts Council England / V&A Purchase Grant Fund to help acquire this wonderful manuscript for our collection. Not only will it go some way towards helping to improve the representation of women artists in our collection, it also illustrates the importance of studying art and science in tandem; a subject that is close to our own heart as an organisation dedicated to the principles and encouragement of STEAM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) learning.”

Pam Helm, Former Chair of the Derby Museums’ Friends, said:

“As a group of museum supporters, we are really pleased to have been able to help acquire the Lucy Hardcastle manuscript for the museum. Since our inception over 50 years ago, fundraising to help grow the museums’ collection and supporting the work of Derby Museums continues to motivate many of us to continue as members and we really enjoyed getting together in February at the Museum and Art Gallery to celebrate having helped with this acquisition.”

Since the foundation of the Derby Museums’ Friends in 1969, the group has generously helped to acquire over 300 objects for Derby Museums’ and is currently putting its support towards the museums’ £1m Endowment Fund challenge.

Laura Dudley, Fundraising, Membership and Events Coordinator at Derby Museums, said:

“We’ve been blown away by the support and generosity of the Friends, it is fantastic to work with such a passionate group of museum supporters. I’ve been amazed by the wealth and breadth of knowledge the Friends have, and their commitment to supporting and stimulating interest in Derby’s heritage is second to none. It is humbling to see how generously they have supported this appeal.”

The Lucy Hardcastle manuscript will go on display later this year at Derby’s Museum of Making and will also feature in the museums’ forthcoming exhibition, Women History Makers, which will open at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in September 2022.

For more information about joining the Derby Museums’ Friends, please visit: or contact Laura Dudley [email protected].