Updated 19 Nov 2000

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Hydropathy, John Smedley and Matlock

This information was kindly sent to me by Sonia Addis-Smith of Bedfordshire. It gives a picture of a great but transient local industry, yet another casualty of the Great War. Thanks Sonia.

"History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby", by Francis White and Co, 1857, p.431, under the main heading of Matlock Parish:-

BATHS - The Baths which have been established at Matlock Town, within the last few years [1850s], have not as yet attained that wide spread celebrity, which has been obtained by its more fortunate neighbour Matlock Bath; nevertheless, the support which they have hitherto received affords strong evidence that the HYDROPATHY system is not without its friends and supporters; and from their close proximity to the beautiful and picturesque scenery of the Dale, it is more than probable, that in a few years they will prove a formidable yet friendly rival, for a share of the public patronage which is enjoyed in such an eminent degree by its elder sister.

There are at this time three HYDROPATHIC establishments here, viz, Mr John SMEDLEY's, near Matlock Bridge Station; Mr Ralph DAVIS's, Matlock Bank; and Mr John RODGERS', Matlock Green; the largest of which is under the management of Mr SMEDLEY. The situation of this house is highly advantageous to health, being sheltered from the north and east winds, by a lofty range of hills; the interior is comfortably furnished, and has all the necessary apparatus for carrying out the treatment, with water of the softest and purest nature.

"History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire", by T. Bulmer and Co, 1895, p.417, under Matlock, has a description which bears out the above predictions for the growing popularity of Hydros (to which Bulmer gives a glowing endorsement!), and especially the importance of John SMEDLEY:-

MATLOCK BANK - situated on the sloping side of a lofty eminence about half-a-mile to the east [of Matlock Bridge], is the creation of the second half of the present [19th] century. Fifty years ago [1840s] a cottage or two were the only habitations on the hillside where now stand many palatial buildings and handsome villas. Here HYDROPATHY, as now practised, had its earliest home. Its initial stage was on a very limited scale; but from this mean and insignificant beginning has arisen perhaps the largest and most magnificent hydropathic establishment in the world.

John SMEDLEY, its originator, whose name it still [1895] and probably will ever bear, was a hosiery manufacturer at Lea Mills, near Matlock. The worry and anxiety of business affected his health, which in 1849, completely broke down. Having no faith in doctors' medicine, he tried the cold water cure at Ben-Rhydding, which restored him to health and vigour. He returned much impressed by the benefits of the water cure, and practised it in a milder form with marked success among his work-people.

Shortly afterwards, in the year 1853, he purchased a cottage on Matlock Bank, and fitted it up with such baths as his experience had devised. His mild water treatment grew in popular favour, and necessitated from time to time additions to the original building. The speculation became an undoubted success, and he rebuilt the premises on an extended scale, at a cost of £20,000.

After Mr SMEDLEY's death, in 1874, the concern was purchased by a limited company, who have spent about £70,000 on structural alterations and adornment.

The success achieved by Mr SMEDLEY stimulated others to enter the field in competition:-

- Rock Side Hydropathic Establishment was erected by Mr Charles ROWLAND, in 1862, and subsequently considerably enlarged. It is situated further up the hill at a height of 800 feet above the sea level, and can be reached conveniently and comfortably by the new cable tram.

- Prospect and Popular Cottage Hydros were established by the Messrs DAVIS.

- Shortly afterwards Mr BARTON opened Jackson House for the same purpose.

- Subsequently, he [Mr Barton] erected commodious and handsome premises called Dalefield Hydropathic Establishment, in which he introduced many improvements suggested by his experience, and furnished it in first-class style. The house stands within its own grounds, and commands delightful prospects along the valley of the Derwent [River]. The dining-hall, drawing-rooms, &c, are all spacious, well ventilated, and handsomely furnished, and various indoor and outdoor amusements are provided. The heating arrangements are a special feature to ensure an equable temperature in winter and stormy weather. The establishment is not exclusively a sanatorium; it affords accommodation to families and others who desire to spend a holiday amidst the beautiful scenery of the English Switzerland. and it is also a delightful winter resort for those delicate individuals who dread the severities of our English climate.

It is the general impression that the WATER CURE is applicable only in the summer time. This is, however, incorrect, for almost all diseases are quite as readily cured in the winter as in the summer; and here at all seasons both visitors and invalids will find a most comfortable home.

[I think Bulmer gives a good idea of what these Hydros were like. Perhaps he had been bribed by these 'establishments', especially the last one?!?]

Here is a third account, taken from the big new four-volume work, "History of Derbyshire", by Gladwyn Turbutt, Merton Priory Press, 1999, Vol 4, p.1492, "Industry, Agriculture and Commerce", first talking about hosiery firms, including John Smedley Ltd (and then about Smedley and his Hydro):-

Knitwear and hosiery are still made by I. & R. MORLEY Ltd of Heanor (established in 1874) and by JOHN SMEDLEY Ltd at Lea Mills (founded by Thomas Smedley, who had started as an associate of Peter NIGHTINGALE in establishing a cotton-spinning mill in 1784 at Lea and later changed over to hosiery manufacture, with his son John Smedley installing new machinery c.1840). See ref 164.

Vol 4, p.1648, "Notes and References", No.164:-

JOHN SMEDLEY (1803-74) : was one of the most interesting of Derbyshire characters in the 19th century. He was greatly concerned about the health and welfare of his mill workers at Lea, providing them with free medicines, clothing and canteen facilities, and starting each day with a compulsory religious service (taken by himself with a service-book of his own composition).

After a continental tour with his wife he was taken seriously ill with typhus fever. At this time, in a fit of deep personal depression, he left the Anglican Church and became a Nonconformist, and took a course of hydropathic treatment. Recovering his health soon afterwards, he believed that he had been spared for a purpose and began to travel round the district conducting evangelical services in a tent. He also contributed to a series of Wesleyan Reform chapels at Higham, Holloway, Butts (Ashover), Bonsall and Birchwood (Alfreton).

His belief in the efficacy of hydropathic treatment caused him to offer free treatment to sick people, starting a 'Hydro' at Matlock Bank in which by 1867 over 2,000 patients were being treated each year. Patients had to conform to strict rules of non-smoking and total abstention.

Apart from his book, "Practical Hydropathy", Smedley wrote several books on scientific, historical and religious subjects. Extensions to his Hydro became necessary over the years, and charges began to be made for treatment. Many distinguished people visited the Hydro. Both Smedley and his wife played an active part in running the Hydro, and both expressed strong views against conventional medical practices (as well as holding equally strong views on many other subjects, being intolerant of anyone who expressed contrary opinions!).

His success in business enabled Smedley to build in 1860 a self-designed, mock-medieval castle for £60,000 on Riber Hill (in full view of the Hydro), which, after his death, having been used as a school, a War Office store, left empty for years during which it was vandalised and gutted, is now a mere shell, with the grounds until recently housing a zoo. Smedley's Hydro is now the office of Derbyshire County Council. The firm of John Smedley Ltd [knitwear and hosiery] is still 70 percent family-owned, and exports 70 percent of its knitwear output.

For a short account of John Smedley, see C. Daniel, "Derbyshire Portraits", 1978, pp.65-71. For Riber Castle, see Maxwell Craven and Michael Stanley, "Derbyshire Country House", 1991, pp.175-6.