Updated 27 Aug 2005

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Matlock area description 1820

A description of the Matlock area taken from "A Guide to the Watering Places and Sea-Bathing Places" by Sir Richard Phillips, written about 1820.

The following are discussed below:

Scarthin | Willersley Castle | Harpedge | New Bath | Fox's lodging | Old Bath | Rutland Cavern | Tower | Belle Vue | Temple | Repository | Museum | Bath | Cumberland Cavern | Upperwood | Romantic Rocks | High Tor | Cliff house | Lover's walk | Bird cage | Wild-cat Tor | Willersley | Petrifying wells | Post | Bank | Coach | Waggons | Alport Hill | Plants | Wirksworth |

Engraving from 1842, see X365



    Matlock lies about 12 miles south-east of Buxton, and 144 from London. Its romantic beauty, as well as the salutary springs, which enrich this sequestered spot, render it dear to the man of taste, as well as to the invalid. To the former it presents Nature in her wildest and most picturesque attire; to the latter it furnishes gaiety; without dissipation, and tranquillity without gloom; while the philosopher will find a new source of gratification in those objects which only amuse the eye of uniformed ignorance.

    Though nature, says Mr Ward, in his elegantly-written guide, has lavished numberless beauties on the delightful Dale in which Matlock Bath is situated, yet little more than a century has elapsed since it first began to emerge from obscurity: nor were those beauties the original cause of its celebrity; but this


    is rather to be ascribed to a spring of warm water, which was first noticed in it about the year 1698. This spring having acquired some reputation on account of its medicinal qualities, a house or two were erected near it for the reception of visitors. As the number of these increased, the houses were gradually enlarged and rendered commodious; and Matlock, in a few years, became the general rendezvous of the neighbouring gentry, who passed much time together here, composing, as it were, but one family, and uniting to form a most agreeable society.


    The village which constitutes what is denominated Matlock-bath consists principally of three inns, known by the names of the OLD BATH, the NEW BATH, and the HOTEL, and of two commodious Lodging houses, all situated on the south-east side of the Derwent, affording accommodation to about 400 visitors, who live here like one large family, enjoying every comfort of society without unnecessary form, and without parade, at a moderate expense.

    The roads in the vicinity are as smooth as gravel walks, and exercise either on foot, in carriage, or horseback, is as delightful as can be conceived. It is true indeed that rain falls here more frequently and copiously than in champaign situations; but the nature of the soil quickly absorbs the superabundant moisture, and humidity is never found to affect the health of the most delicate.

    The buildings at Matlock are elegantly constructed of stone, and cleanliness and comfort pervade the whole, a circumstance that has attracted the particular notice of every stranger.

    Before the discovery of the springs, no trace of a wheel had ever been seen in the Dale, which was chiefly covered with wood; but after that event, a road for carriages was formed along the western bank of the river Derwent, that flows through it. The


    valley itself is about two miles in length, and it runs, not without several considerable deviations, in a north and south direction. It terminates towards the north, near Matlock bridge; and, at its south end, it is separated from the populous village of Cromford, by high ground and an immense limestone rock, called Scarthin rock, through one end of which the turnpike road has been formed by blasting the stone with gunpowder. It has often been mentioned as a subject of regret that, in doing this, the rock was not merely perforated, and a rude arch left over the passage. Such a vestibule to this romantic Dale would have been extremely appropriate, and have produced a very happy effect.

    Upon entering the valley here, the eye is presented with a very striking view. The river Derwent, which flows through it with a southern course, here winds towards the east. Beyond it is seen a lawn; on the further side, and on a very elevated part of which stands Willersley Castle, the elegant mansion of Richard Arkwright, Esq. backed by high ground and wood. Immediately on the right hand, at the entrance, besides the vast rock mentioned above, there appears at some distance, on the nearer bank of the river, a neat Chapel, erected by Sir Richard Arkwright; and a little beyond it, a stone bridge with three arches. Behind this, farther to the east rises a very elevated woody country; and on the lower part of it there is a house of white free stone, built in a very pleasant situation by the late Peter Nightingale, Esq. On the left of the same entrance through the rock is a high and steep hill, called Harpedge. This is the termination of another lofty mountainous country, which bounds the whole valley of Matlock on its western side.

    Upon entering farther into the Dale, and proceeding along the bank of the river, the first object that occurs is a Calvinistic Meeting-house, and a little way beyond it a large Cotton mill. Nearly opposite


    this, on the other side of the river, begins a very striking continuous range of perpendicular rocks, which rising to the height of more than two hundred feet, and stretching about half a mile in length, forms the eastern boundary of that part of the valley where the Bath-houses are situated. The summit of this magnificent rampart is crowned with wood; and the face of it, which is much curved and very irregular, is softened and rendered pleasing to the eye, by spreading ivy, bushy yews, and various other trees which take root and grow in the crevices, and cover it in such a manner, that large portions of grey rock are only here and there open to the view. The ground below the rocks falls, by a steep declivity, covered with wood, to the brink of the river; a circumstance which adds much to the beauty of the dale.

    Near the cotton-mill mentioned above, on an elevated site, stands the neat white stone house of Adam Wooley, Esq. commanding a fine view of most beautiful scenery. Advancing hence, we soon reach, by a gentle ascent, the Inn called the New Bath, a neat and very comfortable house, kept by Mr Saxton, and capable of accommodating forty or fifty persons. It has an excellent spring and bath; adjoining to it is a large and fruitful garden, in midst of which grows a remarkable fine lime-tree, whose numerous branches, spreading around to a very great extent from its trunk, afford a grateful shade in summer to the company resorting to it.

    Immediately beyond the road passing by the front of this house, is a spacious level green surrounded by a gravel walk; and from this, as well as from the house, there is a most delightful view of the opposite rocks, which, here particularly, are characterised by their unparalleled beauty. Beyond the garden belonging to this Inn is Mrs Fox's lodging house. This, too, as may be justly observed of the houses in general, is very neat and comfortable; and it is calculated for the reception of upwards of


    twenty persons. At the distance of a quarter of a mile, still advancing northwards, stands the other principal inn, called the Old Bath, kept by Mr Cumming. This house is handsomely furnished, and of great extent, affording accommodation to about one hundred persons. Besides a copious spring of water, and a hot as well as a cold bath; here is a large assembly room, lighted with glass chandeliers; and, during the season, which begins at spring, and continues till November, assemblies are frequently held in it, chiefly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

    A billiard table is kept both here and at the New Bath. There is likewise in the front of this house a level green of considerable extent; and, betwixt it and the house, a spacious gravel walk, which commands a very interesting and extensive view, not only of the opposite rocks, the great ornament of Matlock, but also of a bold and high hill that, advancing from the western mountainous country towards the river, seems here to shut in the valley. It is the property of Mr Gilbert, and is covered with a thriving plantation of firs, larches, and other trees; amidst which is formed a walk leading in a serpentine, or rather a zigzag, direction towards its summit.

    In the upper part of it is an open Alcove, and near this is one of the most striking curiosities in the neighbourhood - the Rutland Cavern. A long subterraneous passage formed here by miners, with prodigious labour, through a solid rock of Limestone, opens into a spacious vault, resembling the inside of a lofty Cathedral; and a great number of steps lead, by an easy ascent, up the side of this, to other vaults and passages, extending far into the interior parts of the mountain. The cavern is not only adorned with various crystallizations, but exhibits likewise specimens of the different ores of lead, copper, and zinc, which may here be viewed together with the greatest ease and advantage.


    From the mouth of the Cavern, and other elevated parts of the hill, there is an extensive and most captivating view, not only of the Matlock Dale, with its delightful scenery, but also of the neighbouring country. The view is almost equally striking toward the lower part of the hill, at a house called the Tower, lately built by Mr Gilbert; and likewise at another house near it, recently erected, and properly named Belle Vue by its owner, Mr Rawlinson, an excellent portrait painter, one of Romney's pupils, whose merit has scarcely yet been duly appreciated by the public. A little way below the latter, is another pleasant house, the property, and lately the residence, of Dr Smyth; and much upon the same level, but nearer the Old Bath, stands the Temple, an excellent lodging-house, kept by Mrs Evans, its proprietor, in an extremely agreeable and retired situation.


    Between the temple and the Old Bath, there is a very pleasant elevated walk; and about the middle of it is Miss Millns's long-established Repository, containing an elegant assortment of female attire, together with many such ornamental and useful articles, as are occasionally wanted here, and also a Circulating Library. In a situation lower than this, and nearer the river, there are several excellent lodging-houses, and particularly in that very long, handsome building, formerly kept as an Hotel.

    In the centre of this building is the Museum, or Derbyshire Ornamental Repository, belonging to Messrs Brown and Mawe, and containing elegant Vases, Chimney-pieces, and a great variety of other articles, formed of marble, spar, and alabaster; and also a very interesting collection of shells, fossils, &c. Admittance into the room is free from expense, and few persons visit Matlock, who do not avail themselves of the indulgence.

    At the south end of the same building are two other Repositories; one of which is similar to that just mentioned, the other belongs to Mr Mosley and


    Co contains various elegant articles of jewellery, hardware, &c also a NEWS-ROOM, a collection of Maps and Prints, and a CIRCULATING LIBRARY.

    The other end of the same extensive building is still kept as an Hotel. It is occupied by Mr Smith, and is a commodious house, with good stables belonging to it; it has also the superior advantage of possessing the same excellent Bath, which formerly belonged to the large Hotel. Nearly opposite this house is that of Mrs Buxton, a confectioner.

    From the front of the Hotel and the opposite green, the views of the river and rocks are peculiarly advantageous; and these views are generally selected by Artists, who employ their pencils at Matlock. It may be proper to mention, that there are scattered here and there several small shops, in which are kept for sale the various articles usually made of spar and alabaster.

    Besides the Rutland Cavern, there are two others, that are not undeserving of notice. One of these, called the Cumberland Cavern, is shewn by Mr Skidmore, a hosier, who has a well stocked shop a little way below the New Bath. The other sometimes also called the Cumberland Cavern, is shewn by Smedley, who keeps a spar shop near the same Inn. His cavern is to be seen at some distance up the hill behind Fox's house, and it is very spacious and interesting.


    A few hundred yards above this is the small hamlet called Upperwood, the way from which into the valley passes at a short distance above Smedley's Cavern, and this part of it is so extremely pleasant, that it deserves particular notice. Besides the Caverns already mentioned, another is sometimes visited in a situation near the top of the wood,


    behind the Old Bath; but as this is only a mine, without any natural cavity, it is scarcely entitled to any remark.

    Far more worthy of attention are certain rocks near it, which have been properly enough termed the Romantic Rocks. There is a lofty hill or precipice covered with wood, and beneath it an enormous mass of limestone, having a perpendicular face, in some parts fifty or sixty feet high. This face may be considered as divided into two portions, running in different directions, in such a manner, that they would form nearly a right angle at their junction, were there not in this part a projection of the rock, causing it to form two angles instead of one. From these angles, in one of which is the mouth of a mine, several very large fragments have separated, apparently at different periods, as they are found at different distances; and, what is very remarkable, they remain in an erect posture; some of them rising to a great height, and consisting of several very large stones piled one upon another in the regular manner of mason-work.

    The path to these rocks, up the wood behind the Old Bath, cannot be ascended without some difficulty; but the scenery by the way, as well as at the extremity, will amply reward the visitor for a little trouble, which is all the expense he needs incur, as the rocks are open to general inspection.

    Another object remaining to be mentioned is the HIGH TOR, a rock which, on account of its superior magnitude, is far more striking than any other in the whole Dale. The lofty summit of this celebrated rock may be seen from the front of the Old Bath. It stands up the valley, at the distance of almost a mile from the former place, but on the east side of the river. It is, in fact, only the most prominent part of a long range of rocks, similar to that which is opposite the Baths. The lower part of it is a very high and steep acclivity, covered, in a great measure, with low tangled wood: the upper part is a broad,


    rugged, and somewhat circular mass of lime and toad-stones rising almost perpendicularly to the height of about 350 feet above the surface of the water. Beneath it the river rolls down over an irregular, stony bed, with a violent and noisy current.


    It will not be proper to return from this part of the valley without be observing, that there are other objects here, which powerfully solicit attention; and particularly that, near a public house, called the Boat-house, where the Dale begins to open, there are several very picturesque scenes, upon which, as well as upon the Tor itself, the pencil is frequently exercised. Here also may be noticed a house, called the Cliff house, erected on the hill opposite the High Tor, and, from its lofty situation, commanding a prospect, not only of that and other rocks, but also of the distant country.

    But the views that occur here, however interesting, are not to be compared with those that are to be met with, not only on the Heights of Abraham, but likewise on the margin of the rocks opposite the Bath-houses. In order to arrive at these it is necessary to cross the river; and boats are kept for the purpose on that part of it which is below the Old Bath. On the nearer side of the river, betwixt the station for the boats and the New Bath, there is a grove of tall trees, beautifully decorated with luxuriant ivy; and a walk that passes through it is called the Lover's walk.

    There is also another walk, so called, on the opposite side; a walk of great extent, and rendered delightfully shady by the intermingled branches of a multitude of trees that hang over, and make one continued bower of it along the bank of the river.

    From this several other paths diverge, and ascend to the heights above; and, particularly, there is one that, passing by that very lofty point called the


    Bird-cage, leads the visitor, with little difficulty, to the top of the rocks.


    Upon his arrival here, he finds rich fields of grass extending to the very border of them; and upon approaching this, at several openings, but more especially, upon ascending a remarkable rock near Willersley, called the Wild-Cat Tor, there bursts upon the the sight one of the most striking views that the imagination can form, a view calculated to excite both awe and admiration - the Dale with all its romantic scenery, its rocks and precipices clothed with wood, and the river winding beneath them, here appearing one dark and unruffled expanse, and there rushing down a weir, and amidst large stones, in a broad impetuous cataract.

    Should the spectator, in some serene evening, looking down from his lofty station, behold the whole bosom of the Dale animated with numerous parties of the gay visitants; some wandering, as fancy leads, through the shady walks, others gliding along on the surface of the water; all, curis expeditis, in full enjoyment of the surrounding beauties of Nature, and exhilarated by the strains of musical instruments proceeding from the recesses of the groves; this must appear to be a scene truly magical.


    It is natural here for that excursive faculty, the imagination, to wander from the contemplation of such a scene as this, and to contrast it with others, that are elsewhere to be met with, of a very different kind: but it may be better to turn from so ungrateful a subject, and proceed to observe, that the grounds at Willersly, by Mr Arkwright's obliging indulgence, are open to all who choose to visit them, every Monday and Thursday; on which days a person is appointed to shew them. Views of the most striking and pleasing kind are to be met with here,


    chiefly in the principal walk, beginning at the Castle, and passing up by the gardens, returns in a circuit of nearly a mile to the house again. The house itself is not shewn, as its furniture has not been selected with a view to splendour of appearance, but rather for the purpose of utility and comfort, which this mansion possesses in an eminent degree.

    It contains some excellent portraits and other pieces by Wright, of Derby, particularly one of Ullswater Lake, which was purchased for 300 guineas; it was the last performance of this excellent artist, and is most highly esteemed as a chef d'oevre of its kind. The spot where the house is erected, was previously occupied by a rock, the removal of which cost Sir Richard Arkwright about three thousand pounds.

    In this house, on the third of August, 1792, expired Sir Richard Arkwright; of the extraordinary importance of whose ingenious inventions the reader can scarcely need to be reminded. His uncommon abilities and cast of mind were evinced, not by those inventions alone, but likewise by the judicious methods he adopted to carry them fully into effect,and to secure himself a just proportion of the advantages resulting from them. "Multa tuli fecique", were the words chosen for his motto: to a person of his aspiring mind "Aut Caesar aut nihil", would have been equally suitable. The first Cotton-mill that was worked by water, was erected at Cromford: and the place was chosen by Sir Richard Arkwright with his usual sagacity, as well on other accounts, as because the water there, issuing from a sough that has been formed to drain the lead mines, is always warm; so that no obstruction is ever occasioned by frost; and the quantity of water supplied from this source, is subject to little or no variation. Many persons who visit Matlock, would, undoubtedly, be much gratified, if permission were granted to inspect the mills; but as, in such a situation, a general permission


    to view them would be attended with much inconvenience, and a partial one would be offensive to those who did not obtain it, it has therefore been determined, that no application for leave shall be complied with.


    The Matlock water, springing very abundantly from limestone rocks, is of the clearest kind; and, having a temperature of sixty-eight degrees, it has a claim to be admitted into the short list of thermal waters, that are to be found in England. It has not been analysed with much exactness; but it has been found to contain a small quantity of a neutral salt, probably muriat of soda, and about as much of an earthy salt, which is chiefly calcareous. Its calcareous contents are quickly deposited, when it is exposed to the air, incrusting every substance that is immersed in it. Curious specimens of this incrustation are to be seen at, what are called, the Petrifying Wells at Matlock; and of the same nature is the tophus, in the bank on the west side of the river, which is much employed here in building.

    Various theories have been formed respecting the cause of its heat, which is about sixty-eight degrees. Dr Darwin thinks that it originates in the steam raised from deep subterraneous fires, and not from the decomposition of pyrites, superficially situated.

    Dr Saunders, in his excellent Treatise on mineral waters, observes, that Matlock water may be employed in all those cases wherein a pure diluent drink is advisable; but it is principally used as a tepid bath, or at least one which comes to the extreme limits of a cold bath. On this account it produces but little shock on immersion, and is, therefore, peculiarly fitted for those delicate and languid habits, that cannot exert sufficient reaction to overcome the effects of the ordinary cold bath, and on which the benefits it produces chiefly depend. Matlock water forms a good intermediate


    bath between Bath or Buxton and the sea, and may be employed in preparing the invalid for the latter, but concerning the prevalent custom of resorting annually to the sea coast for the purpose of bathing, the author mentioned above gives this important caution. If we consider, says he, the great difference that always exists between the summer atmosphere and the heat of the sea; the bleak exposed aspect of many even of our most favourite watering-places, and the keen winds to which the bather must often be exposed; I cannot but think, that there is a great number of invalids, of young and puny children, and delicate females, who have been often materially injured in their health by an indiscriminate use of this powerful application of cold; and are thereby disappointed of the advantages of a more genial climate, and of country air, exercise, and amusement, which altogether form a very remedial process, and give the great charm to an excursion.


    A Post sets out on horseback from Bakewell early every morning, passes through Matlock and Wirksworth on his way to Derby, and returns in the evening. A Penny-post office has been established at Matlock, in the lower part of Fox's lodging house, and is conducted with proper attention by Adam Walker, a Saddler.

    At Wirksworth is the Bank of Messrs Arkwright and Toplis, which draws upon that of Messrs Down, Thornton, and Co London.

    A Coach passes through Wirksworth both towards Manchester and towards London every day.

    Each of the inns furnished excellent post chaises; and open-carriages and saddle horses may generally be hired, for which the goodness of the roads, and the many agreeable rides in the vicinity, offer a frequent inducement.

    The London Waggons are met at the Tiger Inn, in Derby, every Monday and Friday, by a carrier


    from Wirksworth, who, upon his return, proceeds to Matlock.


    About four miles south of Matlock, and one and a half from Wirksworth, is a lofty eminence, called Alport Hill, from which, in a clear day, the Wrekin in Shropshire is visible, though fifty miles distant. When a survey of the country was taken a few years ago, by order of the government, one of the stations of observation was fixed at Alport Hill, when the

    latitude was found to be        53°  3' 43" N
    and the longitude                1° 32' 22" West


    They who have a taste for botanical pursuits, may be gratified with the sight of several flowers not commonly found, that grow wild in the neighbourhood of Matlock; particularly those of the orchis kind; of which the following species may be found here:

              Orchis bifolia, butterfly orchis has a
                              sweet scent during night.
              Orchis pyramidalis, late flowering orchis
               --    morio, meadow orchis
               --    mascula, early orchis
               --    ustulato, dwarf orchis
               --    maculata, spotted orchis
               --    canopsea, red-handed orchis
              Satyrium viride, frog satyrion
              Ophrys muscifera, fly orchis
               --    apifera, bee orchis


    The Route from Matlock Bath to Derby may furnish occasion for our first remarks

    The distance from Matlock Bath to Cromford, is 1 mile.
                                   to Wirksworth,  3 miles
                                   to Kedleston,  14  --
                               and to Derby,      17  --
    At the distance of two or three hundred yards above Cromford, on the left side of the road towards


    the summit of the hill, are some rocks of gritstone, which are very remarkable, both on account of their magnitude and form, and because, from their lofty situation, they command a striking view of Willersly Castle, and of the rocks and hills adjacent to it and Matlock.

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