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'Beauties of England & Wales', 1802 - Matlock Extracts*
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
(1) Matlock, Matlock Bath and Matlock Dale in 1802

Willersley, 1802
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Beauties (2)
Cotton manufacture, Willersley & Sir Richard Arkwright

Willersley Castle - another "Beauties" engraving

MATLOCK BRIDGE &c. Engraved by R. Roffe from a drawing by Wm. Delamotte Esq.

Engraved by R. Roffe from a drawing by Wm. Delamotte Esq


'The unparalleled grandeur of the scenery round Matlock, renders every attempt to delineate its varied characteristics by words, at least, hopeless, if not absolutely impossible. The bold and romantic steeps, skirted by a gorgeous covering of wood, and rising from the margin of the Derwent, whose waters sometimes glide majestically along, and sometimes flow in a rapid stream over ledges and broken masses of stone; the frequent changes of scene, occasioned by the winding of the Dale, which at every step varies the prospect, by introducing new objects; the huge rocks, in some places bare of vegetation, in others covered with luxuriant foliage, here, piled upon each other in immense masses, there, displaying their enormous fronts in one unbroken perpendicular mass; and the sublimity, and picturesque beauty, exhibited by the manifold combinations of the interesting forms congregated near this enchanting spot, can never be adequately depicted by the powers of language. The creations of the pencil, alone, are commensurate to the excitation in the mind, of correspondent images.

The general name, Matlock, it must be observed, includes both the village of Matlock, and Matlock Bath. The former is as ancient as the Conquest, and is chiefly situated on the eastern banks of the river; the latter is considerably more recent in its origin, and stands on the western margin. "At the time of compiling the Domesday Book, Matlock appears to have been a hamlet of the manor of Mestesford, (the situation of which is now unknown) which was part of the demesnes of the Crown. It afterwards became a part of the estate of William de FERRERS, Earl of Derby, who had a charter of free-warren for his demesne lands here. On the attainder of his son, Robert de FERRERS, for espousing the cause of Simon de MONTFORD, Earl of Leicester, Matlock then became a manor, reverted to the Crown; and was granted, in the seventh of Edward the First [1278/9], to Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and continued a part of the possessions of the earldom and Duchy of Lancaster, till the fourth of Charles the First [1628/9], when it was granted by that King, along with a great number of other manors and estates, to Edward DITCHFIELD and others, in trust for the Mayor and citizens of London. In the year following, it was sold by DITCHFIELD, and the other trustees, to the copyholders of the manor of Matlock, and is now divided into several small shares".[1] According to the returns made under the late Act, this parish contains 492 houses, and 2,354 inhabitants.

Matlock village is inhabited chiefly by persons employed in the neighbouring lead mines, and in the manufacture of cotton. The houses are principally of stone; and at the entrance of the village is a neat stone bridge; at some distance from which, on the verge of a most romantic rock, stands the church. This structure contains a nave, side aisles, and a small chancel : the outside is embattled, having an ancient tower with pinnacles, whimsically decorated with figures of grotesque animals for spouts. On the eminence above the church, called Riber Hill, are the remains of what has been supposed a Druidical altar, but which has more resemblance to a cromlech; though it may probably have only been intended as a point for the transmittal of signals. it is called the Hirst Stones, and consists of four rude masses of grit-stone, on of which, apparently the smallest, is placed on the others, and is computed to weigh about two tons. On the upper stone is a circular hole, six inches deep, and nine in diameter, wherein, about fifty years ago, stood a stone pillar.

Matlock-Bath is nearly a mile and a half from the village; and though few situations can be more beautiful, it was only occupied by some rude cottages, inhabited by miners, till its warm springs began to attract notice, for their medicinal qualities, about the year 1698. At this period the original bath - "was built and paved by the Rev Mr FERN, of Matlock, and Mr HEYWARD, of Cromford; and put into the hands of George WRAGG, who, to confirm his title, took a lease from the several lords of the manor, for ninety-nine years[2] paying them a fine of 150 pounds and the yearly rent or acknowledgement of sixpence each. He then built a few small rooms adjoining to the bath, which were but a poor accommodation for strangers. The lease and property of Mr WRAGG were afterwards purchased for about 1,000 pounds by Messrs SMITH and PENNEL, of Nottingham, who erected two large commodious buildings, with stables, and other conveniences; made a coach road along the river side from Cromford, and improved the horse-way from Matlock Bridge. The whole estate afterwards became the property of Mr PENNEL by purchase; and on his death, about the year 1733, descended to his daughter, and her husband."[3] It is now [1802] the joint property of several persons.

The judicious means thus exerted to render the accommodations attractive, and the increasing celebrity of the waters, occasioned a greater influx of visitors; and a second spring having been discovered within the distance of about a quarter of a mile, a new bath was formed, and another lodging-house erected, for the reception of company. At a still later period, a third spring was met with, three or four hundred yards eastward of that which was first noticed; but its temperature being several degrees lower than either of the other springs, it was not brought into use till a level had been made in the hill and carried beyond the point where its waters had intermingled with those of a cold spring. Another bath and lodging-house were then erected; and the latter, by various subsequent alterations, is become one of the most commodious hotels in England. These buildings are of stone, and are respectively named, the 'Old Bath', the 'New Bath', and the 'Hotel'.** The number of persons that may at the same time be accommodated at these, and the private lodging-houses, is upwards of 400; and since the taste for contemplating beautiful scenery has been so general, more than this number have been frequently entertained.

** Note: The general terms for accommodation at these houses, are as follows. A bed-chamber is five shillings per week; a private parlour from fourteen shillings to a guinea. Breakfast, one shilling and threepence; dinner at the public table, two shillings; tea, optional, but when taken, one shilling; supper, one shilling and sixpence. Bathing, sixpence each time.

All the warm springs issue from between fifteen and thirty yards above the level of the river : higher or lower, the springs are cold, and only common water. The temperature of the former, as given by Dr PEARSON and others, is 68 degrees of Farenheit's thermometer; but Dr ELLIOT, and Dr PENNINGTON, have stated it at 69 degrees. Dr PERCIVAL observes, in his "Medical and Experimental Essays" that the Matlock waters resemble those of Bristol, both in their chemical and medical qualities; but that the Matlock water exhibits no proof of a mineral spirit, either by the taste, or the test of syrup of violets. The Doctor adds, "that it is very slightly impregnated with selenite, or earthy salts, which is proved by its comparative levity, it weighing only 'four' grains in a pint heavier than distilled water : and that a grey precipitate, occasioned by adding a solution of silver in 'aqua-fortis', renders it probable that a small portion of sea salt is contained in it." In Dr PENNINGTON's experiments it was found that alkalies made the water cloudy and milky : and that when a gallon was evaporated, thirty-seven or thirty-eight grains of sediment were deposited; of this about twelve or thirteen were saline matter, composed of calcareous nitre, (vitriolated magnesia) and twenty-four or twenty-five grains, calcareous earth.[4]

The diseases in which the beneficial tendency of the Matlock waters is chiefly experienced, are glandular affections, rheumatism, and its consequent debility, obstructions from biliary concretions, gravel, consumption in its first stages, Haemoptoe, and generally, all those complaints that are promoted or increased by a relaxed state of the muscular fibres. The Matlock season commences the latter end of April, and continues till November.

The romantic and sublimely picturesque scenery of Matlock Dale, is viewed to most advantage when approached from the bridge near its northern extremity; as its beauties then succeed each other in a gradation which renders their grandeur and effect more impressive. The attention is first arrested by a vast rampart of limestone rock, clothed with yew trees, elms, and limes, of singularly beautiful shapes and foliage, from the recesses of which the humble church of Matlock displays its pinnacles. Further on the views become more interesting; and the High Tor, rearing its awful brow on the left bank of the river, bursts upon the sight in extreme magnificence. The height of this stupendous rock is upwards of 350 feet. The lower part is covered with small trees and under-wood, of various foliage; but the upper part, for fifty or sixty yards, is one broad mass of naked perpendicular rock. The fragments that have fallen from this eminence form the bed of the river, which flows immediately below; a bed so broken and disjointed, that the foaming waters roar over the obstructing masses with restless rapidity, and considerable noise. After sudden and heavy rains, the impetuosity of the current is greatly increased, and the sublimity of the view proportionably augmented.

Immediately opposite to the High Tor, but rising with a less steep ascent, though to a greater elevation, is Masson Hill, which appears like a pile of immense crags - a Pelion upon Ossa. The summit of this mountain has been named the Heights of Abraham (probably from its similarity to the Heights of Abraham near Quebec, rendered so memorable by the enterprise of the gallant WOLFE, in 1759), and overlooks the country to a vast extent; besides commanding a beautiful bird's-eye view of nearly the whole Dale. From this point even the High Tor loses its sublimity; but this effect is fully compensated by the variety of interesting objects included in the prospect. The height of this eminence is about 250 yards; the path to its summit has been carried in a winding, or rather zigzag direction, and in various places on each side has been planted with rows of firs, which, opening at convenient distances, admits the eye to range over the beautiful scenery beneath, from different points of view.

The romantic cliff which forms the eastern boundary of the Dale, is seen to much advantage from the Old Bath, where the river recedes in a curve from the road, and a little strip of meadow, rendered picturesque by three small buildings in the cottage style, compose the foreground. "This is finely opposed and backed by a line of rock and wood, a mass of trees rising to the right, and shutting out for a short time all other features of the scenery." On crossing the river near this spot, it may be observed, that the natural beauties of the place have received some improvements from art. Three paths are seen, pointing through the wood in different directions : one of them called the Lover's Walk, has been carried along the margin of the river, and is arched by the intermingled branches of the trees which inclose it. The others pursue a winding course to the summit of the rock, which is attained with little difficulty, through the judicious mode observed in forming the slopes, and placing the steps; though the acclivity is exceedingly steep. Variety of luxuriant trees interweave their fantastic roots on each side of the paths, and shelter them with their aspiring branches. The prospects from the brow of the precipice are very fine.

From the Baths, to the southern entrance of the Dale, near Cromford, the features of the scenery are continually varying. The river sometimes flows in a smooth and gentle stream, reflecting the pendant boughs that weave upon its margin; and sometimes rushes over a ledge of rocks, or the rude fragments that have been torn by storms from the impending cliffs which overhang its waters. some of these are entirely bare; but others are partially covered with shrubs and under-wood, which take root in the crevices of the rocks, and flourish in considerable vigour, though apparently bereaved of every means of obtaining nourishment.

The western bank of the Derwent, for the whole distance between the turnpike at Matlock and the Old Baths, is one vast bed of 'tuphus', or calcareous incrustation, which has been deposited by the waters flowing from the warm springs. This is vulgarly called petrified moss, and appears to have been formed on a morass[5], or collection of moss, shrubs, and small trees, which having incrusted, the vegetable matter gradually decomposed, and the stony envelopment assumed the entire figure of the nucleus it had destroyed. The Petrifying Spring, near the New Bath, has furnished innumerable specimens of these kind of transmutations of vegetable, animal, and testaceous substances, that have been exposed to its influence. The collection displayed by the person who keeps the spring, contains several extraordinary exemplars of its powers of action.

In the hill on the west side of the river are two subterranean cavities : one of these, called the Cumberland Cavern, is said to have formerly communicated with the entrance of a lead mine, but displays nothing particularly remarkable : the other is more worthy of inspection, and has been named the SMEDLEY Cavern, from the name of the discoverer, who acts as guide to its recesses, and by those exertions, continued for more than seventeen years, the numerous projections of the rock which impeded the passage were removed. The entrance is near the top of the hill, and keeps tolerably level for about twenty yards, when the way begins to descend, winding irregularly amidst rude and disjointed crags. After thus dipping for some distance, it leads forward chiefly by a gentle ascent, for several hundred yards, through several vaults, or hollows, the largest of which is about fifty feet long, and twenty wide; having a concave roof, gradually sloping to the extremity of the cavern. The bottom consists of immense masses of broken rock, lying confusedly upon each other, and forming a rugged ceiling to another vault below; into which is a descent by a natural flight of rude steps.

Among the natural curiosities of Matlock, may be mentioned Lunar Rainbows, which are not unfrequent in this neighbourhood. The colours are sometimes exceedingly well defined, but have a more tranquil tone than those which originate in the solar beams. A very beautiful one was observed on the evening of tenth of September, 1802, between the hours of eight and nine; its effect was singularly pleasing.'

References within the text:

[1] "Description of Matlock Bath", by George Lipscomb, p.37
[2] [footnote:] we have been informed, but cannot state it with certainty, that the lease granted to Mr G. WRAGG was for the term of 999 years
[3] "History of Mineral Waters", by Dr Short
[4] [A footnote here refers to Darwin's 'ingenious theory in explanation of the natural heat of the Buxton and Matlock waters', and then quotes at length from "Description of Matlock Bath", by George Lipscomb of Birmingham, p.26 et seq, on the subject of the mineral content of the Matlock waters, pp.507-09].
[5] Warner's "Tour through the Northern Counties"

*Extracted from : The Beauties of England and Wales, by John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley,
Vol III, published in 1802, Cumberland, Isle of Man, and Derbyshire, pp.504-512
Generously contributed by Sonia Addis-Smith; her additional comments or explanation, for example dates, enclosed in [ ]
Engraving of Matlock Bridge from the collection of and © Ann Andrews. The image is between p.508 and p.509 in the book itself.

See more about some of the places mentioned above:

Matlock Bridge by Turner, 1795.

The Bridge, early twentieth century

Painting by Hadfield Cubley: The Old Bridge

Cumberland Cavern, which had recently been discovered and is mentioned above.

There is more information about Arkwright and Willersley:
Matlock Miscellany
Water Cures

Arkwright's Cotton Mill