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Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863*
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter the Seventh. Riber, Dethick and Lea.

The Villa, an illustration in Days in Derbyshire
"Days in Derbyshire"
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Riber Hall engraving

Riber Hall

Lea Mills

Lea Mills, Lead Smelting Works & Coumbs Wood

Dethick, St. John the Baptist Chapel

Dethick, Manor Farm

The Three Horse Shoes

The Three Horse Shoes
VLA 4960

Decorative border at the beginning of Chapter 7


[T]here are parts of the county in which, as you ramble about them, you cannot but feel that they possess a history. This is especially the case about Riber-hill. Rib-berg, in modern English, Ridge-Hill,) I take to be the name that has softened into Riber. But long before the Saxons gave it that name, the British Druid, and afterwards the Roman Cohort, had made it his haunt if not his home. In the memory of many still living, there were remains of a druidical monument upon it, and traces of an old encampment may still be descried. My intelligent publisher was there a few days prior to the penning of this chapter, and says - "The hamlet of Riber, with its grey old houses, is near the top of the hill, and commands a very extensive view. The Hall is a fine old Elizabethan building - though one part has been newly roofed with slate instead of stone, which somewhat impairs its harmony. From the Cliff, which is not far from the Hall, a magnificent prospect spreads out beneath us, and stretched far into the distance, till the Peak hills seemed to blend with the northern sky. Tansley Moor was on our right, with the rift of Lumsdale : Matlock town and bridge, and the Hydropathic Establishment just at our feet ; the winding Derwent, Darley Dale and Oaker Hill beyond, - all basking in the clear atmosphere, and intersecting with curving lines of white roads and picturesque dottings of trees. After looking in vain for the 'Hurst Stones', thinking we might perchance find some small relic of these druidical monuments, and resting for a short time at the foot of the telegraphic pole, we wended down to Starkholmes. A lad from Riber, of who we made inquiries, told us here was still a 'druid's chair' in somebody's yard, and that 'there had been a druid's table, but it get broke,' - which was all the information he could give about the Druid stones once so famous on Riber."

Should the rambler start for Dethick and Lea from Matlock Bank, and be disposed to walk the whole distance, he can scarcely do better that go over Riber, and down the road which leaves Horston hamlet on his right. But the easiest, as it would to many be also the pleasantest way from the Bath, is to go to Cromford Station and along the turnpike-road, where the Derwent winds so beautifully by its side for company, and the wooded and cotted hills look down with an air so magnificent and calm as to fill the soul with wordless extasy. Keeping this road past the Hat-factory, so far as what is called, as may happen, Lea-wood, Lea-bridge, or Lea-works - every name being indicative of the place - you can than turn of, by Mr. Smedley's mills and hydropathic hospital for Lea village. You can see some lead-works on one side and presently an old school-house on the other, and at length come to an ancient corn-mill, where Lea brook crosses the road - the very road you might have come by had you started from Riber - and a sweeter picture for a painter, should it be in the right season and weather, the whole ramble could not give him than that he may find here. How clear the little mill-pool, and how rural the mill and miller's house and farm-yard ! How finely climbs the sunny and varied wood behind, and how picturesquely rises out above all yon ancient tower ! You want to know what it means, for you feel quite uncertain what it is, till told that in the tower of Dethick Church - an object which, whatever the point from which you can see it, cannot fail to be interesting. But let me quote again some of the notes of my photographic friends, taken on the 8th of April, 1861 :-

"It is clear, bright and warm in the sun, the roads not having had time to get dusty after the late long-continued rains. The country is beginning to show signs of spring's arrival ; blushing anemonies and pale primroses abound on the banks and in the fields, and the hedge-rows and trees are all a-bud.
***** Took the upward road to Lea, which was pleasant and well remembered - finishing off at Lea village. The Methodist chapel there, backed on the hill-side by a beautiful wood, is a very pretty object in the landscape. Learning from a country-lad that we could get over the fields to Dethick by a nearer and prettier walk than the road, we passed Mrs. Wasse's house - its architecture in harmony with that of the chapel - and kept our upward way through the village, by grey and irregular built old houses and cottages, a deep wooded dell on our left, and the hill on our right, till we came to the Three Horse-shoes, a suitable sign for a landlord, who is also a blacksmith ; but why he did not have four horse-shoes is a mystery. Making inquiries about the Old Hall at Lea, we were told it was a little further on, and now divided into two houses, and that it is about 300 years old. It was not this, but the original building we wanted, and found it Behind the Three Horse-shoes, - a much older erection and now inhabited by a farmer. I should imagine the part remaining to be the chapel of the old Hall, which is said to have been built in 1478. A very aged man whom we saw there, remembers the gothic window - probably the east chapel-window, still in good preservation.*****
Retracing our steps, we descended the steep little valley which divides Lea from Dethick, casting longing looks on many bits of scenery about the course of the brook, now full of water. This wooded dell will be a delightful retreat in another month, when the tree-leaves are expanded and the undergrowth more developed. Even now, the primroses and wood-sorrel enliven the banks with their delicate flowers ; and vigorous bunches of strong leaves show where to expect a fine crop of foxgloves in due time.

"Leaving the wood behind us, and continuing our ascent through a field, Dethick Church before us,

dethick church

we soon come to a stand, enchanted by the view we get of the old grey tower amongst the branches of trees as old, or older - for the church was rebuilt more than three centuries ago, and who can say when these venerable trees were planted? There is an air of antiquity about this spot, which affects us the more powerfully the nearer we advance. We enter the graveless church-yard - graveless, because Dethick is but a chapelry of Ashover - and though there is nothing remarkable about it except the tower, it strongly reminds one, with its turret at the south-east corner, of the bell tower in the lower court of Haddon Hall. Over the west door, now partly bricked up and converted into a window, is a tablet inscribed 'Anno : Verbi Incarnati 1530,' and on the southern wall are sculptured the arms of the Babingtons. **** Descending some stone steps, we find ourselves in a farm-yard, and get a very picturesque view of the church tower. The scenery from this place is most delightful. The eye after looking over the ruined walls, the latest vestiges of ancient conventual buildings, and marking the noble yew of many centuries down the verdant slope below, wanders over the broad expanse of Riber, then follows, over the woody clough, the beautiful valley southwards towards, away from the dusky eminence of Barrel Edge and pine crowned Stonnus [sic], which stands in bold relief against the clear blue sky. *** We next call at the farm-house by the east end of the Church, which is built from the ruins of the old Hall of the Babingtons. We found but little of the original building, the principal part being the kitchen on the south side of the house - the enormous fireplace, with its roasting-jack being worthy of observation. We took a view of this side of the house from the adjoining field, whence we could see the chimneys with the rusted iron-work and pulleys once connected to the jack inside, This and the entrance to the cellar, on the other side and detached from the house, completed our views. The cellar-doorway is a very elegant relic, and with the ivied gable above it, forms the little picture given further on."

This much I have quoted, because a more accurate description of them in the same number of words could not be given. And now my reader asks of this cellar door-way is the most perfect index remaining of the once important mansion of so historical a family. It is. But as Cuvier could infer something of the organism of any animal from a single bone, may we not infer something of the magnitude and style of a mansion that could boast of such a cellar door-way ? And does it tell us of nothing more than architecture - nothing of ancient chivalry and revelry and hospitality without bound, and how it was that poor Anthony Babington, in his enthusiasm for Mary, Queen of Scots, came to believe that he could liberate her, and then raise the whole country-side in her favour, instead of letting her pine in the neighbouring towers of Wingfield Manor, on which he was wont so often to gaze from the nearest hills ? What a vision of the warm and young adventurer, his companions and his doings, comes upon us, as we mark these mouldering vestiges ! How one fancies their nightly reconnoiterings, their secret continental missions, their more daring social meetings, the ripening of their plot, and their final betrayal and execution, - when, though unforgiven by Elizabeth after his ingenuous confession and touching plea for mercy, Babington could look undauntedly on the cutting up of Baillard, while the rest of his companions turned away in terror, and then give himself up to the same fate, calling on Jesus alone for mercy ! May England never look on the like again ; but may each one of the beautiful new homes now rising and studding this lovely land, when it, too, in its turn, shall fall to decay, tell Macaulay's New Zealander as he comes to take a sketch of its last vestiges, tales only of charity and peace, tales of true religion and household love !

Anything but tragic has been the career of some of the notabilities of this region. An intelligent friend of mine, barmaster of the Crich mineral court, whose avocation necessarily brings him in contact with a great variety of character, and who is fond of all that relates to this picturesque neighbourhood, can entertain one by the hour with his narrations of genial, cheerful and comic incident. It is quite a treat to hear him describe old Billy Bunting, a man of days gone by, who besides being clerk of Dethick Church, went about to country wake and fairs playing a pipe and fiddle. He tells with great glee how Billy once went to keep alive the fun at Ashover feast, and how, as late night came on, fearful that, from the crowd of strangers in the public-house where he was staying, he might not be able without timely precaution to secure himself a bed, he stole slyly away from the company and locked himself in one of the bedrooms. Presently, on some of them coming to the door and thrusting and knocking, he demanded in a loud serio-comic tones who were there and what they wanted. "Oh," said they "of course, we want to come to bed". But there is no room, said Billy, making as great a stir as possible. "Why, who have you got inside?" was the next inquiry. "Who?" cried he,

"The clerk o' Dethick, the piper o' Lea,
Old England's fiddler, Billy Bunting and me !"

On which the applicants went away quite satisfied, exclaiming that they were sure if that was the case there was no room for them - a joke which made Billy more famous for his wit than his music.

Cellar-door at Dethick Old Hal

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in March 2020 from:
Hall, Spencer Timothy (1863) "Days in Derbyshire ..." With sixty illustrations by J. Gresley (artist), Dalziel Brothers (illustrators). Simpkin, Marshall and Co, Stationers' Hall Court, London, and printed by Richard Keene, All Saints, Derby.
Image scans © Ray Ash collection with the wood engravings of Dethick Church and the Cellar-door at Dethick Old Hall above, both by J. Gresley, © Ann Andrews collection.
Intended for personal use only.