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The End of a Long and Winding Road*
One of a series of articles published in "Reflections" more than two decades ago
Recently, we published a selection of photographs from the archive of Matlock's Harry Gill, who for 50 years chronicled major and minor events throughout Derbyshire, especially the Peak District. Harry was a highly-respected press photographer whose work appeared consistently in local and national newspapers and magazines. In this further selection of pictures, Harry's daughter, Phyllis Higton of Darley Dale, opens the photo albums to allow Reflections readers the opportunity of seeing the changing face of one of Derbyshire's busiest roads, the A6 between Rowsley and Matlock, as recorded by her father during the years from the late twenties to the early 1960s. Michael Fay explains the background to these photographs.
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TRAFFIC CONGESTION is nothing new to the Peak District. By the mid-twenties it was increasingly obvious that the network of narrow roads largely unchanged from the 19th century urgently needed some major changes if gridlock, pollution and endless delays were to be avoided.

One congestion hotspot was the bridge over the river at Rowsley - a busy location because of the large railway sidings and goods yards along the A6. Although the road itself just about coped with traffic flow the single-width bridge was a major, frustrating, bottleneck.

Work started on bridge-widening in the late twenties to the relief of most local people but amid concerns from some conservationists who feared that the historic structure would not be sympathetically widened (it was and 70 years later is still in good shape). You can see how narrow the original bridge was as a North Western bus (much smaller than a modern bus) makes its way from Bakewell to Matlock watched by an RAC patrolman.

The second view, taken a few months later, shows how carefully the widened bridge has followed the original design.[Image 2]

Taken 75 years ago, a view of Artists' Corner between Matlock and Matlock Bath reminds us that the hillside and the buildings on it survive almost unchanged. But the road has been widened and the area to the right is now a car park.[Image 3] The bus is a North Western. The Stockport-based North Western Road Car Company operated the majority of buses in the Peak District in pre-war years until the 1960s when the bus industry was re-organised and opened to more competition. The car which is causing trouble is, incidentally, an Austin Seven.

Between Matlock Bath and Cromford this once-familiar building was demolished some years before a much more ambitious road-widening project between the two areas. The smaller part of the building was the Glenorchy Chapel and that nearest to the camera was a private house. [Images 4 & 5]

Arkwright's building of 1777 had been demolished

[Note from the webmistress:
Gill took this similar view of the what was then the A6 trunk road (detrunked in 2002), shown above,
after both Glenorchy and the Independent Chapel were demolished. Glenorchy was the Pastor's house
Read about Glenorchy (Congregational) Independent Chapel

You could attract a good crowd in Matlock back in the 1950s even for the opening of a modest bus station - little more than just three rows of corrugated sheeting shelters, long since demolished. The official opening was performed by Alderman Charles White, the then-chairman of Derbyshire County Council and a Matlock man.[Image 6] The two buses on hand at the opening were provided by North Western and the Darley Dale-based Silver Service - two or the main operators. From this station, you could also catch an East Midland to Chesterfield, a Midland General Alfreton or a Hulley's to Baslow.

Difficult civil engineering work

The most important road project locally for many years was widening of the A6 between Cromford and Matlock, a difficult civil engineering project as the road followed the floor of the dale, with the River Derwent on one side and a towering cliff face liable to subsidence on the other.

Work started in 1960 and millions of tons of rock were blasted away and the road closed for months.

This dramatic shot, taken in January 1961, shows the scene after one of the blasting operations in the early stages of the scheme while the other scene taken two months later shows the narrowness of the original road. The diversions, incidentally, were slow and lengthy. To reach Matlock you had to negotiate the narrow winding road through Starkholmes, Old Matlock and eventually Matlock Green.[Images 7 & 8]

The third scene shows the completed new road soon after its opening in October 1962.[Image 9] This shot was published at the time in a local newspaper. The trees have matured but more than 40 years later the road remains largely unchanged as our recent view shows.[Image 10]


Just off the A6 at Cromford by a bridge over the Derwent the historic bridge chapel was in a ruined state in the 1950s. Harry Gill took this scene, intended for the Manchester Guardian, of workmen from the then Ministry of Works examining the structure.[Image 11] The board propped against the chapel contains a thinly-veiled appeal for funding to help the Derbyshire Archæological Society repair and renovate the remaining parts of the Ancient Monument.

The chapel was restored, is listed as of historic and architectural interest and still stands although looking a bit neglected as our recent view shows.
[Images not shown]

[Note from the webmistress:
Images 12 and 13 left, also from "Reflections" Magazine, are of the old gritstone Fishing Lodge on Mill Road, close to Cromford Bridge. It is a copy of the fishing Lodge on the River Dove, made famous by Charles Cotton and Isaac Walton, dating from about 1796 for Richard Arkwright the younger's water baliff to live in. "Piscatoribus Sacrum" is written over the door.
You need to look hard, but in both photographs you can just make out the stonework of the ancient medieval bridge chapel, described by Michael, to the left of the fishing lodge.

Further comments on the images:

Image 1. Rowsley Bridge, built for people travelling either on foot or on donkeys or horses, was not wide enough for two vehicles to pass in the 1920s.
Image 2. The width of the bridge was more than doubled. In this picture the workmen are building up the various levels of the road.
Image 3. The bus is DB 9430, a Tillings Stevens purchased new by North Western in 1931. As it was rebodied by ECW in 1936, the picture can be fairly closely dated.
Image 4. The founder of "Titbits", Sir George Newnes, was born at Glenorchy. His father was the Pastor.
Image 5. Arkwright's building of 1777 had been demolished.
Image 6. The bus station on Bakewell Road. The market was next to it.
Image 11. Cromford Bridge Chapel Examination by the Derbyshire Archæological Society prior to renovation
Images 12 and 13. Old Fishing Lodge beside the road leading to Cromford Bridge. Additional information from: The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities", published by The Derwent Valley Mills Partnership, County Hall, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 3AG, 2001. ISBN 0-9541940-0-4

*This is a copy of an article published in "Reflections" in January 2005,Vol.14 Issue 156, pp.37-39.
"Reflections" is Derbyshire's largest-circulation targeted lifestyle magazine, serving Dronfield, Chesterfield, Matlock and Bakewell areas.
The article is reproduced here with the very kind permission and written consent of the author, Michael Fay, and Bannister Publications Ltd.
Images redone March 2016

There is more on site information:

Matlock Bath: The Southern Entrance to the Dale, 1900-1910 - Scarthin Nick before the major roadworks of the 1960s
There's a photograph of Harry Gill's Matlock Bath shop elsewhere on this website