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Riber Hall, the property and residence of Mr. George Allen

Riber Hall, Residence of Mr. George Allen.
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Riber Hall



Riber Hillside and Castle



Smedley's Practical Hydropathy


John Smedley


George Allen the younger moved into Riber Hall between 1842 and 1846[1] and was living there at the time of both the 1851 census and the 1861 census. Mr. Allen of Riber was the son of George Allen and Ann, nee Wolley[2], who were married at Manchester Cathedral on 14th January 1793. George junior was born at Cromford on 3rd March 1796 and baptised at St. Mary's, Wirksworth, on 11 Sep 1796[3]. His first wife was Elizabeth Toplis, a widow somewhat older than him, whom he married at Wirksworth on 3rd Sep 1815[4]. They had a daughter, another Ann, who became the wife of Thomas Sellors of Bonsall in 1838. George junior was widowed in 1839 when Elizabeth died, aged 59; she was buried at Wirksworth on 13 July[3]. Her husband was living in Bonsall Dale in 1841 with Elizabeth Sellors as his Female Servant; his occupation at that time was given as Grocer[5]. He lived with Elizabeth for some years, and she moved to Riber with him, and they eventually married at St. Giles' on 20 Sep 1851[6]. Initially George the younger rented Riber Hall from his father[7] but later owned the property. It is unclear if the ownership was changed by Deed of Gift or inherited at his father's demise[8].

Meanwhile, his parents were residing at Cromford where the older George Allen was a draper[9]. George Allen the elder did not see his son marry for a second time as he died at Cromford on 22nd May 1850[10] and was buried at Wirksworth three days later[3]. His widow, Ann, first lived with her grand-daughter and great-grand-children in Bonsall, but later moved to live with her son and new daughter-in-law at Riber Hall, where she died at the age of 90 on 28 March 1862[11]. White's Directory for that year described Riber Hall as "an ancient mansion in a commanding situation"[12].

The senior Allen's grand daughter, Mary Barton, had emigrated to Dubuque, Iowa in 1852 and married her second husband John Burton, a lead smelter and farmer who had been born at Bonsall[13]. Her sister and brother-in-law emigrated at the same time. In 1861, just four months before before Ann Allen's death, a gentleman called William Croft of Cromford wrote to the members of the family in Iowa, describing a visit he had made to the 90 year old lady. "I went to Riber Hall to see Mrs. Allen. She had her usual style of head cap similar to the painting [owned by the Iowa family] but her face is so shrunk, she looked like dressed for the exit ceremony"[14].

Following the death of George Allan at Riber on 10 September 1866[15] his executors quickly sold his farming stock and Riber Hall was advertised as To Let[16]. His widow moved to Starkholmes where she died on 23 March 1873, aged 59[17].

John Smedley also lived at Riber Hall for a time, which is undoubtedly why this engraving was published in his book "Practical Hydropathy". In a preface to a former edition, he refers to the Hall on Riber Hill as the "summer retreat" for himself and his wife "within view of the Hydropathic Establishment on Matlock Bank" and described the property as "ancient and beautiful"[18]. Unfortunately, Smedley doesn't provide exact dates for when he was there, though it is likely that it was from about 1857 until he moved into the Lodge. Nor is it clear exactly what their living arrangements were. In the 1861 version of "Practical Hydropathy" he describes a short stay in Manchester with several friends, including George Allen, that began on the 19th November [1860?]: "I wanted to show my friend Mr. Allen (who although past the meridian of life, has never been in a large town, nor more than sixteen miles by rail previously) specimens of the system of living he has often seen me writing against in the drawing room of his old Hall"[19]. This indicates that the Smedleys used at least some of the main rooms of Riber Hall and it is known that a kitchen and toilet were added for their convenience.

Buckley, writing in 1888, stated that Smedley's book ("Practical Hydropathy") "was written chiefly while he resided in private rooms at a quaint old house, Riber Hall, close to where Riber Castle stands"[20]. Over twenty five years earlier William Croft had commented that "Mr Smedley of Lea made a beautiful place of the Old Hall (i.e. Riber Hall) and altered it. He is contemplating building himself a Hall, a few fields diagonally behind Riber Hall on the Brow looking over Matlock Bath and Matlock and erecting a tower some 150 or 200 feet high. An eccentric notion certainly"[14]. Perhaps fortunately for Matlock the observatory tower Smedley planned was never built - other sources said it would have been even higher at 225 feet[21].


The above mid 19th century engraving has been taken from:
Smedley, John "Smedley's Practical Hydropathy, 15th ed.", James Blackwood & Co., Paternoster Row, London. By the time this edition was published Mr. Smedley had died and the business had been taken over by Smedley's Hydropathic Company (Limited)
Image in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Information researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured hyperlinks for onsite transcripts):

[1] Pigot's Directory of 1842 shows him still living in Bonsall and working as a Grocer. He is first shown at Riber Hall in Bagshaw's Directory 1846.

[2] Ann Wolley (Mrs. George Allen snr.) was of the same blood line of the Wolleys of Riber, but descended through a younger son who had settled at Bonsall. So she was, in fact, the last Wolley to die at Riber Hall.

[3] Extracted from the IGI /Family Search and other sources. Also see the Allen family's MI at Wirksworth.

[4] The maiden name of the first Mrs. Elizabeth Allen, formerly Toplis, was Fox. She was born in 1799.

[5] The 1841 census shows he was living at Bonsall Dale, aged 45 Elizabeth Sellors, aged 25, was with him (HO107/197/7 f40 p21).

[6] The parish register shows George as widowed, whereas Elizabeth was single. Her father was George Sellors.

[7] Matlock Tythe map ref. 1694.

[8] Probate of the Will of George Allen the elder of Cromford, Derbyshire (dated 2nd June 1848) was granted to James Clifford Newbold of Matlock Bath Gentleman and George Allen the younger of Riber in the parish of Matlock on 11 Oct 1850 (Will at Lichfield RO). Riber Hall was not mentioned in this Will, so it was undoubtedly transferred to George Allen the younger before then.

[9] George and Ann Allen, both shown as 65, were in Cromford in 1841 (HO107/198/14 f10 p14). Pigot's 1835 and 1842 Directories also list George Allen at Cromford as both Linen and Woollen Drapers and Shopkeepers and Dealers in Sundries. George Allen snr. owned land at Allen's Hill, Cromford (Tithe map ref. 697).

[11] "The Derby Mercury", 2 April 1862. She was interred at Wirksworth in the family grave on 1 April 1862. In the 1851 census Ann was living at The Dale, Bonsall with her widowed grand-daughter, Ann Sellors.

[12] General Commercial Directory and Topography of the Borough of Sheffield with all the Towns, Parishes, Villages and Hamlets Within a Circuit of Twenty Miles, pub. Francis White & Co. Sheffield (1862). It also said that Riber Hall was "formerly the seat of the Wolleys, is now divided into two farm houses".

[13] The first husband of Mary Barton, grand daughter of George and Ann Allen, was William Gell of Cromford, a maltster employed by his father who ran the Bell Inn Cromford Hill. They married at Matlock on 25 Dec 1847 but he died on 12 Oct 1850. She then met John Burton, emigrated and they then married on 17 Nov 1852 in the USA. She was to marry twice more and became a very rich and respected woman in American society. Her sister was the wife of Joseph Herod.

[14] Letter from William Croft, written at Cromford and dated Nov. 11th 1861. Transcribed from the original and published in "The Derbyshire connections of the Stokely Family of Iowa" by Peter J. Naylor. A private publication for the descendants of the Allen family of Riber. A copy was donated to Derbyshire County Library, local studies department in 1987. Croft looked after the family in Iowa's interest in Derbyshire, as they were absentee landlords.

[15] From Will Calendars, now part of GOV.UK, Wills, probate and inheritance (George Allen late of Riber in the parish of Matlock in the County of Derby Gentleman). Probate was granted to his grand-daughter Elizabeth Dorothy Statham (Wife of William Statham, Butcher) of Matlock. George Allen's burial took place at Wirksworth on 14 Sep 1866. Also see the Allen family's MI at Wirksworth.

[16] There is more about this on: Riber Hall painting.

[17] The second Mrs. Elizabeth Allen made her home in Starkholmes and was there in the 1871 census. Her death was announced in "The Derby Mercury", 9 April 1873 and she, too was buried at Wirksworth.

[18] "Smedley's Practical Hydropathy, 15th ed." p347 (publication details above). Smedley believed this book was "the great work of his life". He included several former prefaces in this edition. A note at the foot of the page states that "I have since built a lodge on the summit of the hill".

[19] Smedley, John (1861) "Practical Hydropathy".

[20] Buckley, J. (1888) "Recollections of the late John Smedley of Matlock and The Water Cure", John Heywood, Manchester and London. Reprinted, with an introduction by David Barton (1973), by G. C. Brittain and Sons, Ripley and re-published by the Arkwright Society, Tawney House Matlock.

[21] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited. He also mentions Smedley's plan to build a massive tower.