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The Old Bridge, Matlock
Matlock : Twentieth Century Photographs, Postcards, Engravings & Etchings
An undated postcard of Matlock's ancient bridge
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1799, by Turner

Tourist Booklet of Matlock, Matlock Bath & District, about 1900

Matlock, The Bridge (1)

Matlock Bank
Summer 1904


Bank Road & the Steep-Gradient Tramway

Matlock's bridge was, historically, was one of the few crossing points along the length of the river. The bridge dates from the fifteenth century and "the stone bridge of four arches was extensively altered and widened in 1904"[1]. The bridge was a subject favoured by artists, including Joseph M W Turner. This postcard is not dated but is from an oil painting by Henry Hadfield Cubley, an artist who lived in Matlock Bath at the beginning of the twentieth century.

"These old county bridges were first erected for pack-horse and pedestrian traffic only, and when wheeled vehicles came in they had to be widened. Those who planned and carried out these enlargements, with a strange perversity, made the arches of different designs from the old. Thus at Matlock Bridge on the northern side the arches are elliptical, while on the southern they are pointed[2] ".

Benjamin Bryan[2] mentioned how inadequate the bridge had become by 1903: it was clearly too narrow for the traffic using it as, at meeting of the Local Board on 6 Jan 1890, "a letter from the County Surveyor was read stating that the bridge was then 21 feet wide". This 1890 meeting was just one of many meetings following "a petition in favour of widening [which] was presented to the Court of Quarter Sessions in April, 1874", though in the July of the same year it was decided the inhabitants should widen the bridge themselves. In 1890 The County Surveyor estimated that it would cost about £700 to widen the bridge by just under 10 feet.

In 1893 Derbyshire County Council's Bridges and Highways Committee reported that a further application had been made that the bridge over the river at Matlock may be widened, but the committee recommended that the Council should only do this on the locality providing one half the cost[3]. A year later Mr Slack, chairman of the Local Board, thought the bridge was dangerous and commented that there was "scarcely a stone on the parapet of the structure which couldn't be thrown over"[4]. This was partly in reaction to an accident that had happened during the previous week and partly to prepare the ground for another meeting with the County Council, when the figures below were submitted.

Survey of traffic crossing Matlock Bridge, August 1894[5]
  Foot passengers Vehicles
Friday 10th August 6,261 1,026
Saturday 11th August 9,694 1,163

The Bridges and Highways Committee (April 1896) ordered the repair of the footpath over the bridge and new kerb stones, which would only cost the County Council the princely sum of £15. Another year went by, and another. In 1902 a journalist writing for "The Derbyshire Times" commented that when Matlock Bridge had been inspected in 1896 the the old portion of had been found to be in good condition, but the "new portion" on the north side, built about 40 [sic, 140[6]] years ago, was tumbling down. "It was recommended that the bridge should be widened by ten feet, to allow a footpath on each side. The cost was estimated to be £3,700 at that time, with Matlock Council contributing £500. The decision was communicated to the Council, was discussed and then forgotten. The bridge requires considerable outlay in repairs, and application has been received from the Matlock Urban District Council that it may be also widened"[7].

On 26 May 1902 Matlock UDC concluded that re-pitching the bridge would be a waste of money and the proposal to widen the bridge was the only sensible option. At that point they also wanted to lower the bridge by fifteen inches but this later proved impossible because of buried gas pipes and other utilities not far under the road surface. It was also suggested that, if the bridge ever needed to be widened further, there was space for a girder footbridge on the Hall Leys side. Job Smith presided at a meeting of Matlock UDC in July 1902 when the special rate of sixpence in the pound was formally agreed. This was to defray the cost of both the Council public celebration of the Coronation of Edward VII[8] (£150) and also the Council's contribution of £500 towards the widening of the county bridge[9]. It had only taken a quarter of a century reach that stage!

Further reading:
Read Moore's description of Cromford Bridge in 1818 This also has arches that differ in shape.
"The AutoChrome Album of Matlock & District". Scroll down the page to see a coloured picture of Matlock Bridge before it was widened.
The Long and Winding Road

A selection of Cubley's paintings of Matlock & Matlock Bath that are on this web site:

Old Matlock

Matlock Bank
from the
Derwent, 1903

Matlock Church
from Hawe Leys

Pic Tor

Riber Hall

High Tor 1887

"The Old Bridge, Matlock". A Ralph Tuck & Sons "Oilette" [Regd,] Postcard 1705. Art Publishers to their Majesties the King and Queen.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1941.

[2] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.

[3] "The Derby Mercury", 11 October, 1893.

[4] "The Derby Mercury", 15 August 1894, reporting on the meeting of 7 Aug.

[5] "The Derby Mercury", 22 Aug 1894. Submission to Derbyshire County Council's Bridges and Highways Committee by members of Matlock Local Board, to try to make the point about the inadequacy of the bridge.

[6] "The Derby Mercury", 5 June 1772. Derbyshire, Easter Sessions.

[7] "The Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 2 Aug 1902.

[8] King Edward VII was crowned on 26 June 1902.

[9] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 22 July 1902. A few days later the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald recorded that the sum for the Coronation celebration was £200, not £150.