Ralph Davis and John Smedley were the first two people to open
hydropathic establishments on Matlock Bank.
Even in 1862 hydropathy was viewed as being still in its infancy. White's
Directory said that "the
baths which have been established at Matlock Bank have not as
yet obtained that celebrity obtained by Matlock Bath, nevertheless,
the support they have hitherto received affords strong evidence
that they Hydropathic system is not without its supporters ;
and it is more probable that in a few years it will prove a formidable
yet friendly rival for a share of the public patronage which
is enjoyed by its elder sister. There are at this time two Hydropathic
establishments _viz., Mr. John Smedley's and Mr. Ralph Davis's,
In a slightly earlier edition of White's (1857) the number of
establishments was given as three. Nevertheless, by 1862
several hydros had opened and others were about to open,
including establishments run by two of Ralph's brothers, Thomas
and George Davis.
Mr. Davis was one of seven children born to William and Hannah (née
Botham). He was baptised at St. Giles',
initially following in his father's footsteps by becoming a framework
knitter. In 1837
Ralph married his first wife, Lydia Wright,
although Lydia unfortunately died the same year.
He later married Ann Buckley (née Alton) on 25 Feb 1850
at Duffield. Some of Ann's daughters helped in the family business
and Harriett, and her second husband, George Richards, took over
the business for a time when her parents became elderly.
At a dinner to celebrate Mrs. Davis's 85th birthday on Saturday
19th May 1894 a gentleman called Joseph Waddington declared that
Mr. and Mrs. Davis were the real pioneers of hydropathic treatment
in Matlock. They had started the first establishment for the water
cure on the site of Smedley's hydro some 43 years previously. When
John Smedley bought them out they continued to manage the new concern
for a time before moving on.
Ralph Davis's next venture, before he opened Chesterfield
House in 1861, was Southview Cottage, which survives as the original
part of what was later the Smedley Memorial Hospital.
He then went on to build, own and operate Chesterfield House
Hydro on Chesterfield Road which is the subject of these three
postcards. Chesterfield House had extensive grounds and an advertisement
placed by the manager, J. Wall, in 1899 stated that "This
house is most pleasantly situated in its own grounds and commands
the finest views in the district; southerly aspect; good table;
special terms for weekend".
"Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal",
12 October 1855.
HYDROPATHIC BATHS by Ralph Davis and
his Wife. Board, Lodging, and Baths, 2s. per day.
Matlock Bank, Derbyshire.
Ralph and Ann Davis died just over a year apart, with Ann being
buried at St. Giles' on 28 Feb 1895, aged 86, and Ralph on 13 Oct
1896, aged 81. In February 1898 the Chesterfield House Hydro (Limited)
Company Ltd was been formed, with capital of £20,000. The
property was valued at over £15,600. The first two directors
were Mr. J. H. Wall and Mr. J. A. Wall, Ralph Davis's two grandsons,
and the company's solicitor was Mr. E. Stanley Aulton of Matlock
In 1901 George F. Walton, a secretary, was the name at the top
of the list of residents.
By 1911 the hydro had 39 rooms; Arthur Albert Hitching and his
wife Sarah Maria were the hydro's managers with John Kay, later
to run Lilybank, on their staff. They
had been at Chesterfield House since 1906.
Chesterfield House remained open at the beginning of the First
World War. The house was used as a convalescent home for soldiers
from 1917 to 1920-21 and Mrs. Margaret Sutherns was the Managing
Director from 1917 (see next
page). The last reference to it being used as a hydro or for
convalescing was in 1924.
By September 1926, when the Ancient Order of Foresters
considered running Chesterfield House as a possible convalescent
home, the former hydro was for sale.
The top image of Chesterfield House dates from the early years
of the twentieth century. Rather charmingly, whilst two couples
are playing tennis and others are [perhaps] taking tea on the verandah,
a few sheep are grazing in the enclosed area in the foreground.
Whilst this card was posted in 1911 another, published in David
was posted in 1907. Below are two more pictures of the hydro, one
black and white and the other coloured, which also must be pre-war
that show Chesterfield House after it had been enlarged.
The hydro was enlarged and the grounds landscaped.
The left half of the building differs only slightly from
the top image but the right hand side
had not been built in 1907.
Like most of the other local hydros, Chesterfield House provided
training facilities for football teams. Before a replay between
Derby County and Northampton in 1909, both teams enjoyed Matlock's
facilities with Northampton at Chesterfield House and Derby County
only a short distance away at Oldham House. The teams even travelled
on the same train! The
hydro's Christmas festivities at the end of 1909 were said to have
been on a lavish scale, with the house being full to overflowing.
The staff held a Christmas banquet for their guests and they also
put on a couple of concerts, there was a billiard tournament, a whist
drive, a skittles match and a fancy dress ball. The celebrations
continued until the New Year. Presumably their guests went home happy.
The Davis family were long livers. Their daughter Harriet died
in 1938, aged 93. She had married Josiah Wall at St Giles on 17
Jan 1865 when she was 19 and then had two more husbands, George
Richards and John J. Palliser whom she married in 1914.
She outlived them all. For some years before her death Harriet
Palliser had lived with her daughter, Mrs. Fred Priest, who was
the widow the of the former Hartlepools United Manager and Sheffield
United player. She was said to have been a remarkable old lady.
She recalled that when she was young the Derby-Manchester stage
coach would swing into Matlock, with its load of passengers and
mail. When she was 90 she was interviewed by a local paper and
she recalled her first ride in a train, the coaches then being
the same as the present day (i.e. 1938) cattle trucks.
A coloured version of the second card.
When Mother Xavier Murphy visited Matlock about 1926 the once
busy hydropathic establishment founded by Ralph Davis was closed
and the building unoccupied. The Presentation Sisters, who were
based in India, decided to buy Chesterfield House, opening their
Convent in 1927 and the school was opened shortly afterwards. The
senior school has closed but the convent continues and Chesterfield
House is a residential care home.
References (the coloured
links are to onsite transcripts):
 An advertisement in "The
Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", on 6 April, 1896 says
Ralph Davis established his business in 1852. John Smedley bought
his Matlock property in the Spring of 1853 ("The Derby
 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).
 William Davis
married Hannah Botham in 1803 - see
Matlock marriages. Ralph's
marriage to Lydia Wright on 27 Feb 1837 is also listed.
for St. Giles' are on elsewhere this website. Ralph was baptised
there 19 Mar 1815.
 Ralph Davis is shown in Matlock's
census returns: 1841 census (with
parents and siblings) | 1851 census (with
second wife and her daughters) | 1861
census | 1871 census | 1881
census | 1891 census (living
next door to Chesterfield house, but still the owner). He advertised
in various trade directories. See, for example: The
Post Office Directory (1876) | Kelly's
Davis was buried at St. Giles on 07 Nov 1837 - see
transcript of her burial.
 The Richards can be found at Chesterfield
House in Kelly's 1895 Directory |
 "Derbyshire Advertiser and
Journal", 25 May 1894.
 Information from Ray Ash. Ralph Davis
was the brother of Ray's 3 X great grandmother. Ralph Davis is
show on Matlock Bank on Matlock & Matlock
Bath Public Notices & Announcements, 1855 and later, in
1867, when he was on Chesterfield Road.
 There were many advertisements placed
in the press in the late 1890s. This quote is from: "Derbyshire
Advertiser and Journal", 24 June 1899 (Chesterfield House
 "Derbyshire Times",
19 February 1898. Kelly's
1899 Directory also shows it had become a limited company.
 Mr. and Mrs. Hitching were at Chesterfield
House in the 1911 census (available on Find My Past). The Hitchings
were also shown in Kelly's
1912 directory | Kelly's
1916 directory. They are known to have left in 1917 as an obituary
for Arthur Hitching states "he came to Bristol in 1917" ("Western
Daily Press", 27 July 1942).
 "Derby Daily Telegraph",
27 September 1926.
 Barton, David A. : Collected by (1993) "Around
Matlock in Old Photographs", Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud.
 "Derby Daily Telegraph", 18 January 1909.
 "Derbyshire Courier",
4 January 1910. A Feast of Fun. Xmas at Chesterfield House, Matlock.
The Fancy Dress Ball.
 "Derby Daily Telegraph",
22 February 1937.
 "Derby Daily Telegraph",
4 February 1938. Matlock Lady's Death. Mrs. Palliser's Early Days.
short descriptions of Matlock Schools, including the Presentation