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Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, early 1900s
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Original building, shown on the engraving of the second enlargement

Derbyshire Health Resorts, Part 1


Mrs. Robert Wildgoose

Winter Garden

Grand Dining Room

Smedley's Brochure,
about 1925

Smedley's brochure, 1939

Ward Lock's 1903-4 guide paints a glowing picture of what the hydro was like in the early years of the twentieth century:

"Smedley's Hydro at Matlock Bank is as much one of the wonders of Derbyshire as the ducal palace of Chatsworth or the baronial hall of Haddon. Of immense size, and of imposing appearance, the building, as regards its outside appearance, gives but little evidence of the stately beauty of the interior. The magnificent entrance hall, the long corridors with their cosy seats, the Corinthian dining hall, at which 300 visitors can be accommodated at dinner, the lovely drawing room, whose windows open into prettily arranged grounds with fair vistas of the scenery beyond, the snug reading room and library, the billiard room, all are planned on lines of elegance and good taste, and vast as the place is, and grand in the whole of its arrangements, there is yet in every room and corridor an air of cosiness and comfort that, even at first sight, transforms the place into a home. ... It is difficult to believe that "Smedley's", so vast and so superb, had its origin in a humble cottage built by the founder of modern hydropathy about half a century ago. But such was its simple beginning in the years when John Smedley preached the gospel of water"[1].

The twentieth century began with more proposals to extend the building. Plans were submitted to the Council for 45 new bedrooms with a bridge across Smedley Street. Smedley's latest project was estimated at costing up to £12,000 and the Council said that would come on the rates. The new bridge would be five feet higher than the one already there[2].

The annual report of the directors of Smedley's Hydropathic Co., Ltd. was issued to the shareholders in August 1900, and their 25th annual general meeting was held on Thursday 13th September. In the previous financial year the Company had erected the winter gardens, along with more modest improvements. "A portion of the farm bought by the Company as a dairy, etc., became vacant in March last, and has since been carried on by the Company with great advantage, amply justifying its purchase ... The Hydro has now been in existence for close on fifty years and extensions are now being made to increase the accommodation to meet the enormous demand made by visitors all the year round"[3].

List of Directors of Smedley's Hydropathic Company, 1900.
J. Crowther, J.P., Woodley (Chairman)
J. H. Quilliam (Holme Bank)
Alfred Sykes, Thongsbridge
Wm. Crowder, Slaithwaite

Alfred Douglas, secretary[3].

Robert Wildgoose, J.P., the previous chairman of the company, had died on the 1st of May[3]. The meeting desired "to express its deep regret at the loss sustained by the company ... and its high appreciation of his character and the zeal with which he presided over the affairs of the company for a long period of years"[4]. Later the same year the hydro's former Swiss chef died after a long and painful illness. Francois Guillaume Le Calvez passed away on 19 Oct 1900, leaving a widow and two daughters who were born in Matlock. He had occupied the responsible position for a number of years "to the entire satisfaction of the directors and the delight of the visitors"[5].

On a lighter note, a walking contest for the hydro's employees was organised in 1903. Seventeen started the course which was to Rowsley and back, a distance of about about 9½ miles. The start "was effected at 5.8, and George Woodhouse, the winner aged 17, finished at 6.99½". F. Turner, who had been in 5th place at Rowsley, came second and Richards was third[6]. The competitors probably ran in canvas shoes with thin bottoms which would have been hard on their feet and legs.

1903-4 advertisement. From insignificance to one of the largest hydros in the kingdom.

At Christmas time in 1900 "a brilliant summer sun, clear air and conditions of the most favourable character" were experienced at Matlock. The hydro's were crowded as usual, with Smedley's having 320 guests. After the Christmas banquet Henry Challand, the manager, stated that the hydro's accommodation had proved to be totally inadequate for the demand during the past year, and the directors were still building the new block of bedrooms mentioned at the company's annual meeting. The daily average number of visitors to Smedley's was 207, the highest figure in the past 50 years[7]. Christmas 1903 saw a rush of visitors to Matlock's hydros and it was said the numbers had never been greater; the larger hydros could have booked twice many people. "At one hydro alone there were 344 visitors, and 240 were refused by the beginning of December; and the fact that extensive additional buildings are being erected is a guarantee that at future holiday seasons Matlock will have increased its capacity for catering for the pleasure seekers. At the Winter Gardens on Thursday night 350 were present at the Cinderella dance, at Rockside 100 danced until midnight. Christmas day was spent quietly all the churches had special services in the morning and in the evening the hydros held Christmas banquets. The Smedley dinner was attended by 350, and was a brilliant function". The 344 visitors could only have been accommodated at Smedleys and it is astonishing that so many applicants were turned away[8].

In June 1905 the death occurred in a motoring accident of of Mr. Joseph Crowther, who had been the Chairman of the Hydropathic Company since the death of Robert Wildgoose. He had joined the board in 1875, shortly after the company was formed. The vacancy of the board was filled by his brother Elon Crowther and Mr. Alfred Sykes replaced him as chairman[9].

Read the next stage in the hydro's history, Smedley's Hydro, 1906-7

Other pages of interest:
"There Was Red Tape at Smedley's Hydro Then"
About Matlock Bank
See Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Enumeration Book in the 1891 census
And in the 1901 census
The Vernon Lamb Archive, Hydros and Convalescing includes several photos of the hydro staff that were before the war
Letterheads of Local Businesses, 1900-1949 (5), S-T

1. "Smedley's Hydro, Matlock". Valentine's Series, No. 41944. Printed in Great Britain Posted 16 Jul 1914 at Matlock and sent to Mr. Gravener, Ipswich. The photograph dates from 1904.
2. "Matlock: Smedley's Hydro". Published by Photochrom Co. Ltd., London. Posted on 26 Mar 1907 at Matlock. Sent to Harrogate. Personal message, but probably sent by a guest.
3. Advertisement from Ward Lock & Co's "Matlock & Dovedale, Bakewell", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (1903-4).
Images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links are to transcripts and information elsewhere on this web site):

[1] Ward Lock & Co's "Guide to Matlock, Dovedale, Etc.", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (Guide Series 1903-4).

[2] "Derbyshire Times", 18 June 1900. New buildings.

[3] "Derbyshire Times", 1 September 1900. Smedley's Hydro, Matlock. Great Success.

[4] "Derbyshire Times", 15 September 1900.

[5] "Derbyshire Times", 27 October 1900. He and his wife can be found in the 1891 census. Mr. Le Calvez can also be found amongst those before the magistrates. See: Vaccination Cases - August 1898

[6] "Derbyshire Courier", 4 July 1903.
[7] "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", Thursday, 27 December, 1900.

[8] "Derbyshire Courier", 2 January 1904.

[9] "Derbyshire Courier", 9 September 1905. Mr. Crowther's motoring accident was reported in "Derbyshire Times" on 17 June 1905. It was a sensation at the time.