J. B. Firth, who visited Matlock when the County
Bridge was being widened, commented that "present day Matlock
[i.e. the town in the early 1900s] is in great measure the creation
of the late John Smedley".
He continued: "At length he [Smedley] quitted stocking making
to become the founder of those quaint compounds of hotel and nursing
home which are known as "hydros". His establishment has
had scores of imitators, most of whom do not take themselves quite
so seriously, and thus "hydro"
is often no more than a synonym for an unlicensed hotel. Smedley
made a handsome fortune, and the temple of this Matlock Æsculapius
- Æsculapius himself was a hydropath, if we may judge from
the abundant waterpipes which have been brought to light among the
ruins of his ancient temples - dominates Matlock Bank like some gaunt
The writers of both the 1903-4 and the 1911-12 Ward Lock Guide
were to add their two penn'orth, and their views contradicted Firth. "The
visitor who has once entered a modern hydro understands that is
in reality a luxury hotel, a holiday home where the healthy congregate
as well as those who come for the water treatment ; a place of
comfort and pleasure, where tennis and croquet woo the visitor
into the sunshine, and music and theatrical performances enliven
the hours between dinner and rest".
Ward Lock was much nearer the truth, at least in regard to Smedley's.
At the annual meeting in September 1907 Alfred Douglas, the Hydropathic
Company's secretary, reported that the hydro was prosperous.
More building work had been completed. The previous year's report
had mentioned that the construction of latest and most luxurious
of the hydro's bedroom blocks was underway. They had been finished
by Christmas 1906 and were greatly appreciated by the guests. Smedley's
had also invested a large sum in Matlock's 18 hole golf course during
their financial year.
This was the year that Henry Challand accepted a seat on the board
and would henceforth be known as the Managing Director.
Two deaths of former employees were noted at the meeting. Firstly,
that of Mr. Doxey "our
genial, large-minded clerk of works who had been upholding the interests
of the company since its formation and was for many years in the
service of the founder of the place" who had died on 3 December
1906. His son was appointed to succeed him. Secondly, the death
of Job Smith of Malvern House was mentioned as he "had
received his early training as a servant of the hydro".
Mr. Smith had passed away on 13 May 1907.
The 1907 meeting was to be Alfred Douglas's last undertaking for
the hydro. He died at Matlock, having moved from Holloway in 1904,
on 27 December 1907. The funeral service was held at the Congregational
Church on Matlock Bank, a church supported by several generations
of his family, and he was afterwards buried at Holloway.
His grandson Harry was already working at Smedley's as a book keeper.
Harry Douglas had joined the hydro's staff when he was 14½ and
was to continue until his death in 1954, with a break of service
during the First World War when he served in the Army.
Ernest Wilmot became the secretary and George Harbison and Robert
MacLelland were the hydro's two physicians.
The hydro continued to expand up to the outbreak of the 1914-18
war. "From year to year new features were added, new amenities
provided. And always more bedrooms were built, until by 1914, the
undertaking which had started with the reception into his own house
of half a dozen of his employees by John Smedley, had bedroom accommodation
for 250 patients".
The black and white card, above, shows the former hydro, now Derbyshire's
County Hall, with both Rockside and Matlock House Hydros behind
it. Rockside, which had recently been extensively altered, is
on the hillside immediately above Smedley's and Matlock House
can be seen just behind the lower of the two chimneys (Smedley's
boiler house chimney). Edge Road is just starting to develop
just below the hydro and if you look hard at Bank Road you can
see the lines of the tram.
Read the next stage of the hydro's
history, Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, 1908-14
Other pages of interest:
Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Enumeration Book in the 1891
in the 1901 census
of Local Businesses, 1900-1949 (5), S-T
View Smedley's Christmas Banquet Menus by clicking on the images