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Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, 1906-7
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Smedleys, starting out

United Methodist Free Chapel, Smedley's Hydro

Mr. Smedley's Baths, Boxes & Douches

Smedley's Brochure,
about 1925

Smedley's brochure, 1939

Smedley's Hydro,
1958 article

Harry Douglas, the hotel's Manager, gave many Organ Recitals

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 Tibetan lamaserai."[1]

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"[2]. 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[3]. 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[4].

This was the year that Henry Challand accepted a seat on the board and would henceforth be known as the Managing Director[4][5].

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"[4]. Mr. Smith had passed away on 13 May 1907[6].

The 1907 meeting was to be Alfred Douglas's last undertaking for the hydro. He died at Matlock, having moved from Holloway in 1904[7], 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[8]. His grandson Harry was already working at Smedley's as a book keeper[9]. 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[5].

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[10]".

Smedley's Hydro & Bank Road. Card posted Sept 4th 1906
Donated by Photo-Ark  2003, Image 9

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:
See Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Enumeration Book in the 1891 census
And in the 1901 census
Letterheads of Local Businesses, 1900-1949 (5), S-T

1. "Smedley's Hydro, Matlock". JWS [J. Welch & Sons, Portsmouth], No. 2280. Dates from about 1906 but not posted until 7 Oct 1919. the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
2. "Smedley's Hydro, Matlock". Publisher not known. Posted 4 September 1906. Image kindly donated by Photo-Ark © 2003. The picture probably dates from about 1906.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

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

[1] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire", MacMillan & Co., London.

[2] Ward Lock & Co's "Guide to Matlock, Dovedale, Etc.", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (1903-4) and "Matlock, Dovedale, Bakewell and South Derbyshire", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (1911-12).

[3] "Belper News", 13 September 1907.

[4] "Belper News", 20 September 1907.

[5] Henry Challand was listed as the M.D. and the other gentlemen were shown in their respective posts in Kelly's 1908 Directory | Kelly's 1912 Directory | Kelly's 1916 Directory.

[6] See Biographies and Bank Road & the Steep Gradient Tramway.

[7] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 16 December 1904. "Mr. Alfred Douglas, who for 50 years was connected with John Smedley Ltd., Lea Mills, and has lived in the neighbourhood about the same length of time, has left the district [i.e. Lea and Holloway], and taken up his residence at Matlock Bank".

[8] "Sheffield Independent", 2 December 1907. Alfred Douglas can be found in the following trade directories: Kelly's Directory 1891 (living at Lea) | Kelly's 1895 Directory (Matlock Bank) | Kelly's 1899 Directory (Matlock Bank). He is also listed in Strays, Surnames D.

[9] Harry Douglas can be found in the 1901 census.

[10] Peach, Lawrence du Garde (1954) "John Smedley of Matlock and his Hydro", Bemrose Publicity Co.: Derby & London.