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Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, 1908-14
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Extending the Hydro

Plan of Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment, 1875


From the Vernon Lamb Archive:

Guests at Smedleys before WW1

The exterior of Smedley's looked grander and grander with every extension and internally the addition of such modern inventions such as the electric light, installed in 1886, kept apace of nineteenth and early twentieth century advances. In 1908, a year before this particular postcard was sent, a garage for fifteen cars was built. This was a major change and not just because motor cars were beginning to replace horse drawn carriages as the chosen means of transport. As Lawrence du Garde Peach was to later observe, the type of "patient" to visit the hydro in a motor car in 1908 would not have been an invalid. He or she would have travelled along deeply rutted limestone roads that also had quite a few potholes in vehicles that were not well sprung. Not ideal if you were really unwell! In 1908 this was "an adventure for a healthy man, not the sort of risk to be taken by an invalid[1]". The card's sender thought this view of Smedley's was "not a good one, as it only gives an idea of a quarter of the size of the building".

Smedley's was not without its share of people coveting what wasn't theirs. Billed as the "Matlock Hydro sensation" in 1912, jewellery and a purse belonging to a Miss Ethel Quick, who was a guest (and a relative of Mr. Barney Barato, the late South African millionaire), were reported missing on 13th March. A Swiss governess, one Leah Schneider, had also been staying at the hydro but on the Saturday morning she was arrested at Matlock station, her luggage was searched and the missing items found[2]. Whilst it seems to have been a fair cop, Miss Schneider was only 19 years old. This may have helped her case, as when she appeared in court she was given a nominal sentence of one day and promptly released[3]. She had a lucky escape as about three years earlier a notorious gentleman thief who used several aliases and was said to be the most expert hotel thief in the country was given seven years penal servitude for stealing from the hydro's visitors[4]. James Robertson had stayed at Smedley's and was seen "walking smartly to the station with a lady's jewel case in his hands". Miss Schneider and Mr. Robertson were not the only ones to be prosecuted, but their stories are the most interesting.

The hydro continued to expand up to World War One, with new features added each year. Despite a smoke room being built in 1892, smoking was not allowed either in the corridors or in the public rooms until 1915. This was all in sharp contrast to the days of John Smedley when Reverend Charles H. Spurgeon was rebuked for smoking in his room and Smedley wouldn't have tolerated either a smoking room or smoking anywhere in the hydro[1].

A selection of pictures, found in the Vernon Lamb Archive, of Smedley's staff just before the war:









Read the next stage in the hydro's history, Matlock: Smedley's Hydro during the First World War

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

1. "Smedley's Hydro, Matlock". Published by Salisbury Ball, Sheffield. Posted 7 Aug 1912 at Matlock Bath. Another card like this was posted 1910. Personal message not relevant to picture.
2. "Smedley's Hydro, Matlock". No publisher, but probably produced for the Hydro. Posted 27 Dec 1909 at Matlock. Sent to Miss Pope in Shoreham.
Images in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


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

[2] "Derbyshire Courier", 30 March 1912. The Matlock Hydro sensation. The newspapers obviously liked the headline as it was used on several occasions in the early years of the twentieth century.

[3] "Derbyshire Courier", 13 April 1912.

[4] "Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser", 7 January 1909. Robertson claimed he had not paid his bill because he had been gambling and had lost all his money!