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Matlock : Smedley's Hydro & Grounds, 1952, & the Hydro's Closure
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Centenary postcard for Smedley's Hydro
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Smedleys during WW1

Smedley's brochure, 1939

1950 advert, and Ald White's bombshell

Church Organ Recitals given by Harry Douglas, 1906-36

Smedley's Memorial Hydropathic Hospital

Mr. Smedley's Baths, Boxes & Douches

Charles White junior as a teenager in Scarthin

Multi- view postcard of Matlock's largest hydro printed in their centenary year and showing, clockwise from top left, the grounds, bowls, the front (part) and Winter Garden, tennis courts and (centre) general view of the hydro and grounds.

Printed in the message section of the card.

In the Second World War Smedley's was requisitioned and used by the Army, somewhat surprisingly, as a Military School of Intelligence; this seems a strange and rather wasteful choice for a building filled with medical equipment and set up to cater for patient treatments and convalescence. After it was de-requisitioned in 1946 the hydro was able to continue, albeit in a very different world and after a great deal of repair work. "The reopening of Smedleys in the post-war world and under the post-war conditions of 1946 [i.e. rationing and taxes], was a task which might have daunted John Smedley himself. That it was accomplished, and successfully accomplished, is a tribute to everyone concerned[1]". The hydro's managing director, Major Harry Douglas, and his team must have been delighted that they got it back on its feet. Sadly, everything they had worked so hard for was to be taken away.

After several years of uncertainty the hydro's shareholders decided to sell to Derbyshire County Council in April 1954[2] and on 24 May that year a special meeting approved a scheme to transfer the county's administrative headquarters from Derby to Smedley's, with the purchase of the hydro set at an agreed price of £122,800[3]. There was criticism of the County Council for forcing Smedley's into a position where the business had lost money for the preceding four years whilst under the threat of compulsory acquisition[4]. Alderman C. F. White's persistence must have been soul destroying for Harry Douglas, who had a lifetime's commitment to Smedley's, but he would undoubtedly have seen things through if had been able to do so. "He was too ill to attend the last public enquiry in September 1954 and he died without knowing the result, but the strain he suffered during the last eight years unquestionably affected his health"[2].
See previous page about what led up to the shareholders' decision.

"Mr. Henry", who oversaw Smedley's closure.

In August 1955 both Alderman White, Chairman of Derbyshire County Council, and Mr. E. L. Wilmot, Secretary of the hydro, were reported as saying that there were no new developments in the plan for the take-over. The hydro was to close on 17 September (see closure letter below) and the building was to be adapted and altered for Council use once they owned it.

Nearly 140 permanent residents, mostly elderly people who had lived there since the hydro re-opened after the war, had to find new homes in six weeks. The staff of 100 had to find new jobs[5]. This difficult task was overseen by Henry Douglas, who had worked for his father and had become the hydro's Manager as well as acting for his father as M.D. when Harry was unable to be there[2][6]. He was the fourth generation of the Douglas family to work at Smedley's; Henry Challand, whom Major Douglas had taken over from, was also a relative as he was the brother of Henry's grandmother[7].

Henry and his brother George both went to Birmingham University where Henry studied Economics and George studied science[2]. The brothers graduated in 1934 and Henry then went to hotels in Paris and Hyeres to learn the trade, returning to Smedley's as his father's assistant - and known as "Mr. Henry" - until he went into the army in 1939[6].

It was Henry Douglas, pictured left, who came to the rescue of several of the elderly residents who were left stranded with nowhere to go. His solution to the problem was to buy a 40 bedroom hotel in Buxton and some the hydro's occupants moved there with him. The residents must have held him in high esteem as some helped by buying shares in the Buxton hotel, as did various members of the family[6].

On the penultimate day taxis came and went and the entrance hall was stacked with the luggage of the permanent guests. About fourteen people enjoyed the final lunch, amongst whom was Miss Edith Grant Hunter who had travelled from Edinburgh to Matlock to revisit her childhood home. She was the daughter Dr. William Bell Hunter, the Scottish physician who was appointed as the hydro's first medical officer by John Smedley[8]. It seems rather appropriate that a fourth generation Douglas and the first physician's daughter were there at the end.

Once the hydro closed Smedley's held a large sale of all the furnishings and fittings, which lasted for eight days, during which time nearly 50,000 articles were sold[9]. When Smedley's changed hands on 7th December 1955[10] it was the end of an era. The only hydro left in Matlock was Lilybank, which was not by then offering hydropathic treatments, and that was not to last much longer.

Letter confirming the Hydro's closure circulated by Henry Douglas.

1. Matlock: Smedley's Hydro & Grounds". Published by Photochrom Co. Ltd., Tunbridge Wells. Not posted.
Printed message on reverse: Greetings from Smedley's Hydro, Matlock, Centenary Year, 1952. Another card, without the printing on the back, was posted in 1949.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
2. Photograph of Henry Douglas and letter confirming closure of the hydro © Jane Leslie collection.
Page researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

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

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

[2] Obituary for Harry Douglas printed in the "Derbyshire Times", 7 Jan 1955. With thanks to his grand daughter, Jane Leslie. Major Douglas was diagnosed with what was to prove to be a terminal illness in the autumn of 1954, so missed some of the formal proceedings of the second public enquiry. His final illness had nothing to do with the closure of Smedleys, as has sometimes been alleged (this with thanks to Jean Douglas).

[3] "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", 25 May 1954.

[4] "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", 25 September 1954.

[5] "Belper News", 5 August 1955.

[6] Information supplied by Jean Douglas, with grateful thanks. Henry Douglas who had been in the territorial army before the war, reached the rank of Major before he was discharged.

[7] Henry Douglas's grandmother died in 1928. See the newspaper report of her funeral.

[8] "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer", 17 September 1955. There is more about Dr. Hunter on Smedley's Hydro, Public Drawing Room.

[9] "Belper News", 18 November 1955.

[10] Various newspapers, including the "Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer" of 6 December 1955, announced that Derbyshire County Council would take legal possession of Smedley's Hydro the following day.