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Building the Railway Line to Matlock Station
Matlock : Twentieth Century Photographs, Postcards, Engravings & Etchings
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4th Matlock Scout Camp
(first picture is at Matlock Station)

Matlock Bath Station (the first of a short series)

Matlock Bath Today.
Image3 shows the Tunnel

Matlock Dale: The Weir and the High Tor Tunnel

Railway track near the High Tor Tunnel

Bridge, 1906

Bridge, 1918

The Railways of Derbyshire, 1903
(Old Maps of Derbyshire)

Midland Railway Distances

The railway arrived in Matlock in 1849, opening on 4th June and celebrated by lunch at the Old Bath Hotel in Matlock Bath[1]. Matlock Station was one of three stations to be built within the parish, the others being at Matlock Bath and Cromford. The Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Railway Company was formed in 1846, with the local M.P., Mr. George Henry Cavendish, as its chairman[2]. George Stephenson was appointed resident-engineer for the line, with Messrs. Wheatcroft and Co. being awarded the contract for the High Tor tunnel[3]. Stephenson's report of progress so far (1846) was read to the shareholders at their first meeting. He stated that the line was staked out between Ambergate and Matlock and he hoped to purchase the land "fairly shortly"[2].

A major difficulty was tunnelling under High Tor and local miners were employed to blast through the rock. High Tor tunnel is 600 yards long and the Willersley tunnel, between Matlock Bath and Cromford, is 800 yards in length. Both are a tribute to the skill of the team of men involved. There were relatively few accidents but on the morning of Monday 18 October 1847 a man named Statham, an experienced miner, lit a fuse of "a heavy blast" but failed to "retire to a sufficient distance". He received a heavy blow on back of head from rock fragment and by the following morning his life was in danger[4] but his name is not recorded in the parish register so he clearly survived[5].

In September 1848 the men working from each end met up: "a communication was effected a few days since between the north and south ends of the northern High Tor Tunnel. The tunnel is on a somewhat difficult curve, but on the workmen meeting, it was found to have been set out with such accuracy, that the centres of the two portions, where the miners met, on being proved by the surveyor, Mr. John Wheatcroft, were found not to vary half an inch laterally"[5].

The Matlock end of the High Tor Tunnel, about 1955
The Matlock end of the High Tor Tunnel, about 1955.
In November 1849 The Illustrated News commented that "On emerging from the High Tor
Tunnel, another picturesque amphitheatre strikes your view - the river and new bridge,
neighbouring woods and rocks, the residence of John Greaves, Esq., Boat-house Inn &c."[7].

Before the line could be opened it had to be properly tested with full, heavy, trucks to replicate the normal loads the track and bridges would have to withstand. On 14 May 1849 "the first locomotive engine passed over that portion of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Ambergate railway, now nearly complete, for traffic, lying between Ambergate and Matlock bridge station. The train on this occasion consisted of a number of Midland railway trucks, laden with stone, of a sufficient length to reach over the Boathouse bridge, at Matlock. The gross weight of the train, when engine and tender were attached, being about 150 tons, was a pretty good test for green masonry, and newly formed embankments"[8].

The Boat House Bridge, about 1955
The Boat House Bridge, about 1955.
In 1848 a coffer dam had to be erected in the Derwent in preparation for the bridge
to be built. Whilst constructing the dam the miners working on the project discovered
a number of horns in blue clay under four feet of gravel in the river bed[9].

Earlier the same year the commencement of the extension of the line to Rowsley had also been celebrated by a feast - a supper at the Grouse Inn at Darley Dale[10]. Those involved with railway building clearly liked their food.

Rowsley was as far as the line reached for some years but it eventually went on to Manchester. "At first there was a service of six trains each way on week-days and two each way on Sundays"[1]. With Matlock easier to access the Water Cure industry was able to flourish, outstripping the rival resort of Matlock Bath just down the road.

Proposed links to Ashbourne, which were discussed on several occasions in the railway building era, were never implemented. In the mid twentieth century Dr. Beeching reviewed the railway system in Britain and many lines were deemed to be unviable. Matlock's line was considered to be a main railway route but stations to the north of Rowsley closed in 1967 with the line closing to the north of Matlock on 14 July 1968[11].

Matlock Staion in 2004

Those with railway ancestors might like to see:
Matlock & Matlock Bath Lists: The Twentieth Century: Matlock Station Staff, 1911 - 1966, A - J
Matlock & Matlock Bath Lists: The Twentieth Century: Matlock Station Staff, 1911 - 1966, K - Y

Black and white photographs © Ann Andrews collection. Whilst part of my collection, the original copyright holder is not known for the top image.
Coloured photograph, © and dated 2004, in private collection and taken especially for this web site.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.
[2] "The Derby Mercury", 16 September, 1846. Report of first meeting of shareholders.
[3] "Daily News", 31 December, 1846.
[4] "The Standard", 21 October, 1847.
[5] St. Giles' Burials are on this site.
[6] "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", 16 September, 1848.
[7] "Illustrated London News", 24 Nov 1849.
[8] "The Morning Post", 17 May, 1849.
[9] "Derbyshire Courier", 30 September 1848. Portions of the horns were a short time later in the possession of Mr Campbell of Matlock, the engineer, and Mr. Benjamin Bryan, the proprietor of the Heights of Abraham at Matlock Bath.
[10] "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", 20 January, 1849.
[11] Dates from Kingscott, Geoffrey (2007) "Lost Railways of Derbyshire", Countryside Books, ISBN 978 1 84674 042 8.