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New Bath,
shows the path up to the Cumberland Cavern from Clifton Road

Shows the kiosk where tickets were sold

Portland House

Romantic Rocks or Dungeon Tors

Matlock Bath cricketers outside their pavilion


The Cumberland Cavern is roughly at the same level on the hillside as the former Royal Pavilion (Palais Royal); it is no longer open to the public. The cavern used to be reached by an extremely steep footpath from Clifton Road, although before Clifton Road was developed the bottom of the path was described as being beside the Bath Terrace Hotel. It could also be accessed by going up the Wapping or from Upperwood.


THE CUMBERLAND CAVERN, situate on the hill behind Saxton's Hotel, is worthy of a visit ; there are some very fine groups of rocks, curiously piled on each other, resting on extremely small points. To this part of the Cavern the proprietor has given the name of the "Queen's Palace". At this particular spot is found the " snow white sulphate of lime, maniated upon limestone," and also beautiful crystals of quartz : a substance whose composition is unknown, has lately been discovered. Altogether this is a very interesting Cavern, abounding with singular subterranean scenery, and when illuminated with Bengal lights, produces a delightful effect. To the student of Mineralogy, a fine field is here presented - a natural Cavern, producing a variety of ores, stalactites, stalagmites, and spars of every kind. It is the property of Mr. Smedley, and a guide and lights may be had at Mr. Peter Smedley's Spar shop, nearly opposite Mr. Saxton's Green.

Extracted from Henricus, The Matlock Tourist

Some thirty-five years after Henricus, an unnamed Victorian visitor wrote that "entrance to the Cumberland Cavern ... is not gained without difficulty, and those who explored its dark circuitous passages marched in irregular procession, each carrying a lighted candle, without which we should have been in great danger of losing ourselves in the intricate windings through which we passed. The measures are quite dislocated, and immense pieces of rock are thrown into most extraordinary positions., one piece of many tons weight - which our guide seemed specially proud of, and most anxious that the ladies, at all events, should inspect it carefully - resting on a mere point[1]". The Victorians loved a touch of melodrama. The Cumberland was described in many nineteenth century guide books[3] and in 1903 Heywood recorded that it was "very extensive and abounds with fossils, and is one of the most interesting of the Derbyshire caverns[2]".

The Cumberland had opened in the late eighteenth century[4] and was owned for many years by various members of the Smedley family[5]. When John Smedley, "the son of the late Mr Wm. Smedley", died at Portland House in 1900 at the age of 63 it was said that he belonged to one of the oldest established families in the district[6]. He was a well known local businessman who, as well as owning the cavern, quarried for tufa in the Via Gellia[6].

John Smedley's widowed sister, Mrs. Mary Brocklehurst, then became the proprietress[7] and after her death her daughter, Edith Nash, took over[8]. During her tenure one 1925 visitor was to comment that "We drank at the Wishing Well inside, and saw the Queen's Palace and the Str. of Gibraltar etc as described in the Guide. ... It is much finer than the Masson".

In March 1927 the Cumberland Cavern was sold at public auction, with adjoining land, to Mr Frank Taylor of Hope Terrace for £400. This was the first time one of the caverns had been auctioned. It was then said that the cavern had been discovered by lead miners some 200 years before [a slight exaggeration], and that "volcanic disturbances in the cavern had left large blocks of dislodged rock. One detached from the roof weighs 40 tons, and stands poised on two points of rock"[9]. This was presumably the same rock noted by the Victorian visitor.

Cyril Edmonds of Portland House bought the cavern in the 1930s. Mr. Edmonds is on the left in the photograph above, wearing a cap. His son, Cyril Rowland Edmonds, was to die in a flying accident in the second World War[10].

The cavern was advertised for sale once again in May 1950[11], though was not sold until a year or so after Mr. Edmonds' death in 1954. His two assistants ran the cavern for Mrs. Edmonds for a while, but then took over the tenancy and purchased the cavern around 1956[12]. It remained open for the rest of the 1950s and for some of the 1960s but has been closed for a long time. One thing remained for many years from Cyril Edmonds time. When the Matlock Bath Cricket Pavilion was no longer needed by the club it was removed to the Cumberland Cavern and acted as a shelter. It was still there about 2013, although it is no longer in situ[12].

Another view of the Wishing Well, said to have very clear water and in 1907
"lighted up by magnesium ribbon"[13].
This picture also dates from the time of Mr. Edmonds' ownership when
visitors were offered a drink of spa water from the Wishing Well[14].
Cyril Edmonds told his family that the water from the Wishing Well travelled underground
and re-emerged in the New Bath's pool[12].

Advertisement and Flyer

1930s advertisement
This flyer from 1936 was handed out to Matlock Bath's visitors

The Long Gallery

The first photograph of the Long Gallery was taken and published by Cyril Edmonds in the 1930s
whereas the second picture was from Francis Frith and taken about 1950.
Frith was using better lighting than that available to Mr. Edmonds.

Hodgkinson's Guide (1907) repeated the earlier comment about access to the Cumberland Cavern not
being easy, but advised early twentieth century visitors that they would find it well worth the effort. "Each
visitor is supplied with a candle, and the guide lights about one hundred, which he places at intervals on
the sides of the rocks. After passing about fifty steps and travelling along a passage the cavern proper is
reached. Along this passage ... calcite and small glistening cubes of fluor spar are to be seen ...
This is known as the "Long Gallery" and it has a remarkably flat roof extending about 100 yards"[13].

Harpsichord or Grand Piano Rock

The pair who are well lit are the same two men who were photographed in the image at the top of the page.
It is harder to see the man in the shadows on the left, but is probably Mr. Edmonds.
He would have set up the photo, even if he didn't press the button to take it.

The Harpsichord was "a curious block of magnesium limestone in the shape of a harpsichord"[13].
Cyril Edmonds is in the centre of the group in the Frith photo,
but the identities of the other two people are not known.

The Cavern's Romantic Rocks

"The gallery leads into a large hall, where loose blocks lie about in various positions. These are called
the Romantic Rocks. When struck by another stone by the guide, give out sounds of various tones"[13].
At first glance, because the top of the chamber seems so low, it almost looks as if the Frith photograph
is upside down! The Romantic Rocks in the cavern took their name from the
Romantic Rocks or Dungeon Tors, beloved by the Victorians, that were only a few yards away.

The geologist William Adam had catalogued the Rocks, Marbles and Minerals of Derbyshire around 1840[15]. His list of zinc ores found in the Cumberland Cavern and elsewhere included Carbonate of Zinc, also known as Smithsonite; Silicious Oxide of Zinc [sic, Siliceous Oxide of Zinc] was present in both the Cumberland and Rutland caverns. He also listed the Fluor Spars Arragonite [sic, Aragonite] and Selenite, Sulphate of Lime, occurring in the Cumberland Cavern. Twentieth century research by Roger Flindall and Andrew Hayes[16] mentions three other minerals in the cavern: Hemimorphite which is associated with Smithsonite, Chalcopyrite, and Siderite.

In 1912-13 the Matlock Naturalists' Association discovered a "pocket" filled with rare cave pearls in the Cumberland Cavern[17]. They were described as being a creamy colour, in comparison with others found in the Great Masson cave which were brown. "The pearls were in a hole which there poured a big stream of water, and when broken with a hammer the pearls disclosed a tiny portion of a gritty substance, to which the pearl had been added during generations". They were found by Mr. J. C. Goodall, the hon. secretary of the Association, and five of the members.

William Smedley wrote a poem called Matlock Bath, Derbyshire.

1. Postcard of "The Wishing Well, Royal Cumberland Cavern", Guaranteed Real Photo and British Manufacture. Not posted. Almost certainly set up by Cyril Edmonds, In the collection of and provided by and © Ann Andrews.
2. Postcard of "The Wishing Well, Royal Cumberland Cavern", F. Frith & Co. Ltd, Reigate, No. MTB45. No date, but about 1950. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
3. Royal Cumberland Cavern advertisement published in "The Matlocks, Derbyshire. Official Guide" Issued by the Come to Derbyshire Association, published 1930s. In the collection of and provided by and © Ann Andrews.
4. Flyer / leaflet in the collection of and provided by and © Glynn Waite.
5. "The Long Gallery, Royal Cumberland Cavern", taken and published by Cyril Edmonds in the 1930s. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
6. "The Long Gallery, Royal Cumberland Cavern", F. Frith & Co. Ltd, Reigate, No. MTB43. No date, but about 1950. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill..
7. "Grand Piano Rock, Royal Cumberland Cavern", taken and published by Cyril Edmonds in the 1930s. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
8. "Harpsichord or Grand Piano Rock, Royal Cumberland Cavern", F. Frith & Co. Ltd, Reigate, No. MTB42. No date, but about 1950. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
9. "Romantic Rocks, Royal Cumberland Cavern", taken and published by Cyril Edmonds in the 1930s. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
10. "Romantic Rocks, Royal Cumberland Cavern", F. Frith & Co. Ltd, Reigate, No. MTB44. No date, but about 1950. In the collection of and provided by and © Christine Leila Hill.
Information 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] "The Derby Mercury", 2 July, 1873.

[2] "Abel Heywood's Guide Books, With Cycling, Walking and Driving Routes. Matlock Illustrated." Abel Heywood & Son, Manchester & London.
[3] The Cumberland Cavern (and other caverns in Matlock Bath) is described in Bemroses' Guide to Matlock ... , about 1869 | Holmes Hand Book to Matlock Bath & Neighbourhood.

[4] See William Adam's "Gem of the Peak" (1840) (scroll down).

[5] Peter Smedley was listed as proprietor in Kelly's 1848 Directory | William Smedley was shown as the proprietor in an advertisement published in Bemrose Guide: The Royal Cumberland Cavern & Romantic Rocks.

[6] "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 4 July 1900.

[7] Mrs. Mary Brocklehurst of Bath Terrace was the proprietress in Kelly's Directory 1908 and Kelly's Directory 1916. Also Kelly's 1922 Directory. See the MI of Mary and her daughters in Matlock Bath Churchyard.

[8] Kelly's 1925 Directory.

[9] There were several reports of the sale. The "Derby Daily Telegraph" of 30 March 1927 said Mr. Taylor had paid £480 whereas another newspaper gave the sum as £400.

[10] Names on Matlock Bath's War Memorial.

[11] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 30 May and 1st, 5th and 19th June 1950. Plus other dates. Royal Cumberland Cavern. Sale notice.

[12] Information from the family papers of Christine Leila Hill.

[13] "Guide to Matlock and Matlock Bath" (ca. 1907) Printed and published by Geo. Hodgkinson, Matlock Printing Works.

[14] "Grantham Journal", 10 August 1945. Grantham Scouts, camping at Lea Hurst, visited the cavern and drank the spa water in the Wishing Well. There is no record of whether the boys enjoyed the drink.

[15] The list of Rocks, Marbles and Minerals of Derbyshire were catalogued in Part V of "Gem of the Peak".

[16] Flindall, Roger and Hayes, Andrew (1976) "The Caverns and Mines of Matlock Bath, 1 The Nestus Mines: Rutland and Masson Caverns", Moorland Publishing Company

[17] "Nottingham Evening Post", 14 January 1913.