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Matlock Bath: Great Rutland Cavern, Old Oak Tree & Roman Staircase
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Living at the Heights

Heights of Abraham, Great Rutland Cavern, 1912

Upper Tower, Heights of Abraham

Victoria Prospect Tower

Victoria Tower, Heights of Abraham, 1907 -25

Vista Views of the
Heights & Cavern

Derbyshire Maps - Mr. Rhodes' journeys

A few years after the "discovery" of the Great Rutland Cavern on the Heights of Abraham, the following was published in an article in "The Derby Mercury" in 1817. It underlines how important a find the cavern was considered to be, most especially to the Scientific World of the day.

"The discovery and opening of this tremendous Cemetery of Nature has given to this country a rich treasure of the most brilliant gems, rare fossils, and numerous minerals, forming the most splendid natural Grotto in the World. Philosophers, Mineralogists, Geologists and the public may now avail themselves of a visit to this Treasure. ... A Mineralogical Survey of this Wonder of Nature, and of these Kingdoms, has been lately made by the first Mineralogist and Geologist of the age, MR. MAW ; and his report confirms the reputation of the RUTLAND CAVERN being the most valuable Classical Mineral discovery known[1]".

The Cavern was opened in 1810[2] and has been mentioned in every tourist guide about Matlock Bath. Ebenezer Rhodes wrote, on his third excursion into Derbyshire in 1818, of visiting Matlock Bath with his friend Montgomery. The pair ascended the Heights of Abraham, until they reached the alcove above the trees about half way up the hill. A shower forced them to shelter, and Montgomery wrote an impromptu poem on the wall. "On our descent from the alcove, we passed by the entrance into Rutland Cavern, a spacious vault in the interior of the mountain, filled with a variety of crystallizations, intermixed with spars, and ores of lead, copper and zinc."[3]
The poem was included in Croston's 1868 Guide, "On Foot Through the Peak" (scroll down to the bottom).

Llewellynn Jewitt, in 1864, was another to describe the cavern. "The Rutland Cavern, known as the Old Nester Mine, on the Heights of Abraham, approached from the Museum Parade by the roadway by Hodgkinson's Hotel, is the largest in Matlock, and has the advantage of having the finest openings. ... The mine is dry and easily penetrated, and is extremely rich in fossils and minerals. The spars are extremely fine and brilliant[4]". Once Holme Road was built, tourists had an alternative route up to the Lodge, where they would be charged admission for entry to the Heights. Everyone uses the cable car these days.

The Old Oak Tree (above) is one of several features within the cavern*; both images date from the 1950s when the Aspey family were the lessees. The people on the coloured postcard help to provide a sense of scale.

By 1903, when the image of the Roman Hall (below) was published, the cavern was lit by gas[5]. It was then being advertised by Samuel Sprinthall, whose descendants were still running the cavern in the 1950s. The image itself dates from about 1850[2], however. Interestingly, of the group at the very top of the steps one gentleman is holding a candle aloft, perhaps to show off some of the sparkle in the rocks. Various other people on the steps are peering at the rock surface and a man and woman are standing beside a table at the bottom of the picture. They appear to be studying samples of rocks and minerals displayed on the table and a book is open.

Roman Hall, The Great Rutland Cavern[5]
showing the Roman Staircase and Druid's Altar.
1903 copy of an engraving dating from about 1850[2].

The Roman Staircase, 1955-60.

In the photo are Elsie and Edward Aspey,
their eldest son Richard,
an unknown cavern guide
and Archie Sprinthall, a relative
of the Aspeys through Edward Aspey's

Archie had returned from the
United States and lived with
the Aspey family for some time.
He helped to landscape the grounds.

*Please note that not all areas in the cavern that were shown to the public in the past are viewable today.

There is a great deal of information about the Rutland Cavern in the various on site nineteenth century guide books:

Moore, "Picturesque Excursions From Derby to Matlock Bath", 1818: Engraving of "Romantic Bridge Rutland Cavern" (bottom of page)
Moore, "Picturesque Excursions From Derby to Matlock Bath", 1818: Description of the cavern
Moore, "Picturesque Excursions From Derby to Matlock Bath", 1818: Minerals found there
Barker's "The Panorama of Matlock", 1827: section on caverns
William Adam's "Gem of the Peak", 1840: Caverns & Mines
Bemroses' Guide to Matlock ... , about 1869: see page 12
Holmes "Hand Book to Matlock Bath & Neighbourhood": scroll down to section on The Caverns
Advertisement from "On Foot Through the Peak", 1868
Description in "On Foot Through the Peak", 1868: Chapter 15
Read Elizabeth Barret's poem that mentions visiting a cavern on Matlock and Matlock Bath: Inspiration of Poets

1. "The Old Oak Tree, The Great Rutland Cavern, Matlock Bath". No publisher. A real photograph, taken for the lessees
2. "The Old Oak Tree, Rutland Cavern, Matlock Bath" A Salmon CameraColour Postcard, J. Salmon, Ltd., Sevenoaks, 1-19-01-11. Unposted. Postcard in the collection of and provided by and © Ken Smith.
3. Engraving from "Abel Heywood's Guide Books,..." (1903) (see below)
4. "The Roman Staircase, The Great Rutland Cavern, Matlock Bath". No publisher. A real photograph, taken for the lessees
Images 1, 2 and 4 in the collection of and provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Information researched by and © by Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only


[1] "The Derby Mercury", 24 July, 1817 - part extract only. The cavern would have been known about locally before it was "discovered".

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

[3] Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row.

[4] ed. Jewitt, Llewellynn "Black's Tourist Guide to Derbyshire" (1864) pub. Adam and Charles Black Edinburgh, pp.233-4

[5] "Abel Heywood's Guide Books, With Cycling, Walking and Driving Routes. Matlock Illustrated." (1903) Abel Heywood & Son, Manchester & London.