Percy Rowbottom's wonderful photographs have
captured some of the early twentieth century visitors to Matlock
Bath who were enjoying the thrill and delights of the Switchback
Railway in the Derwent Gardens, formerly called Orchard
Holme or Close. The top photograph shows the foot rungs
beside the track which would have helped the staff when
they pushed the cars back up hill to the start of the ride.
The man in the waistcoat and flat cap, with his back to
the camera, is one of the staff and appears to be lowering
the brake to secure the car so that the passengers could
disembark. Visitors were dressed in their Sunday best for
their trips to Matlock Bath. Many came from the industrial
cities for a day out and dressing up in their finery was
often a pleasant change from their daily work attire.
"Riding on the switchback is best described as like
sailing over large billows at a rapid rate, or like tobogganing
intensified. The journey is made in a car capable of seating
about ten persons, and by means of a couple of tracks, outward
and return trips are made".
Three members of staff are shown, surrounded by visitors,
in this second photograph. One of them is holding onto
the cab, presumably to steady it further as the passengers
climbed out. There is another cab on the track behind the
group. Presumably it is on the outward leg of the trip
and just about to reach the turn round area at the far
In 1887 a wag wrote to the Birmingham Daily Post with
the following tongue-in-cheek query:
"Every public resort is now erecting the Switchback,
and switchbackanalians are every day becoming more numerous.
Before I have one in my garden, I should like to have an
authoritative view [i.e. from The Lancet!] of the consequences,
and I should be glad to be informed whether switchbacking
is as good for the liver as horse exercise"
|The perfect tonic
Dr Cullimore's assertion, that a ride was good for
the liver, in the 1903 advertisement on the right is
about as realistic as contemporary adverts that radium
was a good ingredient for shampoos!
||Photograph of the Switchback's
employees, taken before the First World War.
They are seated in and standing beside one of the Switchback's
three cars. Bill Frost is sitting at the front and
standing on the left is Harold Bradbury.
The name of the third man in the group is unknown.
Slightly apart from them on their right, in a bowler
hat, is Edgar Buxton. The whole enterprise belonged
to the Buxton family.
It is not the best quality of reproductions, but it
is the best I have at present.
My late father, Frank Clay, described some of the mid-week
visitors who came to Matlock Bath from Sheffield in the
"The charas .... on weekdays carried mainly ladies
- mother's meetings and the like. They were sometimes lively
and a touch of the "knees up" attitude crept in
but what grand women they were, friendly, generous and caring.
A nine year old boy had established a position under the
end tree [of Saxton's Green, where the charas were parked]
and sold them Matlock Bath rock. They bought the rock because
of his age; the pay he got was 6d a day even on sales that
were quite impressive, but at that period we hadn't abandoned
the exploitation of children. Some days it wasn't quite so
profitable, and then a walkabout was needed. The same ladies
would be invited down for a ride on the Switchback and after
the initial free trip had got the ladies screaming with
fun, fear and good spirits the day would be on its way".
From the outset, newspaper articles frequently commented
on the delighted squeals from the ladies as they were enjoying
the excitement of the Switchback experience, though the men
were rarely mentioned. Not everyone appreciated the shrieks,
of course, and there was as much criticism about the Switchback's
users as there was approval after the initial wonderment
had worn off.
The wide angled camera lens did not exist when these
early photographs were taken and it was hard to capture
the length of the Switchback from the opposite bank
of the river, so most of the pictures were long distance
shots and taken from the rocks above the Lovers'
Walks. Shown above is a Frith's Series card and below
is an enlarged section of the same view.
Such was the fascination with the Switchback that
a long line of people can be seen peering over the
wall! Amongst them would have been pupils on their
way to Matlock Bath school.
The final image (below) shows the northern end of the Derwent
Gardens, on the west bank of the River Derwent below road
level. The picture dates from 1903. On the opposite side
of the road, and above the Gardens, are Holy Trinity Church,
the Royal Hotel and the Pavilion (Palais Royal) but it
is the Gardens and the switchback that are of real interest.
Untitled [Old Pavilion and Gardens, Royal
Hotel and Switchback].
Visitors entered the switchback ride via
the wide wooden walkway and main entrance on Derby Road.
Once the steps down had been added to the structure they
would leave by a wooden stairway down into the garden.
The stairs, next to where passengers got off the ride,
are shown in the very top image but are quite hard to see
in the more general view immediately above as they are
partly hidden behind trees.
The grounds had been landscaped by
1903 and a series of paths can be seen on the embankment
below the road. There is a similar view on
the previous page that shows the grounds before
any landscaping had been undertaken. The café had
also been built. Of note too is one of the tufa grottoes
(bottom right), a detail of which is shown on the right.
It has an open work parapet. Similar tufa grottoes
can be found elsewhere in Matlock Bath - on the Lovers'
Walks and in the grounds of the former Royal Hotel
(now a public car park). There is also a water feature
just a little further along, below the switchback entrance
and next to the bubble pond.
The improvements to the layout would have made a trip
to Derwent Gardens particularly attractive to the early
twentieth century visitors, especially those who lived
in the large industrial cities.
Although described as being lovely and
cool in the 1930s, on warm summer evenings the grottoes
were infested with gnats (midges).
The story of the Switchback's history is
on the previous page
|References (coloured links are to transcripts or more information
elsewhere on this web site):
is more information about the photographer Percy Rowbottom,
who didn't start taking photographs until after 1901.
 "The Leeds Mercury",
Saturday, 25 June, 1887
 "Birmingham Daily Post", Wednesday,
17 August, 1887
 Bill Frost was still living with
his parents and brother Charlie in the
1901 census. Harold Bradbury was at Matlock Cliff in
the same census.
 Edgar Buxton, the son of Herbert
Buxton, is shown as an auctioneer in the 1901
census and his name is on Matlock
Bath's War Memorial. The Buxton family appear in
both the nineteenth
century trade directories and the twentieth
century trade directories for Matlock Bath.
 Recollections of the late Mr.
Frank Clay, who helped out at the Switchback Railway on occasion.
From his private papers and notes owned by the web mistress,
some of which were written in 1998 and remain copyright.