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Matlock Bath: Derwent Gardens - The Switchback, (2) Adrenalin Rush
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Switchback, Rise & Fall
(on the previous page)


The Pavilion, Church and Royal Hotel, before 1905

Rare view of below the main building

Derwent Gardens
Café (1)

Derwent Gardens
Café (2)


The Riverbank,
about 1880

Church and Boat House

Derwent Gardens from Lovers Walk, before 1905

Lovers' Walk & the Derwent

Percy Rowbottom's wonderful photographs[1] 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 slope 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[2]". Strephon was slightly cynical in 1895, writing that "a switchback railway made people feel all the sensations of sea-sickness for a penny"[3].

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 end.

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[4]"

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!

  Switchback advert, 1903

Edgar Buxton with some employees  
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[5]. 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[6]. 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 1920s.

"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[7]".

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.

Matlock Bath, River Derwent from Lover's Walk

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.

Enlargement of above

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 Royal Pavilion (later the Palais Royal) but it is the Gardens and the switchback that are of real interest.

Untitled [Old Pavilion and Gardens, Royal Hotel and Switchback].
Mr. Buxton had landscaped the grounds[8]
(See Matlock Bath: Derwent Gardens, before 1909).

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 in time for the 1898 season[8] 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)[7].

The story of the Switchback's history is on the previous page

1. and 2. Top two photographs taken by Percy Rowbottom in the collection of and provided by and © Ken Smith. Images scanned for this website and © Ann Andrews.
3. Switchback advertisement from "Abel Heywood's Guide Books, With Cycling, Walking and Driving Routes. Matlock Illustrated." (1903) Abel Heywood & Son, Manchester & London. In the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
4. Photograph in the collection and © Ann Andrews.
5 and 6. Postcard "Matlock Bath, River Derwent from Lover's Walk" published by F. Frith & Co. Ltd., Reigate. British Copyright. No.1993 in the collection of and provided by and © Ken Smith. Larger scan and enlarged detail (image 5) scanned for this website and © Ann Andrews.
7 and 8. Untitled [Old Pavilion and Gardens, Royal Hotel and Switchback]. One of a series of Valentines snapshots - photographs of Matlock Bath - originally in a card folder. The number 40600 is scratched on the image, but is backwards. Valentine's cards with this number were published in 1903 © Ann Andrews collection and added Aug 2014.
Web page, including material from previously unpublished family papers, researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.

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

[1] There is more information about the photographer Percy Rowbottom, who didn't start taking photographs until after 1901.

[2] "The Leeds Mercury", Saturday, 25 June, 1887.

[3] "Derbyshire Times", 20 April 1895.

[4] "Birmingham Daily Post", Wednesday, 17 August, 1887.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] "Derbyshire Times", 23 April 1898. Gleanings in the Peak. See Matlock Bath: Derwent Gardens, before 1909