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The Ferry and the River Derwent 1905



Lovers' Walks and River Derwent



Jubilee Bridge




The Walker family (of Walker's Hotel) ran Matlock Bath's Ferry and Lovers' Walk for much of the nineteenth century. Walker's ferry was included as a highlight of special railway pleasure trips to Matlock Bath[1], especially as it provided access to the Lovers' Walks on the opposite bank which the Walkers leased from the Arkwrights. Towards the end of the century Mrs Hannah Ratcliffe was the tenant, continuing the boat business that her husband George had been involved with[2].

Pleasure boats were also available to hire, as shown just behind the children in the above picture although the boats in the foreground look like racing skiffs belonging to the boat club. It is difficult to say whether the young man standing behind the children is their father or just an older sibling - he looks rather young to be a father.

Behind the four young people is what looks like a washing line strung across the river. This was the wire ferry rope that stretched out about six to seven feet above the river and was attached to concrete posts. The wire was at that height to allow rowing boats to pass underneath. From it a chain "strop" with a ring on hung down for for the ferryman to pull on - there was no underwater chain to assist the ferryman. However, with the river's height varying considerably according to the rainfall and the season, it proved to be a simple method to get people across the water[3]. The ferry itself is the small boat that is slightly upstream. In earlier times the rope had been made of hemp (see The Ferry and the River Derwent).

After Mrs. Ratcliffe's death, in November 1896, Matlock Bath council took over the lease of both the ferry and the Lovers' Walks and they were able to expand the promenade from the Jubilee Bridge to include much more of the walks. At one of the council meetings in 1900 it was reported that "the figures of the council's boating property which has now been taken over four years were read. They showed a 50 per cent increase in takings over several of the preceding summers, and as much as 35 per cent over the record of any previous year. The Council have added another ferry across the river[4]". This lower ferry, for which permission granted in 1900, was below the New Bath Hotel "and access to and from the main road[5]". A third ferry operated, at one time, from close to the railway bridge behind the Midland Hotel.

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The suggestion on social media that this image or the black and white version could show where boats where boats could be hired in Matlock, a couple of miles upstream, is not true.


"The Ferry, Matlock Bath", postcard published by Valentine's, No. 61581. JM. Colourtone series. Card was not posted, but was registered in 1909.
In the collection of, provided by, researched by and © Ann Andrews
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links are to onsite transcripts):

[1] "The Derby Mercury", Wednesday, 31 May, 1854. Railway Intelligence. Notices were placed in this and other newspapers on many other occasions.

[2] Mrs. Ratcliffe was born in Spondon and baptised there on 29 Oct 1829; she was the daughter of William and Hannah Longden (IGI). She married George Ratcliff[e] at St Werburgh's, Spondon, in 1850. The family later moved to Lime Tree Cottage, Cromford. George Ratcliffe died in 1878. The Ratcliffe's son, William, was a boat proprietor in 1881 (Kelly's Cromford Directory) and it is probable that Hannah took over the family business when he went overseas. She was living in Matlock Bath at the time of the 1891 census. She advertised in Kelly's directories of 1887 | 1891 | 1895. Hannah was buried at Cromford - see Strays. Also see Wills.

[3] With thanks to both Ken Smith and Colin Goodwyn for their input.

[4] "The Derby Mercury", Wednesday, August 22, 1900, report of Matlock Bath UDC meeting.

[5] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish", London and Derby