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Matlock Bath: River Derwent, Masson Weir
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Masson Mill's Water Wheel, about 1930

Matlock Dale, weir and High Tor tunnel

Boating on the river Derwent provides a list of names of fatalities

Arkwright & His Cotton Mill in Matlock Bath

The Masson or south weir was built for the paper mill that was erected in 1771 by Shore and White; permission to convey water to this mill was granted in 1772[1]. The paper mill was operating on the banks of the River Derwent before Masson Mill was built next door in 1783. However, in relatively recent times the Arkwright Society have cast some doubt as to whether the weir was built solely for the paper mill[2].

The elegantly curved weir didn't meet with everyone's approval. Fifty years after it was built Ebenezer Rhodes questioned why Masson Mill had ever been built in the valley; he thought the weir was "incongruous and out of place", but conceded that anywhere else it "might be a pleasing object"![3] William Adam, in contrast, talks of entering the Dale of Matlock Bath from its southern end and, where the road suddenly turns north, "disclosing at once the splendid rocks which burst upon the view through a fine opening up the river, exhibiting a beautiful waterfall, foaming over the "weir" and rough bed below it, also the wild Cat Tor and Masson Mill"[4].

At times of flood large trees have become stuck on the weir
The top picture shows tree debris caught in the rocks just
below the weir whereas on this image we can see a large
tree balanced on top of the weir.

The stonework has had to be repaired occasionally. A relatively early repair was undertaken in 1842. The Derby Mercury reported that labourers employed by Richard Arkwright were getting stone for the repairs of the weir at the Masson factory, presumably from a local quarry, when a large stone on which one of the men was standing gave way[5].

We learn more about the early construction of the weir and its goit[6] from a report in December 1847. The Derwent had begun to rise after heavy rain and there were serious concerns about the damage that might be caused. Masson Mill, then in the hands of Peter Arkwright, had a lucky escape when a safety measure in the weir's construction did not work in the way it was intended. "Some score of yards above these extensive works, a head of water is kept up on the Derwent for the supply of the wheel, by means of a weir - permanent to a certain height - but above that, built temporarily with loose stones, which are intended to be washed away by any heavy flood, which would otherwise become dangerous. This temporary portion of the weir, which has hitherto always given way under pressure of a certain height of water, stood firm and for some time it was expected that the water would rush over the shuttles". Fortunately the water began to subside as rapidly as it had risen and disaster was averted[7]. Whether the problem had been caused by too strong a repair in 1842 is not known.

In 1856 Masson Mill and its goit were indirectly affected by quarrying activities upstream and the indiscriminate disposal of quarry debris into the River Derwent in the area known as North Parade today. Peter Arkwright took out an injunction against Francis Blake, a London solicitor who owned two quarries, in a case that went before the Master of the Rolls. The two men owned land on either side of the river and whilst both were entitled to the soil on the riverbed they needed to abstain from doing anything that may injure the other, either directly or indirectly.

Arkwright's Mill depended on a sufficient supply of river water. The weir backed up water into a reservoir that terminated just beyond the bridge to Matlock Bath station. Blake had built some embankments below this bridge that reduced the overall depth and therefore deprived the plaintiff (Arkwright) of a large body of water[8].

The weir has been the site of several fatalities involving unwary oarsmen. There have also, over the years, been some remarkably close shaves. In 1860 a husband and his wife were on the river, enjoying the outing, until they got so close to the weir that the force of the water became too strong and they were unable to turn round and retreat. Their boat was "borne alongside over the embankment with fearful velocity". The couple cried for help and fortunately their boat was washed to the river's edge, where the "occupants were helped by some of the employees of the paper mills ; but had the boat, previous to its passing the weir, been forced a few yards nearer the shuttle of the ghaut [goit][6] leading to the Masson factories, their lives must have been sacrificed"[9]. Six years later a party of four hired a rowing boat at Walker's ferry. The current was again strong and they rowed far too close to the weir but, as before, they were saved because they were close to the riverbank. "As it was they escaped with the loss of the men's hats and an umbrella, added to a thorough drenching. The boat was turned completely over and received great injury"[10]. One can only hope that Mr. Walker was paid compensation for the loss of his boat.

The inquest of an 1892 boating disaster provides more information about the goit and the area around its entrance. At that time warning notices along the riverbank were placed about 50 yards above the weir, telling boating parties not to go any further. The group involved in the 1892 disaster had reached the point where they should have turned round but, unfortunately, they saw that the water levels were low and noticed that no water was going over the weir itself so assumed themselves safe, ignored the signs, and rowed closer. They did not realise that the water at that point was, and still is, drawn into the large mill race (the goit) and they became caught in the current that was rushing down into it. The entry to the goit was described as being ten feet deep, and about four yards across; it was about twenty feet below Derby Road[11].

From several of the images on this page we can see that the goit then narrows by the sluice, thus forcing the water through before it reached the shuttle in front of the wheel at the mill. The second picture from the top gives us a good idea of the speed and turbulence of the water, as we can see it tumbling over the rocks. There was said to be 300 horse power of water going down it when the accident occurred[12]. The inquest recommended that the goit should be protected.

Winter scene, revealing a boat house on Lovers' Walks on the opposite bank

A disaster of a different kind happened in 1931, this time for the mill workers. There was severe flooding in September of that year. "The goyt, which conveys the water from the river to the mills for power, is wrecked and the loss is considerable". "The sluice which worked the turbines was completely wrecked". The loss of power to Masson Mill resulted in some 300 workers signing on at the Employment Exchange. A disaster fund was opened for them as it was expected that the mill would not open for some weeks[13]. It is possible that the picture at the top of the page, which is the most recent of the series of images, shows the wrecked sluice as there are signs of debris amongst the greenery where the sluice had been.

Close ups of the sluice are shown above and below, taken from the postcards shown
immediately above and below them.

There was a handle to turn a worm and that drove a large, toothed wheel
driving shaft that in turn regulated the sluice hidden behind the wall.
The sluice structure was built of bricks capped with stone.
To reach the wheel the mill hand, or whoever's job it was, had to go through a doorway
in the centre section.

On rare occasions Arctic conditions have caused parts of the Derwent to almost freeze over. The winter of 1891 was one such occasion when both the river near Matlock Bath station was almost frozen across, and against the High Tor tunnel the stream was covered over with ice[14]. The ice at the Masson weir, measured by Mr. William Jordan of Masson Terrace[15], was found to be an inch and three-quarters thick.

1. "The Weir, Matlock Bath". Copyright H, Coates, Wisbech, No. 2390. Not posted, but could date from 1930. Another card was posted in 1941. Image © Ann Andrews collection.
2. "The Weir Matlock Bath". Jackson & Sons, Publishers, Grimsby, No.275. Written and posted at Matlock on 27 Oct 1912. The writer was staying at "Woodfields" (see Kelly's 1912 Directory) and reported that there had been 3" of snow but the weather was mild again. Image © Ken Smith collection. Another card was posted in 1911.
3 and 4. "The Weir, Matlock Bath". No publisher and not posted. Image © Ken Smith collection.
5 and 6. "The Weir Matlock Bath. A photograph by TMH - Thomas Meredith Henshall. Posted at Matlock Bath on 12 Aug 1913. Image © Ken Smith collection.
Information researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

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

[1] See The Wolley Manuscripts Vol. 6670 f.90d (Notes of the building of the paper mill, by Shore and White, 1771) | Vol. 6671 ff.310-313 (Manorial deeds and papers ... to convey water to the paper mill 1772).

[2] "The Derwent Valley Mills and their Communities", published by The Derwent Valley Mills Partnership, County Hall, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 3AG, 2001. ISBN 0-9541940-0-4. "The earlier paper mill on part of this site [i.e. Masson Mill] would not have justified the construction of a weir on this scale".

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

[4] Adam, W. (1838) "The Gem of the Peak; or Matlock Bath and Its Vicinity. ..." London; Longman & Co., Paternoster Row ; ... Mawe, Royal Museum, Matlock ; .... This was the first edition of his guide and her repeated his praise in later editions..

[5] "The Derby Mercury", 13 July 1842. The quarry man was, unfortunately, seriously injured and had been taken home "where he lies without any apparent hopes of recovery". The quarry was not specified in the newspaper report.

[6] The noun "ghaut" seems to have been used instead of goit or goyt (meaning the side stream or mill race) on occasion in the 1860s. Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited also used the spelling.

[7] "The Derby Mercury", 15 December 1847. Flood.

[8] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 8 August 1856. Peter Arkwright v Francis Blake. The case was to prevent Blake "from further proceeding to discharge or unload into the river Derwent at Matlock Bath, any stones, earth, or rubbish, dug or taken from the defendant's limestone quarries, or elsewhere; and also to restrain him from raising or building a wall in the bed or waterway of the river, and from extending or otherwise proceeding with the wall already built by the defendant in the bed or waterway of the same river ... to the detriment of the plaintiff's property". Arkwright owned land in fee simple and Blake owned some portions on the opposite bank. Both were entitled to the soil on the riverbed but to abstain from doing anything that may injure the other, either directly or indirectly. When Blake had opened two limestone quarries on his land next to the river (just before May 1855) his servants and workmen threw and discharged large quantities of unbroken stones, earth and rubbish which had been dug, gradually forming embankments or mounds. This resulted in the channel being narrowed. Although Blake was given notice he disregarded it and built a wall along a part of the embankments.

[9] "Derbyshire Courier", 8 September 1860. Remarkable escape from drowning. This was the first record I have been able to find of the word "ghaut".

[10] "The Derby Mercury", 26 September 1866. Providential escape of four persons from drowning.

[11] "Nottinghamshire Guardian", 13 August 1892. Boating disaster at Matlock Bath. "The water at this point is drawn into a large mill race or goyt to run the motive power of the Masson Mills and the paper mills of Messrs. Simmonds and Pickard, Nottingham".

[12] "Nottingham Evening Post", 13 August 1892.

[13] "Derby Daily Telegraph" and "Nottingham Evening Post", 7 September 1931.

[14] "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 24 January 1891.

[15] Mr. Jordan was living at 1 Masson Cottages in the 1891 census. This row of houses was later called Masson Terrace and was on the opposite side of the road from the weir. His widow was still there in 1901. William was buried at Holy Trinity : see his MI. Also see Matlock Bath: Winter Scenes, 1947 and Matlock Bath: Winter Scenes, 1960-70