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Matlock Bath: High Tor and the Footbridge Over the River Derwent
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High Tor by Thomas Allom, about 1836

Dale Road, Stereoview

High Tor and the Colour Works

The Dale from Long Tor

Matlock Bath Today (4)

The bridge near the Boat House (scroll down)

One of the earliest advertisements for the then recently discovered High Tor Cavern/Grotto in Matlock Dale was published in 1829. "The approach is by a newly-erected Bridge across the River Derwent; and the entrance to the Grotto being at the foot of the High Tor, and nearly on a level with the bed of the river, renders the walk to it pleasant and easy"[1]. Henry Barker had already mentioned the High Tor Grotto in the 1827 edition of his guide, but in the 1829 version added that the water wheel in the Side Mine has lately been constructed"[2]. The Side Mine's workers would have used the same bridge as the Grotto's visitors as at that time here was no other way to cross the river here from Matlock Bath before then, other than by boat from Mr. Walker's down river. "Beneath it [High Tor] the river rolls over an irregular, stony bed, with a violent and noisy current"[3], which explains why crossing by boat here would have been difficult.

George Sanderson's 1835 map, "Twenty Miles Round Mansfield" was the first time a bridge was drawn on a map at this location[4]. Unfortunately, there is no bridge visible on Thomas Allom's view of High Tor (linked on the right).

In December 1837 a very destructive storm hit the county. "The two wooden bridges over the Derwent, at the foot of High Tor, were washed away by the flood"[5]. At least one of the bridges must have been rebuilt fairly quickly as the following year Henricus noted that "a wooden bridge across the Derwent (the second one from Matlock Bath) recently erected, forms the approach to the Grotto"[6]. William Adam was a little more informative. "Let him also once place himself on the centre of the bawk [balk] or rustic bridge which carries him over the river to the Side Mine, and listen to the impetuous rush of the waters beneath him, not unlike the swell of the mighty sea, mingled with the din of the fall above; cresting its stream with foam ; the towering hill of Masson rising rapidly to his left ..."[7].

Enlargement of right hand image of the stereoview, above.
The stereo images date from the 1860s. The houses on the hillside behind Riversdale had yet to be built and Heath Bank, which is the large Victorian property behind the centre of the bridge, was built in the early 1860s. There is what appears to be a large stone pillar or perhaps a wooden hut next to the left hand side of the bridge, which possibly had signs to the Cavern. The left hand riverbank was supported by a substantial stone wall by this time.
A slightly different stereoview of this bridge can be seen on the page of "Just Dale" images.

The "Derby Mercury" displayed a wry sense of humour when it reported in 1847 that sheep, pigs, cattle, timber, etc, were not infrequently washed away when the Derwent flooded, "while the wooden bridges across the river, leading to lead mines at the High Tor, have within a few years been several times floated from their supports at an hour's notice, and performed a rapid voyage down to Belper!"[8]. The following year "a permanent, (or rather intended permanent) bridge was carried off". It was the property of Mr. Michael Cardin, the grotto's proprietor[9], and had been temporarily used by the railway contractors working on the High Tor tunnel[10].

Just a few weeks later the floodwater rose again, this time gradually so there was little serious damage; anyone with timber on or near the banks had enough time to move their property to safety. Unfortunately, a temporary bridge owned by the contractors was partly destroyed. This latest structure was "about 60 feet long, its timbers composed of balk and the centre supported by a stout tresile, the ends of the platform being secured on temporary limestone without mortar". But "the head of water loosened one end of the bridge from its pier. This end swung downwards in the direction the water was flowing. The other end, riven from its fastenings, moved upwards and the bridge was left swinging both vertically and horizontally, but was still supported by the tresile". An attempt was made to restore the bridge to its original position. Regrettably, William Buxton, a sub-contractor, was on the bridge at the time it began to fall; he fell in, with the bridge falling on top of him. His head was just above the water underneath the bridge for 10 minutes before he was rescued[11].

Bridge and River
This pretty scene of the area below High Tor dates from 1902-04. It highlights how narrow the
Dale is, with the precipitous Tor on the right of the Derwent and the steep slopes of the Masson hillside on the left.
Between the bridge and the road is a shed marking the entrance to the High Tor Grotto. The name is mounted
on the ridge of the shed's roof, although this image is slightly too small to see it. In 1901 the Greatorex family
were living in the two properties on the left and the Via Gellia Colour Company had taken over the barytes works hidden
behind the trees on the right[12]. A black and white version of this postcard can be seen on Just Dale" images.

By the 1850s the grotto was sharing the bridge with the barytes manufacturers Frederick and Thomas Stevens who had opened their works where the Side Mine had been. By this time there was also access to the barytes works by road as a railway bridge had been built to provide access to Matlock Bath Station and a spur from Station Approach led to these works.

In 1873 this wooden bridge was said to be "of very primitive construction thrown across the Derwent"[13]. These images show it was mounted on two large iron poles, much like the one which used to cross the Derwent near the Boat House[14]. That bridge, unfortunately, only lasted for nine years before it was destroyed by the floods.

The year 1881 was very unlucky for the Matlocks. Benjamin Bryan tells us that the bridge leading to the paint works and the High Tor grotto was also destroyed. "There was a strong current of water three to four feet deep running along the roadway, as if it were part of the river", to and through Matlock Bath. This was "the first of three floods in this unlucky year"[15]. A large quantity of casks etc were carried off from the colour works[16]. Yet such bridges were a necessity in the Dale, despite the problems, as there is little space for a footpath and none for a road beneath High Tor.

Eleven years later trees had been spoiling the view of High Tor, but floods had caused some to topple. They were removed because of the risk of "their being washed down the stream and tearing away Mr. Carden's wooden bridge, over which people pass from the Dale to the High Tor grotto"[17]. Bulmer's Directory (1895), reviewing the High Tor Grotto, described it as less extensive than some of the other caverns, but its crystallisations made it well worth visiting. It noted that it was easy to access and explore although, as the rock above it had been tunnelled for the railway, trains passing overhead sounded like a distant rumble of thunder[18].

Bridge and River
Pre World War One view of the old bridge and the turbulent river flowing beneath it as it
rushed round the bend, a contrast to the smoothly flowing water in the other images. There
seems to be a large sign, undoubtedly promoting the Grotto, on the left hand end near the shed.

The old bridge (or more accurately bridges as there were several) across the River Derwent shown in these pictures was eventually replaced by the considerably stronger and more resilient modern colour works iron footbridge which was erected by the Butterley Company[14]. This is currently (late 2022) boarded up.

There are a number of references to the High Tor Grotto in both the Nineteenth Century Directories and Twentieth Century Directories as well as the Guides section of this website, including:
"Holmes Hand Book to Matlock Bath & Neighbourhood", 1866. Thomas Carding is mentioned under The High Tor Grotto.
James Croston mentions both the barytes mill and the Grotto in Chapter XIII of his 1868 guide (scroll down).
Advertisement for Thomas Cardin's High Tor Grotto, Matlock Dale from "Croston's Guide ", 1868.
A smaller advertisement was published in Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863

There is also more on site information about the Colour Works and its owners:
Frederick Stevens was living in the Dale in the 1851 census.
Thomas and Frederick William Stevens are listed in various onsite transcripts of trade directories: White's 1862 Directory | Kelly's 1864 Directory | Kelly's 1876 Directory | Kelly's 1891 Directory (Mrs. Stevens and her son).
Kelly's 1895 Directory lists Edward Stanbridge Ginger, barytes & color manufacturer, Matlock Dale.
The 1901 census shows George Henry Key of 3 Midland terrace as manager...

1. and 2. Untitled [Stereoview of Matlock Dale and Bridge below High Tor]. No publisher.
3. "Matlock Dale ". No publisher Unused. Stamp Box One Penny. Postage, Inland 1/2d. Foreign 1d. Another version posted in 1904.
4. "The Derwent, Matlock Dale ". Kingsway Real Photo Series (WHS logo), S.2756. Unused. Stamp Box, Inland 1/2d. Foreign 1d - With nothing but address this side. Another card was posted in 1911.
Postcards in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured hyperlinks are to transcripts elsewhere on this website):

[1] "Derby Mercury", 02 September 1829. Advertisement for the High Tor Cavern.

[2] "The Panorama of Matlock, 1829", pub Longmans, London. He does not mention the grotto in "Panorama of Matlock" (1827), which is elsewhere on this site. See the section on Caverns

[3] Ward, Reverend Richard (1825) "The Matlock, Buxton and Castleton Guide, containing concise accounts of these and other remarkable places ... in the ... County of Derby", Derby. Sixth edition.

[4] This was George Sanderson's 1835 map, "Twenty Miles Round Mansfield". It showed parts of of the Counties of Nottingham, Derby, York, Lincoln and Leicester and had been compiled from surveys taken from 1830 onwards.

[5] "Globe" 26 December 1837. Destructive Floods [from the provincial papers on Wednesday last]. The storm was reported in many other newspapers.

[6] Henricus (1838) "The Matlock Tourist; and Guide through the Peak, embracing Matlock Bath, Haddon, Chatsworth and C", published Matlock Bath

[7] Adam, W. (July 1838) [1st edn.] "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. Adam noted that the Side Mine, which was then working, was the property of Mr. Boothman.

[8] "Derby Mercury", 15 December 1847.

[9] Although mentioned in [8] above, Mr. Cardin had clearly been involved with the Grotto for a number of years, and probably from when it opened. He can be found in Arkwright related deeds at the Derbyshire Record Office (D7573/BOX/S/ref?11, dated 8th June 1842 "B no6 / Michael Cardin's / undertaking relative to/ the High Tor Mine and / Bridge across the River/ Derwent").

[10] "Derbyshire Courier", 16 December 1848.

[11] "Sheffield Independent", 16 December 1848. The Flood at Matlock.

[12] Via Gellia Paint & Colour Co. is listed as the owners of the works in Kelly's 1899 Directory | Kelly's 1908 Directory | Kelly's 1912 Directory | Kelly's 1916 Directory.

[13] "Derby Mercury", 02 July 1873.

[14] Information supplied and researched by Colin Goodwyn. With very grateful thanks.

[15] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish", London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.

[16] "Derbyshire Times", 12 February 1881. The Storm in Derbyshire. Heavy Flooding.

[17] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 28 October 1892.

[18] "History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire" (1895) by T. Bulmer and Co.