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Croston : On Foot Through the Peak, 1868* (3)
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter XV (part 1), pp.233-240

High Tor, one of the book's illustrations
On Foot Through the Peak
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Cromford Hall (Willersley Castle), before 1791

Florence Nightingale and Lea Hurst

Cromford: Bridge

Cromford: St. Mary's Church and the Bridge

Francis Hurt's Crich Stand

On this page:
- Matlock Bath - A Morning Walk - Glenorchy Chapel - Willersley Castle - Cromford Church - The Bridge -
- A Dangerous Leap - Lea Hurst, the home of Florence Nightingale - Anthony Babington -

A bright and sunny morning succeeded to the moonlight splendour of the previous night ; at an early hour we were awoke from our slumber by the loud clanging of a factory bell and the noisy clatter of the operatives proceeding to their daily labour, sounds that savoured too much of our own city of Cottonopolis to accord with the poetic features of the surrounding scenery.

We had a pleasant stroll before breakfast along the side of the river to Scarthin Rock, and through a portion of the Willersley grounds to Cromford Bridge, passing on the way the neat little chapel built by the Arkwrights. It was a delightful morning, and everything seemed to rejoice in the fascinating beauty of the opening day. Brightly shone the sun upon the Derwent, and as it dashed over the foaming weir, its dancing waters quivered with a thousand sparkling ripples, then the angry tumult subsiding it swept along, soothing the ear with its cheerful music, and reflecting from its mirrored surface the various and ever-changing forms of beauty that adorns its banks. Brightly shone the sun upon the face of Nature - the wooded heights, the grassy slopes, the broken and impending rocks gleamed in the early light, and the groves rang with the melodies of their feathered occupants ; a pure invigorating breeze that swept through the dale gave buoyancy to the spirits, and every circumstance which could cheer or enliven was present to add to our enjoyment.

The first object that meets the eye at the bend of the road is Glenorchy Chapel, a small brick building, with the name and date of erection (1777) painted over the entrance, and adjoining which is the minister's residence. The place was built by Sir Richard Arkwright, from whom it was purchased by Lady Glenorchy, and by her endowed as a chapel for the use of the Independents who worship here. On leaving the chapel, Willersley Castle, the seat of Peter Arkwright, Esq.,

comes into view. This elegant mansion was erected in 1888, from the designs of Mr. W. Thomas ; it is a quadrangular building in the castellated style, with embattled parapets and a tower gateway in the centre, flanked at each side by circular turrets which rise considerably above the roof. It occupies an elevated position near the top of a steep lawn, which slopes down towards the river, and commands some fine scenic views along the valley of the Derwent in the direction of Belper and Derby, including the lofty hills of Crich and Stonnis with many minor eminences rich with wood and intervening verdure. On the north rises a succession of lofty heights clothed with thick waving woods, the dark green of which forms an agreeable contrast to the delicate yellow colour of the mansion itself.

Willersley Castle is not shown to strangers, but the gardens are most liberally thrown open to the public on Mondays and Thursdays, ad are then much frequented, few visitors failing to avail themselves of the opportunity of rambling through the park and the charming pleasure grounds.

Passing through an opening in Scarthin rock, which leads to the entrance lodge, we proceed along a path called the Chapel Walk, that runs between the river and a magnificent pile of almost perpendicular rock, that rises on the right to 150 feet, its rugged front split and rent in innumerable fissures, and adorned with shrubs and trees and richly coloured lichens and mosses. On the opposite side of the river is seen Riber Hill, Wild Cat Tor, and the well wooded cliffs beyond Willersley, and extending eastwards towards Lea Mills and Holloway. In the near foreground the view is of a more sylvan but not less beautiful character ; and in front is the lawn rising gently from the water's edge, clothed in the richest turf, and dotted over with picturesque clumps of trees.

Continuing our walk, and passing close by the mills which are seen through the openings in the trees, we come next to Cromford Church, or chapel as it is more generally designated, a small and unpretending structure, built in 1797 at the expense of Richard Arkwright. Our visit was too early to enable us to get admission to the interior, in which there is a fine monument by Chantry, to the memory of Mrs. Arkwright and her children.

From the chapel to Cromford Bridge the distance is only a few yards ; at this point three roads branch off, the one on the left re-entering the grounds by a neat Gothic lodge, continues through sloping meadows to the house, and leads thence to Wild Cat-Tor, a rugged and isolated mass of rock, from the summit of which is obtained one of the most magnificent views in the neighbourhood of Matlock, including within its limits the High Tor, Masson and the Heights of Abraham, Harp Edge, and Stonnis, with the narrow winding dale through which the beauteous Derwent pursues its busy course. On the right, the road keeps along the northern bank of the river for a couple of miles, when it turns to the left and ascends by the edge of the plantation at Lea Hurst, and through Holloway to the lead mines and limestone quarries at Crich. The road in front is continued along the side of Riber Hill, and thence through Starkholmes to Matlock town. Before the opening of the road through Matlock Dale, this was the only line of communication between Wirksworth, Cromford and Darley ; at that time the bridge was a narrow unpretending structure, what in this part of the country is termed a pack-saddle bridge, and many accidents are said to have happened by horses leaping over the battlements. On the side of the bridge is an inscription recording one of the occurrences - a horse running away with his rider, bounded over the parapet into the stream, a depth of twenty or thirty feet, but singular to relate both escaped unhurt. The bridge was widened when the new road was made, though but little attention appears to have been given to preserve a uniformity of appearance, for in the older portion the arch is the pointed Gothic character, whilst in the more recent addition it is of a semi-circular form. The same incongruity is noticeable in the bridges at Matlock town and Darley, which were widened about the same time.

From this point we extend our ramble to Lea Hurst, the home of one of England's noblest daughters - Florence Nightingale - a name known and loved and honoured in every English home. Keeping to the right, we continued along a shady lane, that leads beneath the railway and along the side of the river. Hedgerows studded here an there with copse of thorn and holly flank the way on the left, now and then alternating with patches of stone wall, grey and jagged and overgrown with mosses and lichens. Every turn of the road reveals some fresh picture, each seeming more beautiful that the one that preceded it, and the beauty of the river which keeps us in pleasant companionship is increased by the ever changing character of the currents. Yonder by the bridge, the water gleams and sparkles as it circles in playful eddies round the gray, moss grown stones, and leaps up now and then to kiss the mallows and yellow buttercups that fringe its reedy banks : here it flows swiftly and silently along, calm, deep and placid, its tranquil bosom reflecting, as from a mirror , the varied forms of loveliness above and around - the mazy outline of the trees and waving bushes, the water-flags, the broad-leaved, batter-docks, the overarching sky with a few white clouds sailing therein, and

"The shadow of the lark
Hung in the shadow of a heaven"[1].

Though every object is given back with the most distinct vividness, we lose the ever-changing effect of the colours, deep and rich, and soft and delicate ; still there is much to charm and delight the eye in these reflected pictures, and the effect is heightened by the gentle murmuring of sunny music which falls upon the ear - unconscious life, as it were, rioting in the full enjoyment of its own existence. As the eye roves across the country, new beauties continually unfold themselves - little winding dales with clefts and dingles, through which trickle innumerable rills, varying the character and appearance of the valley, while they give additionally-pleasing features to the landscape. In the distance are seen the woods of Alderwasley, mantling the ridge of the rock that extends from Ambergate to Stonnis ; and beyond the moors of Middleton and Cromford, with a multitude of hills of varied form and elevation that stretch away as far as the eye can reach.

About two miles from Cromford the road leaves the open valley, and we ascend between steep acclivities that rise abruptly on each side, shaded by umbrageous trees - Bough Wood, on the one hand, and the plantations of Lea on the other. A few minutes' walking brings us to a little cluster of houses - hamlet it can hardly be called, the dwellings are so few. Here the road divides, forming a kind of triangle, one path leading up to Lea and Dethick, and the other passing through Upper Holloway and Crich to Wingfield. A few yards above the junction are the gates forming the lower entrance to Lea Hurst, and adjoining them is the Lodge, a pretty little Gothic building, with a still prettier garden attached.

The walk through the grounds from the lower gate is very pleasing. The road, which is well kept, though without any attempt at cultivation - the grass and flowers being allowed to grow and flourish as they will, so long as they do not encroach upon the gravelled path - leads through a thick plantation of birch and beech trees, interspersed with oak and ash, and an occasional sprinkling of larch. Here and there a gleamy vista opens, through which we obtain glimpses of the valley below, with its park-like meadows, its dark hued plantations, its swelling and folding hills, its tangled hollows and shady dells, and the fertilising river, glowing with beauty, and fraught with a thousand rural delights, winding its way through the sunny glades that stretch away in seemingly interminable succession. About half way up the hill the road turns, and at the angle a delightful prospect is obtained. Looking across the valley, the eye ranges over a wide expanse of country, green and undulating, and backed by a range of swelling hills that stretch away in far perspective, - over leagues of waving wood and fields of ripening grain, that give promise of an abundant harvest, - over rich meadow-lands, plentifully sprinkled with trees and chequered with hedgerows, showing where the quiet rural lanes intersect each other, - and over hamlets, villages, and gray church towers, and little whitened farmsteads that gleam brightly in the summer sunshine. Riber Hill lifts its dusky brow in front ; further on is seen Cromford Moor, the Hag Rocks, and the darkened heights of Alderwasley, with many a minor eminence, crowned with wood and clothed with intervening verdure. Wakebridge twinkles behind a thin white veil of smoke, and beyond, Crich Cliff and Stand appear looming against the blue of heaven.

Onwards the road continues to ascend, the wood thickens, and the view becomes limited by the dense umbrage that spreads above and around ; the lofty firs, the drooping branches of the birch trees, and the pendent boughs of the oaks and beeches that almost sweep the ground, shutting us within a delightful solitude. From the edge of the plantation the road is continued over a gentle ascent flanked on one side by a grove of birch trees ; and thence along a good carriage drive that leads up to the principal entrance to the mansion, in front of which is a circular grass-plot or lawn, with a sundial in the centre.

The house is a comparatively modern erection, built in the late Tudor or Elizabethan style, with quaint mullioned windows, clustered chimneys, and high peaked gables terminating in orbital hip-knobs; an oriel crowned by an open

[There is an small image of Lea Hurst at this point in the text, but it is not included]

balustrade projects from the south end, and two bays extend beyond the line of the main structure on the west side, giving diversity of outline in keeping with the general characteristics of the style. The flower gardens and shrubberies, which partly surround it, are fenced in by a dwarf wall, through which admission is gained by a substantial-looking gateway on the south side, approached by a broad flight of steps. The hall itself is shrouded in trees, and half hidden by an exuberant mantle of ivy, the latter and addition that adds greatly to the picturesqueness and beauty of its appearance. A better position for a gentleman's residence than that which it occupies can hardly be conceived. It stands upon an elevated plateau of some extent, and on the north side is sheltered from the cold winds by the woods of Lea and Holloway, and the mountainous ridge that extends on to Crich ; whilst on the south it commands a magnificent and uninterrupted view along the valley of the Derwent in the direction of Ambergate and Belper, including within its limits some of the best cultivated land and most beautiful and exquisitely diverse scenery in Derbyshire.

The manor of Lea, which includes the neighbouring hamlets of Holloway and Dethick, boasts considerable antiquity, and possesses, in addition to the charm which more recent associations have thrown around it, much that is historically interesting. The manor was held so far back as the reign of King John by the De Alveleys, who erected a chapel here in the early part of the thirteenth century ; from them a moiety of it was conveyed in marriage by an heiress to the great feudal house of the Ferrars, which moiety subsequently passed into the possession of the Dethicks, and from them to the Babingtons, - both families of considerable note, numbering among their members several who attained eminence and distinction, and not the least notable of whom was that Anthony Babington who was executed for treason against Queen Elizabeth, in conspiring with others to liberate the Queen of Scots from her unhappy captivity. The other portion of the manor passed successively through the families of De la Lea, Frecheville, Rollestone, Pershall, and Spateman, and, ultimately, to that of Nightingale ; William Edward Shore Nightingale, Esq., the present proprietor, and father of Miss Nightingale, having married the niece and sole heiress of Peter Nightingale, Esq., of Lea.

On leaving we passed along the drive to the upper gate, where we came upon the hamlet road to Holloway, a picturesque little mountain hamlet, comprising a few straggling groups of old-fashioned cottages that cluster irregularly along the steep side of the hill.

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in November 2008, with editions of pages 233-239 Mar 2020, from:
Croston, James (1868) (2nd Ed) "On Foot Through the Peak; or a Summer Saunter Through the Hills and Dales of Derbyshire", Manchester: John Heywood, 141 & 143, Deansgate. London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co.
With my grateful thanks to Ray Ash who provided copies for me to OCR.
Image scans Copyright © Ray Ash and intended for personal use only.

Notes on the text:

[1] From "In Memoriam", Section XVI, by Alfred Lord Tennyson.