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Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863*
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter the Fourth. Matlock Dale
pp. 33-46

The Villa, an illustration in Days in Derbyshire
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Holy Trinity Church, Matlock Bath, 1905

Willersley Castle

The Rutland Arms & Fairview Terrace

Decorative border at the beginning of Chapter 4

Illuminated letter O

[O]nce I saw a hill, in Scotland, belted and crowned by all four seasons in one. It was at the end of October ; and its base was all brown, red and golden, with autumnal ripeness and decay. Summer, with a tint less faded, made a second zone. Spring-like greenness still girded it above ; while an early fall of snow had already given it the white coronal of winter. I wish it were possible for my readers to see Matlock in all the seasons at once with equal facility ; its beauties have such different aspects in each.

We come in early spring when the buds are just bursting ; the birds are beginning to build and sing ; the river that only whispers in one place gurgles or murmurs in another, and shouts further on, as it rushes and foams down the weir, then glides away to bless the distant valley ; while the pulse of hopefulness is quickened by every sight and sound. The special trains have not commenced running, and the visitors yet are few ; so that, as we walk from Cromford, there is an opportunity for quiet admiration of rock and river on the right ; wooded hill and grassy slope on the left ; the Baths, Hotels, Museums, and abundance of comfortable Lodging-houses, before us ; Lapidaries' shops, and entrances the Petrifying-wells, here and there ; and as if just to give a finish to the scene, the neat little Church looking down on the river

and up to the hills. And this is an excellent time for seeing the isolated rocks which stand out, ever and anon, among the woods, with just enough of green about them to give relief to, but not to obscure, their fantastic shapes - many of them in positions so curious, that you cannot but wonder how they ever managed to lodge where they are when no woods were there, instead of rolling right down at once to become islets in the river's bed.

Or we come in the luxuriousness of summer, when the hyacinth[1] and cowslips have given place to more gaudy flowers ; when the ferns have grown into palms, and the tall foxglove shakes its bells ; when the white buildings, in strange and diminutive contrast to the grand and broken line of Hag Rocks, here stand out in full relief, or somewhere else just just glint forth from the bowery trees ; when the old rook caws lazily as it sails slowly along the calm sky above, while the river, skimmed by many a buy swallow, sends up its pleasant voice from below - a gentle air of stealing softly through the valley the while ; the whole at once invigorating and soothing the wanderer through the little world of wonders, and making him sometimes feel as though he had found his way into Fairyland. And if it were not for the occasional want of taste and keeping, in some of the contrivances of men who have too much studied their own partial convenience instead of the general harmony of the scene, there is nothing one has ever read of Fairyland that might not have been rivalled.

It would require the genius of a John Allen - its own tuneful poet - to describe the contrast between Matlock Dale as it was two centuries ago and as it is now - to picture it as it was in the original wildness, loneliness and beauty, ere artifice had marred in the slightest what Nature has so well accomplished. Gazing from the regions now known as Upper Wood and Harp Edge, what an air of sublimity and eld must have rested on all the landscape then ! The river here tranquil and smooth as glass, with its noiseless glide : anon, as "blue and arrowy" and loud as the rushing Rhone, tor reiterating to tor, and hill to hill, the wild echoing of its many voices ! How lovely and peaceful when sunshine rested on the ample slopes of Masson and green Riber, or streaked with light the grey rocks between ! How sublime in the hour of storm and tempest, when "from crag to crag leapt the live thunder", as if Nature were commemorating the freak by which she first gave such picturesque brokenness to the whole country, - dark Stonnus [sic] quietly contemplating the fray from afar, and the High Tor not less imperturbably raising his hoary brow, and daring the warlike elements to come on ! How one would like to be contemporaneous, were it but for a few hours, with the sensible people who gave such significant names to the different places and objects within view, - decribing these sombre and dreary rocks below us as the "Dungeon Tors"; yon rock on the other side of the river as "Wildcat Tor", "Cromford" (i.e. the Ford at the River's Bend) beyond : with "Fox Cloud" more distant still : while the name of Matlock itself is richly descriptive of the place - namely the Mead (anciently Mædh[2]) where the water lingers, or forms a "loch", as it does at the feet of the curious rocks on which stands Matlock old Church - Medlock, in Lancashire, being but another rendering of the same name ; and the Medway, winding among the hop yards of Kent, or the Meden stretching out from Pleasley Vale into the sylvan plains of Nottinghamshire, being names of very similar origin.

Yet, let us not give way to mere lamentation of changes, but enjoy as much as possible the charms that still linger. Let the good folks who have poured in by the special train commit themselves to the care of the guides. Some of them will soon be having plenty of fun at Walker's Ferry-boats, on their brief voyage to the "Lover's Walks"; those who like more grotesque and frolicsome pastime, may have a donkey race in the street, or a dance to the strains of yon happy but half witted rustic [image omitted], who is swinging his accordian by the causeway-side. Other groups, more fond of the sublime than the ridiculous, though haply not averse to a touch of either, will find it on their way to the different caverns ; while you and I ramble where it may happen, filling our minds with little landscape pictures, to take home with us and ponder over in future days.

But we will borrow the poet's license, and pass at once from summer to autumn ; and let us, if you like, go back a little, and commence our imaginary ramble - a favourite start at any time with me - from the Cromford Railway Station. It is possible to fancy anything in a landscape more lovely than this bright river, as it comes rippling along from that gracefully arched bridge : unless it be the scene that follows when the bridge is reached, and Willersley Castle, on its knoll before us, looks across the water at Scarthing Tor - while all that is not rock or river, green slope or dun peak, patrician mansion or sacred church, work-building is appropriate to the neighbourhood, or rural home, is filled up with woods and shrubberies, or scattered trees - dark, golden, silvery, green or russet - forming exquisite foils to the hoary cliffs and ivied crags, and as we look around us, filling the soul with an extasy that someone has called "silent music". It is only on special occasions, or by permission, that stray passengers are allowed to pursue the river-side path up from Cromford Bridge to Scarthing Nick ; but get leave if you can, that from the towering rocks on one side, and the mansioned slope and joyous river on the other, you may feel in society at once with sublimity and beauty ; or if that be not possible, linger log on the bridge itself - this quaint lodge and the newly restored church close by - with Nature's own poetry, her music, painting, sculpture and fantastic drapery, all harmonising well, and filling you with a love of creation and praise of the great Creator.

I have suggested this course, because naturally - and I wish, for many reason, it were allowed always to be so practically - it is through the beauties of Willersley that the contemplatist can be most fitly inducted to those of Matlock Dale. To enter the Dale by any other way, is like going into a cathedral by some side-door instead of the true porch. Yet, if we must go by Scarthing Nick, a glance of what is to be seen by the way of Cromford is far from uninteresting - since it will be a place famous in the history of manufactures and is a clean, neat and healthy little town.

In its course from Matlock Bridge to that of Cromford, the Derwent has many graceful windings ; and every bend is through very different scenery. Soon after leaving Cromford by the artificial cleft made through the rocks for the turnpike, we make pleasant acquaintance with it as it comes rushing along, nothing but a low wall and a little verdure being between its waters and the road; and while leaning over the wall we get a view of Willersley and its meadowy slope, with the rocks in front, exactly the converse of that we had from the bridge, and scarcely less charming.

Presently, with wooded and cragged Harp Edge rising high on our left, we come to a place of worship called Glenorchy Chapel; its neat brick manse and shrubbery hard by, and Masson Mills, with their large foaming weir, suddenly bursting on the eye and ear together, - grey old rocks, like the ruins of a mighty castle, in the back-ground, and (if it should happen to be a first-visit) a most excited feeling of wonder coming upon us as to what, with such a curious initiation may next steal into view.

A neat and cleanly, if not very large inn, the Rutland Arms - a house dear to me for some pleasant associations with days that are gone to return no more - and a number of miscellaneous homes, chiefly rustic, are on our left; on our right, the old familiar paper mill ; a toll-house in front, and the mansion of Mr. Clarke, a local magistrate, looking abroad from its most exquisite site, above: these are shortly passed, and a few more steps bring us to a scene of which I have elsewhere said - "When Nature had completed Switzerland, there was left one beautiful fragment for which she had no further use in that country; so she set it in Derbyshire, amid a framework of romantic hills, and in time it came to be called the Gem of the Peak: that gem is Matlock."

As I am not writing a Directory, it is not required that I should specify all the accommodations and comforts for invalids, loungers, tourists, or visitors of an hour, at Matlock Bath. Perhaps there are few places where the outward index is better justified within. Amongst the hotels, which however are not hotels merely but most comfortable boarding-houses, the New Bath, (Ivatts and Jordan's,) Walker's, the Temple and Hodgkinson's, take the lead. The Rutland Arms we have already mentioned. From any of these, very romantic and pleasing views of the adjacent scenery may be taken as you sit quietly in your room. The same may be said of a great number of quiet villa and cottage lodgings - not forgetting special mention of Mr. Broadfoot's the Villa par excellence - which can reckon on being the oldest residence of any pretension in the place. The Old Bath, famed for more than a century, is, at the time I am writing, closed, but perhaps not for long. In a house attached to it dwells Dr. Adam, who has one of the most interesting, if not very large, private mineral collections of any gentleman in Derbyshire. Ask him to let you see it, and you will never forget either it or its owner's courtesy.

Nor shall I enter here into a minute description of the Baths themselves - the Old, Bath, the New Bath and the Fountain ; nor of the great Caverns - the "Cumberland," the "Devonshire," the "Rutland," and the "High Tor Grotto " - all of which have been so often and so fully described by Mr. Adam, and by many pre-Adamite and subsequent writers, and about which you can learn everything you need on the spot. The same may be said of the "Petrifying Wells," where you can find everything turned into stone that whim or fancy might crave - from a bishop's wig and a broken lantern to a linnet's nest and eggs. My advice in a word is to see them all, if you have time, and when you have done so, set each of them down for that which in itself is worthy, since each of them has some special interest of its own. Here are lesser inns and shops, too, in abundance, for everything you are likely to need - most conspicuous of all "the Museums," for the exhibition and sale of spar-work of matchless skill.

And it would be wrong while glancing through Matlock Dale, not to speak, in general terms at least, of the increase of private residences, several of which: are very picturesquely situated. There is a neat and modest one here, by the Fountain Bath, where dwells that true, poet, John Allen, a gentleman whom you might travel far to find surpassed, either in eye or ear, for what is beautiful and harmonious. It is he who singing of the Derwent - and he might be almost describing it from his own window - says that it

"There o'er its rocky bed foam-crested flies,:
And there, entranced, in waveless beauty lies,
And forms a mirror trembling in the breeze,
Where pendant shadow mocks the living trees.
Beneath moist Alder's quivering shade it creeps,
Where pensive Willow dips her hair and weeps;
And gently whispers from the leafy screen,
Like playful childhood, hiding to be seen."

Here is another of his pictures:-

"Mirror'd within the dark and silent river,
Calmly as if its course were marked for ever,"
Still as the snow-fall, traceless as a gleam,
Yon pleasure-freighted boat, glides down the stream."

Again -

"Of height old Masson boasts not - Peak can show
Far loftier crests, and nobler scenes below.
Yet not in hills, black, rugged, heathy, bleak,
Is found the beauty or the pride of Peak,
But in his vales, where Nature sat, and smiled,
Tired with the heavings of her mountains wild

And while we look abroad upon all he describes from Masson, how thoroughly can we sympathise with the old worthy when he says-

"Awe-breathing Grandeur sits not on our hills,
No avalanche thunders, and no glacier chills;
Yet are they noble scenes, wherever trod,
That lead the thoughts, and lift the soul to God."

Let us imagine ourselves to be climbing Masson now, - first by the "Zig-zag Walk" towards yon Prospect-tower; which we should love all the better if it were less like a gigantic chimney and more like a ruined fortalice, or a place for devotion. What exquisite pictures do we get, as we, glance back from each rest on our way, of the little spire so prettily pointing up from below; the Baths, Museums, and Hotels, reduced by distance to mere vignettes; the long and finely broken line of the Hag Tors; and

"The hills, wood-crown'd or dark-the grassy knolls -
The stream which now unseen, now radiant, rolls -
The village homes that midst the foliage breathe
Their smoke light curling."

And now we have reached the tower, whence far expands

"A fair and varied scene
Of golden fields, and groves of massive green,
And hills, and knolls, and streams that winding run,
And tell historic tales of Babington!
There Riber's mount recalls the Druid's fame,
Altar, and idol-rite, and blood-fed flame ;
Mount stretches over moor, and there o'er all,
Faint as a setting cloud at daylight's fall,
Axe-edge appears; and o'er yon champaign wide,
Once, Potter, waved thy Charnwood's forest-pride !"[3]

And now we descend from the tower, and find our way by Mr. Robert Chadwick's pleasant rural residence, "the Lower Tower," into Upper Wood Lane. How delightfully steals on the eye this view from the first reach above the West Lodge ! The "Heights of Abraham" with their varied tint of foliage and flower are on our left, and a little to the back, while we gaze; woods of every possible hue are below us; fields with grey stone walls are spread out beyond, over the breast of Riber; the houses at Starkholmes, old and rustic, are in harmony with all that lies about them, and the lands beyond them are growing grey by distance. But how very beautiful is all that stretches along, between us and Riber's side, of woody bank, and rock, and waving pine, or of river and road, and collected or scattered habitations, with their little fields and gardens, and such winding foot-paths as Samuel Plumb once called " the old brown lines of rural liberty," but which have from time to time been sadly interfered with here. Yet more interesting still grows our walk as we wander along the straggling lane, where fir-trees on one side, and thorns on the other, harmonise well with the old walls so mossy and grey as we draw near to the homely yet picturesque cottage of two rooms; over the door of which is a board as homely, telling us that it is the dwelling of "Richard Hallam, Botanist." And any painter or, poet, to say nothing of botanists, might, if it were not a breach of a holy commandment, covet Richard Hallam's tiny house, within its little garden and the tall trees below; with the Hag Tors beyond, and woods and fields fading away in the distance beyond these again - where old lines of road, winding slowly off, seem to vanish at last into the very sky, somewhere to the right of Crich, but where, the rustic in the lane, of whom we inquire, "conna exactly guess."

From the third reach in the lane, we see the High Tor and the Heights of Abraham, with Tansley Moor beyond. There is a lead-mine just below us; and the voices of the village come cheerily up the, hill. Were it spring instead of autumn, that sound would be sweetly blended with the songs of innumerable birds, as we passed, on to views as varied and more expansive still. How delightful to me has sometimes been the melody of the throstle and the twitter of smaller birds, from yon trees, so festooned with mistletoe and ivy, while lingering here!

And now we come to a sort of natural platform on the hill, the seat of a grey old hamlet the residence perhaps of miners and peasants and district guides. What pretty little pastures are these at hand. What a grand view of the whole line of rocks, stretching from the High Tor round to Willersley. The fields and woods further on, how fair, with the heights, and "stand," and church, and village of Crich, far-off to the right! What would I not give to be able to paint a scene like this !

"Oh! for a hand to sketch the beauteous glen
But Nature laughs at pencil and at pen.
Who that has never trod those verdurous rocks,
That rampart which at Time and Tempest mocks ;
Who has not look'd into the stream beneath,
Dark, and to vision, motionless as death;
Nor view'd the cheerful winding vales extent,
With lawns and houses, trees and spire besprent -
Nor mark'd (for who may, undelighted) see life
The quiet beauty of a noble tree
Spread in the grandeur of a richer clime,
Thy form - itself a grove - majestic Lime!
Nor cast, far over all, admiring eyes,
Where distant heights, and wooded summits rise,
Would due conception of their beauty gain
From Turner's pencil, or from Wordsworth's strain ?" - Allen.

Nor is Upper Wood Lane the only walk worthy of Masson-Side. There is one leading from the Prospect tower to Bonsall, and passing such sweet little bays and nooks, commanding too such lovely views, as would well reward a much greater amount of toil than is required to gain them. Another field-path in a contrary direction, gives a fine view of the upper portion of the High Tor and the scenes thence stretching away to the north-east. It leads to Masson Farm, a very quiet and rustic place, but a favorite resort in his later years of Mr. Price, a tasteful architect, who having retired from his vocation came hither occasionally for his health and for meditation, till his life ebbed away at last amid its beauties and its peace ; - and even now I could name an original-minded citizen of Derby, who seldom misses an opportunity of making it his holiday-retreat.

There is a continuation of the road, widening as it goes down, by Colonel Leacroft's beautifully seated mansion, towards Matlock Bridge[4]. But these are not walks for the crowd - only for the lone loiterer, or for couples at most, of such as have a true love of Nature and her quiet teachings. Not always are the most noted places, even in a noted district, the spots likely to be valued the most by thoughtful and genial souls, who rather prefer

"To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,"

or at all events to pursue the tracks less beaten. But we will now descend, if you please, and pay for a peep at "The Dungeon Tors,"[5] by the way; yet I like not the spirit that has put such a scene under lock and key. There is, unfortunately, a little too much of it throughout the neighbourhood - often driving visitors away much earlier than they would, and doing in the end no great good to anybody. But let us not be too censorious: we came out to enjoy ourselves. And now, after looking at one or two of the " Petrifying Wells" - I think it is Smedley's that pleases me as much as any - let us pass on to Walker's Ferry-boats, and cross over to the "Lovers' Walks."

If the hour be well chosen, and Nature in one of her calmer moods, how sweet it is to loiter awhile on our way, near the Church, looking down on the here-silent river, then up at those picturesque and mighty tors, half-mantled in verdure that seems ever young, while they are ever old! Thou solemn blending of the beautiful and sublime! Say, if my loved one in heaven was wont sometimes to gaze with me in such rapture here, - if thou, sweet scene of earth, canst inspire feelings I that long not to die, but to live for ever, - what, must be the enjoyment of spirits like hers, in "the world without a grave! " Sometimes I have been here on the sabbath, when there has been scarcely a human being on the road, and hardly a sound but the psalm of the assembled worshippers, swelling and falling on the ear like a strain from a better world.

But it is not the sabbath now, and we have come to Walker's Ferry. How nicely fits the scene this lapidary's little workshop, as we reach the opposite bank. We linger here but for a short time, then wend our upward way. Willersley Grounds are open only on special days, and on one of them we go thither. The "Lovers' Walks" are open always. They wind up among the crags, trees, shrubs, and flowers of the Hag Tors, and afford now and then the most picturesque sights imaginable of all that side of the river from which we have just come. Sometimes they lead us into hidden bowers, but not for long, and we are presently startled to find ourselves on the top of some projecting rock, giving us a glimpse of half the beauty of the Dale. There is at least one point commanding a panoramic view of all that is embraced between Masson and Harp Edge, and from which the view of Matlock Bath may be said to be complete.

And we wander on, from point to point, until at last we come to one of the most interesting views of the High Tor, which can be obtained. I do not say the most interesting, because every aspect of that magnificent limestone-rock has some peculiar charm of its own. Nor is it altogether independent ; of the sky it woos for its various characters. Rising to an altitude of 360 feet from the bed of the river, belted mid-way with foliage and fern, draped here and there with braids of ivy, it courts acquaintance with all weathers, - frowns in one and smiles in another, as it may happen to be in shade or shine, - and whencesoever viewed, is almost always one of the most conspicuous objects in the landscape, making its own poet say -

"Thou standest in thy greatness, solemn stone !
Kingly-not solitary, yet alone."

Well, thus far, we have glanced at Matlock Dale in three of the seasons; in the fresh green of spring, the warm flush of summer, and the golden ripeness of autumn; but great injustice should we be doing, both to it and ourselves, were we not to say something of its wild winter charms - when every little cascade has become a column of crystal - when every waving birch and spiral larch is feathered with spotless rime - when the evergreens assert their prerogative of unfailing freshness amid the masses of rock and snow, and the holly-berry's ruddy glow gladdens the season's cheek. Above all, how grand and enchanting are some of these scenes, in the silent night when moon and stars conspire to throw over nature their soft mantle of light, - when lights from cottage and mansion, stars of domestic life and comfort, gleam along the hill-side in more genial reply ; and the river pours uninterrupted through the valley its Christmas hymn. And so, Matlock Dale! though we could not see all seasons upon thee at once, we have tried, in fancy, to visit thee in each, and hope to pass through thee again on many a morrow.

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in November 2004 from:
Hall, Spencer Timothy (1863) "Days in Derbyshire ..." With sixty illustrations by J. Gresley (artist), Dalziel Brothers (illustrators). Simpkin, Marshall and Co, Stationers' Hall Court, London, and printed by Richard Keene, All Saints, Derby.
Pages 32 - 37 [part of] added March 2020.
With my grateful thanks to Ray Ash who provided photocopies for me to OCR.
Image scans © Ray Ash collection with the wood engraving of Matlock Bath Church at the top of this page © Ann Andrews collection.
Intended for personal use only.

Additional notes:

[1] Hall was referring to native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) as they grow in the Matlocks.

[2] Hall notes in a page footer that "Meadow-grass, after hay-time, is still called .after-math."

[3] [Footnote at bottom of page 41] Lines quoted at random from Allen's "Matlock".

[4] From Additions and corrections, p.288
"There is another mistake at page 44, where, owing to being at the time misinformed, I have spoken of a road sloping down from Masson into Matlock Dale as passing rather closely to the residence of the late Colonel Leacroft, but which I have since found out to be not so, but by that of his relative, Miss Leacroft. The worthy old Colonel himself has died whilst this sheet has been to press". For more on the family, see the Leacroft pedigree.

[5] [Footnote at bottom of page 44] Named in recent times " The Romantic Rocks."