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Matlock Bath: The Great Masson Cavern
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The Quarries, Dale Road


Early 20thc advertisement

Living at the Heights

(the cavern)

Cliff House and its adjacent land were to be sold by Joseph Hodgkinson at an auction at the Queen's Head on 19 August 1897. The property was then in Chancery. On the evening of the sale little interest was shown in the house, the first part of the property on offer. However, Lot 2 of this sale, which was for a little over 14 acres of fields, caused a flurry of excitement. The published sale notice described the Lot as follows: "It is believed there are valuable minerals under the above land. It has an exceptional value by reason of its contiguity to Abraham's Heights, and can be used for the purpose of providing accommodation and amusement for excursionists. There is also an old lead mine under this lot, which is at present in the holding of Mr. Greatorex, and shewn by him as a Spar Cavern or disused mine"[1]. The Spar Cavern mentioned was the Great Masson Cavern and its entrance and exit were on the Cliff House land.

Before the auction got underway Mr. Alfred Greatorex claimed title to the cavern, stating that his family (Job Greatorex & Sons of Matlock Dale) had used the mine for 27 years without payment, any acknowledgement of right or interference by the landowner. They claimed the mine, known as Bacon Rake (sometimes Great Rake), as being theirs and were the absolute owners of the cavern. The London solicitor acting for the vendor said that according to his instructions Messrs. Greatorex could not prove any evidence of title, nor rights to show the mine under the mining laws. In the event, the house did not sell but the land the Masson Cavern was underneath was bid for by both Mr Key of Bonsall and Mr. Greatorex, until £295 when it was "knocked down" to Mr. Greatorex[2].

At the time it was claimed that the Greatorex family had owned the cavern for 2-300 years[3], with the number of years varying in different accounts[4]. The title had passed to Job Greatorex from the Cardin family. Job had married Alice, daughter of the lead miner Michael Cardin[g] and Elizabeth (nee Turner) of Common Wood, at the Cromford Wesleyan Chapel in 1850. Mr. Cardin was then the deputy barmaster of the Barmote Court (see Lead Mining). In 1870 it was sold to Mr. Greatorex and Mordecai Cardin by Thomas Cardin[g] for £4.

Nottingham Evening Post 21 June 1935

The Masson Cavern ... is a sight well worth visiting and can be reached from a by-lane almost opposite Matlock Bath railway station. ... These old workings lead to a natural cavern 100 feet high, which glistens and reflects the light from every angle. Spar, lead, zinc, copper and calcite transform the place into fairyland. The crowning surprise comes with the emergence into daylight, almost at the summit of Masson Hill.

In addition to the tourists the cavern was visited by those interested in caving, minerals and geology. In 1904 a group of Sheffield and Derby speleologists, including Messrs Puttrell Smithard and Archer (who had been the first to climb High Tor) explored the cavern using both long ladders and rock climbing methods. They tested some promising openings in the side walls, but with little result. However, they did discover a "cavelet" at the extreme east end of the main passage and instantly named it the Dog Tooth Chamber. It was difficult to access, so only Puttrell Smithard and Archer ventured in[5].

The cavern was subsequently owned by Frank Taylor and in 1928 he and his guide, Edward Henry Smith-Wilkinson, explored a closed part of the workings. They accessed a spectacular large cave, having crawled on their hand and knees for about half a mile. There was "a naturally formed archway of dog tooth crystals that were flashing like diamonds" - "a natural hall of mirrors". When asked what he intended to do about his find Mr. Taylor declared his intention of calling in a quarryman "to blast the spar and bring it to the surface". He believed it was too difficult and too distant to be used for showing to the public[6].

It is not clear when the Masson Cavern changed hands, but in 1950 the Masson Cavern was offered for sale as part of the Heights of Abraham following the death of Miss Chadwick[7].

"The Great Masson Cavern", no publisher, no date. Not posted. There was a magic lantern slide of this image, with a suggested date of the 1890s.
Image © Ann Andrews collection.
Information researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 7 August 1897 - Hodgkinson's Sale advertisement. Cliff House and its land was being sold by the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, Mr Justice North, Staples & another v. Harris.

[2] "From reports in the "Sheffield Independent" of 21 August 1897 and "The Derby Mercury" of 25 August 1897.

[3] "Derbyshire Courier", 26 March 1904. Cave Exploration at Matlock.

[4] Flindall, Roger and Hayes, Andrew (1976) "The Caverns and Mines of Matlock Bath, 1 The Nestus Mines: Rutland and Masson Caverns", Moorland Publishing Company. Flinders and Hayes include a quotation that the Greatorex family claimed the title had been with them for 200 years, which seems somewhat exaggerated as in 1827 the Bacon Rake was owned by Dr. Jonathan Gilbert and in that year was given to Michael Cardin.

[5] "Derbyshire Courier", 26 March 1904. Cave Exploration at Matlock. They were shown round by A. J. Greatorex.

[6] "Nottingham Evening Post", 9 July 1926.

[7] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 8 July 1950.