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Matlock Bath: Boating on the River Derwent, 1914
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The Church and Boat House

From Lover's Walk,
Jubilee Bridge, about 1900-05

Illuminations & Venetian Fête in the 1950s

For many years a favoured leisure activity, for visitors and locals alike, has been hiring a rowing boat and boating on the River Derwent. Rowers are able to travel for a reasonable distance both up and down stream before they need to turn round and row back. By following the current you can go down towards the weir at Masson Mill, where warning notices are suspended from wire that stretches across the river. It is the same if rowers venture upstream. The river looks peaceful and calm but it can be treacherous for the unwary.

The ladies in the fuller of the two boats are all wearing hats. Both rowing boats are close to the landing stage behind the Grand Pavilion (now the Mining Museum) and it is probable that they were hired from there, although there was more than one place where boats could be hired at that time. The entrance to the Derwent Gardens is behind the boating shed and the Switchback Railway sign is just beyond[1]. Lovers' Walks is on the opposite bank and the limestone outcrop of Cat Tor is downstream.

The landing stage was being re-surfaced when the picture was taken, paved for the first time.

Enjoying boating an afternoon's boating on the River Dewent
Sepia version of the card

The following was printed in a tourist guides that is roughly contemporary with this card:
"Boats are let out to hire, at 6d. per. hour, on the length of the river flowing southwards along the Parade at Matlock Bath, but the utmost care should be taken not to row beyond the board which gives notice of the peril incurred by those who pass that boundary mark. There is a Weir about a hundred yards below, which creates a strong undercurrent, and there have been several accidents of boating parties disregarding the warning"[2]. In the year these pictures were taken a visitor foolishly stood up in a rowing boat, threatened to drown everyone (possibly as a joke) and the boat then overturned[3].

Below is a list of those known to have accidentally drowned whilst boating on the River Derwent at Matlock Bath[4]:

  • 16 Jan 1852
    Dr James Cumming, aged 48 and his son James Macdonald Cumming, aged 13, of Buxton.
    Both buried Matlock 31 Jan 1852[5]

  • 11 Aug 1892
    Harry Marriott, aged 13. From Farnsfield, NTT, visiting with members of church choir and vicar.
    Buried Matlock Bath 13 Aug 1892

  • 16 Apr 1897 (Good Friday)
    Annie Holmes and Lizzie Holmes, her sister, from Higham. Orphaned, with one brother living.
    Arthur Whittaker and Henry Smith. Both from Westhouses, near Alfreton, and cleaners on the Midland Railway.
    Annie's body was never recovered.

  • 5 Apr 1901 (Good Friday)
    Luke Brown, aged 21 and Benjamin Brown, aged 18, brothers of Alma, Selston, NTT.
    They were part of a group of young men who had arrived on the Mansfield excursion train and had hired a boat from the Council's landing stage near the Promenade. J. Parker of Cromford, who worked at Masson Mill, was in charge of the boat. Unfortunately, it suddenly sank near the South Ferry, the deepest part of the river. A number of people, including Ferryman Edward Slater, Boatman Hubbard [sic] and others, were involved in the rescue and four men were recovered. One of those rescued, the brother of the two deceased, later described how the boat suddenly filled with water mid-stream and sank stern foremost[6].

The final tragedy involved a young soldier, who took on a bet to attempt to cross the river from the Lovers' Walks side via the wire ferry rope. A number of holiday makers, including the young man's father, witnessed what happened and others shouted to him not to cross. He got half way across the river, but suddenly he shouted "Dad I am done" and dropped into the water. It took some hours to recover the body. Henry Higton of Matlock Bath, who was in charge of the ferry during the week and had shouted across to try to stop him, told the inquest that a Matlock Bath man had attempted to do the same thing three weeks before. He commented that almost every Sunday, after the public houses closed, somebody tried to cross using the rope[7].

  • 21 Aug 1921
    Private Thomas William Seal. 9th Lancers of 70 Bridge Gate, Derby.
    His horse attended the funeral, taken there from Tidworth by a number of his comrades[8].

Although the above names only those who drowned at Matlock Bath, Matlock's parish register names others who have drowned[9].

1. "On the Derwent, Matlock Bath", Valentine's Series, No.JV-79514. First published in 1914. Not posted (colour).
2. "On the Derwent, Matlock Bath". Postcard published by Valentine's No 79514 J.V. (no postmark). First published in 1914 (sepia).
Postcards in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Information written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] Read Matlock Bath: Derwent Gardens - The Switchback, (1) Rise & Fall

[2] Ward Lock & Co's "Matlock, Dovedale, Bakewell and South Derbyshire", Illustrated Guide Books of England and Wales (1911-2).

[3] Matlock Bath & Scarthin Newspaper Cuttings, 1914

[4] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited, pp.162-166

[5] See: Subscription for the relief of the Cumming children, 1852

[6] "Sheffield Independent", 6 April 1901.
Of those at the scene:
i. Boatman "Hubbard" is listed in both the 1891 census and the 1901 census at Huddart.
ii. Ferryman Edward Slater, also known as John Edward Slater or "Ninety" is recorded in the 1881 census | the 1891 census | the 1901 census.
He was working as the Caretaker at the Grand Pavilion in 1911 - see The Grand Pavilion (Kursaal), 1910-12, Matlock Bath. His tragic death is mentioned on Fish Pond Stables, Providence Mine & the Mud Heap

[7] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 22 August 1921. Drowned at Matlock Bath. Also "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal" 27 August 1921 and the "Derbyshire Courier", 27 August 1921. The drowned man was said to be teetotal in one report. Mr. Higton was not on duty when the fatal accident occurred.

[8] "Derbyshire Courier", 3 September 1921. Report of the funeral.

[9] See the memorial to a policeman who drowned at Matlock