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Matlock Bath: Woodbank, later Cromford Court
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Woodbank, built by John Edward Lawton
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This large property is next to the A6 at the southern end of Matlock Bath and overlooks Masson Mill on the opposite side of the road. It was built by John Edward Lawton, a Cotton Manufacturer from Manchester, who was in partnership with Frederic Charles Arkwright at one stage. Although their partnership was dissolved in 1890[1], Lawton continued to work at Masson Mill. He couldn't have chosen a better spot to watch over the mill workers' every move.

Woodbank was designed for Mr. Lawton by Mr. Stott of Manchester; it had been planned with every modern convenience including a bathroom for nearly every bedroom. It was also said that no expense was spared in the construction[2]. The grounds are extensive and include are 2 large caves, as well as woodland and formal gardens.

John Edward Lawton had clearly built to impress as the house had over 20 bedrooms in 1911 when bathrooms were converted to bedrooms once it became a holiday centre. There were said to be over 30 bed and dressing rooms in 1917 and eventually the number was said to have increased to 56! Yet in 2018, when the property went to auction, the number of bedrooms in the main house were just 25.

The Lawton family arrived in Matlock Bath some time between 1887 and 1891[3], although Mr. Lawton was first involved with Masson Mill in 1879[4]. Before then he was described as both a Cotton Spinner[5] and a Yarn Agent[1]; he and his partners had business premises in the city of Manchester at 3 Macdonald's-lane and 19 Cannon-street[1]. In 1874 Mr. Lawton was named as secretary to Shaw Hall Spinning Company, Mottram Road, Shaw hall, Newton moor, Cheshire[6]. The Lawton family lived at Dukinfield in a house also called Woodbank and they seem to have continued to own the property after moving to Matlock Bath[7].

In 1897 Masson Mill became part of the English Sewing Cotton Company. By the 1901 census, when he was nearing the end of his tenure at Masson Mill, Mr. Lawton gave his occupation as "Managing Director Sewing Cotton Co.[8]". At the end of that year his "mansion at the South end of the district was fast nearing completion"[9]. He is known to have lived at Woodbank until at least the summer of 1910[10] although his association with Masson Mill had ceased some years previously. In late November and early December 1910 the "costly contents" of Woodbank were auctioned at the mansion by the London auctioneers Knight, Frank and Rutley[11]. Woodbank was subsequently let to Mrs. Wood, the mother of Mr. S. Hill Wood who was the M.P. for the High Peak, though the lease was re-assigned the following year[12].

The Co-operative Holidays Association leased the mansion in June 1911[12] and Miss Panton-Ham was the manageress in 1912[13]. It was still called Woodbank in 1916, when Miss Brill was manageress, but after that it was no longer advertised in the trade directories[14]. The house was renamed Cromford Court in the early 1930s, when it was taken over by the Friendship Holidays Association, and has retained that name ever since.

John Edward Lawton's house was later renamed. It became known as Cromford Court

In the khaki election of 1900 Mr. Lawton, who was Chairman of Matlock Bath & Scarthin Nick UDC for about sixteen years[15], stood as the Liberal candidate in Salford. On the eve of polling day he apparently imported a huge elephant into the constituency, decked in Liberal colours. The elephant enlivened polling day, but was unable to sway the result and Mr. Lawton was defeated[16].

There was a story of Mr. Lawton's alleged authoritarianism involving the lavish wedding of his daughter Mary to Hugh Crawford, a Scottish manufacturer, at Holy Trinity on 19 Jan 1898. Apart from insisting the workers wore suits to go to the "toast" at the Palais Royal, it was said that three foremen counted the minutes they were away from their work[17]. This differs somewhat from the account in the local press (below) as Mr. Lawton was roundly cheered.

Derbyshire Times, 29 January 1898
The marriage of Miss Lawton, Matlock Bath. Continued festivities.

"Although about 700 of the workpeople of Masson Mill and their wives went to the Manchester pantomimes, last Saturday morning the festivities on the occasion of the marriage of Mr. J. E. Lawton's daughter may be said to have concluded with a smoking concert in the Pavilion, on Friday evening. The spectacle was perhaps the most interesting and remarkable that has ever been witnessed in that remarkable building. Seated around tables covering the whole area, enjoying long clay pipes, with glasses of aerated water and good English ale, were more than a thousand men of all classes - mill workers, quarrymen, roadmen, postmen, police, railway workers, and the like. Never was a heartier, more genial, and more enjoyable gathering". ...

When Sarah, the Lawton's second daughter, married C. S. Ramsden in October 1901 some 500 Masson Mill employees, together with their wives and friends, were entertained to tea at the Pavilion (Palais Royal). Entertainment and a dance was also on offer, with music supplied by Mr. Barnes' Orchestra, Mr, Forsyth and the Masson Mills Prize Band[18].

Without Lawton's energy and drive, and the formation of the English Sewing Cotton Company[2], perhaps Masson Mill would not have survived as a major employer in Matlock Bath until well into the twentieth century. Mr. Lawton passed away at Buxton in February 1915 and was interred at Dukinfeld[2].

During the Second World War soldiers were billeted in the house. The Friendship Holidays Association were still running Cromfort Court in the 1950s but cheap overeas package tours became popular instead of home based holidays. The house had suffered years of neglect when, in 1980, the New Tribe Mission became the owners and used the property as a Bible College for almost two decades. It is now under different ownership.

A modern photo, taken from Masson Mill, showing the house surrounded by trees
The red brick building is Glenorchy Villa where the Lawtons first lived[3].

There is more about Woodbank (Cromford Court)


1. "Woodbank, Matlock Bath". No publisher. No.0410. Not posted.
2. "Matlock Bath, Cromford Court Guest House", published by F. Frith & Co., Ltd, Reigate. M T B 18. No date.
There are several similar postcards of Woodbank / Cromford Court.
Postcards in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
3. Photograph taken by undisclosed contributor.
Information written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

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

[1] "The London Gazette", various entries.

[2] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 12 February 1915. Death of Mr. Lawton of Matlock Bath.
The obituary said that was for a long time closely connected with the public life of Matlock Bath and described him as "an active, enterprising man, of great persuasive power, he was the main promoter of the establishment under the public control of the Matlock Bath Gas Works, also of the Matlock Bath improvement scheme, which at that time showed little sign of its later not too happy development".

[3] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire" 1887 and the 1891 census entry for the family (transcript). They were living at Glenorchy Villa, the house at the bottom of the drive of Woodbank, by this time. Whilst he was involved in local affairs as early as 1883, presenting a prize at Cromford Horticultural Society's show, he was still "of Dukinfield" ("Derby Daily Telegraph", 2 August 1883).

[4] In 1896 he told an arbitration case (regarding the gas company) that he had first arrived in Matlock Bath in 1879, first as manager at Masson Mill and then became a partner although he did not put any money into the concern until 1881 ("Derbyshire Times", 25 November 1896).

[5] 1881 of England and Wales, National Archives.

[6] "Morris & Co.'s Directory & Gazetteer of Cheshire" (1874).

[7] "Kelly's Directory of Cheshire" (1896) - still listed at Woodbank.

[8] 1901 census of Matlock Bath, transcript of the entry for the Lawton family.

[9] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 27 December 1901.

[10] "Buxton Advertiser", 4 June 1910. He was being examined in a court case and his address was shown as Woodbank, Matlock [Bath]. The last trade directory reference was in "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", (1908) - transcript on this site

[11] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 25 November 1910.

[12] "Derbyshire Times", 6 May 1911.

[13] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", (1912).

[14] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", (1916) - transcript on this site.

[15] See Kelly's Directory, 1895 | Kelly's Directory 1899. He became Chairman of the Matlock Bath Council in 1893 ("Derbyshire Times", 25 November 1896). Although he sought re-election to the Board of Guardians in 1907 ("Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 15 March 1907) he was not returned to office ("Sheffield Daily Telegraph", 26 March 1907). He stood again in 1908 but was unsuccessful once again ("Belper News", 10 April 1908).

[16] Matlock Bath & Scarthin Newspaper Cuttings, 1899 has an article announcing his candidacy.

[17] Bunting, Julie (2002) "Matlock and Matlock Bath", Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 2QG ISBN 0-7524-2455-6.

[18] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 25 October 1901. The wedding was another lavish affair, with celebrations of various kinds lasting for several days. This included a dinner for the members of Matlock Bath UDC and their wives.