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On the Derwent, Matlock Bath - High Tor and the Colour Works
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High Tor by Thomas Allom, about 1836

Brunswood Terrace

High Tor from Matlock Bath Station, 1912

The Dale from Long Tor

Matlock Bath Today (4)

Key Family of Matlock Bath, Cromford & Matlock, 1921

Just showing through the trees on the right of the above image is the colour works which provided regular, rather than seasonal, employment for locals. It was an industry that had developed in the mid nineteenth century on a site previously occupied by a lead mine known as the Side Mine. The High Tor Grotto, which would have opened in the summer months and provided seasonal employment, was on the same site.

It seems likely that a primitive bridge of some kind was already here in 1827 (see next page). In his 1829 Matlock Bath guide Henry Barker tells us that "the water wheel in the Side Mine has lately been constructed"[1]. He added that "At the base of this rock the rapid stream of the Derwent is diverted from its channel to turn a wheel, which in connection with other machinery, is employed to pump the water from a mine four hundred yards distant, to which there is a subterraneous passage, called a gallery, sough, or level". He had not mentioned either in his previous guide, published two years earlier, although had written about the Grotto. Reverend Richard Ward also mentions the Grotto, though not the wheel, in the 1828 edition of his book: "... at the base of which [High Tor] certain miners, regardless of the old maxim, "spem pretio non emo," have been carrying out very expensive operations with a view for searching for mineral treasures; but so uncertain is the issue of these pursuits, that their produce may perhaps, be exceeded by the petty gains arising from the exhibition of the High Tor Grotto "...[2]. Unfortunately, neither man provides us with further details of who was involved.

William Adam referred to the Side mine in 1838: "THE SIDE MINE ... is now in full work and belongs to Mr. Boothman, of Manchester"[3]. However, in 1840 he noted that the business was out of work, and seems to have been abandoned[4]. Boothman and his partner, a Mr. Briscoe of Wrexham, had reportedly spent over £10,000 on this mining speculation[5].

We next hear of the mine in December that year. "On Sunday morning last, a robbery, rather singular in regard one of the articles abstracted, was discovered to have taken place at the Side Mine at the base of Matlock High Tor. The mine the property of Mr. Boothman, and has been for a long time out of work, but a large quantity of mining materials were left in the "coes" or sheds on the hillock, under lock and key. On the day named the building used as a smithy was found to have been forcibly entered, and among the variety of articles missing was included the forge bellows. We hear no clue at present to the pilferers"[6]. A deed at the DRO shows that Boothman and his partner, Mr. Briscoe, remained involved with the Side Mine for a time after this[7]. Research by Mr. D Palmer Pearson, writing in the early twentieth century, indicated that mining operations at the Side Mine finished in 1844 when Boothman gave up his attempt to unwater the lower reaches of those old workings which reach up towards Starkholmes[8].

The buildings under High Tor
The buildings under High Tor were almost invisible the summer time, so well were they screened by the trees.
The works buildings were still fairly few at this time (1902).
The footbridge spanning the river belonged to the High Tor Grotto that was slightly to the left of the Colour Works buildings[9].
The grotto's shed entry is on the right hand side of the river bank.

The land and power source was subsequently taken over by Frederick Stevens and his brother Thomas to grind barytes for the paint industry and this was a perfect site for that purpose as there was both power and there must have been piles of barytes in the old mine hillocks. The site became available just as the paint industry was demanding the cheap alternative to white lead[10].

Thomas Stevens retired in 1877 and following the death of Frederick in 1882 the works was run by Frederick's widow, Elizabeth Ann, and her son. But in 1893 she married a former London butcher, Edward Stanbridge Ginger[11], who then became the works' proprietor. To honour the event the employees were entertained to dinner at the Devonshire Hotel in December that year[12].

In 1894, a local journalist described visiting the works: "In passing down Matlock Dale and strolling over the wooden bridge" he found "some old fashioned buildings in which is carried on one of Derbyshire's most ancient industries in the shape of barytes and colour grinding, and on looking round you see men flitting about, some red, others black, yellow and white according to the colour they are engaged in making ..."[12].

Disaster struck in late May 1896 when fire broke out at the High Tor Paint Works, with the flames spread with alarming rapidity despite the best efforts of the Matlock Fire Brigade. An entirely new plant had been installed not long before but the large stock of new and valuable machinery was ruined. The main building, including the office, was destroyed along with all books - only the outbuildings were saved. It was the most serious conflagration that has occurred in district for some time past and the damage was reported to have been £8,000. "The motive power, a large water-wheel, was burnt over the River Derwent". Fortunately, the damage was covered by insurance[13]. By September plans were said to be in hand to rebuild[14].

Henry Wheatcroft, who owned the Via Gellia Mills, bought the colour works established by the Stevens brothers for an undisclosed sum in 1898[15]. The staff then consisted of five men and 2 boys[16]. It was here that colours were manufactured "which, skilfully used and blended by the hand of man, ultimately produce effects which rival in beauty the fairness of this comely valley ..."[17].

George Henry Key and his family then moved to Matlock Bath. When Mr. Wheatcroft's health began to fail his business concerns were made into a limited liability company and Mr. Key was taken into partnership and appointed managing director. After Mr. Wheatcroft's death in 1912 Mr. Key was made chairman, and Mr. H. C. Hetherington joined him as a director[16].

In 1932 there were four chief administrators. G. H. Key, J.P. and Mr H Hetherington were still co-directors of this private company; they had 43 years and 33 years service respectively. Mr. H. Buckley, the works manager had 33 years service and Mr Slater, cashier, had 36 years service. The Company also controlled the Cromford Colour Company where colour was manufactured by chemical processes. The company's offices had moved to Matlock. Although described as a paint works, they did not manufacture paint. Nor did they use barytes any more and their products left here in barrels[17].

Mr. Hare (senior), who was the manager at High Tor Colour works in 1969, told Colin Goodwyn that paint works owners were said to raise their hats to piles of barytes in respect and in recognition of the money they made by not using lead[10]! Eric Hare had come to the High Tor Colour Company in 1946 as Works Manager. His responsibilities later extended to include the Via Gellia Colour Company and by the time of his retirement in the late 1970s he was the Technical Director of the firm[18]. When he was questioned about pollution for a radio broadcast in 1976 he said it was not a problem as the company spent enough money on dust collection - a dried process - to ensure they did not pollute their own works, the men they employed or the surrounding area. The total labour force was less than 50 by this time[19].

Disused buildings
Former buildings of the Via Gellia Colour Company
on a narrow strip of land between the Derwent and the lower cliffs
of High Tor, September 2008.
Also see Matlock Bath Today (4)

There are several references to the barytes works elsewhere on this web site:
Gem of the Peak (1840) see The north entrance to Matlock Dale | Caverns and Mines in 1840.
James Croston mentions both the barytes mill and the Grotto in Chapter XIII of his 1868 guide (scroll down).
Wolley Manuscripts: 6669 ff.256-258 | 6671 ff.310-313.

There is also more on site information about the Colour Works and its owners:
Frederick Stevens was living in the Dale in the 1851 census.
Thomas and Frederick William Stevens are listed in various onsite transcripts of trade directories: White's 1862 Directory | Kelly's 1864 Directory | Kelly's 1876 Directory | Kelly's 1891 Directory (Mrs. Stevens and her son).
Matlock & Matlock Bath Names in the London Gazette: 1867 (Gas Light and Coke Company) | 1877 (Thomas Stevens retired).
Kelly's 1895 Directory lists Edward Stanbridge Ginger, barytes & color manufacturer, Matlock Dale.
The 1901 census shows George Henry Key of 3 Midland terrace as manager.
Via Gellia Paint & Colour Co. is listed as the owners of the works in Kelly's 1899 Directory | Kelly's 1908 Directory | Kelly's 1912 Directory | Kelly's 1916 Directory.

1. "On the Derwent, Matlock Bath". One of the Artistic Series, A.P. Co., 9 Bury Court, St. Mary Axe, London, E.C. No.1957. Exact date difficult as the card is not postmarked but first postal date known for their cards is now 1905 (see both Via Gellia, Tufa Cottage on this website and list of postcard publishers elsewhere on the Internet which supplies the date of 1909)
2. "Switzerland View". No publisher. June 1902 [handwritten date on card]. Unused.
3. Detail of photograph from a Heights of Abraham gondola, Sept 2008.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only

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

[1] "The Panorama of Matlock, 1829", pub Longmans, London. He does not mention the grotto in "Panorama of Matlock" (1827), which is elsewhere on this site.

[2] Ward, Reverend Richard (1827) "The Matlock, Buxton and Castleton Guide, containing concise accounts of these and other remarkable places ... in the ... County of Derby", Derby. Seventh edition.

[3] Adam, W. (July 1838) [1st edtn.] "The Gem of the Peak; or Matlock Bath and Its Vicinity. ..." London; Longman & Co., Paternoster Row ; ... Mawe, Royal Museum, Matlock ; .... This was the first edition of his guide.

[4] "Gem of the Peak" (1840) see The north entrance to Matlock Dale | Caverns and Mines in 1840.

[5] Glover, Stephen (1830) "The Peak Guide", Henry Mozley and Son, Derby.

[6] "Derbyshire Courier", 26 December 1840.

[7] Derbyshire Record Office, D7573/BOX/S/ref?11, dated 12th May 1841 "to Richd Arkwright Esqre/ Undertaking as to/ the works at the Side Mine/ in the Liberty of Matlock". They also advertised in Pigot's 1831 Directory | Pigot's 1835 Directory | Pigot's 1842 Directory.

[8] Colin Goodwyn has noted the following about Mr. Pearson's research. "The hole at the back of the colour works didn't, it is believed, follow any groove or ore bearing rock but was the means of draining the workings generally and continued for 400 yards. The island on which the colour works later stood is composed of the mine waste which Mr. Boothman extracted (although there must have been something to work from originally). He had erected a water wheel of 80 hp, capable of raising 1000 gallons an hour, together with the weir and goit which was lined with clay "brought in boats by the Cromford Canal" - Mr. Pearson doesn't explain, though, how they got over Masson Weir. However, it is unlikely the imported clay was transported from Cromford to Matlock Dale by river and was probably loaded onto a horse drawn drug. The web mistress has not found any evidence to substantiate the 1844 date.

[9] A stereo view of the old colour works bridge can be seen on the page of "Just Dale" images and the Butterley Company's Bridge is shown in an image a little higher up on the same page.

[10] Further information supplied and researched by Colin Goodwyn. With very grateful thanks.

[11] Mrs. Stevens married Edward S Ginger at St. Giles' on 29 Nov 1893. "Derbyshire Times", 16 December 1893.

[12] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 26 January 1894.

[13] There were numerous press reports about the fire, including ones in "Derby Daily Telegraph", 1 June 1896, the "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 6 June 1896 and the "Long Eaton Advertiser", 6 June 1896.

[14] "Derbyshire Times", 5 September 1896.

[15] "Derbyshire Times", 19 February 1898. Notes by the Way. The Stevens had started the Matlock Dale works "half a century ago". The Via Gellia Colour Company's original works in the Via Gellia had been a lead smelting works which had been turned into colour grinding mills by William Sperrey. Sperrey was the husband of the 1st cousin 3 times removed of the web mistress. Henry Wheatcroft acquired the Via Gellia works in 1889.

[16] "Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal", 30 March 1917.

[17] "Derbyshire Times", 19 March 1932. Derbyshire Industries No. 10.

[18] Information from Pauline Jordan, with equally grateful thanks.

[19] The spoken words of Eric Hare, from the "Kit at Large" programmes produced by Radio Derby in the 1970s.