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Matlock Dale: The Weir and the High Tor Tunnel
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Building the Railway Line to Matlock Station

High Tor and the footbridge over the River Derwent

There is a photo of the Matlock Bath end of the tunnel

Masson weir

Vernon Lamb Archive, VLA9861

The Railways of Derbyshire, 1903
(Old Maps of Derbyshire)

Midland Railway Distances

The weir across the River Derwent, shown here, was just below where the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock & Midlands Railway Company railway line was built just below High Tor. This was the point where the line emerged from one tunnel, providing a glimpse of Matlock Dale for the train passengers, before entering a second tunnel. As the Illustrated London News commented in 1849 "You next pass through the High Tor Tunnel, dry and comfortable, and the gloom much dissipated by an opening in the centre, wherein you enjoy daylight for a second or two, and a pretty view of the road and the river"[1]. Once the trains got faster, if you didn't know where to look, one blink and you would have missed it.

This top image looks down into the valley from Long Tor. We are able to see over the top of High Tor to the development on Matlock Bank. Whilst the postcard was not used, the picture dates from 1892-5 as you can see chimney of the tram depôt but the Victoria Hall had not been built. Below is an enlargement showing the original gap between the tunnels.

Railway tunnel and weir, enlarged from the top image. It shows the south portal
of the original northern tunnel; this section was later protected by the new
58-yard tunnel. Although the entrance to the goit is not easy to see here,
other images suggest it was opened and closed by vertical
wooden boards (needles) which could be lifted out when required[2].

Whilst the railway tunnel was being blasted through in the mid to late 1840s Messrs. Wheatcroft, Buckley and Clayton, who were the contractors for the work, erected a replacement bridge below High Tor of about 60 feet in length; it was their only means of getting themselves, the dynamite and anything else they required across the river. Unfortunately, like several other wooden bridges built over the years, this was partly destroyed by a flood during heavy rain in December 1848. It was left swinging above what was described as "a powerful and foaming torrent", held only by slender "gye" chains. It caused quite a stir locally and the half destroyed bridge was viewed by several hundred people[3].

Engraving, probably 1858-70. Note the fisherman on the right, tucked in behind the wall.
This is more artists's impression rather than accurate drawing but it nevertheless provides an early
view of the tunnel.

At the end of it all, on 10 May 1849, Mr. Wheatcroft used the auctioneers Cotes of Wirksworth to sell off "valuable railway plant, comprising powerful crabs, ropes, chains, pulleys, waggons, trollies [sic], barrows, picks, augars, hammers, crow bars, blacksmith's plant, including two full sets of tools; a very powerful lathe with every variety of boring and drilling apparatus, turning tools, a high pressure steam engine, a large quantity of sawn and round timber ... theodolite" and even the bridge over the River Derwent. This all took place opposite High Tor[4].

About 1906

In the penultimate postcard (above), taken by John William Jamson of the Doncaster Rotophoto Co., we can see that changes have been made to the tunnel entrance. The picture shows the south portal of the new, middle, tunnel (High Tor Tunnel No.1A) built between the original north (High Tor Tunnel No.2) and south (High Tor Tunnel No.1) tunnels. The brickwork casing of the tunnel looks reasonably new and might have been about ten years old when it was photographed. It was slowly accumulating a covering of overgrowth, but this was in the very early stages[2].

Probably of a slightly later date than image 4. We can see the
goit on the right. There appear to be two metal rods, and a wall
of finely cut stone blocks, which suggest a mechanism
was in place for raising the boards when needed. Next to where
the river came down the weir is a traditionally built dry stone wall.

Unlike the weir near Masson Mill further downstream, which is curved, the Matlock Dale weir opposite Craven Villa and Riversdale was built in a straight line which bisected the river diagonally. The angle would have forced some of the water down the side stream or goit that had been created, which Bryan said the locals used to call a "ghaut"[5]. The goit created a long, thin island parallel to the Derwent which the colour works was built on. The diverted water drove the wheel on the colour works site. It drove a pump, via rods, down the passage under High Tor behind the works. That helped to clear water from under the Side Mine workings, which were mainly to the south of that site, by the old road up to Starkholmes, above the gas works. The antiquarian David Palmer Pearson, who lived almost opposite at Heathbank and then Hilderstone, said that this was erected by Mr Boothman between 1820 and 1830[6].

In the summer of 1921 the Council considered a proposal submitted by Mr. Pearson to generate electricity from the power of the river Derwent. It didn't get off the ground as George Henry Key, the colour grinding works manager, pointed out that when all the machinery at the colour works was in use the goyt took all the water from the river, so completely drained the bed of the stream below the High Tor weir[7].

This weir has now been removed[8] and the tunnel has been covered over, so the tunnel of today is unbroken as the railway line passes under the Tor.

1 and 2. "High Tor from Heights of Abraham, Matlock". Cotswold Publishing Co. Ltd., Wooton-under-Edge, Glos. Unused. but dates from 1892-5.
3. "High Tor, Matlock Bath". From Smedley, John "Smedley's Practical Hydropathy, 15th ed", James Blackwood & Co., Paternoster Row, London.
4. "On the Derwent, Matlock Dale". The Doncaster Rotophoto Co. Ltd., Dania Series, No.484-36. Copyright-Toned Glossy Real Photograph. Not posted. About 1906.
5. "At the foot of High Tor, Matlock". Published by S. Brown, Stationer, Matlock. Printed in Germany. Unused. Stamp box Inland 1/2d. Foreign 1d.
Postcards and engraving in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written, researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Illustrated London News", 24 Nov 1849.

[2] Information from Colin Goodwyn, who has been very generous with his time and help.

[3] "Derby Mercury", 13 December 1848 and "Derbyshire Courier", 16 December 1848. The railway bridge replaced a bridge owned by Michael Cardin, intended to be permanent but washed away by a flood only a few weeks before.

[4] "Derby Mercury", 9 May 1849. High Tor Tunnels, Matlock. Important Sale of a valuable Railway Plant.

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

[6] Description of the wheel from Colin Goodwyn, who has researched articles written by David Palmer Pearson (1858-1932).

[7] "Derbyshire Courier", 27 August 1921.

[8] According to Peter Hare, who used to work at the Colour Company a little further downstream, the weir was removed in the 1970s.