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Tufa Cottage, Viâ Gellia, near Matlock Bath, 1905
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Read more about the road being built

Buildings constructed of tufa can still be seen in Matlock Bath

"Tufa Cottage" is in Derbyshire's Viâ Gellia, between The Pig of Lead and Grange Mill on the turnpike road connecting Newhaven and Cromford. The road was built in the early early nineteenth century and is now the A5012[1].

In 1912 Viâ Gellia was described in a trade directory: "The Viâ Gellia, partly in this parish [Bonsall], is a beautiful wooded valley nearly four miles in length from Cromford to Grange Mill; the road winding along the bottom of the valley forms a level and charming promenade and drive"[2]. A trip in a horse drawn cab through Viâ Gellia, often for visitors en route to Dovedale, was available from Matlock Bath and they would have undoubtedly stopped to look at this building. The house has long been a magnet for tourists.

The area around the cottage is known as Bonsall Wood and on the top of the hillside above the house are Dunsley (Petrifying) Springs. Although the sign on the gate is impossible to read properly, it could be a plea for the Edwardian trippers (the card was posted in 1905) not to enter the garden as it begins with "Please" and seems to end with "Rock". Equally, and probably more likely, the residents might have sold rock samples as a way to boost their income.

The cottage is built of tufa, which is a porous stone. According to the Oxford dictionary it is "formed of pulverised matter consolidated and often stratified ... a porous or vesicular carbonate of lime, generally deposited near the sources and along the courses of calcareous springs"[3]. An 1880 Map names the hillside behind the property as Viâ Gellia Quarry and the surrounding landscape suggests the house was built in the quarry[4].

"Tufa Cottage" was not the name of the house. Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth it was Marl House, or Marl Cottage[4]. We can see from various census returns that it was often the home of gamekeepers. For example, in 1911 a gamekeeper called Herbert Hinkesman, a 34 year old born in Stoke, Herefordshire, was living at Marl House with his wife and daughter[5]. It was then shown as having four rooms. In 1891 and 1901 the resident game keeper was Edward Brooks[6]. However, before 1891 it is difficult to establish who lived there with any certainty and the house was empty in 1861[7].

Even the two gateposts seem to be tufa stone.
There is a gun propped against the left hand side of the doorway, so perhaps the gamekeeper who lived here
had come out of the gate to talk to the photographer.

Over the years journalists have often written about the Viâ Gellia and in 1923 one of them observed that "the Viâ Gellia is a veritable gulf of scenery. A streamlet by the roadside ... the music of the Dunsley waterfall tumbling over the hill-crest past the Tufa Cottage. This secluded valley is a paradise of wildflowers and rare ferns ... if visitors would only leave them alone the beauty of the place would be materially enhanced". Instead "they are ruthlessly torn up by the unthinking"[8]. Let us hope some of the culprits heeded the warning.

Unfortunately, in 1939 a "considerable stir was caused in the Matlock district at the week-end by a daring robbery at Tufa Cottage, The Viâ Gellia, near Cromford, the home of Mr. Edward I. Sharpe, head gamekeeper to Col. A. K. Wilson, of Sheffield, who owns extensive shooting rights in the Viâ Gellia. The robbery occurred between 2.45 when he left to go to Chatsworth and when he returned about 11.30 the place had been ransacked. The intruders stole £35 in bank notes, £1 of silver coins", as well as guns and ammunition. ... "As the area is well known a stationary car probably would not cause suspicion. The cottage is in one of the prettiest parts of the Viâ Gellia which is visited by hundreds of tourists on fine weekends". A couple of days later, in what was probably a related crime, gelignite and detonators were stolen from Wirksworth quarries Ltd.[9]. Twelve weeks afterwards, two men were charged at Matlock. Whilst two guns were still missing the remaining four had been found[10].

When the case came before the courts Edward Sharpe said one of the guns stolen was worth £80. He identified a number his guns that were produced in court. One of the arrested men was to be charged with burglary and the others with receiving[11].

The date the house was built is not known, but some have suggested that it was probably around 1830. However, William Adam, who describes the Viâ Gellia and the "lovely rill" (the Dunsley waterfall) being a "truly beautiful object" in his earlier guide books, does not mention the house until 1845[12] - "Close by this [i.e. the rill] there is a Swiss Cottage, entirely built of the Tufa found here". James Croston, writing in 1868, also mentions the building but managed to get the stone it was built from wrong. "Near the foot of this cataract a Gothic cottage has been erected, a little rustic looking structure built of curiously channeled and weather-beaten fragments of limestone [sic], so arranged as to give it a studiously romantic and fanciful appearance that hardly accords with the natural beauty of the surrounding scene[13].

A number of buildings constructed from tufa are known to have been built in Matlock Bath over the years. One example of a tufa construction is on the Lovers' Walks, where there is a tufa arched shelter near the children's play area.

More buildings are mentioned in:
Henry Moore (1818) "Picturesque Excursions From Derby to Matlock Bath", pp.27 - 32
Matlock Bath: New Bath Hotel (6)
Matlock Bath: Children's Corner, Grand Pavilion, 1923 mentions the tufa from the Ferry House being reclaimed.

Read a poem about the Via Gellia

There is more on site information about Bonsall on this website:
The Andrews Pages : Picture Gallery, Derbyshire has several photographs and old cards.
Kelly's Directory, 1891 - transcript of Bonsall entry.

1. "Tufa Cottage, Via Gellia, Nr. Matlock". One of the Artistic Series, A.P. Co., 9 Bury Court, St. Mary Axe, London, E.C. No.1940.
Card posted to Miss H. Walker, the web mistress's great aunt, in Matlock Bath on July 23 1905.
2. "Tufa Cottage Via Gellia Nr. Matlock". Peak Series, No.421. British Made. Unused. Other cards have been posted during the First World War, so it is likely this image was taken either in 1914 or before.
Postcards in the collection of and provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Information researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links go to other information on this web site:

[1] Davies, David Peter (1811) "History of Derbyshire" pub. S. Mason, Belper describes the new road through the Via Gellia and notes what was found when it was built. Read the transcript elsewhere on this web site (look under Hopton).

[2] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire" (1912) Kelly & Co., p.66

[3] "The Shorter Oxford Dictionary on Historic Principles" (1973), Oxford University Press.

[4] OS Map (1880) Derbyshire 1 : 2,500. Later Maps provide the house name but the maps refer to both Marl House and Marl Cottage.

[5] The 1911 census is available on Find My Past (external link, so will open in a new window)

[6] In 1901 Edward Brooks, a 47 year old widower who was born at Youlgreave, is shown at Marl House - RG13/3241 f6 p4 s23 (2 rooms). In 1891 Brooks was living at No 1 Via Gellia with his wife and children - RG12/2756 f25 p1 s3 (4 rooms). He was also a gamekeeper in 1891, so is is probably safe to assume that 1 Via Gellia was Marl House

[7] The 1881 shows a gardener called William Charlton, who was born in Bonsall, probably living at the property - RG11/3426 f30 p2. The address provided was just Via Gellia, though. In 1871 he was living there with his father, also called William Charlton and a gardener - RG10/3602 f30 p1 s5. However, in 1861 In 1861 Marl House was unoccupied and the Charltons were living down the road. Similarly, in 1851 the Charltons were living on Via Gellia Road (HO107/2146 f692 p2 s7, but there are two unoccupied houses shown on the previous census page. In the 1841 census it is impossible to tell. William Charlton senior was living at Bonsall Hollow.

[8] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 14 June 1923.

[9] "Derbyshire Times", 10 February 1939. Guns and Explosives Stolen. Gamekeeper's Cottage Ransacked.

[10] "ibid.", 5 May 1939. Via Gellia Robbery Sequel. Three Men and a Youth Charged.

[11] "Nottingham Journal", 22 June 1939. Alleged Raid on Keeper's Cottage.

[12] Adam, W. (1845, 4th edition) "The Gem of the Peak; or Matlock Bath and Its Vicinity". ... There is also a transcript of the 1840 edition, though it does not include the Via Gellia.

[12] Croston, James (1868) (2nd Ed) "On Foot Through the Peak; or a Summer Saunter Through the Hills and Dales of Derbyshire", Manchester: John Heywood, 141 & 143, Deansgate. London, Simpkin, Marshall & Co.