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Matlock : Willersley Castle
Matlock : Twentieth Century Photographs, Postcards, Engravings & Etchings
Willersley Castle, built by Sir Richard Arkwright
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Arkwright family pedigree

Arkwright & His Cotton Mill

Engraving of an unfinished Willersley, before 1790

1802 engraving of Willersley Castle

1836 engraving of the castle

Willersley Castle Terrace, 1933

In 1862 Willersley was described as follows:

"Willersley Castle, 2 miles S. from Matlock, the elegant seat of Peter Arkwright, Esq., is a handsome Gothic structural built of white freestone. It stands on a bold eminence, with verdant lawns sloping to the margin of the Derwent. Immediately opposite the castle rises an immense range of perpendicular rocks, whose grey crags jut over the sylvan walk which goes from Cromford to the chapel. The summits of these rocks are fringed with trees and underwood; and the view from the lawn is one of great diversity, and beautifully romantic. The grounds at the back of the castle rise to a considerable height, and are richly clothed with wood. The gardens and tasteful pleasure grounds are open to visitors two days every week. In the gardens is an immense gooseberry tree, trained to a wall, with branches 30 feet in length. The various branches of this remarkable tree measure 365 feet. The interior of the mansion is furnished with taste and elegance, and contains some admirable paintings by Wright of Derby, among which is a fine portrait of Sir Richard Arkwright, and a view of Ulswater lake, purchased by Mr. Arkwright, for 300 guineas. This is considered equal to any effort of landscape painting that this country has ever produced. Sir Richard Arkwright purchased this estate in 1782, of Thomas Hallet Hodges, Esq. In 1788, he erected a handsome mansion, which was reduced to a shell by an accidental fire in 1791, before it had been inhabited. On leaving the grounds the company are passed through a door, descending by Hag Tor and Wild Cat Tor, to the Lover's Walk, by far the most attractive portions of the Dale[1]."

Some eight years later the house was spared a disaster when a heavy piece rock fell from the ground behind the Castle during a storm. The stone had been dislodged by a "hurricane" and crashed through the Castle's roof. It landed on the sleeping quarters of the domestic servants at the back of the house. It was fortunate that, on that particular night, nobody was sleeping in the room that was damaged[2].

There are two maids standing in the open doorway on the left.

Both images above date from the first decade of the twentieth century, when the Arkwright family were still living in the Castle. Willersley was used as a hospital from the beginning of World War One (Willersley Auxiliary Hospital)[8] but, following the sudden death of Frederic Arkwright on 18 July 1923, most of the estate was sold at auction by Messrs. Knight, Frank and Rutley over a five day period in 1927.

In early June that year it was reported that Willersley had been sold for £19,750, bought by Alderman Sir Albert Ball who was a former Mayor of Nottingham[3]. He sold it on almost immediately and in August the same year Willersley Castle, Limited, was registered as a private company, "to carry on the business of organisers and providers of holidays". It had been floated with the nominal capital of £10,000 in £1 shares. The directors included G. Gee of Duffield Bank, Duffield and H. A. Wood of The Shaws, Matlock[4]. The Castle and what remained of the estate had been purchased by the Wesleyan Methodists as holiday home and guest house for the Wesley Guild movement[5]. It was officially opened on 25 May 1928 by Mr. J. Arthur Rank, "son of the famous miller"[6]. An unforeseen outcome of the castle opening as a Guest House was that Starkholmes residents had insufficient water, as Willersley was the first port of call for the supply. The Council had to extend the mains to overcome the problem[7].

Willersley Castle, early 1930s.
The accompanying message on this postcard, undoubtedly sent by a guest reads:
" You would love it here. ... This is a delightful place".

During and just after WW2 Willersley Castle was used as a Ministry of Health Emergency Maternity Hospital. Various people have written to the web mistress mentioning this, sometimes referring to their, or their relative's, birthplace as "Matlock Castle".

The reason this came about is because one Friday night, towards the end of 1940, a bomb fell on The Salvation Army Mothers' Hospital in London. A wing of the building was damaged and the hospital became unfit for use. The Salvation Army authorities approached the Ministry of Health to ask for their help in finding alternative accommodation. As a result the Ministry contacted Derbyshire County Council and patients were evacuated to Willersley[9]. It opened at the end on 1941 and by the end of May in 1942 there were about 30 nursing staff and 1,000 babies had already been born at Willersley[10]. The Home was a branch of the Salvation Army Mothers' Hospital at Clapton, also a training school for Midwives, and was run by the Salvation Army. The mothers who came were from the East End of London and most started their visit to Derbyshire by spending a fortnight holidaying in Wirksworth before entering the Hospital, seemingly staying with local families. But the earliest patients has arrived from the air raid shelters in the capital, having been unable to sleep in a bed for weeks[9]. By the time the hospital closed at the beginning of 1946 over 4,200 babies had been born at Willersley, including twenty sets of twins[11].

It was during its time as a maternity hospital that Mrs. Rebecca Olson Arkwright, widow of Frederic, passed away. She died on 9 Mar 1944[12], some 20 years after leaving Derbyshire. When Willersley was her home she had always done a great deal of good work and made the well-being of the Cromford villagers her special care[13]. It is now called the Willersley Castle Hotel, has been run by the Christian Guild[8]. However, during the summer of 2020 the Castle's owners decided that they would not reopen following the corona virus lockdown and Willersley has now been sold after almost 100 years under the ownership of the Methodist Guild Holidays. It has been bought by Manor Adventure and is currently (2024) an outdoor pursuits centre

Willersley Castle, about 1960
Willersley Castle, 1958 or before.
Unless you view Willersley from the air, you would have no idea from any of the images
of the house that there is a glass cupola on top of the building.
It provides light through the centre of the house, with a light well through two floors.

You may like to view more information on this website about the Arkwright family and Willersley:
Eighteenth Century Lists: Matlock Land Tax, 1780 records Thomas Hedges Esq. as the owner of "Willersley land".
Richard Arkwright is listed in Eighteenth Century Lists: Poor Rate, 1784 (part 1) | Eighteenth Poor Rate, 1784 (part 2). This was shortly after he had bought the Willersley estate.
Matlock Biographies See ARKWRIGHT
Description of ARKWRIGHT Coat of Arms
A description of Sir Richard Arkwright's funeral by J. P. Malcolm was published in "The Gentleman's Magazine" in 1793 (scroll down to Matlock, pp.45-6).
Arkwright Family MI's
Matlock and Matlock Bath Trades Directories & Census
Cromford, DBY : Trade Directories
Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock
Willersley is mentioned in Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863, Chapter the Fourth. Matlock Dale.

Engraving, from "The Beauties of England and Wales" (1802)
covers cotton manufacturing, the mills, Willersley & the surrounding area, Sir Richard Arkwright (web page 2 of 2, 18th & 19th century Guides).

Cromford Church and Bridge
- this is on the opposite side of the River Derwent and is where several members of the Arkwright family are buried.

Henry Moore's "Picturesque Excursions From Derby to Matlock Bath"
, (index link) written in 1818, is just one of the early guides to describe Willersley and the entrance to the Dale (transcript link).

External Links:
National Portrait Gallery Search the collection (opens in a new window)

1. Top image: "Willersley Castle, Matlock Bath". Artistic Series, A. P. Co., 9 Bury Court, St. Mary Axe, London, E.C,No.1999. Chromotyped in Saxony. Not posted. Other postcards from this publisher date from the first decade of the twentieth century.
2. Second image: "Willersley Castle, Cromford". No publisher. Posted 24 Jul 1907 but message not relevant to image.
3. Third image: "Willersley Castle, Cromford". Published by Photochrom Co. Ltd., Tunbridge Wells, No.70314. All British Production. Posted 9 June 1947 at Matlock. Please note that as no. 70316 in the collection was sent in 1933 it is assumed the two cards were published at a similar, or the same, time.
4. Fourth image: "Willersley Castle, Cromford, Derbyshire", published by District View Publishing, Leicester and posted 16 Mar 1960. Another card was posted in 1958.
Postcards in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "General Commercial Directory and Topography of the Borough of Sheffield with all the Towns, Parishes, Villages and Hamlets Within a Circuit of Twenty Miles" (1862), pub. Francis White & Co. Sheffield, p.830. There is a transcript on this website: White's 1862

[2] "Derbyshire Courier", 15 October 1870. Disaster at Willersley Castle.

[3] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 3 June 1927.

[4] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 16 August 1927.

[5] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 27 December 1927.

[6] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 26 May 1928.

[7] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 19 June 1928.

[8] Beresford, Charles "The Bath at War, A Derbyshire Community and the Great War" (2007). Country Books/Ashridge Press. ISBN 978 1 901214 91 8. The involvement of the Arkwright family in the War effort is discussed in some detail.

[9] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 22 June 1942.

[10] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 28 May 1942.

[11] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 30 April 1946.

[12] Her death was announced in "The Times" on Saturday, 11 Mar, 1944.

[13] "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 17 March 1944.