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Matlock & Matlock Bath : Water Cures
Water cures made Matlock and Matlock Bath famous.
Old Bath - spa New Bath - spa Royal Hotel - spa The Wet Pack! - hydro treatment Rockside - hydro Smedley's - hydro Oldham House - hydro Lilybank  - hydro Poplar, later Jeffs, then Chatsworth - hydro
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Matlock Bath was a famous Spa. Matlock developed as a centre for Hydropathy.

A spa is a place where there is a mineral spring.
Matlock Bath's curative drinking water came from medicinal springs.

Hydropathy was a kind of medical treatment, with water being prescribed both internally and externally.
Though the drinking of water was recommended for those undergoing hydropathic treatment,
the water that was consumed by the patients did not necessarily contain medicinal properties.
A Hydro was a building (often an hotel) where these treatments were carried out.

The water cures of Matlock Bath and Matlock are discussed below under the following sub headings:

The Spa of Matlock Bath

In 1698 a warm (thermal) spring was discovered at Matlock Bath. This first spring, with a water temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, eventually supplied the Old Bath Hotel and later the Royal Hotel which replaced it. "The waters were first applied for medicinal purposes about the latter end of the seventeenth century. The old bath, which was of wood, lined with lead, was made in 1698"[1]. William Adam, who took over the South Parade Museum of the Mawes in the 1830s, was to describe this as a "temporary wooden structure" that was put up "over or near the newly discovered spring"[2].

Four men were involved with building this first bath, called "Wolley's Well"[3]. They were Rev. Joseph Ferne, the Rector of Matlock Church, Mr. Benjamin Hayward of Senior Field, Cromford, Mr. Adam Wolley of Allen Hill, Matlock and Mr. George Wragg, of Matlock Bath. Rev. Ferne and Mr. Hayward removed the original structure, replacing it with a more substantial building[2]. Wragg then took a lease from the Lords of the Manor for a period of 99 years[4]. Whilst the bath was said to have been paved and built, Wragg added "a few small rooms adjoining to the bath, which it is said were but a poor convenience to strangers"[5]. This all took place whilst there was no proper road into Matlock Bath - travelling here was "wretched in the extreme" was one description.
Read Defoe's 1724-6 description of the bath house in "A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe".
Pedigree of Hayward

The lease was purchased from Wragg by Messrs. Thomas Smith and Marmaduke Pennell[3] of Nottingham in 1715 (Bryan suggests about 1728[5]) for £1000; they erected two large and commodious buildings with stables and a coach house according to Bray, who visited in 1783[4]. William Adam notes that it was the South End of the Old Bath that was built, "and more convenient offices were attached", by Smith and Pennell[2]. The stables and coach house were later replaced by the Fish Pond Stables below the hotel, demolished when the Grand Pavilion was built, plus stables at Old Bath Tap - today known as the Fish Pond Hotel.

Following Smith's death Pennell bought out his share in 1727/8[?][3]. Mr. Pennell, who had twice been Mayor of Nottingham and was also an architect, improved the horse-way to Matlock Bridge and shortly afterwards opened a coach road to Cromford[3]. It was after this road was constructed that the village developed as a watering place and Bray, by the time he visited Matlock Bath, considered it to be a very good turnpike road[4].

The Old Bath passed to Marmaduke Pennell's daughter around 1733, after his death[6]. William Adam tells us that Pennel's son in law, Stephen Egginton, "rebuilt the Baths on a scale answerable to the increase in company" and the Liverpool Gallery Rooms were built over them as the hotel was then supported by Liverpool Company. Both the date and the name Egginton were written on a stone over a circular window of the Gentleman's Bath[2]. By Bray's time (i.e. 1783) the Old Bath had become "the joint property of several persons".

"With the exception of The Villa, this was the oldest dwelling house in Matlock Bath."
William Adam (1838) was writing about The Old Bath Hotel[2]

A second spring was discovered a quarter of a mile to the south and the New Bath Hotel was built, providing accommodation for the "numerously increasing visitors". It was opened for business by Isaac North in May 1745[7]. A third, slightly colder, spring was then found. However, despite a very large and commodious lodging house being built, it didn't fulfil the expectations of those speculating. The Great Hotel was sold in separate lots, was improved and added to and by 1838 formed what was called Museum Parade.

The Fountain gardens continued, owned by Mrs. Gilbert in 1840, and were open to the public. A "vase" on top of a Hopton marble pillar, standing in front of a picturesque alcove, remained in the garden; it was reached by a flight of granite steps and the Zigzag to the Heights of Abraham went through the grounds. The basin and alcove survive today in the grounds of Fernie Bank. The first Fountain Bath was 39 feet long and 18 feet wide and had a low pitched arched roof, with a water depth of four feet. Benjamin Bryan said it was "small, close and inconvenient"[5]. It was open to the public, with hot baths also available. The more modern Fountain Bath, built in 1881 by Mr. Howe after the earlier bath was demolished, was 50 feet long and 20 feet wide; the water's depth went from 4 feet to 6 feet and the bath held 33,687 gallons of water[8]. According to a "Visitor" who wrote to the local press in 1883 there was "a constant supply of 600,000 gallons of water every 24 hours"[9].

The discovery of these three springs marked the beginning of Matlock Bath's prosperity as a spa and Matlock Bath became a famous and fashionable spa resort, with several large hotels where people went to take the water cure[10]. Even in the early years the occasional entrepreneur would take the opportunity to market the product (water) in a slightly different way.

Derby Mercury 27 July 1732
WHEREAS the MATLOCK-BATH and Spaw Waters have been recommended by several eminent physicians and have by Experience been found in many Cases to the Health of Mankind, This is Therefore to give Notice that EZRA BESTALL of Matlock, proposeth to come Twice a Week to Derby, and oftener if he finds suitable Encouragement, and will deliver the Water from Matlock-Bath, of Spaw, at any house in Derby, at Two-pence per Quart, and will serve any Gentleman in the Country at their own Houses for a reasonable Allowance. Those who would be supplied with these Waters are desir'd to leave their orders with JER. ROE Bookseller in Derby.

The table below gives an analysis of the water that people found so beneficial to their health.

Analysis of the water taken by Dr. A. Dupré, Lecturer on Chemistry at Westminster Hospital, London. Sample taken from the Fountain Bath Spring.[10]
Temperature of water 68 degrees.
Specific gravity 1003. Grains per Gallon
Chloride of Sodium . .
Sulphate of Magnesium
(Containing Magnesium)
Sulphate of Calcium . . .
Carbonate of Calcium ..
Silica . . . . . . . . . . .

Organic Matter - Traces of Alumina,Potassium, etc. . . . .

Totally dry residue . . .




Although "the hot Springs flow out of an elevation about a hundred feet above the river" ... they were eventually hidden from view, having been "covered up, and conveyed in pipes and covered channels into the Baths and Petrifying Wells". In 1838 one of the streams could be seen "flowing from a field into the road, which it passes under opposite Smedley's Spar Shop, and another forms a beautiful little Waterfall, after passing through the Old-Bath stable-yard, by flowing over the rough Tufa margin behind the stables"[2]. Thermal water can still be found today at the New Bath Hotel (see the New Bath Pool), what were the Fountain Baths, though is now the Aquarium (partly seen on the River Derwent, 1950) and even in some features in the Derwent Gardens. Indeed, a 1907 image on Derwent Gardens from the River Derwent shows the outflow of a stream that passed under the road.

Lord Byron was possibly the most famous of Matlock Bath's many visitors in the early nineteenth century; he is certainly the person everyone remembers today. Other important visitors to Matlock Bath in earlier times are listed on the main Matlock Bath page, though they did not all visit to take the water.

There was plenty of advice to be had about water consumption and on the right are some observations and recommendations by nineteenth century writers.

Matlock Bath declined in popularity for the health cures of its medicinal springs as Matlock, and the hydropathic treatments it became famous for, expanded. There were only two hydros in Matlock Bath, the Clarence and the Royal Hotel (formerly the Old Bath), and these were developed much later than those in Matlock as the inhabitants of the village failed to grasp the economic importance of hydropathy. There was also less space for large scale development.

The Cascade near Matlock Bath, late 18th century
Matlock Bath: Old Bath Hotel Engraving, 1776
The first of several images from the 18th and 19th century of this hotel
Cumming's Old Bath Hotel
Mrs. Cumming ran the hotel.
The Royal Hotel was built on the site of the Old Bath. The first of a number of images.
The Royal Hotel - the Royal or Radium Well, where the first spring was discovered

The Wragg family home - the Old Bath-house
Museum Parade, Old Bath Terrace & the Heights, 1840 shows the Old Bath's stables
New Bath Hotel (1)
One of several pictures of the hotel
The Clarence Hydropathic Establishment, Holme Road
Opened in 1871

Nineteenth Century writers had plenty to say:

  • "Matlock [Bath] water, drunk freely as a common beverage throughout the day, to be likely to prove highly beneficial in dyspeptic and nephritic affections"'.
    Dr. Granville: "The Spas of England".

  • "Don't bathe [in winter], but drink the warm running water with milk or cream, and sometimes add the chalybeate, which issues at the north end of the valley, and we think they will do you good".
    Dr. Adam: Article in an unnamed local newspaper (mid nineteenth century).

  • The waters "are said to be particularly valuable as curatives in rheumatism, consumption, gout, and pulmonary and nervous disorders".
    Jewitt: "Nooks & Corners of Derbyshire".

  • "The usual method of drinking the water is a glass or two before breakfast, and about five in the afternoon. The next day three glasses before breakfast, and as many in the afternoon..."
    Dr. John Elliott: "An Account of the Medicinal Virtues of the Principal Mineral Waters of Great Britain & Ireland".

There's more onsite information:
Matlock, Matlock Bath and Matlock Dale in 1802 describes how things were 200 years ago, the complaints and diseases and contemporary debates about the water's properties.

Lists Through the Centuries : The Nineteenth Century: Arrivals at Matlock Bath, 1820-1850 provides examples of who visited the village. Many of the more wealthy visitors stayed at the Old Bath.

The First Hydro in the District

In late 1848 a hydro opened in Darley Dale, run by Dr. Antoin Rischanek (sometimes Richenek), an Austrian gentleman from Gräefenberg who had been the first physician at the Hydropathic Establishment at Ben Rhydding[12], the much lauded establishment at Ilkley where John Smedley was to be later cured by Dr. Rischanek's successor, Dr. McLeod (see below).

Before entering the U.K. about 1843 Dr. Rischanek had gained considerable experience in hydropathy. Yet he has almost been overlooked in Derbyshire histories, possibly because of the forceful character of John Smedley.

Derbyshire Courier, 15 September 1849. Letter written by "The Daily Observer"
In this viscinity is the now famed establishment of Dr. Richanek - a foreign medical practitioner who has obtained considerable celebrity by his cure of many complaints by water only.

His hydro was near the Darley Toll Bar on what was then Hackney Lane, now Dale Road South, in a house called The Grove[13]. When he first opened his establishment the house had 14 bedrooms and "accommodation for twenty patients ... The mansion contains spacious dining and drawing rooms, and convenient bath rooms ... flued up with full baths and douches ... extensive pleasure grounds"[14]. Dr. Rischanek installed a pipe connecting The Grove to the Sharder well higher up the hillside. This belonged to one of the Dakeyne's and Dr. Rischanek was said to have installed a tank on his premises to store the water[15]. Rischanek's hydro was "supplied with pure water, not inferior to the springs of Malvern or Ilkley"[14].

Dr Rischanek advertised the lease for his "most successfully conducted" hydropathic institution in 1850 and was clearly prepared to help anyone who wished to take over : Dr Rischanek "will not object to giving his personal superintendence and assistance for a limited periods"[14]. Whilst it is quite possible that he taught someone his skills for a short time before he left the district, and the most likely person would have been Ralph Davis, there is currently no evidence to support the theory[13].

After Dr. Rischanek's departure in 1851[16] the house was, for many years, a private home. William Atkins of Rockside was to buy The Grove in 1889 (see advertisement, right), when it was described as having an abundant water supply. He was to convert the property into a first rate hydro but in May 1904 it was acquired for the education of the daughters of the clergy and shortly afterwards became St. Elphin's school.  
Advertisement for Darley Dale Hydropathic Establishment, 1891 (in the Derbyshire Pictures section)

As for Dr. Rischanek, he returned to Ilkey, eventually setting up an hydropathic establishment at Ilkley Wells where he lived until 1858; he disappears from British records after 1861[16].

The Hydros and Hydropathy, Matlock's Expansion

The real expansion of the industry in Matlock followed the building of the railway line; indeed, Dr. Rischanek had already advertised that the Darley Railway station was only ten minutes walk from his institution and Matlock's hydropathists were not slow to follow suit. But the railways can't really take the lion's share of the credit.

This has to go to John Smedley, a believer in water and fresh air, and began when he bought a "small house" on Matlock Bank from Thomas Bunting in 1853[17]. Ralph Davis had been giving hydropathic treatment at the property in 1852[18] and about six months before Smedley bought the house he had been advising Davis about the treatment of his patients[19]. There is some confusion about exactly when Ralph Davis started prescribing hydropathic treatment, though Benjamin Bryan, amongst others, states that he had lived at Darley and started in the business in 1851[5] (see The First Hydro in the District, above). If he ever lived at Darley it would have been for a very short time.

Though others were very successful, it was Smedley who became the main force in the hydropathic industry's development in Matlock.

Hydropathy was slow to catch on at first and even a few years later, in 1857, White's Directory[20] shows there were still only three establishments in Matlock. These were Mr. John Smedley's, described as "near Matlock Bridge Station", Mr. Ralph Davis's on Matlock Bank and Mr. John Rogers', Matlock Green. See the full quotation on the right.
Also see Matlock's Residents and Businesses in White's 1857 Directory.

It is worth looking at the population figures, extracted from the census returns, to see the extent of the growth in the town.
See nineteenth century expansion, population and councils.

The ten yearly census may not have been taken at peak holiday periods but there were always plenty of visitors and the names of both Smedley's visitors and the establishment's staff eventually began to be recorded in a separate book as they were so numerous.
1891 Census, Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment.
1901 Census, Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment.

  • "BATHS - The Baths which have been established at Matlock Town, within the last few years [1850s[19]], have not as yet attained that wide spread celebrity, which has been obtained by its more fortunate neighbour Matlock Bath; nevertheless, the support which they have hitherto received affords strong evidence that the HYDROPATHY system is not without its friends and supporters; and from their close proximity to the beautiful and picturesque scenery of the Dale, it is more than probable, that in a few years they will prove a formidable yet friendly rival, for a share of the public patronage which is enjoyed in such an eminent degree by its elder sister.

    There are at this time three HYDROPATHIC establishments here, viz, Mr John SMEDLEY's, near Matlock Bridge Station; Mr Ralph DAVIS's, Matlock Bank; and Mr John RODGERS', Matlock Green; the largest of which is under the management of Mr SMEDLEY. The situation of this house is highly advantageous to health, being sheltered from the north and east winds, by a lofty range of hills; the interior is comfortably furnished, and has all the necessary apparatus for carrying out the treatment, with water of the softest and purest nature."
    "History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby", by Francis White and Co., 1857, p.431, under the main heading of Matlock Parish
    (Contributed by Sonia Addis-Smith)

John Smedley's New Venture - An Alcohol Free Zone!

Mr. Smedley, who was born at Wirksworth and died at Riber (12 Jun 1803 - 27 Jul 1874), ran a successful business at Lea Mills manufacturing woollen underclothes. He had personal experience of a water cure at Ben Rhydding[21] after becoming extremely ill on the Continental tour he and his wife went on after their marriage. On his return he contracted typhus fever, and the cure was a last resort when all other treatments failed[22]. Its success is why he resolved to provide facilities and care so others would be cured of their ailments and his illness changed his life in other ways too, most notably his religious beliefs (see para 4, this section, below).

Smedley's new venture in Matlock proved an immediate success and the original building rapidly became inadequate. Work began on the present building on the Bank, still known locally as Smedley's Hydro, in the late 1850s. In 1861 £10,000 was spent adding a drawing room, a glass front, bath houses and bedrooms "warmed by steam"[23] and the premises continued to be enlarged and altered into the twentieth century.

The water supply came, initially, from springs along a line between Smedley Street and Wellington Street. Demand eventually exceeded supply as water cures became more and more popular, so water from the gritstone moorland above the hydro was piped to and stored in large tanks at the reservoir on Wellington Street close to the Duke of Wellington. This water did not, however, contain the medicinal properties of Matlock Bath's water.

It was after his own treatment that Smedley became "an energetic Primitive Methodist"[24]; he preached both religion and temperance when touring round the countryside with his tent. Whilst he was an eccentric and would not listen to the opinions of others if they didn't agree with him, he and his wife were also very kind, caring people and he was a considerate employer.
Read inquest of former employee

His workers, whom John Smedley already paid to attend a half hour service every Sunday, were his guinea pigs. Once he had decided to do so Smedley devoted himself to healing the sick poor at Lea. Although he was very single minded, he would, nevertheless, change his mind and experimented with different ideas and treatments. At first he charged just three shillings a day and his Matlock establishment was non-profit making but, as the demand increased and more accommodation was needed, the daily rate was increased to six shillings.

Patients were not allowed to "compare notes" by talking to fellow patients about what ailed them - in fact, Smedley roundly told off people who did so, whatever their social standing.

No alcohol was allowed on John Smedley's premises; the probable result of this was that off-licences which sold wines and spirits flourished in the town, particularly around Smedley's Hydro! The sale of alcohol in surrounding shops wasn't the only trade to prosper and there were also tailors and hatters, hairdressers, tobacconists, booksellers and bootmakers. So did shops such as "Tinker" Wright's, the local ironmonger who supplied the hydro rather than its guests.

Though John Smedley had many battles with the medical profession, in 1872 he appointed the young Dr. W. Bell Hunter to the Medical Department of Smedley's and he proved to be an inspired choice as he "disarmed the prejudice of the Medical profession against the exercise of Medical hydropathy[21].

After Smedley's death the concern was purchased by a limited company, who spent about £70,000 on "structural alterations and adornments".

John Smedley certainly left his mark on Matlock with his building projects; just as Riber Castle dominates the Matlock skyline, so Smedley's Hydro dominates the panoramic view of Matlock Bank. Someone writing when it was first built described the building as having the characteristics of a workhouse, a factory and a barracks! But, clearly, Smedley was hedging his bets as if the hydropathy venture had failed he could have turned the building into another mill.
Read about Riber Castle

According to Benjamin Bryan, writing in 1903, Smedley's Hydro was the focus for Matlock's leisure activities[19]. Between 1860 and 1939 everything from firework displays and the circus to concerts and sports took place there.

Whilst Smedley's Hydro was much the biggest, it wasn't the only Hydro in Matlock and Matlock Bath and there were some 20 hydropathic establishments providing treatments (excluding all the lodging houses who offered treatments) at one stage! These are shown in the table of Hydropathic Establishments lower down the page. In 1888 Matlock House advertised Table d'hôte at 6 p.m. alongside musical and dramatic entertainments, lawn tennis and billiards[10]. Things had changed from just curing the sick. By 1918 the role reversal of guests serving the staff at Christmas time was established and was even reported in the National press.

Smedley's Hydropathic Institution, 1890s
Smedley's Hydro, early 1900s
Smedley's Hydro, Matlock, 1906-7
Smedley's Hydro, 1908-14
Smedley's Hydro during the First World War
Smedley's Hydro, Grand Dining Room
Smedley's Hydro, The Inter-War Years
The Winter Garden, Smedley's Hydro
Smedley's Memorial Hydropathic Hospital,
founded by Mrs. Caroline Smedley

Read "There Was Red Tape at Smedley's Hydro Then"
The Enduring Folly of Riber Castle
See the onsite extracts from the London Gazette in 1853 about John Smedley's patents
There is a poem, written in 1874, in memory of John Smedley
Also read another poem The "Matlock Waters". A Recitation by a Member of the Matlock Band of Hope.


John and Caroline Smedley, photographed by the London Stereoscopic Company. The picture was published in
Famous Derbyshire Health Resorts. The Matlocks, about 1892

  • "Matlock Bank is noted for its hydropathic establishments, the introduction of which is due to the late J. Smedley of Lea Mills and Riber Castle who, having himself derived great benefit by the treatment, founded an institution here for the practice of hydropathy in 1851 [sic]; this establishment, the property, since 1875, of Smedley's Hydropathic Company Limited, is most complete and extensive, and is available for over 200 visitors; alterations and improvements have been made at a cost of £25,000. Rockside House and Matlock House are hydropathic establishments of the first class; there are several smaller ones, all of which are delightfully situated[17]".
    Kelly's Directory, 1891

John Smedley's book, "Practical Hydropathy", ran into a good many editions, the first published in July 1958* - almost at the same time as Dr. McLeod published "Ben Rhydding, The Principles of Hydropathy", published by Messrs. Hamilton, Adams & Co., London (perhaps no co-incidence). Caroline Smedley wrote "Mrs. Smedley's Ladies Manual"; there were as many editions published of her work.
* Smedley himself is inconsistent with the publication date; he said it was 1857 in the 1869 and 1874 versions, a preface says 1863 and in 1861 he said in was July 1858, which agrees with newspaper advertisements for the first edition of his book. Whilst the preface to the first edition is dated June 12, 1957 Smedley quotes letters sent to him in 1858.

From Mr. Smedley's "Practical Hydropathy":

Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, Starting Out
Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, Public Drawing Room
Matlock: Smedley's Hydro, Extending the Hydro

And from "Mrs. Smedley's Ladies Manual":

Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment, Matlock Bank
"It is always being enlarged".
Lea Mills, one mile from Cromford Station, Derbyshire

"Morning worship in our marquee at Lea Mills"
Mr. Smedley's tent where his employees worshipped.
(Also from his book "Practical Hydropathy")

  • "The success achieved by Mr SMEDLEY stimulated others to enter the field in competition:-
    - Rock Side Hydropathic Establishment was erected by Mr Charles ROWLAND, in 1862 [sic], and subsequently considerably enlarged. It is situated further up the hill at a height of 800 feet above the sea level, and can be reached conveniently and comfortably by the new cable tram.
    - Prospect and Popular Cottage Hydros were established by the Messrs DAVIS.
    - Shortly afterwards Mr BARTON opened Jackson House for the same purpose.
    - Subsequently, he erected commodious and handsome premises called Dalefield Hydropathic Establishment, in which he introduced many improvements suggested by his experience, and furnished it in first-class style. The house stands within its own grounds, and commands delightful prospects along the valley of the Derwent. The dining-hall, drawing-rooms, &c, are all spacious, well ventilated, and handsomely furnished, and various indoor and outdoor amusements are provided. The heating arrangements are a special feature to ensure an equable temperature in winter and stormy weather. The establishment is not exclusively a sanatorium; it affords accommodation to families and others who desire to spend a holiday amidst the beautiful scenery of the English Switzerland and it is also a delightful winter resort for those delicate individuals who dread the severities of our English climate".
    "History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire" (1895) by T. Bulmer and Co., p.417, Matlock
    (Contributed by Sonia Addis-Smith)

Photograph of Smedley's Hydro, with Rockside on the top left
© Andy Andrews
The former Smedley's Hydro, with Rockside on the top left of the picture.
The shadow of the lettering "SMEDLEY'S", covered with the leaves of virginia creeper in the summer months,
can be seen below the windows of the left hand side top floor.
This photo was taken when Rockside was being redeveloped and houses were being built in the former hydro's grounds.

Some of the Treatments Available

In an interview with Benjamin Bryan, senior, who was impressed when he visited Lea in late 1852 to see John Smedley's free hydropathic hospital for his workers, Smedley was reported as saying that "an erroneous idea had gained credence with the least informed portion of the public, that hydropathy consisted of nothing more that the sudden and violent application of water and intense cold, in all cases indiscriminately, than which there could not exist a more gross and mischievous fallacy" (Bryan's words, rather than a direct quote). Bryan saw for himself "the various cold, tepid, douche, head, foot, sitting and various shower baths", as well as the methods of "packing", bandaging, applying the "dripping sheet", "dry pack" and spirit lamp. Not long before this Smedley had produced his first pamphlet, in which he stated that "The great importance of this to a working man is, that in an hour or two stop the first stages of fever, inflammation, bilious attacks, violent colds, or rheumatism, without consulting anyone ... A serious illness in a poor family often causes them to be in debt or difficulty for years after"[25]. The Lea hospital catered for five or six patients but the hydros in Matlock, which were not free, catered for far larger numbers.

Qualified doctors and nursing staff practised hydropathy and some of these treatments are still perfectly acceptable in a modern world, but others might now be now considered barbaric.

Some examples of the types of treatment available were:

  • Head Bath - lying with the back of the head immersed in cool or cold water for a period of time.

  • Sitz Bath - sitting in cold water for a period of time, sometimes with running water which would have been even colder.

  • Steam Box - sitting in a wooden box full of steam with only the head poking out from the top.

  • There were douches of various strengths available, baths for legs and chests, mustard packs and even a concoction using chilli paste.

  • Later treatments included Dowsing Radiant Heat Baths (at the Royal Hotel), Turkish and Russian Baths, and Plombières Treatment (Smedley's).

Read about the treatments available in both Matlock and Matlock Bath:

Matlock: Water Cures, Mr. Smedley's Baths, Boxes & Douches
John Smedley designed a range of steam boxes, baths and douches, as well as some other gadgets, for use at both the hydropathic establishment and the free hospital
Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Matlock, Brochure, about 1925. Thirty two pages of images and text provided information on the tariffs, baths and treatments at Matlock's premier hydro, etc.
Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Matlock, Brochure, 1939.
It had the misfortune to be published just before the outbreak of war.
Matlock Bath, Royal Hotel Brochure, about 1908

Hydropathy Establishments, 1891, when hydropathy was in its heyday

from Kelly's Derbyshire Trades Directory, 1891, p.442[1891]

Location Name of Establishment Owner/Proprietor in 1891 (Year opened)
Matlock Bank Bank House, Smedley Street [sic] Henry Ward (before 1871)
" Belle Vue Mr & Mrs Allsopp (opened 1860)
" Chesterfield House R Davis & Co. (opened 1860s, Ralph Davis' third hydro)
" Church view, Smedley Street [sic] Henry Ward (opened 1871, joined with Bank House 1874)
" Dalefield (later Lilybank) Geo. B. Barton (opened 1890)
" Elm Tree House Wm. Bramald (unclear, possibly 1862. Thomas Curzon was there in 1876)
" Jackson House J. L. Dean (1857, the first Barton hydro)
" Malvern House, Smedley Street Job Smith - see biography (a hydro by 1886[1887])
" Matlock House Hydropathic Establishment (Robt. Hall, sec) (opened 1863, initially Manchester House)
" Old Bank House J. J. Brown (Jonas Brown was running a hydro in 1864)
" Prospect House & Poplar Cottage Thomas Davis & Sons (Prospect House opened 1859. Poplar Cottage, later Jeffs' and then Chatsworth Hydro was opened 1857)
" Rock side Wm. Atkins, proprietor
(also the proprietor of Darley Dale Hydropathic Establishment);
William Moxon L.R.C.P., physician
[also see Darley listing]
(established 1860)
" Rose Cottage, Dimple Aaron Ridgard  
" Smedley Hydropathic Co. Lim. Alfred Douglas, sec;
William B. Hunter M.D.
& Charles Jos. Whitby B.A., MD, physicians
(opened 1853, with short closure in 1859)
" Smedley Memorial Hydropathic Hospital Miss Ann Jackson, matron (originally South View Cottage, Ralph Davis' second establishment)
" [Woodbine House,] Smedley Street Miss E Knowles (before 1871)
" Spring Villa, Smedley Street John Wheeldon  
" Sycamore House, Smedley Street John Dawes  
" Tor House, Jackson Road George Davis & Sons (opened 1862, eventually demolished)
Matlock Bath Clarence House Rev Richard Nicholson
(see also Matlock Bridge)
(opened 1871)
Tansley House Wm. Mycock This is an error in the Directory's index of hydros as William Mycock's Tansley House Hydro was listed under Tansley. Newspaper advertisements in the 1890s claim he was in Matlock Bridge.
Matlock Bridge Bridge Hall Rev Richard Nicholson
(see also Matlock Bath)
(opened before 1861)

Note: Also listed under Matlock Bank was the Derby & Derbyshire Convalescent Home (Miss F. Peet, matron) .

Needless to say, the Hydros and hotels of Matlock and Matlock Bath needed a large number of employees to make them function properly and workers were drawn to the area from all over the country. Some came for the season and some stayed permanently. Many came from the cotton areas of Lancashire. I have already mentioned above how Smedley's Hydro was a centre for leisure activities. It had its own orchestra and musicians, as did the Royal Hotel in Matlock Bath. Rockside held musical evenings and musicians were also employed at the Royal Pavilion (later the Palais Royal) in Matlock Bath. Some musicians came from overseas and settled in the town with their families.

The Hydros had developed into high class hotels, with Smedley's and several other establishments having both a national and an international reputation. Many visitors were very wealthy.

In 1916 Rockside, described as "800 feet above sea level", was rated as first class hotel[1916]. The larger Smedley's Hydro was 500 feet above sea level. There were 13 hydros still listed in Kelly's Directory at that time, plus the Hospital and the Convalescent Home. The 1932 directory stated that Smedley's Hydro had room for 350 visitors; Chatsworth (formerly Jeffs' Poplar Hydro), Rockside and other, slightly smaller, establishments were also listed[1932]. However, by the 1941 directory there were only three establishments still advertising and the water treatments were almost at an end[1941].

The quotation below illustrates how the hydropathists tried to extend the season to encourage winter visitors as well as summer ones.

  • "It is the general impression that the WATER CURE is applicable only in the summer time. This is, however, incorrect, for almost all diseases are quite as readily cured in the winter as in the summer; and here at all seasons both visitors and invalids will find a most comfortable home".
    "History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire" (1895) by T. Bulmer and Co., p.417, Matlock
    (Contributed by Sonia Addis-Smith)
Mr. Cartledge's Lime Tree View Hydro, 1863 Advertisement
Bank House & Church View Hydro, New Street
Henry Ward's hydro for over 40 years
Chesterfield House Hydro, 1868. A steel engraving from not long after it was built.

Chesterfield House Hydro
Ralph Davis and John Smedley were the first two people to open hydros on Matlock Bank. This was Davis's third venture
Lilybank Hydro (Dalefield) - opened by George Bernard Barton. With information about the Barton family (the first of a series of images)
Poplar Cottage & Jeffs' Poplar Hydro (Chatsworth Hydro), 1857-1912
Poplar Hydro (Chatsworth), 1900-05
Chatsworth Hydro, formerly Poplar Cottage and Jeffs' Poplar Hydro
Advert for Matlock House in 1869
Rockside Hydro.
From its opening to the outbreak of the first world war (the first of a series of images)
Rockside Hydro, 1908, a couple of years after the twentieth century refurbishment, much of which was in the Art Nouveau style
Matlock: Rockside Hydro, 1925-45
A top quality hotel, with information about the people who ran it
Matlock: Cavendish Road, Claremont and Mr. Rowland
Charles Rowland built Rockside

So who came?

"Noel Coward and novelist John Wyndham came. Dame Clara, mother of Ivor Novello, lived there. At afternoon tea in the Winter Garden, Violet Carson played the piano[26]."
This writer's father bought Dame Clara Novello's piano from the sale when Smedley's closed, though it is no longer owned by the family.

The curator at the Colour Museum in Bradford says that "William Henry Perkin, discoverer of the first synthetic dye, Mauveine*, was at Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment in December 1881. H. Caro, a renowned European dyestuff chemist, wrote to Perkin whilst he was at Smedley's. The letter is dated 10th December 1881" and Caro's letter is at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
*"Perkin's discovery of Mauveine, also led to the birth of the pharmaceutical and perfume industries."


See Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment Enumeration Book in the 1891 census
Look at 1901 Census, Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment
In 1901 Grimsby Town football team were staying at Poplar Hydro, later Jeffs'

What happened to the Hydros

The First World War (1914-18) was a turning point in the fortunes of the many of the hydros, though treatments continued at Smedleys, Rockside, Chatsworth, Oldham House and Lilybank. Social changes followed the war and then the Depression in the 1930's dramatically affected the industry.

However, it was the Second World War (1939 - 1945) that really ended everything.

Rockside, or "Hatters Castle", was taken over by the R.A.F. immediately war broke out and became a psychiatric hospital for sick airmen. Pilots or their crew, suffering from nervous breakdowns after managing to return to England with their aircraft and their fellow crew members either severely wounded or dead on board, came to Rockside for treatment. Suicide amongst these patients was not uncommon and ECT therapy was used to treat the men.

Chatsworth Hydro was taken over by C & A Modes and used as their head office although its board of directors remained in London[27]. Chatsworth did reopen after the war and continued as a hydro for a short time but was sold to Derbyshire County Council in 1946 for adaptation as an educational and training centre.

Smedley's Hydro was used as a School of Military Intelligence by the army. The late actor and author Dirk Bogarde was one of the trainees there, as well as the authors Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. The Hydro was de-requisitioned in 1946 but eventually even Smedley's closed for business, after a prolonged fight against compulsory purchase. The building was taken over by Derbyshire County Council at the end of 1955. The Council Offices relocated to Matlock from Derby, and Matlock became the county's administrative centre. The hydro building is now County Hall and is affectionately nicknamed "The Kremlin" by some locals. More about the closure can be found via the two links on the right.

Rockside and a number of large houses became part of the Matlock Teacher Training College, as Chatsworth Hydro had done. The Training College was a highly respected institution. Unfortunately for the town, the students eventually moved to the larger Derby when the Derby and Matlock Colleges amalgamated

Former student Janet Mitchell, who was studying in Matlock at that time, writes that "we protested against the move and the college allowed us to remain for three years but we finally had to move to Derby for our fourth year. We would have liked to remain there to complete our course. My college friends and I remember Rockside and the town of Matlock with much affection and we were sorry to leave." She also corrects a misunderstanding: "the decision to move students to Derby was one taken by the college authorities".

The Smedley Street entrance to Smedley's Hydro, now Derbyshire's County Hall. Covered walkways at second floor level connect buildings on the opposite side of the road
Smedley's entrance - now Derbyshire's County Hall

"I understand that the County Council are suffering from claustrophobia in Derby, and are coming to Matlock for a dose of hydrophobia."
Alan Wilcox, Round Table Area Chairman at the Charter Anniversary Dinner. Quote of the week, on Derbyshire CC / Smedley's Hydro project, The Derbyshire Times, 13 Apr 1956

Smedley's - Great Britain's Greatest Hydro, 1950, an advertisement published in "The Derbyshire Countryside", C. F. White's bombshell in 1950 and a notice of a public meeting.
Smedley's Hydro & Grounds, 1952, & the Hydro's Closure
A centenary card, and the hydro's last struggle.
Matlock: Rockside - Teacher Training College, 1945-88

The once very beautiful and prestigious Rockside Hall, shown on the right, was in a dreadful state of repair for some considerable time after the Training College vacated the building, despite the Grade II listing it has to protect it. It had been vandalized and suffered from fire damage; the side facing Cavendish Road seemed to be falling down on itself. This view, on the Matlock skyline, shows windows that were partly boarded up as most of the glass has been smashed. Sheer neglect meant that this building was nearly lost which would have been dreadful as it is part of Matlock's heritage.

Other former hydros fared better than Rockside and some suffered similar mishaps, even if only for a short time.

Clarence Hydro in Matlock Bath closed about 1938 when the people running it simply walked away, even leaving the pots on the table. It became very derelict. After the war it was sold and was then converted into flats. Restoration of the building began in 2007 and is now completed.

Bridge Hall, at the bottom of Bank Road, had become the Town Hall in 1899.


Rockside Hall, Matlock, DBY - a listed building
Rockside before it was rescued and refurbished

Also read: Rockside Hydro - "Watered-Down Future for a glorious icon of the age of the hydro"

See Paul Kettle's photographs, read more about Rockside's fate and see pictures of the restoration
Wyvern House in Matlock, for many years Bank House Hydro, eventually became Ernest Bailey's Grammar School and is now the Derbyshire Record Office (pictured right). Some other buildings have also changed use. One example is Laburnum Hydro which ceased to be a hydro about 1933-4, then became an old people's home and has more recently also been converted to flats. The large hydro in the nearby parish of Darley became St. Elphin's girl's school although has recently also been sold and converted to flats and cottages.
About Ernest Bailey's School
How to contact Derbyshire Record Office
See Kelly's 1891 Directory of Darley

Ernest Bailey's Building on New Street
Copyright © 2007 Paul Kettle

Oldham House and Prospect Place Hydro on Wellington Street was also requisitioned by the RAF one weekend at the outbreak of the war. It had been run for many years by the Davis/Wildgoose family, but was bought after the war by two sisters and turned into a private school, which closed in 1965.

The Presentation Convent took over two other old hydro buildings. Lilybank (formerly Dalefield) was the last hydro to close and was purchased by the Convent in 1962. Lilybank first became the Nagle Preparatory School and then later changed its use, becoming a residential home for the elderly. About thirty six years earlier Chesterfield House, pictured below, had become their Convent and School. Though Chesterfield House has been extended and altered, Ralph Davis's original building is still obvious in the right hand section of this photograph.

Oldham House Hydro, Prospect Place & Woodlands School (Miss White's) - formerly Prospect House/Terrace (the first of a series of images)
Matlock, Lilybank Hydro - Menus, 1958-60.
Three images, very kindly provided by Colin Goodwyn.

"Taken Back In Time - Lilybank",
by Sally Mosley, is an article about her schooldays as a pupil in the 1960s. It describes what the inside of the Hydro was like shortly after it was sold to the Convent
About the Presentation Convent

The former Chesterfield House Hydro and later part of the Presentation Convent, Matlock, DBY
            © Caroline Cantor
The Presentation Convent, formerly Chesterfield House Hydro.
Caroline Cantor is a former pupil and this photograph was taken at a school reunion.

Some medical web sites are (external links open in a new window) :
Glossary of Medical Terms Used in the 18th & 19th Centuries - for explanations of old medical terms
Medical Heritage of Great Britain by Bath & Wessex Medical History Group

And also about water
The Victorian Turkish Bath Databank. A not-for-profit educational project in the UK

Photographs kindly provided by and © Andy Andrews, Caroline Cantor, Paul Kettle and the web mistress.
Information researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Please note that the information about Dr. Rischanek has not been written about anywhere else and proper credit must be given to Ann Andrews if it is used anywhere else and in any format.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links are to transcripts or more information elsewhere on this web site):

[1] Lysons, Rev Daniel and Samuel Lysons Esq. (1817) "Topographical and Historical Account of Derbyshire" London: Printed for T. Cadell, Strand; and G. and A. Greenland, Poultry.

[2] Adam, W. (1838) "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.
Also see: Matlock Bath: Ashfield, previously The Villa.

[3] There is more information in The Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock, Volume 6667 f.176d (Wolley's well):
- Pennell's involvement in building the Bath and the road can be found in a document in The Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock, Volume 6692 ff.91-2:
- confirmation of the lease The Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock, Volume 6669 ff.256-258;
- there was also a long lease of the Bath to Wragg The Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock Volume 6669 ff.270.
- Marmaduke Pennell was an architect and had been Mayor of Nottingham in both 1718 and 1724 (from: Blakner, John (1815) "The History of Nottingham, Embrasing its Antiquities, Trade and Manufacturers").

[4] Bray, William (1783) "Sketch of a Tour Into Derbyshire and Yorkshire" (Second Edition) London, Printed for B. White at Horace's Head, in Fleet-Street. The first edition was published in 1778.
The guide "Beauties of England & Wales" (1802), Matlock, Matlock Bath and Matlock Dale also discusses the discovery of the warm spring, etc.

[5] Bryan, Benjamin (1903) "History of Matlock - Matlock, Manor and Parish" London by Bemrose & Sons, Limited.
When discussing the early years of the hydros and hydropathy, Bryan's assertion about Ralph Davis being "of Darley" could well have come from Steer, Henry (1897) "The Smedleys of Matlock Bank". Unfortunately, it has been repeated as fact many times over.

[6] Pennell was buried at Nottingham St. Mary on 26 Aug 1731 (© Nottinghamshire Family History Society). His Will can be found in the Prerogative & Exchequer Courts of York Probate Index. His daughter, Sarah (of Nottingham Castle), had married Stephen Egginton, gent. on 10 Sep 1728. This from Archdeaconry Court & Peculiar Of Southwell Marriage Licences, 1701-1853. He died in Nottingham in 1744. Egginton's name is given as Egerton by William Adam, who was reading something rather worn. Sarah Eggington's estate was administered by her husband in 1740 (29 Dec 1740 at Lichfield).

[7] "The Derby Mercury", 10 May 1745. Notice of the bath's opening. Also see New Bath Hotel (1), where the notice is transcribed.

[8] A leaflet for the Fountain Baths - "Analysis of the Thermal Springs" is published in the "Just" images section of this site.

[9] "Derbyshire Times", 12 December 1883.

[10] See "Gem of the Peak", Matlock Bath in 1840. The extracts show the prices of a bath and a list of the hotels at that time. This was the second edition of Adam's guide book.

[11] "Black's Tourist Guide to Derbyshire" (1888) pub. Adam and Charles Black Edinburgh.

[12] The Darley hydro opening was announced in "The Derby Mercury" of Wednesday 27 December 1848, and other newspapers of the day. Dr. Rischanek was reported as being involved with Ben Ben Rhydding in "The Leeds Mercury", 1 April, 1843 and was its physician when it opened in 1844. He had also practised hydropathy at Alderley Edge ("Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser", 10 May 1848).

[13] Dr. Rischanek was a Darley Dale resident in the 1851 census. Ralph Davies was to be found living on Matlock Bank that year and was not employed as a bath man.

[14] "The Derby Mercury", 10 July 1850. Research by the web mistress and Ray Ash, who is connected to the Davis family, has shown nothing to support the idea that it was Dr. Rischanek who taught Ralph Davis although circumstantial evidence makes it highly likely.

[15] "Derbyshire Times", 29 July 1893. Court case about a disputed water supply to a nearby property. Several witnesses could remember Dr. Rischanek.

[16] "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", Saturday, 20 September, 1851. He returned to Ilkley and opened the Ilkley Wells Hydropathic Establishment in 1856. The last time his name appears in newspapers was in 1858, when he resigned his post as medical adviser there. In 1860 his application to the British Medical Council for registration on a surgical licence was accepted and he was in London in 1861.

[17] John Smedley bought his Matlock property, "a small house to accommodate six or eight patients", in the Spring of 1853 ("The Derby Mercury", 27 April, 1853), not 1851 as sometimes quoted. Initially the building did not alter, but rebuilding began later in the 1850s. Smedley had begun by opening a Free Hydropathic Hospital at Lea. Also see: Smedley's Hydro, Starting Out. Thomas Bunting is shown owning two adjacent properties on the Smedley's site in the 1848 Tithe: no.713 (House, Coal-house, Privy, Court and Garden) and No.714 (House, Outbuildings, Court, Yard, and Gardens). Thomas Bunting was a lead miner, living on Matlock Green in the 1851 census. In 1851 George Ludlam was occupying one property and Robert Bunting the other (see census extracts).

[18] An advertisement in "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", on 6 April, 1896 says Ralph Davis established his business in 1852, so Davis was technically the first to open an hydropathic establishment in Matlock itself. Census returns from 1841 and 1851 show him living on Matlock Bank. See the 1841 census | the 1851 census

[19] Peach, Lawrence du Garde (1954) "John Smedley of Matlock and his Hydro", Bemrose Publicity Co.: Derby & London. Peach claimed that Davis opened his establishment in 1851 but this conflicts slightly with reference [18] above. However, Peach also said that six months after Ralph Davis had opened his establishment, John Smedley had become the "medical adviser".

[20] White, Francis (1857) "History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby", Francis White & Co.

[21] Smedley's own cure is mentioned in Hall's "Days in Derbyshire", 1863, Chapter 5. The Wharfdale Hydropathic Establishment and Ben Rhydding Hotel at Otley, near Ilkley, Yorkshire where Smedley stayed had opened on 29th May 1844 (from various contemporary reports in "The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent" and "The Bradford Observer; and Halifax, Huddersfield, and Keighley Reporter"). Dr. Rischanek was then in charge there. John Smedley had married Caroline Ann Harward on 24 June 1847. When he underwent treatment Smedley was under the care of Dr. McLeod ("The Derby Mercury", 1 Dec, 1852); McLeod took over at Ben Rhydding towards the end of 1847.

[22] Peach, Lawrence du Garde (1954), as above.

[23]"The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent", 30 Mar 1861.

[24] Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London.

[25] An article about his visit to the free hospital Smedley had established for his workers written by Benjamin Bryan, senior, (as B. B.) was published in "The Derby Mercury", 1 December, 1852.

[26] "The Derbyshire Village Book" published by the Derbyshire Federation of Women's Institutes & Countryside Books, 1991. ISBN 1 85306 133 6. The book itself is now out of print, but the quotation is published here with the kind permission of the Derbyshire Federation of Women's Institutes.

[27] Information originally from Mr. Frank Clay. There is now an academic book which briefly mentions the company's time in Matlock. See: Spoerer, Mark (2016) "C & A, A Family Business in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, 1911 - 1961" pub. Verlag C. H. Beck of HG, Munich.

[1887] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1887 - Job Smith submitted a surveyor's report in late 1886 for alterations to his boarding house, after which it was advertised as a hydro.

[1891] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1891 } There are online transcripts: 19th century directories.
[1916] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1916 } There are online transcripts: 20th century directories.

[1932] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1932.

[1941] "Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire", 1941.