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Flooding in the Matlocks
Exceptional rainfall or rapid thaws after heavy snowfalls have sometimes caused problems for Matlock & Matlock Bath
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The River Derwent has flooded many times in the town's history and there have been several flood relief schemes. The most recent has proved very effective and largely withstood the effects of the very heavy rainfalls experienced in Great Britain during October and November 2000 when the River Derwent broke its banks in many places. Although central Matlock was affected, and some premises were flooded because of water coming up through the drainage system, the walls that have been built alongside the river and the enclosure of the Hall Leys Park withstood the torrents and largely contained the swollen river.

November 2000. Floodwater contained in the Hall Leys park.
The water was just a few inches from the top of the retaining wall before it stopped rising.

The footbridge over the River Derwent connecting the Hall Leys Park with Dale Road, shown in the photograph on the right, has plaques marking two severe floods that occurred in the twentieth century and within living memory of many residents. On Sunday 4th December, 1960 the flood water reached the lower mark when the river burst its banks and flooded into Crown Square at 9 a.m., engulfing an area five miles long by a mile wide[1]. Some five years later, on Thursday 11th December, 1965, the flood waters reached even an higher point. Many of the shops in the town centre were again flooded and water went up into Firs Parade, where the writer's father had to try to rescue and remove stock before the waters came in.

Susy Cytko remembers these floods.
"In Matlock Green a lorry decided to rush through the water and made such waves that it broke the window at Aunty Dolly's sweet shop and all the jars of sweets floated out, which was exciting to us as we were children at the time; we did try to catch them but my mum would not let us go down stairs so we tried to catch them with a bucket on a rope but it never worked.

Someone came with soup in a boat and we let the bucket down to collect it, and bread. Of course we kids hated the soup as it was onion, but our parents were grateful. ... One person drowned across the road[2]".

The Mace Archive has video footage by Harry Gill of the 1965 floods in Matlock - see Harry Gill, the tempestuous years (external link, so will open in a new window or tab).

  Twentieth Century Flood Heights
Scan (c) Ann Andrews 2001
Where the floodwater reached,
1960 and 1965.
© Ann Andrews

Though flooding has occurred because of exceptionally heavy rainfall, as in 2000, the town has also flooded when extremely heavy snowfalls were followed by very sudden rises in air temperature and rapid thaws, sometimes accompanied by heavy rainfall.

So snow falling in the hills of the Peak melted quickly and formed torrents which drained into the Derwent, causing water levels to rise dramatically and this was the reason why the town flooded in 1965[3]. The same thing had happened over sixty years before, when the water levels rose very quickly overnight between Sunday 29th December and Monday 30th December 1901. An article in "The Times" described the whole of the Derwent Valley as a "scene of desolation"[4] and another press report thought the town was "Matlock in the Lake District"[5]. It was reported that water had entered hundreds of business premises, hotels and private homes at 3 a.m. causing residents to flee[4]. Other inhabitants awoke and peered through through the mist to find that Matlock Bridge and Matlock Green had joined hands, as it were, and only the coping stones of the walls along Causeway Lane were visible[5]. The cellars of both the Crown and Railway Hotels were under water[5], with water standing four to five feet high in the Railway Hotel[6]. On that occasion the flood water covered Crown Square by 7 a.m.[6] and the Derwent above Matlock was about a mile wide[4]. The greatest depth was recorded on the football ground (which was on the Hall Leys until 1911). The water level there registered ten feet - "not a vestige of the football field could be seen except the top of the 'pavilion'."[5] According to the Matlock historian Benjamin Bryan, there was by then bright sunshine which reflected in the newly formed lake[6]. Fortunately, "an abatement took place by daylight"[4] but the flooding had caused considerable damage in the town[6]. Matlock Green did not suffer quite as badly as it could have done, thanks to the Council having raised the banks of the stream there (the Bentley Brook)[5].

1907 flooding.

The bridge widening was delayed for weeks in 1903 owing to the flooded state of the river, when Matlock cricket field was under water[7]. It was reported that many rivers had overflowed and part of Matlock was once more submerged on Wednesday 16 October 1907, with damage to the hockey and cricket grounds[8] (see image above). Such was the volume of water that the Derwent was said to be at least ten feet above its normal level and the Hall Leys, including the Broad Walk and the football pitch, disappeared under the torrent. Crown Square, Bakewell Road, part of Bank Road and Causeway Lane were submerged and the Railway Hotel was cut off. The Crown Hotel was surrounded on two sides by floodwater and pedestrians were ferried across the water by penny buses[9].

At the end of 1910, when a general election was being held in the United Kingdom, Matlock endured more flooding. On 9 December the Derwent rose alarmingly, following heavy snowstorms in the Peak that had ended two days before and then 36 hours of heavy rain. The cricket and football pitches disappeared and the Hall Leys promenade resembled a swimming pool. The new bandstand stood above the water but the surrounding land, where the park was being created, was totally submerged by midday. Knowleston Gardens were impassable and flood water then entered both Crown Square and Dale Road. Fortunately, at 3p.m. the same day the water levels started to drop, just as the water had reached the front of the Conservative Club, and more serious damage was averted[10].

Benjamin Bryan described several nineteenth century floods. In the first week of October 1880 there was a storm with very high winds which caused the river to burst its banks. Several months later, just before the 1881 census was taken, snow, high winds and a rapid thaw caused further flooding in February. "So high did the waters rise that the railway was flooded, and no train was permitted to proceed northwards beyond Matlock Bridge. The consequence was that numbers of passengers had their journey arrested, and upwards of 150 persons had to be accommodated at the Queen's Head Hotel and elsewhere[6]". "The footbridge across the river to Matlock Town was washed down and wrecked ; whilst lower down the bridge leading to the paint works and the High Tor Grotto was also destroyed. There was a strong current of water three to four feet deep running along the roadway, as if it were part of the river, to and through Matlock Bath[6]".
Also see Matlock: Dale Road, Boat House Hotel & Quarry
There was further flooding in March of the same year, and again during October, so 1881 was not a good year for the town[11].

A few years afterwards the "Weekly Dispatch" reported, on 16 May 1886, serious flooding and "Great Destruction of Property" in many parts of the country. "At Matlock vehicular and pedestrian traffic was totally stopped along a large portion of the highway, and the houses on The Green were submerged to the second storey". November 1890 saw further flooding: "On the road to Matlock Bath there was a depth of four to five feet of water[6]".

Postcard showing the bottom of Bank Road under water in 1921
Image rescanned (c) Ann Andrews 2007

The postcard above is dated 18th January, 1921 and the area under water is just off Crown Square, at the bottom of Bank Road. One of the entrances to the Crown Hotel is clearly visible on the near left. A gale of unusual severity had affected the U.K. for the previous two days, causing widespread flooding. The Matlock correspondent to "The Times" described "the view from the Peak as one huge lake" as much of the Matlock's town centre was under water. The water rose so rapidly that a temporary bridge had to be erected for traffic[12].

Ten years later, on the 4th September, 1931, the town flooded again when the Derwent rose at an extraordinary rate[13]. This time there was considerable damage: Burgon's in Crown Square was particularly badly affected and other shops had their windows smashed because of the amount of debris, which included a large boiler floating down the Hall Leys park to the Knowleston Place Pleasure grounds and an Austin Seven saloon car that had been abandoned a few hours earlier being swept along by the deluge. Pavements were also torn up. An omnibus with passengers aboard was stranded and two men, Mr. G Taylor (foreman to the Highways Department) and Mr. E. Flint (pleasure grounds manager), were swept off their feet by the swirling water and nearly drowned whilst attempting to take a rope to the stricken vehicle. The footbridge near Matlock Bath's Gas Works, which carried a main sewer and water main was swept away and the Parochial Hall parking area was also partly destroyed. Fire had also broken out at Matlock Gas Works and water the fire brigade pumped out flood water in addition to extinguishing the flames[14].

Photographs also exist of the Hall Leys under water once more in 1941. The flooding caused havoc although the low lying parts of the town, which had been inundated with flood water many times before, were covered to a depth of between one and four feet. On Bakewell Road North Western moved their buses to higher ground and both Kennings and Walters & Brooker parked their cars on Lime Tree Road and Imperial Road. The water didn't recede for some time, but once levels started to fall it subsided as quickly as it had risen. The debris left behind included large quantities of timber and many sacks of coke, which were collected by both children and adults for later use[15]. Bakewell Road was flooded again in 1948[16].

To return to Matlock Bath, there was very localised flooding during the summer of 1924 that was caused by a violent thunderstorm in which "rain and hailstones fell as large marbles for two hours. The Parade became a river and the shops were flooded to a great depth". Visitors and day trippers were marooned, or had to wade through deep water to escape[17]. Parts of Matlock Bath had also flooded during the First World War[18]. Some of the ground next to the river had been prone to flooding for a long time[19].

Postcard taken before 1906, and possibly before 1900, showing a swollen river Derwent.
The Promenade landing stage is under water and the shelter is also flooded.
This was not an uncommon occurrence but in 1907 the water rose to just below the promenade
and some of the Lovers' Walks were under water[9].

One of the saddest tales resulting from the Derwent being in flood occurred in the village in January 1852. There was a particularly tragic accident involving two members of the Cumming family, who drowned in the swollen river at Matlock Bath. The disastrous consequences of this, as the head of the family was one of the two who perished, were widely reported and a fund was set up to help the surviving children.
Cumming biographies | Newspaper report | Subscription for the relief of the Cumming children
Sadly, these weren't the only fatalities to occur in the Matlock section of the River Derwent[20].

Whilst flooding can and did cause misery and damage, Matlock and District's inhabitants were not without a sense of humour. Colin Goodwyn writes of an escapade in 1866 during what proved to be the worst flood for 25 years and which turned the Hall Leys into a sea of water across to Matlock Green. "Some wags hung a five bar gate on the lamp post at Matlock Bridge as a make believe that the flood had been that height and left it there". A sign board was seen floating down the Derwent; on it had been painted the words "No road this way"[21].

Below is a photograph of the River Derwent in spate, taken from from Matlock Bath's Jubilee Bridge in the 1950s using a 2 x 2 Agifold camera. The landing stage was completely submerged! The Lovers' Walks on the opposite bank would undoubtedly have been underwater downstream.

The Derwent in spate

There is an interesting, if somewhat obscure, cutting from the High Peak News, dated Saturday, 22 April, 1916, about flood prevention.
Read the article
Whatever the various bodies may have either talked about or did, nothing to deal effectively with the problem happened for many years.

During the 1970s the weir that served the Matlock Dale colour works and fed their water turbine was removed. This fundamentally changed the nature of the river between Matlock and Matlock Bath; it is better for the canoeists, though that was not why the weir was removed, and Matlock has not been flooded since[22]. The last time the river was a cause for concern was in 2007, but it just broke the bank in the park.

More pictures of the November 2000 floods

The pictures show the flooding that year was just before Armistice Sunday; crosses and posts were being prepared for poppies close to the town centre's memorial. A great deal of surface water also ran down the hill behind Matlock's football ground, which stayed on the land. Someone was even using a canoe on the cricket end of the field[23].

Firemen pumping water back into the river on Bakewell Road, taken from the car park over the supermarket.

The flood water receded very quickly in 2000. This picture was taken two days after the water was at its height[23].
It shows just how much debris is carried downstream by flood water and then deposited where it hits something in its path.

1. All photographs of the 2000 floods © Susan Tomlinson.
2. Photograph of flood levels on the bridge © Ann Andrews.
3. "The Storm", from The Tribune, November, 1917 ©Susan Tomlinson collection.
4. Postcard of the bottom of Bank Road, no title, published by W. N. Statham, The Studio, Matlock. Not used. In the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews. Original image scanned 1998, re scanned 2007.
5. "Promenade: Matlock Bath" Published by Hy. Wood, Birmingham. Posted on 26 Jul 1907 at Matlock Bath. "We are having a glorious day Just had a good dinner so we feel a bit better".
6. Matlock Bath photograph from Bernard Gale, who scanned his image.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.

References (coloured links go to on site transcripts):

[1] "The Times", Monday 5 Nov 1960. These were the worst floods to have hit Matlock since those of late Dec 1931 - early Jan 1932. The flood water covered low lying land between Matlock and Rowsley.

[2] Thanks to Susy Cytko, whose parents then ran the Horse Shoe in Matlock Green. The drowned man Suzy referred to was Mr. George Ellis, a 58 year old railway worker from Starkholmes. He was swept away by the flood water during the night of 9th December ("The Times", Monday 13 Dec 1965).

[3] "The Times", 30 Nov 1965 reported blizzards and heavy snowfalls in the U.K. and Matlock police reported that over 400 vehicles were stranded in North Derbyshire.

[4] "The Times", Wednesday 1 Jan 1902.

[5] "Derbyshire Courier", 4 January 1902 and "Derbyshire Times", Saturday 4 January 1902

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

[7] "Sheffield Daily Telegraph", Thursday 29 October 1903.

[8] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 19 October 1907.

[9] "Sheffield Daily Telegraph", 18 October 1907. Remarkable Scenes at Matlock. With thanks to Susan Tomlinson for finding this article.

[10] "High Peak News", 10 Dec 1910. Matlock's New Park Flooded. The general election was the second to be held in 1910. Thanks to Susan Tomlinson for providing the article.

[11] "The Derby Mercury", 19 Oct 1881, reported a gale and strong winds, with many trees uprooted. A Mr. Willliam Hadfield of Oker managed to save a hay rick which was in danger of being carried away by the water that flooded the fields. It referred to the damage in February when, according to the same paper, the noise of the water rushing through the gorge beneath High Tor was terrifying. Tree trunks, general debris and some sheep and rabbits were swept downstream and on towards Derby (issue of 16 Feb 1881).

[12] "The Times", Wednesday 19 Jan 1921.

[13] The date is from Arkle, M. J. (1983) "Tuppence Up, Penny Down", printed by Geo. Hodgkinson (Printers) Ltd. The flood damage was estimated to be over £30,000. "The Times" of 4 Sept 1931 reported heavy rain across the country and on the 5th that Derbyshire's rivers were in flood, although did not mention events in Matlock.

[14] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 5 Sept., 1931. Derbyshire Roads Impassable and Houses Inundated. Matlock follows Derby Relief Fund lead.

[15] "Derbyshire Times", 21 February 1941.

[16] "Derby Daily Telegraph", 14 January 1948.

[17] "The Times", Wednesday 23 July 1924.

[18] There is a short report in Matlock and Matlock Bath Newspaper Cuttings, Jul 1914 - Nov 1918, 1916.

[19] A sale notice from 1767 comments on this. See Matlock & Matlock Bath Public Notices & Announcements, 1767.

[20] Further tragedies are described in Boating on the River Derwent, 1914.

[21] "The Derby Mercury", 21 Nov 1866, with thanks to Colin.

[22] Information from the late Peter Hare. Also see Photographs of Matlock Bath Today (4) | Matlock Bath, High Tor and the Colour Works

[23] Information from Susan Tomlinson.