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On Foot Through the Peak, 1868*
Eighteenth and nineteenth century tour guides about Matlock Bath and Matlock
Chapter XIV (part of), pp.223-230

High Tor, one of the book's illustrations
On Foot Through the Peak
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[Transcriber's Note.
Chapter XIV finishes on page 233. From page 230 onwards is a long and rather Gothic description of a thunderstorm, which tells the reader nothing specific about Matlock at all. ]

The history of Matlock Bath may be said to date only from the close of the seventeenth century, when the mineral springs first began to be applied to medical purposes previous to which it was nothing more than a wild uncultivated ravine, having no road through, and without the sign of any human habitation save a few wretched looking miners' huts here and there dotting the ledges and recesses of its craggy steeps.

About the year 1698 the tepid waters began to attract attention, and in that year the first bath - a humble structure of wood lined with lead - was erected; this was afterwards removed, and its place supplied by a more substantial building of stone, and a lodging and boarding house was at the same time erected near the spring.

In process of time other the springs were discovered, improvements were made, and additional baths and lodging houses built for the increasing number of visitants. In 1815 Scarthin rock was cut through, and a new road made at considerable labour and expense, running along the side of the Derwent, and extending the entire length of the Dale. The opening of a line of railway from Ambergate to Rowsley has, perhaps more than anything else contributed to the advancement and extension of Matlock Bath ; since then considerable improvements have been made, the streets have been lighted with gas, many new buildings have been erected, and altogether the place presents the appearance of a busy and thriving, little town ; and now that the railway extension to Manchester has been completed and thus a direct line of communication with the North of England opened up, there can hardly be a doubt put that it will receive a still further accession of visitors.

The inhabitants are employed chiefly in the manufacture of gypsum and spar ornaments, and in the inlaying, engraving, and etching of marble - a branch of trade that has arrived at great perfection, and is now carried on to a considerable extent. On the parade there are several spar shops, or "museums", as they are generally designated, the windows of which are crowded with articles, natural and manufactured. These repositories form a pleasant lounge for visitors, and in the inspection of the different objects which they contain, an agreeable half hour may be spent. The principal dealer is Mr. Walker, the successor to Mr. Vallance, of the Centre Museum, to whose establishment we paid a visit. In the show-room we found a choice assortment of vases, statues, figures, and ornaments, in spar and Derbyshire marble, with others exquisitely sculpted in Cararra and Italian alabaster ; among the chief attractions we noticed some tables executed in Ashford black marble, beautifully inlaid with wreaths of flowers worked in different coloured stones ; some excellent specimens of minerals, native and foreign, fossils, shells, and among the objects of interest in this exhibition.

Petrifaction working, as it is called, has become an important, and certainly not the least lucrative, branch of the "curiosity" business at Matlock, there being several wells in the tufa, where this curious and interesting operation of nature is carried on. The process of incrustation is an exceedingly simple one, the articles to be operated on (embracing almost every conceivable object, but chiefly birds' nests, baskets of fruit, moss, and the leaves and branches of trees) are placed on stands, and the water that filtrates through the tufa allowed to drip gently upon them ; the moisture in percolating through the concrete mass becomes strongly impregnated with lime, and on reaching the open air, rapidly evaporates, when a calcareous deposit is formed that in time completely incrusts the object on which it falls, and gives to it the appearance and hardness of stone.

Of the constituent ingredients of those thermal springs, that have raised Matlock to the position of an inland Spa, but little can be said, no regular quantitive analysis of their chemical contents having as yet been made. According to Sir Charles Scudamore's account, published in "Turners Elements of Chemistry," these waters contain but a very small quantity of solid ingredients, consisting chiefly of the muriates and sulphates of magnesia, lime, and soda, with free carbonic acid. They are but slightly tepid, the temperature averaging 68° Fahrenheit, or about 14° lower than those of Buxton, a circumstance which is attributed to the escape of caloric on their becoming diluted with land springs before emerging into light. Attempts have repeatedly been made to obviate this by boring higher up the hill, but hitherto without success, the source being, it is said, nearly two thousand feet within the mountain.

The Matlock waters are said to resemble very much those of Clifton, with this difference, that the latter contain a less proportion of the sulphate and carbonate of lime. They are considered very efficacious in cases of chronic rheumatism, gout, consumption, pulmonary and nervous disorders ; and when drank freely as a common beverage, are highly beneficial in dispeptic and nephritic affections.

The bathing establishments are three in number ; the first in point of order is the Old Bath, which has lately been purchased by a joint-stock company, and a large and handsome building is now in course of erection on the site of the old hotel, with warm and cold baths and all the modern conveniences suitable for a first-class Hydropathic establishment. The hotel which preceded it was, with one exception, the oldest building in the town, and occupied the site of the first spring discovered here ; the second is at the New Bath Hotel, nearly opposite the Lovers Leap and the third in seniority, unlike the Old and New Baths, is unconnected with any hotel, being situated in the Fountain Gardens, at the north end of the Museum Parade.

There are few places in England or elsewhere that can compete with Matlock for grand and magnificent scenery - the roads are excellent, and the walks and drives in the immediate vicinity present an almost unlimited variety of aspect. Nature having done so much in this respect ; the inhabitants, who are specially interested in the prosperity of the place, seem disposed to rely too exclusively upon its scenic advantages, as forming the attraction for visitors ; for, with the exception of the libraries, and the re-unions at the principal hotels, the place possesses but few resources for indoor recreation and amusement. There is no promenade, concert room; or place of public assembly, consequently the visitors remain isolated in their apartments, with little social intercourse existing among them. Under these circumstances it need not excite surprise that many who, though at first charmed with the scenery, feel, after a few days residence a, difficulty in resisting the encroaches of ennui. Were the inhabitants a little more public spirited, Matlock would become one of the most agreeable places in the kingdom, not less as a permanent residence, than as a place of temporary sojourn for the invalid and pleasure-seeker. The climate is mild and healthy, and the atmosphere free from redundant humidity, whilst the lofty hill of Masson and the Heights of Abraham afford a welcome shelter from the cold and searching winds of the north and east.

Matlock derives additional interest from the fact that here Byron and the beautiful but ill-fated Mary Chaworth, the heiress of Annesley, and the last scion of an illustrious house, met and loved ; an attachment, the deep and passionate feeling of which is evidenced in many of the writings of the great bard.

At this time Matlock was in the heydey of its popularity, the Old Bath was usually crowded with a brilliant company of beauty and fashion, and the ball room of the hotel was often the scene of much gaiety and display. Lord Byron. was a frequent visitor, as was also Miss Chaworth ; and was here an incident occurred, related by Moore in his life of Byron, which could not fail to have an upon such an acute and sensitive mind as that of the great poet, and have helped to bring about the unhappy estrangement of the two lovers who were destined -

"The one to end in madness, the other in despair."

The sun was declining when we entered Matlock Bath, and our care therefore was to secure quarters for the night. After tea we strolled forth into the town, like other new comers, to gaze, at the shop windows, and admire the various objects, natural and manufactured, therein exposed to view. It was the height of Matlock "season," and the footpaths were thronged with visitors who had turned out to enjoy the coolness of the evening ; equipages of every description rattled along the pavement, and the Derwent presented quite a gay and animated appearance from the numerous pleasure parties afloat upon its surface, their oars, as they dipped successively in the translucent stream, breaking the water into myriads of ripple that gleamed and sparkled in the golden light of the setting sun.

Starting from the further end of the dale we leave Simon's paper mill and the weir on the right, the road as it follows the crescent like sweep of the river ever ascending for some distance. After passing the toll gate we come to the New Bath Hotel, near to which is the post-office, and the original petrifying well, where we see the process of petrifying or incrustation going on, in the manner already described. Further on is the new church, a handsome cruciform structure, standing on an elevated plot of ground on the left of the road, and a conspicuous object from almost every part of the dale.

Before the erection of this edifice, the nearest churches were the parish church at Matlock Town, and the one at Cromford, the former two miles and the latter one mile distant from the Bath. To supply the want of church accommodation experienced by visitors, a subscription was commenced, in 1841 the first stone of the present structure was laid by Archdeacon, afterwards Bishop Shirley, and the building was completed in October of the following year.

Continuing our walk along the side of the tufa bank of the Old Bath Terrace, we pass on the left the Hydropathic establishment of; that name now in the course of erection, and the Royal Petrifying Well, so called in honour of the visit of Her Majesty, when Princess Victoria in 1832. Here the road declines, and we have a succession of pleasing views across the river, including the Lover's Walk, and the precipitous mural cliffs bounding the eastern side of the dale, their lofty peaks here and there starting through the thick woods which mantle their sides, presenting a constant alternation of naked rock and thick luxuriant foliage. Nearly opposite the obelisk at the end of the terrace, a road leads down to the ferry, and close to this are the stables, the head-quarters and general rendezvous of the ostlers, stable-helpers, donkey drivers, guides, and gentleman of varied yet undefined occupations, of which latter class Matlock seems to have rather an over abundance. Here we find a knot of idlers engaged in friendly chat, there two or three guides are talking over the gains of the day, and making calculations upon the success of tomorrow; near to the duck-pond a gentleman in a sleeved jacket and tight-fitting pantaloons is grooming down a horse, accompanying the operation with a continual hissing, the precise meaning of which it would be difficult to determine; close by a picturesque group of singularly impassive-looking donkeys, accompanied by some youthful members of the inhumane society, who are amusing themselves by constantly poking the sharp ends of their sticks between the ribs of the unfortunate animals, all the while keeping up a running commentary on the personal appearance of the passers-by.

Leaving this spot with its motley assemblage, we come next to the museum parade, the principal thoroughfare of Matlock, and certainly not the least attractive, if we may judge from the number of visitors loitering about the pavement ; the side of the street is here lined with hotels, lodging-houses, museums, chemists', stationers', and confectioners' shops, and establishments for the thousand-and-one little knick-knacks that are only to be met with at a watering-place.

Having walked the length of the parade, we retraced our steps, turning up the steep ascent at the end of Hodgkinson's Hotel, then passing the Temple Hotel, and along the Temple Walk, until we came again to the Terrace in front of the Old Bath, from which, unquestionably, the best view of the town is obtained.

This terrace, which is elevated considerably above the road, is laid out in neat parterres ; it originally formed part of the natural bank of the river, and is composed almost entirely of tufa or stalagmite concretions left by the tepid spring.

From the north side, the view, though less extensive than some others in the locality, is almost unequalled for varied and romantic beauty, embracing nearly every object of interest and attraction in the neighbourhood - rock, wood, and, water, with bold hills, verdant slopes, and picturesque cottages being happily combined. Immediately in front is seen the museum parade, with its long row of shops and hotels, their delicate white and cream-coloured fronts agreeably harmonising with the varied greenery behind. On the slope of the hill, above the parade, are the Temple Hotel, Guild-de-Roy, Belle Vue, and a number of other showy houses and fantastically built villas, perched on wooded hillocks, and peering out from amid thick plantations of oak, ash, and maple, and picturesque groups of mountain trees that display every variety of tint and foliage. Behind these are seen the zigzag walks and the Heights of Abraham, the latter rising majestically from the road, and seeming to bar up the further end of the dale, the bold acclivities clothed with sombre masses of foliage and crowned by a lofty prospect tower ; and beyond, the view takes in the summit of proud Masson, which towers aloft to a height of nearly 800 feet. Through the opening on the height, we catch a glimpse of the naked front of the magnificent High Tor, its proud head rising with, infinite majesty over the surrounding landscape. Looking towards the east, the view is still more beautiful ; far below, through occasional breaks in the trees, we can see the graceful Derwent sweeping noiselessly round the wooded hill in front of the parade, its placid surface reflecting the sombre shadows of the overhanging branches which seem to interlace and cross each other in a network of impressive beauty. Bounding the eastern bank of the river are the Lovers' Walks and a lofty rampart of rock broken in perpendicular cliffs, partially clothed with a rich profusion of ferns, harts-tongue, and clinging ivy, and a variety of wild flowers that display their delicate colourings in all their natural beauty and loveliness.

The day was drawing to a close, and the unclouded sun, as he descended behind the western hills, shed a rich but subdued radiance over the landscape, producing a scene such as is only witnessed in those countries where nature exhibits her boldest features.

*Transcribed by Ann Andrews in November 2008 from:
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.
With my grateful thanks to Ray Ash who provided copies for me to OCR.
Image scans Copyright © Ray Ash and intended for personal use only.