Geology and the Development of Matlock



     Lead Mining


     The Hydros

Geology and Jobs

The Matlock area, especially in the valley of the Derwent, is not prime farming territory.  There is some dairy farming but no significant arable farming.  The uplands of the limestone area do support some dairy and sheep farming.  Over much of the gritstone uplands the soil is too thin for agriculture but large areas have been planted for forestry. 

There has been a tradition of nurseries and smallholdings in the Derwent Valley, presumably because the flooding produces a fertile soil, and because relatively small areas of flat land can provide an income in this way.  Each of these sectors is therefore very much dependent upon the local geology.  However  this none of these would not have been large enough to explain the growth of Matlock.  

Miner's coe off Salters Lane, Masson Hill

Many of the local population would have two jobs; they might farm for part of the year and carry out small scale prospecting for lead for the rest.  Evidence for this is seen in the miners’ coes (two-storey barns that doubled as animals shelters below and storage for mining tools above).  The small bell pits and coes can be found all over the area but especially good examples can be found around Bonsall and Winster.  However the living from lead mining on this scale was meagre and uncertain, which is why they had more than one job.  It was the large land and mine owners who made vast profits, as witnessed by the stately homes in the area.

Mining and quarrying have been carried out in the area for centuries and it seems likely that these have been the first drivers of the growth of Matlock and other settlements in the area,(6).  Although there are few quarries still active in the Matlock Area, there were once several dozen in both the limestone and gritstone areas.  The quarries would have provided not only direct jobs but the stone would have been used for the building of local houses, from the smallest to the grandest, and the poorer quality limestone would have been used for fertilising of local fields.

A major growth in jobs and in the size of Matlock came with the advent of the hydros (next section).  The local quarries would also have benefitted significantly due to the new buildings required.  

Geology and Tourism

The Hydros

It was the growth of hydros in Matlock that led to the major growth of tourism to Matlock, and hence expansion of the town itself.  Matlock Bath became a spa, like Buxton, when a thermal spring was discovered in 1698.  A temperature of 68 deg.F was sufficiently inviting to allow the Old Bath Hotel and later the Royal Hotel to be set up.  However its success was hampered by the lack of any proper road access to Matlock Bath at this time.  John Smedley’s promotion of the idea that water treatments had health benefits and the building of Smedley’s Hydro in 1867 led to a massive growth in visitor numbers.   For a full account of the thermal springs and hydros please see section on the history of Matlock.  [Guided Trail booklet on the Hydros, published by MCA]

Artists and Writers

The spectacular scenery has attracted artists and writers since early Victorian times, as recorded by Historic England

Notable visitors included Byron who compared Matlock Bath to Switzerland. High Tor was recorded as a sublime feature inspiring awe and dread by a series of C18 and C19 travellers and writers and was the subject of innumerable drawings and paintings by artists including Thomas Smith of Derby, J M W Turner, Alexander and John Cozens, and Joseph Wright. The often-used vantage point still bears the name Artists’ Corner.”

One of MCA’s current projects is to try to restore such viewpoints that have become obscured by self-set trees.

Whilst describing the area as “Little Switzerland” may be a little “over the top”, there are few other tourist areas in Britain where the attractions are reached by chairlift and cable car.

Joseph Wright of Derby; Matlock Tor by Moonlight; Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Scientists and Geologists

The area has been a magnet for geologists and scientists for over 200 years because of its spectacular scenery and the rocks, minerals and fossils found here.

In his book, “An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth”(7),  published in 1778, John Whitehurst, a member of the Lunar Society, describes visits to Matlock, High Tor, Bonsall, Bakewell, Chatsworth, Winster, Darley Dale, Ashford in the Water (where he was shown an impression of a crocodile!), Monyash, Ashover, etc.  He described in some detail the strata, rocks, minerals, fossils, mines and caves in the area.  This account and illustrations of a cross section of High Tor show an impressive understanding of strata and faulting in the area.  Whitehurst’s work was important in the development of the science of geology.  Although he did not directly challenge the religious establishment, his work did undermine the traditional view of creation (see below).  He also influenced later geologists such as White Watson, William Martin and John Farey (Malcolm Dick in “John Whitehouse and 18th Century Geology“; Revolutionary Players; publ. History  West Midlands(7))

Other members of the Lunar Society to frequent this area included Erasmus Darwin, who wrote an article on “The Natural History of Buxton and Matlock Waters”, Josiah Wedgwood, (recommended by Erasmus Darwin) and Matthew Boulton.

An amusing and interesting account of a “Geological Excursion to Matlock” made 170 years ago is found in “The Medals of Creation”, (Chapter XXIV, pps. 867 – 897,(8) published in 1854) by Gideon Mantell, an eminent “gentleman geologist” and one of the founding fathers of the subject. It is worth reading just to see how the area itself, and the transport access has changed since then, as well as for the superb line drawings of the scenery and the objects found here. Note that this book was published 5 years before Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, so the conventional wisdom at the time according to Bishop Ussher was that the earth was created in 4004 BC. However his visit to the Matlock area had a deep effect upon Mantell and led him to question whether the earth was not very much older?

G. A. M. delt. J. Whimper, Section across the Valley of the Derwent, at the High Tor, Matlock From “The Medals of Creation” by Gideon Mantell (click on picture for link)

Every one possessed of taste and feeling who gazes upon this glorious landscape will partake, in a greater or lesser degree, of the emotions thus finely expressed by the ardent lover of the sublime and beautiful in nature; but to the natural philosopher the physical characters of this enchanting region are fraught with a deeper interest, and present subjects for the most profound contemplation. To him the rocks and the mountains are the grand monuments of nature, on which are inscribed the history of the physical revolutions of the globe which took place in periods incalculably remote and long antecedent to the creation of the human race. They present to his mind a succession of events, each so vast as to be beyond his finite comprehension; ages of tranquillity, with lands and seas teeming with life and happiness, succeeded by periods in which the earthquake and the volcano spread universal ruin and destruction—and they teach him that all these awful changes bear the impress of the Almighty’s hand, and were subservient to the eternal purpose of rendering this planet the fit abode of man, during his mortal pilgrimage.

Today it still attracts the attention of both professional and amateur geologists and there are still questions over some of its features.

The richness and complexity of its geology has persuaded the British Geological Survey to produce a special map of the area.

It is with good reason that the Derwent Valley is home to both the Peak District Mining Museum and the National Stone Centre.

Matlock map__opt
Tourism Today
Matlock Bath on a Sunday afternoon

Today, tourism is a major source of employment in the Matlock area and it hosts major tourist attractions.

Matlock Bath has been called “the seaside resort a hundred miles from the sea…  Everything you would find at the seaside was there; fish and chips, rock, candyfloss”.  It has become a magnet for motorcyclists at weekends, but has much more to offer once you get off the main A6.  Heights of Abraham, Gulliver’s Kingdom and the Peak District Lead Mining Museum attract children of all ages.

Equally Matlock attracts many visitors with its Peak Rail heritage railway, Matlock Farm Park, Matlock Meadows, Darwin Forest Holiday Resort and Hall Leys Park.  Although these attractions owe less to the local geology than did the hydros in their heyday, the Derwent Valley setting greatly adds to their appeal.

The Buildings Legacy

Many of the grand buildings that we see in  Matlock today (see link) date from the growth of the hydros.  Most will have been built by local craftsmen from stone that was quarried locally.  Smedley’s Hydro, (now the County Council offices), Bridge Hall (now the District Council offices), Lilybank, Rockside and Jackson Tor and numerous other Hydros remain to show what a dramatic effect hydropathy had on the town.  Sadly, none of the interiors have been preserved to show what the treatments were like for their visitors.

The visitors that the hydros generated allowed the growth of prosperous retail and service industries.  Many of the shops in the town centre date back to that time.  Riber Castle, which dominates the town, and Willersley Castle, plus the mills of Arkwright and Smedley demonstrate the wealth that was created by harnessing the natural advantages of the Derwent Valley.