Hydros of the Matlock Area

by Peter Wild, Matlock Civic Association

If you have evidence of other hydros, or further information about any of those listed, please e-mail and we will pass the information on to Peter.


The Growth of Hydropathy on Matlock Bank

Hydropathy and John Smedley

Hydropathy is the treatment of illness by the external application of water to the body (using wet sheets, douches, wet stomach packs and baths of various types), and its popularity probably reached its peak during the 1880s & 1890s. The driving force behind Matlock Bank’s success as a centre – indeed the centre – of hydropathy was John Smedley, a wealthy local industrialist who had benefited from the hydropathic ‘cure’. Smedley’s* was always the ‘biggest and best’ hydro on the Bank, although a number of others were also very comfortable and financially successful. The Matlock Bank hydros offered Smedley’s mild water treatment (80 degrees F; 27 C), as opposed to the more traditional ‘cold water cure’; and their clients, initially, were regarded as patients.                   

     Revised edition of Pevsner for Smedley’s Hydro  

The original part designed by Smedley himself in the 1850s, with the larger ‘Italo-French’ part and château-style tower and corona added by G E Statham in 1885-8 and the winter garden (architect uncertain) in 1900-1.  The most interesting feature of the interior is said to be the stained glass.  (Smedley also designed Riber Castle himself)

“Opened in 1862.  Easily the most architecturally interesting of all the hydros, thanks to a large range of 1903-6 by Parker and Unwin (part of an unexecuted wider scheme).  Lofty five-and-a half-storey stone block with in front two turrets with strange, pyramidal roofs and little cupolas with swept copper spirelets.  Around the corner (E), big, plain, blunt chimneys placed side-on, projecting from ground level, with jettied-out rendered upper floor and dormers between them.  On the other side the chimneys are of square section, instead of rectangular, with slightly canted bays between.  At the back, a plain stone gable with a little brick tower with pyramidal roof rising behind.  Somewhat Germanic, perhaps in response to the ‘Alpine’ setting, with a daring mixture of materials, strong modelling and interesting layering effect.  The only obvious original fixture in the public area is a stair, the cast-iron balusters with inverted heart motifs.”                                                                                                                             

Patients and Guests

By the end of the 19thC, hydro breaks had become fashionable, with many visitors coming not for treatment, but to enjoy the food, entertainment, and wide range of facilities (both indoor and outdoor) now offered by the establishments. As a consequence, patrons were increasingly referred to as guests or visitors, and the larger hydros became more like hotels than treatment centres. At the same time, improvements in medical practice led to the decline of hydropathy as a cure for disease. It is therefore hardly surprising that many hydros had closed by the early 1900s. Others barely survived the First World War, and only a couple – Lilybank and Smedley’s – survived the Second.

Thirty-Two Hydropathic Establishments

The table below lists 32 separate hydropathic establishments which were in existence on Matlock Bank between 1851 and 1955, although it is a possibility that two of these (1, Prospect Terrace and Stevenson’s) were the forerunners of others. Click on the name of each hydro in the table to read its detailed history.

Name of HydroLocationImageMap
Albion House HydroChesterfield Road
Bank House HydroNew Street/Oak Road
Belle View HydroSteep Turnpike Photo

Bridge House HydroBank Road Photo

Chatsworth HydroChesterfield Road Photo NB Displayed Google Image is wrong, but location is right
Click for map
Chesterfield House HydroChesterfield Road Photo Click for map
Church View HydroOak Road/New Street
Ebor MountChesterfield Road (No. 90)
Elm Tree HydroRutland Street (Nos. 68,70,72)
Fair View HydroChesterfield Road
Jackson House HydroJackson Road (Nos.76-78) Photo
Click for map
Lilybank HydroChesterfield Road Photo
NB Displayed Google Image is adjacent modern house, but location is right
Click for map
Malvern House HydroSmedley Street /Smith Road Photo
Click for map

Matlock House HydroRutland Street Photo


Old Bank House HydroWellington Street
Oldham House HydroWellington Street (No.59) Photo The building can be found a little further down the hill from the picture
Click for map
Prospect Place Hydro
Later, The Woodlands School
Wellington Street (No.61) Photo Click for map
1, Prospect Terrace (Hydro)Uncertain
3, Prospect Terrace (Hydro)Uncertain
Rockside HydroWellington Street Photo Click for map
Rose Cottage HydroDimple Road (No.57 etc)
Smedley Memorial Hydropathic HospitalBank Road
Smedley’s HydroSmedley Street
South View Cottage HydroBank Road
Spring Villa HydroSmedley Street (No.24, thought to be former Spring Villa)
Stanley House HydroWellington Street or Smedley Street
Stevenson’s HydroUncertain
Sycamore House HydroSmedley Street (Nos. 193-199)
Tor House HydroJackson RoadNext door to Jackson House (see above)
Vine House HydroSchool Road
Ward’s HydroPope Carr Road
Wellfield House HydroRutland Avenue (No. 15)
Woodbine HydroSmedley Street (No.60)

Alternatively, click on this link to see the (large!) searchable table of Matlock Bank hydro information.

The hydros varied in size from very small one-or-two-room concerns to those able to accommodate over one hundred patrons; but purposeful comparisons are sometimes limited by a shortage of details, such as the number of clients sharing accommodation, or the number of bedrooms available at any given time. Over the years, many hydros changed hands; there were one or two amalgamations; and numerous name changes – as indicated in the table. Whilst certain establishments enjoyed long life-spans, others were open for only a few years. Furthermore, as they opened and closed on widely different dates – many of which are not precisely known – some of their ‘in use’ periods can only be estimated. Nevertheless, it is apparent that no more than around 19-23 hydros were open at any given time. It is also interesting to note that John Smedley encouraged his bathmen to establish their own hydros to cater for the less well-off. Indeed, up to twenty concerns were opened, or later owned by ex-Smedley staff; with certain families standing out as being deeply involved in hydropathy for two – or perhaps three – generations.

Family Connections and Entrepreneurs

These families included the three Davis brothers (all of whom began their careers with John Smedley) and their descendants. From c1857, Ralph & his wife, Ann, were involved with South View (later Smedley Hydropathic Memorial Hospital); Poplar Cottage (later Jeffs’ Poplar, then Chatsworth), and Flates (later Chesterfield House), which was passed on to their daughter, Harriett Richards. Meanwhile, Thomas and his wife, Hannah, not only established Prospect Place (later amalgamated with Oldham House by their daughter, Rachel Wildgoose), but also purchased Ralph’s old hydro, Poplar Cottage, which was handed down, in turn, to their son and grandson. Not to be outdone, in 1862, brother George Davis built Tor House, which was inherited by his son, also George, who ran it until 1928 (when he joined cousin Lubin Wildgoose at Oldham House). Also around 1862, another George from a different family, but also ex-Smedley – George Barton – opened Jackson House, which was inherited by his son, George Barton junior in 1875. Barton junior went on to build Dalefield Hydro (later Lilybank) in 1891. Another successful hydro was Rockside, run for 76 years by just two dedicated families: the Rowlands (until 1894); and the highly respected Goodwins, of nearby Wolds Farm, who built the iconic tower block. In contrast to these family concerns, a number of establishments – Bridge House, Matlock House, Wyvern House, Lilybank and Chatsworth – were (or became) investment hydros, run by various tenants and/or managers, but owned by entrepreneurs, both from the local area and from more distant parts of the country.

Not Exclusive

The list of hydropathic establishments included in the table should not be regarded as exclusive; there may have been other hydros on the Bank, some of whose details have been completely lost. In this respect, certain names such as Spa Cottage (Dimple Road), Oak Tree House, Shepherd’s and Wood View House (locations not known), do come to mind, but in the absence of any evidence to confirm that these were hydros (rather than private residences, boarding houses or alternative names for known establishments), they are not included on the list.

Boarding and Guest Houses on Matlock Bank

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hydro patrons did not always book their accommodation in advance. Therefore, many visitors were obliged to ‘sleep out’ – an excellent source of income for guest houses, and for residents with a spare room. On Matlock Bank, there were around sixty or so addresses (additional to the hydros) which offered accommodation. Unfortunately, the histories of many of these properties – some very substantial – are lost. However, there are three former boarding establishments about which there is a little information, as contained within the table below (Click on the name of each house in the table to read its detailed history):

Name of Boarding / Guest HouseLocationImageMap
The Mount Boarding EstablishmentSteep Turnpike/Lime Tree Road (Nos. 115-117)
Lime Tree View Guest HouseLime Tree Road (Nos. 66-77)
Daysmill Boarding HouseHenry Avenue Photo

Hydropathic Establishments in Darley Dale and Matlock Bath

Details concerning three hydros in Matlock Bath, together with one in Darley Dale, are outlined in the table below (Click on the name of each hydro in the table to read its detailed history):

Name of HydroLocation
Darley Dale HydroDale Road (A6), Darley Dale
Clarence House HydroHolme Road, Matlock Bath
Matlock Bath HydroNorth Parade (A6), Matlock Bath
Masson House HydroDerby Road (A6), Matlock Bath

Links to Other Information on the Hydros

John Smedley and the Rise of Hydropathy

Hydros – The Followers

The Decline and Re-Use of Hydros