Hydros – The Followers

Hydros of the Davis Family

As Smedley believed that everyone should be able to benefit from hydropathic treatment, he encouraged his bathmen to open their own smaller hydros to treat the less well off; a policy which enabled Smedley himself to cater exclusively for wealthier clients. A number of ex-Smedley employees and their families, therefore, went on to establish their own concerns. Among them were Ralph Davis (whose hydropathic career is outlined in the section on John Smedley and the Ralph Davis Hydros) – and his brothers Thomas & George, both of whom were also also ex-Smedley bathmen. Thomas built the 40-bedroom Prospect Place Hydro (Wellington Street) in 1857-9, whilst in 1862, George opened his 17-bedroom Tor House Hydro (Jackson Road). In 1874, Thomas added Poplar Cottage* to his property portfolio and, for a time, may have used the building as an annex to Prospect Place. Poplar Cottage remained in the ownership of the Thomas Davis family until 1900 when another George (Thomas’s grandson) decided to sell. During that time it grew to accommodate 250 visitors, and additions to the complex included a new bath house (1880) & wing (1885) by Thomas and new baths (1895) by his son (Thomas’s grandson), Jesse. In 1906, Thomas Davis’s daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and John Wildgoose (of the local building family), amalgamated Prospect Place with their own Oldham House, next door (which they had founded in 1890) to create a one-hundred-guest establishment. Meanwhile, after brother George’s death in 1901, Tor House was run by his sons, George junior and William.

*Thomas Davis’s brother, Ralph, was the proprietor of Poplar Cottage from c. 1860 to 1868 (See paragraph 18).

More Hydros with a Smedley Connection

Other ex-Smedley staff who became ‘their own bosses’ included Matthew Stevenson, George Barton, Job Smith and Henry Ward. A Stevenson’s Hydro was established in 1860, but its location is uncertain. However, by 1871, Matthew Stevenson and his wife were running the 30/40-patient Belle Vue Hydro, Steep Turnpike, which was purchased in 1902 by ex-Smedley masseur Herbert Warner. The property was labelled as a glove factory on the 1922 O.S. map, but is now an apartment block. In 1862, George Barton established the 50-patient Jackson House Hydro, whose prominent west wing overlooks Jackson Road. His son – also George* – inherited the establishment in 1876, and possibly ran it until the late 1880s when it was leased by Mr & Mrs J.L. Dean. By this time, he (George junior) was living at Dalefield, Chesterfield Road; which he ‘probably demolished’ to build Dalefield Hydro in 1891. This impressive property, built in the Elizabethan style with 40 en-suite rooms, was renamed ‘Lilybank’ in 1914 by a later owner, Mrs Cowood. Mr & Mrs John Kay, former baths managers at Chesterfield House, took over in 1919 and bought The Gables**, which they annexed to Lilybank.                               

A more modest concern was the 20-guest (but later enlarged) Malvern House, Smedley Street, established c. 1868 by Job Smith JP – a one-time Chair of Matlock Local Board and County Councillor, who inspired the construction of Matlock Cable Tramway. Following Smith’s death in 1907, Malvern House was run by his sister, Sarah, assisted by nephew Herbert. Sarah died in 1919, when the property was purchased by Smedley’s for staff accommodation. With the closure of Smedley’s in 1955, Malvern House became a furniture warehouse before being converted into apartments in 2005. An even smaller hydro had been founded around 1868 on Pope Carr Road. It was run by Henry Ward, who – within four years (by 1872) – had become the proprietor of two larger establishments: Church View, Oak Road (founded in 1871 by a Mr Mycock, also ex-Smedley) and its neighbour, Bank House, Oak Road/New Street. Ward ran the pair as one 60-patient concern until 1914, when they were amalgamated and renamed Wyvern Hydro by a new owner from Leicester’s Wyvern Hotel. The two Wyvern units were eventually purchased c. 1922/3 by the local philanthropist and corn miller, Ernest Bailey, who donated them for use as the Ernest Bailey Grammar School, which opened in 1924. When the school shut its doors in 1982, the students were transferred to Highfields Comprehensive. The former hydro premises were subsequently used as a community centre before being enlarged in the early 2000s to accommodate Derbyshire Record Office.

*George Barton junior retired to Matlock Bath in 1906 & died in 1908.

**The Gables, next door to Lilybank, was the former home of Robert Wildgoose; see footnote, paragraph 29.

Investment Hydros

Entrepreneurs from well outside Matlock also began to invest in this new growth area. One such person was Charles Rowland from near Burton-on-Trent, a former patient at Smedley’s. He opened Rockside Hydro, Wellington Street, in 1862/3; although the iconic six-storey turreted tower block, – containing 37 additional bedrooms – was built in 1903/4 by the Goodwins (of nearby Wolds Farm), who had purchased the property on Rowland’s retirement in 1894. At around the same time that Rockside was being built (1863), a Mr Lee, allegedly of Manchester, established the highly acclaimed Manchester House Hydro, Rutland Street. However, just three years later, this distinctive three/four-storey building – with bracketed eaves, dormer windows and a lavish interior containing 54 bedrooms – was advertised for sale as Matlock House and bought as an investment property by a London architect named Nichols. The hydro subsequently changed hands on many occasions, and had various managers – including the Rowlands of Rockside, who were the tenants from c. 1869 into the late 1870s. Another out-of-the-area investor was Charles Jeffs, who had made his fortune in the Grimsby fishing industry. In 1900, Jeffs bought the large Poplar Cottage Hydro (See link) and promptly renamed it Jeffs’ Poplar. His new wing, started in 1906, added to a number of existing extensions in various styles spanning several decades. Other Jeffs’ upgrades included a new dining-cum-ballroom, lounge and kitchen – ‘one of the finest in the country’ – all lit by electricity supplied from accumulators.

A Couple of Financial Failures

Despite such investment, or perhaps, because of it, Jeffs’ Poplar failed in 1911; and its ownership passed into the hands of a new company of outsiders who gave the hydro a new name: Chatsworth. Jeffs, however, wasn’t the only investor to experience a spot of financial bother. The Reverend Richard Nicholson* from London had acquired Bridge House Hydro, Bank Road, around 1881, but was bankrupt thirteen years later (1894). The reverend was not the first owner of Bridge House, as Doctors Adams and Cash, from Coventry, practised here from at least 1861, with Dr Cash staying until c. 1876. Following Nicholson’s bankruptcy, Bridge House was purchased by the recently constituted Matlock Urban District Council for use as the Town Hall, to which was added the Italian Renaissance-style wing in 1900. The original house may be identified (from the Imperial Road frontage) at the centre of the greatly enlarged modern complex, which became the headquarters of Derbyshire Dales District Council (formerly West Derbyshire D.C.) following local government reorganization in 1974.                        

*In 1887, Nicholson purchased Clarence House Hydro, Holme Road, Matlock Bath.