Other Industries / Employment

The Decline of the Local Textile Industry

The textile industry has all but disappeared from the Matlock scene. In the 1890s, Lowe & Scholes were manufacturing both tape and fancy shawls at their mills in Tansley. During the same period, Richard Farnsworth’s bleaching works was operating in nearby Lumsdale. In 1929, the Farnsworth facility was sold to Paton & Baldwin, the knitting yarn manufacturer, who laid off eighty workers a couple of years later when it purchased Derwent Mills on Smedley Street. However, another bleaching firm (which also specialized in dyeing and garnetting*) in Lumsdale – F H Drabble** & Sons Ltd at Tansley Wood Mills – did survive until the end of the twentieth century. In Matlock itself, Thomas Crowder Johnson, the area’s last surviving framework knitter, died in 1949. His premises, now Wellington Mews, were close to many of his customers at Smedley’s Hydro, although he also a strong mail order base. Another concern was that of J.W. Potter (latterly Tor Hosiery), which was established on Dimple Road in 1860, but ceased production in 1972. The factory, which had a workforce of about thirty, once supplied knitwear to Potter’s shops in Matlock and Buxton.

Larger factories eventually followed the trend. Paton & Baldwin’s Derwent Mills complex, originally founded by Frederick Broome c. 1916, expanded at first, but was demolished in 1989 to make way for the Victoria Hall Gardens residential development. Down the road in Matlock Bath, Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mill opened as a water-powered cotton-spinning factory on the River Derwent in 1783. Having become part of the English Sewing Cotton group in 1898, the mill closed in 1991. It was later converted into a museum-cum-outlet centre, which itself became a victim of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019. Incredibly, however, Smedley’s mill at Lea Bridge (4 miles or so SE of Matlock) continues to flourish. Founded in 1784, it claims to be the world’s oldest family-run business; today producing fine quality knitwear, much of it for export – especially to Japan.

* Garnetting is the recovery of waste cotton and wool to a fluff, which can be recycled into yarn.

**Frederick H Drabble, a mill spinning manager at Lea Mills, founded F H Drabble & Sons in 1889.

Masson Mill
Smedley’s Mill (Lea Bridge)

Lead Mining and Industry

As already indicated, lead mining has been important in the Pennine Hills, including the White Peak area, since at least Roman times. It came to an abrupt end locally in 1938, with the flooding – and subsequent closure the following year – of Mill Close Mine (2½ miles NW of Matlock), near Darley Bridge. For the previous 77 years, Mill Close had been the richest mine in the country, producing in that time almost half a million tons of high-grade ore. On the positive side, the mine’s legacy lives on as the site, today, is occupied by Enthoven, a lead reclamation company providing around two hundred jobs. Another facility is that of Forged Solutions, whose products are used in the aerospace, commercial forgings and gas turbine industries. Having originated as a branch of the Sheffield-based Firth Derihon Company during World War II, the firm’s Darley Dale site (4 miles N of Matlock) has a workforce of around one hundred. Both Forged Solutions and Enthoven are important contributors to the local economy; an economy which was adversely affected in the 1960s by the closure of British Railways’ marshalling yard at Rowsley, together with the freight and passenger line between Matlock and Great Rocks Dale in 1968; thus severing the through link to Manchester. A smaller family-run concern, employing around fifty or sixty staff in Matlock itself is that of Twigg, which was founded in 1905 by William Twigg, who refurbished and recycled used machinery and equipment. Today, the company deals in general merchandise and steel stock, and also offers a comprehensive fabrications service.

Further Information on Lead Mining in the Geology section

Quarrying in the Matlock Area

There were numerous sandstone (gritstone) quarries in the district during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of the stone, of course, was used to ‘build Matlock’, but a significant amount found its way to destinations throughout the U.K. and beyond – even as far as Australia. The stone was distributed from Matlock station yard, where stone-dressing was an important activity. Indeed, it is recorded that T.C. Drabbles’ Old Bentley Brook and Farley quarries supplied dressed stone for such high-profile projects as the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, Birmingham Eye Hospital and London’s Savoy Hotel. Although most of the local sandstone quarries closed many years ago, one or two specialist concerns continue to survive in the Birchover and Stanton Lees area. Quarrying, however, still makes an important contribution to the local economy. Nowadays, the White Peak around Matlock is a source of limestone, which is in wide demand for road-building and various industrial processes; although the former Harveydale and Cawdor quarries – very near to the town centre – had ceased production by the 1980s

The Extraction of Limestone

The former Harvey Dale Quarry, off Dale Road, was established around 1847. It subsequently merged with four other quarries, one of which, Boathouse (behind the former Boathouse car park), was being worked for crinoidal limestone (so-called ‘marble’) as early as 1811. By c.1870, lime burning was being carried out by Thomas Rawson, who was also proprietor of the Boat House pub. Following the installation of a stone-loading dock at Matlock goods yard in 1876, Harvey Dale was expanded, probably by the Greatorex family, who were involved with the show cave and fluorspar trades at Matlock Bath. Ragusa Asphalt operated a plant in Harvey Dale from 1915 until c.1957, whilst the quarry remained in use until the mid 1960s.

Guarding the entrance to the former quarry stands John Hadfield House, which opened in 1968 as the headquarters of Derbyshire Stone Ltd. It is named after John Hadfield (of Hadfield & Son – a Sheffield – based construction firm) who in 1935 had brought together the quarrying divisions (including Harvey Dale and Cawdor) of five concerns to form this new company, with himself as managing director. Following the merger of Derbyshire Stone with Tarmac later in 1968, the enlarged enterprise used the building as its Eastern Region base until 1997. The premises were later occupied by Derbyshire County Council.

After 1849, the existence of the railway enabled local stone products to be exported; a situation which led to the nearby development of various limestone quarries and associated activities, such as the production of coated stone and mastic asphalt. Cawdor Quarry dates from c.1857, and by 1890, W.E. Constable & Company were producing materials for their plant in Surrey. Having absorbed a couple of quarries near the station, the firm joined with Norman Hart in 1903 to form Constable Hart, a national supplier of tarmacadam. With the establishment of the neighbouring Hall Dale Quarry in 1948/9, stone extraction at Cawdor was gradually reduced; thereby enabling various processing activities to be accommodated on the old quarry floor.

The clay content of the local limestone made it very suitable for the production of mastic asphalt, which is used in the production of water-proofing materials. Several firms were involved in the local manufacture of such products, and some became part of Derbyshire Stone in 1965. During the 1950s, approximately two hundred people were employed within the Cawdor / Hall Dale complex, which supplied stone for many important undertakings – including the M1 motorway. Although Hall Dale closed in the 1980s, the subsidiary activities at Cawdor continued until c.2016. Tarmac’s Cawdor Stone Works was sold in 1993 to Albrighton PLC which closed the site three years later following financial difficulties. The eastern section of Cawdor Quarry was subsequently purchased by Sainsbury’s, whose supermarket opened in 2007.

Further information on the local extraction of building stone (gritstone and limestone, etc.) is given in the Geology section

Tree, Shrub and Plant Nurseries

During the latter half of the 19th century – and well into the 20th – a multitude of plant, shrub and tree nurseries was established in the locality. At least two of these were substantial enterprises: Scotland Nurseries at Tansley, and James Smith & Sons in Darley Dale, founded in 1827. By c. 1893-1900, the latter employed more than 150 men on eight nursery sites covering a total area of over 200 acres. The firm supplied botanic gardens, including Kew; and exported trees & shrubs as far afield as Germany and British Columbia. On Matlock Bank, three nurseries on Cavendish Road – as shown on the O.S. map of 1876 – had gone by 1899, largely replaced by housing and a couple of hydros (Oldham House & Prospect Place). Although one or two new nurseries were opened during the 20th century, most were short-lived and the overall number gradually declined; presumably as cheaper imports became available. Today, we are left with just a reminder of their presence: a handful of tree, shrub and plant outlets (including Christmas tree growers) and three garden centres (one at Darley Dale – still run by the Smith family – and two at Tansley). 

The Tourist Centre of Matlock

As one may expect in a former hydropathic centre, Matlock possesses many examples of fine Victorian architecture, together with a number of properties of historical interest. The town has colourful gardens and a string of interesting parks including Hall Leys, which offers various recreational facilities; and the Pic Tor riverside route, via the summit of High Tor to Matlock Bath; or to Artists’ Corner for the iconic view of High Tor – one of the highest inland cliffs in Britain. Many visitors may be interested in following the fascinating heritage trails and other walking routes produced by Matlock Civic Association, available from several local shops and cafes (see link for details), whilst serious ramblers have a wide choice of interesting routes from Matlock, including the Derwent Valley Heritage Way and the Limestone Way to Castleton or Rocester. The town has a wide variety of retail outlets, including many cafes and bars, with a cluster of antique and collectables shops along Dale Road. There are also one or two B&Bs, as well as pubs, offering accommodation within a short distance of the town centre. Just a mile away, off Bakewell Road, are The Arc leisure centre (offering a sports hall, fitness gymnasium and heated swimming pools) and a budget hotel; whilst in the surrounding area are several camping and caravan sites. Taken together, these facilities make Matlock a good choice for either a visit or as a centre from which to explore the Peak District National Park, whose boundary is less than a mile from the railway station.

Links to Tourism Information can be found by following the link

The Administrative Centre of Matlock

During the first half of the 20th century, the hydros closed almost as rapidly as they had opened, but the local economy, at first buoyed by textiles, horticulture and quarrying, was soon seeing a decline in those activities, together with the almost total loss of the local railway industry. Although quarrying, associated HGV transport and other industries (including the fine woollens still produced at Smedley’s Lea Mill) continue to make their contribution to the local economy, Matlock itself – as the location of the headquarters of the national Youth Hostels Association (since 2001), Derbyshire Dales District Council, formerly West Derbyshire D.C. (since 1974) and Derbyshire County Council (since 1956) – is today best described as a residential and administrative centre, with tourism being important. It is also a focal point for bus services, and enjoys an hourly rail connection with Derby, from where there is access to the national network. At weekends and holiday periods, Peak Rail operates steam and diesel-hauled trains from platform 2 of Matlock station to Rowsley South along the track-bed of the former railway to Manchester (closed in 1968).