The Matlock Settlements

Map from National Library of Scotland of the Matlock area, ca. 1852 (reproduced under Creative Commons; CC-BY-NC-SA)

The Matlocks

The name ‘Matlock’ is thought to be derived from ‘Meslach’ (Domesday Book 1086) which, by 1196, had morphed into ‘Matlac’ (and later, ‘Matlock’), meaning: ‘the oak tree where meetings are held’. The most likely location for such a tree – assuming its existence – would be in the vicinity of the triangular green close to St Giles’ Church, in the neighbourhood of Matlock Town – at the time a small agricultural settlement, perhaps with some lead-mining activity. Now known as Old Matlock, this is one of a group of areas within the present civic parishes of Matlock and Matlock Bath, collectively referred to in some guide books as ‘The Matlocks’. The other areas are Matlock Cliff, Matlock Green, Matlock Bridge, Matlock Bank, Matlock Moor, Matlock Dale and Matlock Bath. The latter (along with Matlock Dale) acquired its own identity with the creation of the Civic Parish of Matlock Bath in the mid-19th century; whilst the other ‘Matlocks’ merged as the hydropathic resort of Matlock Bank came to prominence during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mestesforde and Meslach

In the Domesday Survey, Mestesforde is recorded as a manor comprising six berewicks, one of which was called Meslach. A hillside known as Nestes (or Nestus, today’s Heights of Abraham) was the location of the ancient (possibly Roman) Nestes lead mine (now the Rutland Cavern), thought to be Mestesforde’s ‘one lead work’ as recorded in the survey. It has been suggested that the mine may account for the name ‘Mestesforde’ (i.e. the ford & associated small village (near) the Nestes mine), although the change of the initial letter from ‘N’ to ‘M’ has not been explained. As St Giles’ Church was subsequently built in the berewick of Meslach, it is hardly surprising that the parish also adopted this name; causing the term ‘Mestesforde’ to become redundant. The church is situated along the ancient route between Chesterfield and Wirksworth via Willersley, perhaps little more than a quarter of a mile from Mestesforde. One informed source suggests that the precise location of Mestesforde may have been ‘half a mile downstream’ from today’s Matlock bridge; at a point ‘where the river ran wider and shallower’ (ie: below today’s railway bridge – spanning both the river and the A6 – on Dale Road). This more or less coincides with the spot identified by an MCA (Matlock Civic Association) plaque as ‘le shiplode’ (meaning – in 1417 – ‘the river crossing for sheep’). It is therefore a strong possibility that ‘Mestesforde’ and ‘le shiplode’ refer to the same stretch of river, which would indicate that ‘Meslach’ (today’s Old Matlock) developed at the junction of the aforementioned Chesterfield – Willersley – Wirksworth route with a route (or routes) from the west, via Salters Lane* (and/or Snitterton), Holt Lane*, Mestesforde and Pic Tor Lane*. 

*Today’s names.

Old Matlock

A turkey oak, planted in 1924 on the triangular green, may mark the approximate location of an ancient oak from which the name ‘Matlock’ is thought to be derived (See paragraph 1). Beyond the green is St Giles’ Church, which is built on a high bluff overlooking the River Derwent. The church dates from the 12th C, although – apart from the Norman font and a medieval roof boss – very little survives from this period; the tower is 15th century, whilst the north aisle was rebuilt by Sir Richard Arkwright of Cromford (the founder of the world’s first water-powered cotton spinning mill) in 1771/2. Nearby are a couple of former pubs which face each other across the green – the Wheatsheaf and the Kings Head. These properties, together with neighbouring cottages and the Old Vicarage, date from the 17th C (or earlier) and form the nucleus of Old Matlock. Later properties of significance include the Duke William public house – a survivor since 1754; and the former Matlock Town CE School (opened in 1870), which replaced the Victorian charity foundation (of 1829) at 16/18 Church Street – now a commercial/residential property. In 1992, when the Town School closed, the pupils were transferred to the newly opened St Giles’ Primary, further up the road. The old school premises were subsequently converted into attractive residential units. Old Matlock is linked by the short, but steep Stoney Way to a level area astride Bentley Brook, now occupied by Knowleston Gardens and Knowleston Place.

Knowleston Place and Matlock Green

During the 17th & early 18th centuries, this location – close to where Bentley Brook joins the Derwent – was the scene of various industrial processes such as tanning, flax dressing and lead washing. No doubt the lead was produced by the Ladygate Mine at the foot of nearby Pig Tor (now Pic Tor), which was in use from 1780 to the early 1800s. In view of such industrial activity, it is hardly surprising that Knowleston Place – with John Knowles’ elegant terrace (1857) at its heart – occupies a part of Matlock which has been settled since the 1600s. In more recent times, between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, the adjoining Matlock Green (formerly The Green) came into prominence as the focus for fairs and markets. A public house is though to have occupied the site of the Red Lion (still open) since the 17th century, whilst the former Horseshoe Inn, with an old smithy adjacent, dates from 1860 and was adapted for residential use c. 2010. Beyond Matlock Green, the sparsely populated hillside of Matlock Cliff overlooks Bentley Brook as it emerges from the splendid archaeological site of Lumsdale. In the past, this picturesque valley has been the scene of water-powered industry, with such activities as bone crushing, lead smelting, mineral grinding, bleaching and dyeing being undertaken at various times from the 17th to the 20th centuries.