Why is Matlock where it is and what it is?


Why is Matlock where it is?  Why does it look the way it does today?  Why does the Derwent Valley change so dramatically as it goes through Matlock? Why does Matlock have its current connections, layout, buildings, industries, and natural environment?  What has attracted tourists for hundreds of years? Many would say that it is due to its history.  However it can be argued that even its history has been largely determined by its geology.
Why is Matlock where it is and what it is?
Satellite view of Matlock from Google Maps

Like many towns, Matlock is situated at a river crossing, with most of the town on the northern bank.  Why this site for the river crossing?  Upstream on the River Derwent (to the northwest) is a flood plain and the river meanders.  Here a bridge could have been bypassed by shifting of the river meanders across the valley.  Buildings would have been subject to regular flooding.  Downstream the Derwent enters Matlock Dale, a steep sided limestone gorge and there is not enough space for development of a town.  Matlock Bridge probably represents to optimum location for a crossing as the river is more confined by a narrowing valley; it is neither too low lying, nor too steep for development.  Matlock is also at the  junction of the Derwent Valley with the Lumsdale Valley and Bentley Brook, allowing connections in various directions.  The steep valley sides have determined the settlement pattern and constrained its transport routes.

The history, buildings, economy and natural history of the Matlock Area are very much a product of its geology. The size of its development is probably related to the development of mining, quarrying, mills and hydros.  These in turn owe their existence to its geology.  Lead mining and quarrying have been major sources of employment.  It was these steep valley sides that gave rise to the fast flowing streams used during the Industrial Revolution to power the mills and to bring new industries to the area.  It is thanks to its geology that Matlock became a spa town with the large number of hydros, leaving a legacy of some impressive buildings.  The River Derwent flows approximately N-S through the area and is the dividing line between the acidic gritstone ridges to the north and the alkaline limestone heights to the south. Consequently it shows features of both the White Peak and the Dark Peak and has very varied natural history and flora.