Matlock, the county town of Derbyshire, is a former spa town situated at a sharp bend in the River Derwent, where it turns south to carve its way through the ridge of limestone which bars its route towards Derby. Just downriver of the main town lies Matlock Bath, which is enclosed by the limestone cliffs of the gorge and contains the main tourist attractions of the locality.
Matlock church at Matlock Town
In many respects Matlock seems quite a new town, certainly when compared with Buxton or Bakewell for instance. The reason is that Matlock was an unimportant collection of small villages centred around the church until thermal springs were discovered in 1698. Even this did not lead to an immediate development of Matlock because the route down the Derwent was blocked by Willersley crags at Cromford, so the road to Matlock from the south arrived by a circuitous and hilly route.
This situation was remedied by the cutting of the road through Scarthin Nick near Cromford in 1818, though Matlock had already begun to gain a reputation as a rather select spa by then. The Victorian era saw the development of Matlock Bath as a fashionable resort and the construction by John Smedley in 1853 of the vast Hydro on the steep hill to the north of the river crossing at the centre of the town. This enormous hotel functioned as a spa until the 1950s, when it closed and was taken over by Derbyshire County Council as its headquarters.
The coming of the railways in the 1870s transformed Matlock again, this time into a resort for day-trippers from the Derby-Nottingham area and further south. From then on Matlock spawned tourist attractions in the form of show caverns, cable railways, petrifying wells, pleasure gardens and even recently a theme park. The evidence of the change which came over the place can be seen best at Matlock Bath, where the amusement arcades along the main road provide a sharp contrast with the elegant Victorian villas above.
Matlock Bath from High Tor
The modern town is divided neatly into two: the main town radiating out from the river crossing opposite the railway station and Matlock Bath spread out along the gorge to the south. Whereas Matlock itself seems solid and Victorian with neat stone houses going in rows up the hill, the Bath has a more frivolous air. Overlooking it all is the gigantic folly that is Riber Castle, built in the 1860s by the same John Smedley who constructed the Hydro.
The town has a full range of shops and facilities, however the principal hotels are both in the Bath - the New Bath Hotel is out on the road to Cromford opposite Wildcat crags and the Temple Hotel is on the hill below the Heights of Abraham. The Grand Pavilion at Matlock Bath is a pleasure palace built in 1910 alongside the River Derwent. It houses the Peak District Lead Mining Museum and has recently been purchased by the community after years of neglect. There are plans to refurbish it with a Heritage Lottery Fund grant as a theatre and venue.
The tourist information centre is now at the Peak Rail
shop on Matlock Station. The telephone number is 01335 343666.