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Derbyshires Famous Historic People

Derbyshire People is about the famous people, who have or have had some connection with Derbyshire and The Peak District, England. They may simply have been born in the county such as John Flamstead from Denby, lived and worked here, such as Erasmus Darwin, or simply visited the county, such as Dr Samuel Johnson or Bonnie Prince Charles. Some of the names included are a personal choice by us and some have been put forward from our readers. Many, many others have had connections, sometimes close connections with Derbyshire.

If you know of anyone, famous or otherwise, living or dead who you feel deserves a mention, please e-mail us and let us know and we'll let other people share their story.


Richard Arkwright 1732-1792

Richard Arkwright, a pioneer of the factory system, was born in 1732 in Preston, son of a barber.

As a young man Arkwright worked as a barber and wig maker, and travelled around the country selling his wigs. His travels brought him into contact with people working in the cotton trade and having had some education and being ambitious, he realised that there was a fortune to be made from designing an efficient spinning machine.
In 1768, Arkwright and a clockmaker from Warrington, called John Kay, looked at ways of producing a working model and perfected a roller spinning machine which came to be known as the spinning frame and later the water frame.

Before mechanization, spinning had always been done in houses and small workshops, where a spinning wheel was worked by hand or foot. This was a slow process and not enough yarn could be produced to keep pace with the knitters and weavers who turned the yarn into cloth and garments.

James Hargreave's spinning Jenny was invented about 1764 and it has speeded up the production of yarn but it was difficult to operate and required skilled labour. The advantage of Arkwrights machine was that it could be operated by young people with very little learning. Thus with the development of the water frame, factory production became possible.

Requiring finance to patent the machine, Arkwright found 2 partners in John Smalley and David Thornley. A patent was obtained in 1769 and with 2 more partners, Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, they set up a horse powered mill in Nottingham.

Horse power, however, proved expensive as well as unfeasable for large scale production. Arkwright was resolved to use water power and in 1771 began to build a water powered mill at Cromford in Derbyshire.

Part of his new workforce was supplied locally from lead mining and agricultural families. He advertised for the rest, often in the Matlock Mercury. He built up a whole new community in Cromford with cottages for his workers, a chapel, a school, the Greyhound Hotel and established a saturday market. The cottages in North Street are still there. Work was carried out in shifts as there was insufficent power available from the water to drive all the machinery at the same time, so spinning was done at night and preparation such as carding and combing carried on during the day. Children were employed from the age of 10 provided they had learnt to read.

After success of his first mill, Arkwright spent some time perfecting his machinery, mechanizing carding and cleaning in order to keep pace with the spinning. He aquired a second patent in 1775 to include his new inventions. In 1776 he built a second mill on the same site. This mill was burnt down in 1890. He expanded his operations, building further mills in Derbyshire. Lancashire, Staffordshire and in Scotland. His techniques were copied throughout the world.

Arkwright lived at Rock House next to the mill at Cromford. In 1786 he was knighted by George 111 and in 1787 was made the High Sheriff of Derbyshire. He built Willersley Castle, standing on a hill above the mill at Cromford to match his new status, but died quite early at the age of 60 in 1792. He is buried at the church he built, just below the mill at Cromford.

Anthony Babington 1561-1586

Anthony Babington was born in 1561, in Dethick, Derbyshire, son of Sir Henry Babington, a wealthy Derbyshire Landowner, and Mary d'Arcy, daughter of George, 1st Lord d'Arcy of Aston in Yorks.

Babington served as a page to Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment at Sheffield. In 1580 he went to London, attented the court of Elizabeth Ist, and joined a secret society supporting Jesuit missionaries.

In 1586 he was induced by John Ballard and other catholic emissaries to lead a conspiracy aiming to murder Elizabeth and release Mary. Philip of Spain promised immediate assistance with an expedition after the assination of the Queen had been affected. Coded messages in which Mary approved the plot were intercepted by the Queen's secretary, Francis Waisingham and were later used against her. It became known as the Babington Plot.

Babington fled but was captured at Harrow and executed with the other conspirators.

The family, owned a large town house in Derby and the coat of arms is still visible above Waterstone's bookshop in Babington Lane.

Robert Bakewell 1682-1752

Robert Bakewell was born in Uttoxeter in 1682 and after an apprenticeship in London, became England's foremost wrought ironsmith.

In 1706 Bakewell took up residence in Melbourne, South Derbyshire, working for Thomas Coke of Melbourne Hall, where he produced his magnificent wrought iron arbor, sometimes called the birdcage, in Coke's gardens. It is still there.

In Melbourne he had an affair with an Elizabeth Fisher, which resulted in a son, Bakewell Fisher. He moved himself to Derby, setting up a forge in Oakes' Yard in St Peter's Street.

From there he produced a series of magnificent wrought iron gates, including the ones now standing outside Derby Cathedral and Derby Industrial Museum. He also produced screens for churches and screens and tables to adorn houses and public buildings throughout the midlands.

Bakewell married Mary, a daughter of Nathanel Cokayne, and had 3 sons and 3 daughters.

Bakewell died in 1752 and was buried in St Peters.


Catherine Booth 1829-1890

Catherine Booth, a founder member of the Salvation Army, was born Catherine Mumford, in Sturston Street, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in 1829, daughter of a coach builder.

The family moved first to Boston in Linconshire then to Brixton in London.

At an early age Catherine wrote articles to magazines warning of the dangers of alcohol and became a supporter of the national Temperance Society.

She married William Booth, with whom she shared the same commitment for social reform, on June 1855 at Stockwell New Chapel and began preaching in 1860, developing a reputation as an outstanding speaker.

In 1864 the couple began the Christian Mission in London's East End which later developed into the Salvation Army, where women officers enjoyed equal rights with men officers. This was at a time when it was generally believed that a woman's place was in the home and it caused much hostility initially , from both politicians and the Church.

Catherine Booth organized Food for the Million shops where the poor could buy a cheap meal and at Christmas, hundreds of meals were distributed to the needy.

One of Catherine Booth's campagns was against the use of sweat labour in the match making industry, where women worked long hours dipping match heads into yellow phosphorus. The toxic fumes given off by this chemical caused a necrosis of the bone which often led to an early and painful death. Red phosphorus was available, which was safe but more expensive. Catherine Booth died in 1890 and to continue her fight against the use of the dangerous substance, the Salvation Army opened its own match factory with much improved conditions and wages for its workforce, forcing the sweatshops, through bad publicity, to reconsider their practises, which they eventually did.

Catherine and William Booth had 8 children all of whom became active in the Salvation Army.

A small commemorative plaque sits above the door of the terraced house where she was born and there is also a memorial to her in the War Memorial Recreation Ground at Ashbourne.


Francis Legatt Chantrey 1781-1841 - Artist

Francis Chantrey was born in 1781 in Norton, North Derbyshire, son of Francis, a farmer and joiner, and Sarah, daughter of Martin Legatt, a joiner from Okeover near Ashbourne in Derbyshire.

Chantrey became one of the most important sculptors of the early 19th century. Initially apprenticed to a carver and gilder called Ramsey, Chantrey was taught drawing lessons by John Paphael Smith, a noted engraver, who had taken a liking to him.

He started his career as an artist painting portraits but soon moved on to sculpturing. In 1809 he exhibited a head of Satan at the Royal Academy which led to commissions to make busts of Nelson and other admirals for Greenwich Hospital.

He became so enormously successful with his portrait busts, statues and church monuments that he managed to amass a great fortune and was knighted in 1835.

Among his many statues and monuments are the Sleeping Robinson Children (1817) in Litchfield Cathedral, Queen Victoria in the National Portrait Gallery, William Pitt in Hanover Square and George IV in Trafalger Square, London. There is also a George Washington in Boston State House, USA.

He had married his cousin Mary Ann Wale in 1802 who brought a dowry of ?10,000 into the union which Chantrey used to buy houses and set up a studio.

When he died, he left the bulk of his large fortune to the Royal Academy to purchase British works of art. The collection is now in the Tate Gallery, London.

Chantrey was buried in his native village of Norton, North Derbyshire.


Henry Cavendish 1731-1810 - Scientist

Henry Cavendish, one of the world's greatest scientists, was born in Nice on October 10th 1731, eldest son of Lord Charles Cavendish and grandson of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire.

Cavendish studied at Cambridge University and became a fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 29.

Six years later in 1766 he presented his first paper to the society on Factitious Airs. In it he demonstated the existence of 'infammable air' better known today as hydrogen.

Cavendish inherited a fortune at the age of 40 and was driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge to the exclusion of almost anything else. His eccentic ways included communication with his housekeeper with notes and having female servants kept out of his sight.

His experiments during the 1780's led him to discover the composition of water, proving it was not an element but a compound.

At almost the age of 70 he achieved his most famous feat, accurately calculating the mass of the earth.

Many of his findings only came to light after his death in 1810, leaving a large fortune. His remains were bought to Derby for internment in the family vault in All Saint's church.

The scientist's great library was given to the Bachelor Duke of Devonshire who installed the collection at Chatsworth House, where it remains to this day. Among it's treasures are some of the instruments once used by the shy eccentric genius who had dedicated his life to science.


Thomas Cook 1808-1892 - Founder Of Modern Day Travel

Thomas Cook, founder of World Wide travel agency Thomas Cook and son, was born on November 22nd 1808 in Melbourne, Derbyshire. The house that he was born in, in Quick close has been demolished.

He left school at around the age of 10 and worked in various jobs before becoming a Baptist missionary in 1828.
In 1841 a temperance meeting was to be held in Loughborough and Cook arranged for the Midland Railwat to run an excursion train from Leicester and back, charging passengers a shilling for the return journey. This was to be the first ever public excursion train journey in England. From this he began to arrange excursions for pleasure, taking a percentage of the railway tickets. In 1844 the Midland Counties Railway Company agreed to make a permanent arrangement with him provided he found the passengers. He was working from London by this time.

In 1856 he introduced a railway tour of Europe and in the early 1860's he began the travel firm of Thomas Cook and son, which now included tours of the USA. His firm took on military transport and postal services for England and Egypt during the 1880's.

His business passed to his only son John who had been his partner since 1864.

A row of 14 cottages at the top of the High Street in Melbourne, close to the site of his birth, was built by Cook in 1891, to be occupied by 'poor and deserving persons belonging to the general Baptist denomination'.

Charles Cotton 1630-1687 - Writer And Angler

Charles Cotton, English writer, angler and friend of Izaak Walton, was born in 1630 in Beresford, on the Staffordshire, Derbyshire border. His mother was Olive, daughter of Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston, Derbyshire and his father a wealthy landowner with many literary connections.

He was well educated, with a good knowledge of french, italian as well as the classics, but it usure as to wether he went to Cambridge.

In 1656 Cotton married Isobella Hutchinson, daughter of Sir Thomas Hutchinson of Owthorpe, Notts. Two years later his father died, leaving him the considerable estates at Beresford and Bentley. The River Dove flows through Beresford Dale and it is here that he learnt to fly fish and possibly where he met up with Izaak Walton who befriended him for many years.

In 1664 he published a burlesque titled Scarronicles, which became a popular work which ran into 14 editions.

His wife died in 1670, leaving him 3 sons and 5 daughters. He remarried in 1675 to Mary Russell, daughter of Sir William Russell, and widow of the Earl of Ardglass.

He spent a great deal of time fishing with Izaak Walton and together they built a fishing temple on the banks of the River Dove in Beresford Dale near Hartington, bearing the inscription Piscatoribus Sacrum. The temple still stands, on private land.

Two years later he wrote the celebrated second part of Walton's 5th edition of 'The Compleat Angler'. The work was the first detailed treatice on fly-fishing.

He also wrote 'The Wonders of the Peake', a long topographical poem popular in the 18th century. This and his other poetry, published posthumous reflect Cotton's enjoyment of life.

Cotton's later years were marred by financial difficulties, his income from his estates and writings being insufficient to support his life style and he had to sell Beresford Hall in 1681.

He died in 1687 and is buried in St James's Church, Picadilly, London.

There is a family pew in the small church at Alstonefield, Derbyshire and a pub in Hartington bears his name.

Erasmus Darwin 1731-1802 - Scientist

Erasmus Darwin was a successful physician noted for his radical views on almost everything but especially on biology where his speculations about the nature of evolution were similar to those of J.B Lamarck, believing that species modified themselves by adapting to their environment in a purposeful way.

Darwin was born in 1737 at Elston Hall in Nottinghamshire. Educated at Cambridge and Edinburgh, he opened a successful medical practise at Litchfield and turned down an offer from George III to become his personal physician in London, preferring to move to Derby which he used as a base for his extensive travels. While in Litchfield, he made the acquaintance of many distinquished men, among them Joseph Priestley, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Samuel Johnson.

Darwin was a co-founder of the Lunar Society, an informal intellectual group, along with John Whitehurst, the Derby clock maker and scientist, Joshuia Wedgewood, James Watts and others. Later he formed the Derby Philisophical Society which became a rather more formal off shoot of the Lunar group and closer to home.

He had a fertile imagination and a profound grasping of fundamental principles concerning almost all scientific disciplines.

Darwin proponded a great number of ideas concerning air travel, Wells, lifts, copying machines, educational improvements, oil drilling, sub marines and many more.

He often wrote his opinins and scientific treatises in verse, the most notable of which are 'The Botanic Garden' and 'The Temple of Nature or the Origin of Society'. His other major works included 'A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools' and Phytologia or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening'.

Darwin was married twice, lived in Full Street, Derby for a time before moving to Breadsall Priory where he died in 1802.

His grandsons were, Charles Darwin, naturalist and noted for his Origin of Species and the biologist Francis Galton.

Elizabeth Hardwick 1518-1608 - Landowner

Elizabeth Hardwick, known as Bess of Hardwick and a native of Derbyshire, became the second most powerful and wealthy woman of her age in England, the first being Queen Elizabeth the 1st.

She amassed her great wealth, land and stately homes mainly through her 4 marriages. She was first married as a child but her husband died young.

In 1547 she married Sir William Cavendish, of the Cavendish family from Suffolk, and it was from their second son that the present line of the Dukes of Devonshire descend. He was made Earl of Devonshire in 1618. It is not until 1694 that the 4th Earl was created the 1st Duke of Devonshire and Marquis of Hartington.

In 1549 Bess and Sir William bought the land on which Chatsworth now stands and in 1552 started building the Chatsworth House. It was later rebuilt by the 4th earl, Bess's great great grandson.

In 1567 Bess married George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and one of the most powerful men in the Kingdom. He was appointed by Elizabeth 1st as warden to Mary Queen of Scots who was frequently kept at Chatsworth under his guard.

In 1590, Shrewsbury died leaving Bess the second richest woman in the land.

Ambitous to the end, she married off one of her daughters to Charles Stuart, brother of the late husband of Mary Queen of Scots, who had both Royal Tudor and Stuart blood in his viens. Their daughter Arbelle Stuart was in direct line for the throne of England, being the closest female relation to Queen Elizabeth.

Bess built the new Hardwick Hall next to the old one, to be a fitting home for a future queen of England. However Elizabeth chose Arbelle's cousin James VI of Scotland to suceed her.

Bess is buried in Derby Cathedral.