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Famous People of Matlock

There have always been famous people who have visited all parts of the Peak District, and Matlock has its own fair share.

Alison Uttley was an English author and was born on December 17, 1884. She is famous for writing children's books, which revealed her great love and knowledge of the surrounding countryside and also the country folklore. Beautifully illustrated in the Beatrix Potter style, her books had much loved characters such as Little Grey Rabbit, Sam Pig and Little Red Fox. She also wrote books for older children and adults and she produced over 100 titles for which she was awarded an honorary degree by Manchester University in 1970.

She was born the first child of Henry and Hannah Taylor, of Castle Top Farm near Cromford, Matlock and started school in the village of Lea when she was seven. She revelled in the wonderful festival traditions of Victorian Derbyshire, and memories of these were later recaptured in some of her books. She also loved science and won a scholarship to read physics at Manchester University and in 1906, she became the second woman honours graduate of the University. When her husband sadly died in the First World War, she turned to writing as a means of supporting herself and her young son and wrote 'The Country Child', published in 1931.

Richard Arkwright was a pioneer of the great factory system and was born in 1732 in Preston, the son of a barber. He travelled around the country selling wigs, which brought him into contact with people working in the cotton trade. He invented the spinning machine, but the process was so slow and not enough yarn could be produced to keep pace with the knitters who turned the yarn into garments. He didn't rest on his laurels and designed various spinning and weaving machines until he resolved to use waterpower and in 1771 began to build a water powered mill at Cromford near Matlock. Part of his workforce was supplied locally from lead mining and agricultural families and he advertised the rest, often in the Matlock Mercury.

He built a whole new community of cottages in Cromford for his workforce, a chapel, a school, the Greyhound Hotel and he established the popular Saturday market. The cottages on North Street are still there today. He went on to build more mills in Derbyshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire and in Scotland and his techniques were copied throughout the world. In 1786 he was knighted by George III and in 1787 became High Sheriff of Derbyshire. He built Willersley Castle, which stands 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, which he built, just below the mill at Cromford.

John Smedley was born in Wirksworth in 1803 and started off a legacy of four generations of owners of Lea Mills near Matlock, the hilly site straddling the brook, which was used to clean yarn and power machinery. The mill specialised in the production of muslin and spinning cotton to send out to local people who lived in cottages nearby, using hand frame looms. Towards the end of the 18th century, the company extended its activities to include knitting and hosiery manufacturer and developed the original Long Johns. He married Caroline Harwood, the second daughter of the Vicar of Wirksworth and his success and growing wealth meant he could develop other grand projects. His interest in hydrotherapy led to Smedley's Hydro being built in Matlock, a spa resort, which attracted visitors from around the world. He also built the folly that is Riber Castle, set high on a hilltop overlooking Matlock, which is now one of Derbyshire's most famous landmarks. The designer label John Smedley is now familiar in boutiques, department stores and retailers around the world and the company sells to over 30 countries and has now won numerous awards for its export achievements.