Matlock Bath History

The unique village just south of Matlock, is set around the River Derwent in a steep and stunning gorge. Matlock Bath was developed as a spa town in the 19th century and as it became more fashionable and prosperous, visitors flocked for miles around to enjoy the spectacular scenery and visit the nearby spas in Matlock town.

In 1832 and again in 1844, it was visited by the then Princess Victoria, when she was a guest of the Duke of Devonshire and stayed at nearby Chatsworth house. These two visits enhanced the reputation of Matlock Bath as a resort and the advent of the railway brought day trippers in by the score. Matlock Bath developed a resort image of being an inland seaside town, which it still upholds today.

The health spa of Matlock Bath began much earlier than the Victorian times and it was in 1698 that three medicinal springs were discovered. The first bath was devised and constructed, made of wood and lined with lead and it was this particular bath which gave Matlock ‘Bath’ its name. As the waters became more well-known, access to Matlock Bath, was improved by the building of a bridge into old Matlock and in the late 18th century, a new route opened up into the town at the South of the Valley.

Mary Shelley mentions Matlock Bath in her novel Frankenstein,

‘We proceeded to Matlock Bath, which was our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood of this village resembles Switzerland; but everything is on a lower scale.’

 Lord Byron confirmed its romantic character, and has compared it with Alpine Switzerland, hence its nickname ‘Little Switzerland’ and John Wesley have both made comments on the town, with Wesley finding it ‘pleasant beyond expression.’ Ruskin and Nathaniel Hawthorne have both mentioned it in their writing, as did the observant poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who wrote a poem about the village which is actually called Matlock Bath. Erasmus Darwin recommended the area to Josiah Wedgwood for its beauty and soothing waters and members of both families vacationed and settled there. Edward Darwin lived at Dale house in Matlock Bath, where he was a solicitor.

The village continued to thrive and is a favourite place for tourists visiting the Peak District. It’s possible to see the original railway station, which still exists and this brings visitors in, in their thousands. In 1840 the North Midland Railway opened and Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway ran a number of excursions, taking the passengers onward from Ambergate by the Cromford Canal. Matlock Bath is now a designated conservation area in relation to properties, predominantly along North and South Parade.

The Jubilee Bridge was built in 1897 and has seen many thousands of visitors cross the Derwent River to the fantastic historical park on the other side, with its ‘Lovers’ walks’, high paths up the cliff faces and children’s play areas.