Riber Castle is one of the Peak’s famous follies having been built by a local industrialist to reside in at one time. It stands high above Matlock and is a 19th century grade 2 listed country house situated in the hamlet of Riber. It is 853 feet above sea level, high above the Derwent Valley, and it comprises of 90 feet high towers and over 145 feet of battlement walls. The drive up to it is not for the faint hearted! Its black silhouette on the hill can be seen for miles around and until recently, it sadly fell into disrepair.
Riber was constructed in 1862-1868 by a man famed for the good care he took of his workers, John Smedley. He was a Victorian mill owner and philanthropist. This was the second impressive structure developed by this local entrepreneur, responsible for building the impressive Hydro on Matlock Bank, four stories high, 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. It has beautiful gardens stretching down the hillside and offered a world-famous water cure all until it closed in the 1950s. Today the building is the headquarters of Derbyshire County Council.
Riber Castle was built of gritstone from a local quarry which was pulled up the 200 metre high hill by a series of pulleys. His initial plan was to build a 225 foot tower but he abandoned this design when he found one of the telescopes he intended to order for the tower wouldn’t fit in it.
Riber Castle cost Smedley £60,000 but he died sadly, just six years after its construction. His wife lived in it until her death. The castle later became a boy’s school until this became financially unsustainable in the 1930’s. With the coming of World War 2, the Ministry of Defence used it for storage and left after the war. It then became a derelict shell.
It remained that way for several years until the group of zoologists set up a nature reserve for British and European animals, affectionately called Riber Zoo.
It was home to lynx famously, but the state the animals were in was brought under close scrutiny and it was closed in 2000 due to concerns over the welfare of the animals by its owners. They were unable to sell it as a going concern and the closure happened with a lot of controversy surrounding it.
Activists also released several lynxes which escaped into the wild and sightings of the animals by the locals even now have coined the name the ‘Beast of Lumsdale.’
Cross Tower Ventures purchased the castle in 2000 with proposals to develop it for residential purposes. After ferocious argument, permission was granted in 2006 by the Office of the Deputy prime minister. Evidence of the zoo was still visible, with footpaths, enclosures and buildings still present. Access to the site before 2006 meant a perimeter fence securely restricting access, due to the unstable nature of the building. It had no flaws, all roof to the castle building but the landmark later became a commonly used footpath.