Descriptions of Matlock and Cumberland Cave, 1807 – 1808

I have been looking at some early 19th century unpublished travel diaries which feature Derbyshire. Derby, Matlock and Castleton have featured heavily, as have Chatsworth, Haddon and Hardwicke Hall. What has been surprising (in the ones I have looked at) is the omission of Dovedale.

Also noticeable is the absence of descriptions of the Derwent Valley Mills. It is implausible that these visitors didn’t see the mills, especially as some of them visited Willersley Castle – almost opposite Cromford Mill. It appears that while these tourists were happy to visit the urban Silk Mill and porcelain manufactuing in Derby, they were not interested in seeing industry in a more rustic setting. Their descriptions of the Derwent Valley are full of the sublime and awe-inspiring power of nature and Arkwright’s modern mills obviously didn’t fit with the search for the picturesque.


Diary by an unknown woman 1807 (YCBA)

‘Smedley’s Cavern we visited, who after 17 years labour, and perseverance open’d a communication with this awful abyss, and now acts as a guide to display its beauties.  This cave contains immense treasures of spas minerals and fossils, which he manufactures into very beautiful ornaments of various descriptions….. we purchased many articles for our friends, and sent them to London by the waggon’.

Diary of an unknown woman, 1807


The entrance into Matlock from the South is through a Rock, which has been blasted with gunpowder for half a mile for the purpose of opening a carriage road, on the left is a row of houses for the accommodation of Company, behind which are high barren rocks, in the front are gardens, and beyond those run the River Derwent, on this side of which is a charming shady walk formed through a wood, on the other side rises almost perpendicular stupendous rocks which are 123 yards high, 10 more than the summit of St Pauls…… at the other end of the Town is a cavern called Cumberland Cave, this is a work of art.  Smedley’s of Matlock having worked at it for 17 years in order to clear a passage, it is a vast and awful place, worth exploring’.

Diary of Mary Kerr, 1808

5 Responses to Descriptions of Matlock and Cumberland Cave, 1807 – 1808

  1. Alice Insley says:

    What a great insight into 19th century perceptions of the Derbyshire landscape. As the descriptions seem to be selective with an emphasis upon the picturesque I wonder if they were making any direct comparisons between the landscapes they saw and the works of landscape artists?

  2. Hello Alice,

    Yes, very selective descriptions – and it is the same descriptions in many of the journals, not quite word for word, but they talk about the same things and often use very similar language. I am looking in to what might of influenced their choices and how much of a recognised tour there was e.g is the language in William Bray’s ‘Sketch of a Tour of Derbyshire…’ (1777) and the like regurgitated in to their own writing.

    Also as you say, interesting to look at the work of landscape artists. The diary of an unknown lady (1807) which I have quoted from above, was from Peckham. She is interested in art as she mentions artworks in the great houses. I am sure she will definitely have seen prints of Derbyshire and could have conceivably visited the Royal Academy etc. I am sure that the engraved landscapes would have acted as postcards and that while touring Derbyshire you would want to search out the places you’d seen immortalised on paper.

    All very interesting stuff. I have collected a lot of information, but still need to analyse lot of it!


    • Janice Matthewman says:

      Very interesting to see people in the past discribing a place i know so well , be it in a similar reason that i visit the peakdistrict for its beauty and fasciating history im envious of all you may have read and seen and the excellent work you have all done to keeps these treasures for the ordiary person to see and read and not to be kept in private hands, it is all of our,s history and attracts large amounts of visitors, Thank you for the excellent website and only sorry i had no idea of the project before it closed, and hope yoy all the best for future projects.

  3. Anna Rhodes says:

    Hello Janice,
    Thanks for your positive comments about the project. It really has been fascinating. I have not been very active on this blog for about a year, but I hope to resurrect it soon with more images and information.

    • Janice Matthewman says:

      Hello Anna thankyou very much for your reply to me, i have only just seen your reply, but wish you all the very best for the future, i bure there are many people out there tha feel the same as me and found a treasure that made me so excited and really gave me the thirst for more of the same,i went on to buy a copy be it very old book called On foot through the peak by James Croston, F.S.A., I throughly enjoyed it and learnt so much very best wishes Janice

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