Interesting and fun facts about Matlock

Posted March 29, 2023

Interesting and fun facts about Matlock

The first interesting and fun fact about Matlock has to be how it got it’s name, right? 

‘Moot oak’.

Elements and their meanings

  • mæðel(Old English) Speech, assembly, council.
  • āc(Old English) An oak-tree.

Where meetings are held under an oak tree. In 1192 Census the name Matlac appears

1. We have our very own Banksy in Matlock

This mural appeared on the weekend of January 7th 2021 unbeknown to the owner of the building in Dale Road Matlock just behind the Hall Leys Park, where it was found. You may recognise the Banksy style – ‘Achoo’ but in fact it is made of wood. I’m delighted that these things pop up and they make life a little bit more exciting!

Banksy Achoo in Matlock Derbyshire

2. Matlock’s Shelter and Clock Tower

shelter clock tower in hall leys park matlockThe shelter and clock tower in Hall Leys Park is the original tram shelter moved from Crown Square. Trams used to go up and down Bank Road, to take passengers from the train station up to the spas in Smedley Street. The gradient is 18% the steepest tram line in the world on a public road. It was run by cable over and under the road with a stationery steam engine at the top – an amazing feat of engineering. The steam engine lifted the cable and pulled the trams up the 300 yards of Bank Road (half penny up, penny down). There were two trams and they also alleviated the steam engine with their weight. The tramway services ended in 1927 after huge losses were reported and a strand in the cable snapped. It’s a pretty shelter and decorated with Christmas light in December.

3. 19th century Riber Castle overlooking Matlock

Riber Castle is a Grade II listed building in the hamlet of Riber. Overlooking the Derwent Valley and Matlock and can be seen from Hall Leys Park. It is known locally as Smedley’s Folly, due to the difficulty of building and getting water up the 660 ft steep hill. It is built of local gritstone, all building materials were pulled up the steep hill by pulleys when it was being erected in 1862. John Smedley, the industrialist, built it as his home. Later it became a boy’s boarding school until the 1930s, during WWII the MoD used it as a food storage venue. After being left untouched for several years when it was turned into a wildlife park from the 1960 until 2000. The film ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ was filmed at Riber. Riber is one of those places where you think – well if Riber is there I must be …… ! Several of our bedrooms have a direct view to Riber Castle!

Riber Castle over the Derwent Valley

4. Peak Rail

This is a splendid local attraction of 2 miles of railway to Rowsley from originally Matlock Riverside. The line was part of the Derby to Manchester route, taking in the best of the Peak District via Buxton. Various issues have occurred with the likes of the Duke of Devonshire (Chatsworth House) and the Duke of Rutland (Haddon Hall) not wanting the rail to cross their land.

royal pioneer peak trainIn the summer you can hear the steam train, currently ‘The Royal Pioneer’ pulling into Matlock Riverside Station, a wonderfully nostalgic sound. The railway runs along the Heritage Way and Derwent Meadows. You can sit in the pullman carriages for an Afternoon Tea, Murder Mystery event, Tapas, Shutter Hunter Galas, Santa and so much more. When walking around the meadows – I have to stop and stare at such a wonderful sight and sound.

5. Smedley’s Hydro on Smedley Street, Matlock

John Smedley effectively put Matlock ‘on the map’. Before medicines such at penicillin and other antibiotics were discovered (Fleming 1928), it was widely thought that natural spring and spa water regulated at different temperatures and presented at different pressures could be the answer to several illnesses and diseases. It was also seen as a therapeutic remedy to mental health issues. The Smedley’s Hydro on Smedley Street, Matlock was a very popular spa in the late 1800. There were some twenty more such establishments in Matlock, in fact most of the very large buildings in Matlock were the spas. Shame it isn’t a spa still but at least one can admire the building.

smedleys hydro spa matlockWhen you walk along Smedley Street past the building you can see the small windows which were the spa rooms and around the front of the building you can still see the mosaics where the large swimming pool was, enjoyed by the 320 (at maximum capacity) residents. The hydro became an elegant and sumptuous hotel, The Grand, with lush gardens and tennis courts. The building is now occupied by the Derbyshire Dales Direct Council.

6. Phoebe Bown of Matlock

phoebe bownBorn in 1771, a certain Phoebe Bown was Derbyshire’s strongest woman, she lived in Matlock. She became a tourist attraction – tourists would come from far and wide to stare at the woman who was known at The Amazon of Matlock Green. Phoebe had many talents; she was a blacksmith, a carpenter and a stonemason. She was also a jockey, a crack shot with a gun, a noted pugilist who would take on any man but also a skilled musician (she could play the bass viol, violin and flute). As well as these attributes she was also able to recite Shakespeare, Milton and Alexander Pope from memory. She was over six feet tall and a heavy build but could play delicately on her instruments, her favourite being the flute. The story goes that a tourist bought a harpsicord for her, but because she couldn’t fit it in her house she built an extension for it. Her cottage stood at the end of Hall Leys Park. On her death in 1854 an epitaph was written, although doesn’t appear on her headstone, at St Giles Church, Matlock:

Here Lies romantic Phoebe
Half Gannymede and half Hebe
A maid of mutable condition
A jockey, cowherd and musician

7. The Ritz, Causeway Lane, Matlock

As with all things, there is progression. Unfortunately for the residents of Matlock, this isn’t a wonderful tea room with palms and dainty sandwiches. the ritz matlockThis impressive building in the heart of Matlock, on the corner of Steep Turnpike and Causeway Lane, was cinema built in 1922. A local builder, Wildgoose at an enormous expense of £20,000 and finished to a luxurious standard; maybe those who had enjoyed a spa during the day could get on the tram down the hill to watch ‘Vanity Fair’ ! It was built as a cine-variety theatre, with seven changing rooms, patron’s café and the stage was 22ft deep and 25ft wide. After a chequered history with a couple of fires and a rebuild the theatre was bought out by Northern Cinemas who named it the Ritz. The Council objected to the name as a local chip shop was also called the Ritz. However, clearly Northern weren’t bothered by the objection and went ahead with the name. It was closed in June 1999. Today the cinema is an Indian Restaurant, Maazi. Just recently a new proposal has been drawn up for a cinema complex at the old market place on Bakewell Road. Let’s see when the safety curtain is lifted on that.

8. John Bowne

Born in 1627 in Lime Tree Road, Matlock, he emigrated to America in 1648 settling in an area known at New Amsterdam. The Dutch Governance arrested him for hosting Quaker meetings at his home. At a time when there was little freedom, Quakerism was not acceptable, he was deported to Holland where he pleaded his case and won. In the constitution 1789 as The First Amendment the freedom on Quakerism was passed. John Bowne’s brownstone in New York still exists and has become a Museum managed by his descendants, clearly proud of his achievements in freedom and religious liberty. His house in Lime Tree Road is no longer there and was demolished in the early 1950, nor is the lime tree! There is a commentative bronze plaque mounted on a local gritstone plinth, at the entrance to the new estate, at Hurst Farm and Lime Tree Road. On 20th October 2018 the Matlock Civic Association unveiled the stone in the attendance of Christine Shaller a direct descendant from America. Sheriff Lodge was proud to host this celebration with members of the District Council and Matlock Civic Association.

john borowne matlock quaker

9. Ground Station Zero

Another commentative plaque in Matlock is the Ground Station Zero blue plague at Burton House, 135 Smedley Street (a busy little street is seems).

ground station zero matlockIn 1940 the British Resistance Operation, manned by civilians, but military trained, to carry on the offensive against Germany. STOP lines were established inland usually in the form of minefields, pill boxes, block houses and tank lines, inland from the coast and defence lines were expected to be held at these lines. The resistance acted as an auxiliary force and were recruited in secrecy. Ground Station is the communication, surveillance and information gathering side of the operation, used to converse with locals and if possible government surveillance. Zero signified the distance between the enemy and the operator. Matlock is about as far from the coast as possible, however the STOP lines were situated in obvious places and in this case the River Dove and Trent. The line passed along the A1 and A6 – Ashbourne, Derby and Nottingham. The bridge in Matlock was a significant location and was ready to be blown up should the enemy get close enough. Burton House was a significant location to watch the proceedings from. The tump is Asker Lane was also used as a searchlight and gun emplacement – the humps are easily identified. Considering Matlock is so far inland its great to know these places are still recognised and celebrated.

10. Meerkats in Matlock – Simples

We have our own meerkat farm in Matlock, at Matlock Park Farm – strange but very true. The real stars of the farm are Martha and Arthur who are regularly having babies. If you need a hearty laugh they are great fun to watch. The farm is open most of the year and is always putting on special days for the kiddies and grandparents. There are wallabies, commonly thought to have derived from the days when Riber was a wildlife park (did they escape??). Matlock Park Farm has donkeys to feed, llamas to be hissed at, horses to be ridden and muck to step in – its all great fun. Why not book to see Mr Bubbleman or the circus but don’t miss out on the meerkats, you’ll have kittens !!

sheriff lodge B&B in Matlock

Want to know more about Sheriff Lodge?

We are a lovingly restored B&B located in a quiet part of Matlock yet an easy walk to the town centre’s restaurants and bars.


ziz coltart sheriff lodge

Hi, I’m Ziz the owner at Sheriff Lodge. Welcome to my little blog about my B&B and the lovely Matlock and Peak District.

recent posts

choose a category