Famous People and Stories
It is not surprising that an area which has such natural and historical richness would have such a wealth of stories. Although the area which has been labelled “the cradle of the factory system “ is dominated by such powerful figures as Sir Richard Arkwright and Jedediah Strutt, the founders of the world’s first industrial mills, this section is devoted to the lesser known but equally famous stories and characters that the area has produced.
This is just a small eclectic mix of stories which abound within the Scheme area and give a glimpse of its fascinating social heritage. There is a real opportunity to use these stories and characters within the Access and Learning programme.
Although now busy and resembling a seaside town without the sea Matlock Bath was made famous by the rich and wealthy in the early 19th century when due to the Napoleonic wars travel abroad was difficult. With its dramatic landscape it became known as Little Switzerland. Walks were developed up and around the limestone crags of High Tor and Cats Tor which delighted those with a taste of adventure and sought a romantic setting.
Among the famous who visited Matlock Bath were:
Princess Victoria (later queen) in 1832
Jane Austen – who mentions Matlock Bath in Pride and Prejudice.
Lord George Byron
Sir Walter Scott
Mary Shelley – who although writes of Matlock describes Matlock Bath in Frankenstein.
“We … proceeded to Matlock, which was our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood of this village resembles Switzerland; but everything is on a lower scale … We visited the wondrous cave, and the little cabinets of natural history …”
Matlock Bath went on to attract painters and writers and Artists Corner, opposite High Torr in Matlock was a favourite haunt of the former. Artists included a young JMW Turner and Derby’s own famous painter Joseph Wright.
It’s exclusivity didn’t last, with better communications and especially use of the train by all, it was described in a guide book by J. B. Firth in 1908 as “a tripper’s paradise”!
Alison Utley (1884 – 1976) the children’s book writer famous for little Grey Rabbit and Samuel Pig was born and brought up at Castle Top Farm which overlooks the Derwent valley at Cromford. Although in later life she moved away from the area but her stories were predominantly based around her memories of her Derbyshire childhood. Her classic children’s adventure story “A Traveller in Time” was the set at and inspered by a neighbouring farm from her childhood in the Derwent Valley -Manor Farmhouse, Dethick. Her novel, the Country Child was set in the Derwent Valley and describes its landscape and rural culture in great detail. It is a fascinating snapshot in time of what the valley was like in the 1930s.
The Brunton Traveller
William Brunton (1777-1851), a Scottish engineer, was employed by the Butterley Company from 1808-15 (previously Benjamin Outram & Company until 1807). In 1813, the year after Richard Trevithic constructed the first steam thrashing-machine, Brunton devised a single piston steam boiler, mounted on four wheels, with pistons pushing a pair of poles / legs behind. Brunton’s Steam Horse, or Mechanical Traveller, operated successfully from Bullbridge for two years, pushing wagons back up the steep railway incline to Crich, at a top speed of 3mph. It must have been a curious sight, poling itself up the hillside, and was only removed from service when Brunton’s second, larger steam horse exploded during a demonstration in Newbottle, Co. Durham, on 31st July 1815, killing thirteen spectators and injuring several others.
Constructed thirteen years before Stephenson’s Rocket some claim this to be the first commercial steam powered train in the world. Currently there is not even a plaque to record or remember this mechanical first.
Betty Kenny (Kate Kenyon) and her Husband Luke were Charcoal burners who lived and raised 8 children in a “house” formed within the spread of a huge yew in Shining Cliff Woods in the late 1700s. The yew was reputed to have been 2000 years old. Local legend is that a bough of the tree was hollowed out to act as a cradle for the children, this is thought to have been the origin of the “rock-a-bye-baby” nursery rhyme.
Betty and Luke were favourites of the local Hurt family who owned Shining Cliff Woods at the time, and had their portrait commissioned by James Ward of the Royal Academy. This was very unusual which suggests that they were local “celebrities” at the time!
The Tree was set fire to by Vandals in the 1930s. The remnants of the tree still exist and it is still probably one
Samuel Slater – hero or villain
Born in Belper, Derbyshire in 1768, Samuel Slater was apprenticed at the age of fourteen and a half to Jedediah Strutt (formerly a partner with Richard Arkwright ). Employed by Strutt in his mills at Milford and Belper, Slater learned the art of cotton spinning and gained expert knowledge of machinery and mill construction.
In 1789, he absconded to the USA, disguised as a farm labourer. This was to evade a law banning the emigration of those who might have information useful to Britain’s commercial rivals.
Not long after his arrival in Pawtucket, New England, Samuel set up a cotton mill, in partnership with Almy and Brown. (Samuel’s contribution to the partnership was knowledge not cash). As a result, he became known as ‘Slater the Traitor’ amongst cotton trade workers of the Belper area, who feared losing their livelihood to foreign competitors.
Slater died on April 21, 1835 in Webster Massachusetts a town that he founded and had become a town three years earlier and named after his friend Senator Daniel Webster. At the time of his death, he owned thirteen mills and was worth a million dollars. His original mill, known today as Slater Mill still stands and operates as a museum dedicated to preserving the history of Samuel Slater and his contribution to American industry. It was only as recently as 2012 that a Derbyshire Country Council heritage plaque was placed on the cottgae in Belper where he had lived.
Based at the Union Foundry in Little Chester, Sir Alfred Seale Haslam in 1884 pioneered the production of the first refrigeration units using compressed ammonia, enabling the refrigerated transportation of food arouind the world. Primarily importing meat from Australia for fourteen years, he held a virtual monopoly of meat refrigeration.
A great benefactor, Haslam built houses for his workers around the recreation Green which he surrounded with ornate railings, chains and bollards. He also funded an extension to St Paul’s Church (now Grade II listed), Derby Green where many of his work force worshiped.
As Mayor of Derby he replaced the old William Strutt Infirmary with the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary which was opened in 1891 when he was also knighted by Queen Victoria.
The Nonconformist movement
With the mills the population grew at a rapid rate. Influential people such as Jedediah Strutt were nonconformist and funded chapels to enable the new workforces to attend and use as both places of worship and centres for the community. Sunday schools were set up at the chapels to educate the workforce, giving new opportunities to the families who attended. In Belper and Milford alone there were twenty chapels.
Rev. Thomas Jackson began work as a Belper nailer in 1864 and became President of the Primitive Methodist Conference. For 48 years he worked in Whitechapel and the London East End slums helping people in the area, he set up a working lads institute for the preaching of the word of God.