Hidden away in a deeply wooded ravine, Lumsdale is unknown to many who live nearby, but as Brian Spencer discovered, it is a unique link with the early days of industry in Matlock.
Bentley Brook rises in the rough moorland above Cuckoostone Dale and flows gently past Matlock Golf Club, then dives beneath the A632 Chesterfield road to pass Highfields School, before dropping into the valley bottom where it joins the Derwent at Matlock Green. Once away from the school and a scattering of houses, the brook crashes over a series of small but spectacular waterfalls trapped within a deeply wooded gorge. By harnessing the stream’s power and in particular its cascades, a series of small mills driven by waterwheels carried out a whole range of industries that began in the 16th century, and with adaptations continued until 1920. Abandoned by their owners, the mills fell into disuse, their stone often removed for building elsewhere and it was only by the efforts of a far-sighted lady, that the now romantically tranquil ruins have been preserved as memorials of past industry.
Frequently vandalised for their building stone, the ancient mills were fast disappearing until a local lady called Marjorie Mills bought Lumsdale to prevent further demolition. Throughout the rest of her life until her death in 1996 she maintained a passionate interest in the valley, but by 1976 when she realised that her failing health no longer allowed her to take an active interest in its preservation, she transferred ownership of Lumsdale to the Arkwright Society, who together with a group of local residents, continue her work.
The three upper ponds nearest to Highfields School are silted-up and have as a result become wild-life havens for bog plants and amphibians such as crested newts and frogs. Of the others the one at the head of the ravine is arguably the most beautiful, but the others still have their attractions, especially for anglers.
By parking in the lay-by opposite the entrance to Highfields School on Lumsdale Road, the valley and its ruins can be explored by a rocky footpath winding its way steeply into the valley bottom. Walk gently downhill past the boggy remnants of the first two ponds and with a little care you can see the overgrown ruins of the 16th century Bone Mill. The still recognisable wheel pit and its tail race back into Bentley Brook drove massive grindstones and pulverising hammers to break down calcined bones for use in the pottery industry or as fertiliser. Following the path past the third dam and a group of cottages, the next mill was until the twentieth century used as a saw mill, but initially it was a corn mill, and the huge grindstone imported from the Massif Central in France lies close to the tail-race.
The next group of cottages that stand above the waters of the fourth pond, Farm Dam, were once part of a lead smelter and with a little care, it is possible to trace the remains of many of the earlier industrial buildings. For example the smelting cupola is incorporated within part of the cottages. The modern house across the way is known as ‘Pine Trees’ and stands on the site of the smelter’s counting house and smithy. A horizontal condensing flue to remove poisonous fumes and collect by-products ran away from the smelter; with a little bit of investigation, an access trap can still be seen, but certainly not entered. It was into this that small boys were sent to scrape noxious substances like arsenic from the walls – no wonder they led short lives.
Below Farm Dam and its bulrushes, is the hiding place of mallards. Hard by adjacent picnic seats, water pours through a still viable sluice, then down a spectacular waterfall part hidden by beech shaded rocks. A now dry side leat carried water into a deep wheel pit where a mill was later adapted for sawing timber, or ground lead oxides for the paint industry.
The square sided Derbyshire chimney half hidden in trees above the mill was part of a system designed to dry ore minerals before crushing.
This mill was built for the Bonsall School Trustees in 1770 and is well worth a closer look, for it is built, quite spectacularly into the rocky hillside where the nearby waterfall creates an open space.
The footpath leads down to a fifth mill known as the Upper Bleaching Mill where you can see the remains of the bleaching vats. This mill was connected to Garton Mill in the lower valley by an ingenious tram system whereby loads of heavy cotton fabrics were carried between the two mills. Turning left as the path reaches the nearby road, it is still possible to see the remains of the tracks which were cleared by the pupils of Highfields School a few years back.
It will be necessary to follow the road at this point, past an overgrown mill pond that was used to guide water to the wheels and processing plant at the Lower Bleach Works, or Garton Mill as it was once called. Very much expanded in the 20th century and used by a variety of industries, including Messrs Paton and Baldwin for woollen manufacture, the first mill on the site was built around 1785 by Watts and Co as a cotton spinning mill but went bankrupt in 1813. This was when it became a bleach works in the ownership of John Garton, retaining its function, along with cotton fabric finishing, continuing well into the 20th century.
Two groups of solid stone-built terraced cottages were made to serve the mill and are now private homes, then next come two further ponds that served Tansley Wood Cotton Mill, the largest mill in the Lumsdale complex. The first structure was leased from its builder Banks-Hodgkinson of Ashover in 1783 by Messrs Osgathorpe & Prestwidge. If anything they were the most unusual names in the Matlock area, but nevertheless the two partners failed in their attempt to spin candlewick yarn from flax waste. After struggling for a few years, the site was sold to a Miss Francis Willoughby in 1792, who then sold it on to Sir Joseph Banks, a founder of Kew Gardens, President of the Royal Society, who sailed with Captain Cook on his voyage of discover in the Endeavour. Almost a century later, in 1889 it was sold to Messrs Fred & Harry Drabble. They founded a successful textile company which became one of the major sources of employment in the Matlock area. Employing at its peak some 400 workers in and around the town they were considered model employers. The company produced a range of knitted fabrics, one of the designs could boast to have once kitted out all the shirts for the Soccer World Cup teams. With the general decline of the textile industry, the mill sadly closed in 1999 and is now part of a group of industrial lets.
Two further mills, the tallest of all in the Lumsdale complex, were corn mills owned by the Bailey family. One is in Lumsdale proper and was fed by the eighth pond, the second stands beside the Alfreton/Nottingham Road and until recently housed a firm of civil engineers. Both mills no longer grind corn and have been converted into residential apartments along with a number of associated cottages.
When you reach the main road, the choice is either to walk back uphill, or turn right and walk directly into Matlock, then take the Number 17 bus, the Chesterfield bus, as far as the stop for Highfields School and walk the short distance on the flat back to your car.