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Hidden Gems of Derbyshire-Lumsdale Valley near Matlock

The Lumsdale Valley is an outstandingly beautiful area with a very interesting history. The Bentley Brook flows through a small wooded gorge, and within a relatively short distance you can see the remains of six waterwheels and three ponds — perhaps the most concentrated evidence of early water power in Britain. Nature has reclaimed its hold on the whole valley, and where there was once the noise and dirt of numerous industrial processes there is now a pleasant atmosphere of romantic decay.

Lumsdale Valley, hidden away and unknown even to many residents, has a charm and magic recognised by all that see it. Although falling into disuse in the 20th century, the Arkwright society has intervened to maintain the mills in order to see the work places of the ancestors and their capacity to work without the advantages of modern technology. Bentley Brook, a narrow but fast flowing and powerful stream, starts up behind Matlock Golf Club and flows down the valley until eventually joining the river Derwent at Matlock Green. The harnessing of the power of this stream has enabled successive generations to develop a series of mills in the valley which have operated for several centuries using ingenious systems of ponds and water courses to drive a whole variety of water wheels. Which begs the question why are we not doing it now?

Heading down the valley from Highfields School, you can see the overgrown remains of Bone Mill, probably built in the 16th century and finally abandoned in the 1920's having been used to grind bones for fertiliser. The wheel pit is quite easily seen as is the tail race leading back into Bentley Brook. Following the path down, past a couple of ponds and some cottages, is a dam wall below which stands a second mill, built in the 1850's, whose most recent use was as a saw mill at the beginning of the 20th century.

This is the Lower Dam which was constructed in 1830. The floor of this dam, unlike other dams, is stone lined. A drain in the centre of the dam allows the dam to be emptied for cleaning. This was apparently done in 1982 and 1995. The sluice at the far end determined the height of water in the dam and regulated the flow of water to the mill below. The large iron pipe in the dam wall fed the water to the Saw Mill below.

Initially it was a grinding mill and close to its tail race can be seen a large mill stone imported from Massif Central in France. The footpath leads on to the third mill in the series known as Paint Mill because of its use in grinding barytes for the paint industry. This is one of the oldest in the valley and in its long life it has been used as as a lead smelting mill, to grind corn and as a bleaching mill. The Arkwright Society has successfully halted the decline of this mill and it is possible to find many clues as to its past - the wheel pit, old bleeching vats, white barytes and the underground heating system with chimneys to dry out the mineral. In its time it has been used to grind lead and as a corn mill. It is built against the rock eroded by the waterfall closeby. The wheel pit is large and the main pipe which carried the water to the wheel is clearly visible.

The Arkwright Society have built a viewing platform here. The footpath continues down to a fifth mill known as Upper Bleach Mill where one can see the remains of bleaching vats. This mill was linked to the last of the series, Garton Mill, by an ingenious train system which carried loads of heavy cotton between the two and turning right as the footpath reaches the road, it is still possible to see the remains of the train lines which were cleared by Highfields School volunteers some years back. Garton Mill is the largest and best preserved in the series. It was built around 1785 by Watts Lowe and Co as a cotton spinning mill. The whole water system of the valley was altered to support this mill but it was not a commercial success and in 1813 the company went bankrupt. The valley was then sold to John Garton who converted the mill into bleach work functioned along with other textile finishing until the early 20th century.

The power of the Bentley Brook is immense and the beauty of the valley that it has carved is fantastic. It is a fast flowing stream that provides spectacular waterfalls. When we reached the road again we continued up the hill and on the left is Lumsdale House (which was the Mill owner's house) with gardens by Paxton which are not open to the public. Higher up and on the same side as the house where a bungalow now stands were the kitchen gardens (known at the time as Cusworth's garden) belonging to Lumsdale House. On the right, near the third bend is the stable yard which used to have a cottage within it.

Going through the stile on the right, just past the stable yard we ascended a rather steep slope. Near the top we noticed a hole in the ground which showed the flu which runs from the lower Bleach House to the chimney at the top of the hill. The chimney was probably sited at the top of the hill to provide a good draught for the furnaces.

On our walk through the valley we met a number of walkers who were most helpful. One lady suggested that the most spectacular time to visit is after a heavy downpour when the waterfalls are quite something. Whilst two others were interested in our work but didn't want Lumsdale valley broadcasting to the world for fear of a mass invasion of tourists. Interesting reaction and not the first time we have heard it.

Look at our panoramic photographs to see for yourself.

About the Author: Chris Sabian Website:
Chris Sabian has lived and worked in the Peak District all his life. He is a travel writer.

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