Derbyshire Hospitality

A guide to the history of Derbyshire’s hospitality and its archives.

Derbyshire, including but not limited to the Peak District, has been a popular tourist destination for at least 2000 years. Our local studies library has lots of published tourist guides and histories from the 18th century to the present day. This guide outlines the key archives that survive for different aspects of Derbyshire’s tourism and hospitality history, including The Water Cure, pubs, the Peak District, increasing opportunities from the 19th century for excursions and other leisure and entertainment activities.

The Water Cure

Parts of Derbyshire, namely Buxton and Matlock Bath, are almost synonymous with “the water cure” particularly spas and hydropathy. Although the mineral waters at Buxton have been known and used since Roman times, although it is only from the 16th century that there survives much information on their use and the development of accommodation for visitors wishing to drink the waters. Whilst such accommodation was for the better-off and the town became extremely popular and fashionable in the 18th century, and especially so after the 5th Duke of Devonshire in the 1780s, just a few years later than the “Royal” Crescent at Bath.

However, it seems that a Charity to enable poor persons to use the medicinal waters existed at least from the 16th century. There is said to have been a treasury of the bath for this purpose in 1572. The charity was revived or formally reconstituted in 1779 as Buxton Bath Charity. In 1858, the Duke of Devonshire handed over to the trustees of the charity part of the Great Stables (built at the same period as The Crescent in the 1780s). After adaptations, these were opened in 1859 as the Devonshire Hospital and Buxton Bath Charity, where the charity lodged poor people whilst undergoing treatment. The Hospital established research laboratories in 1912 with the appointment of a bacteriologist and a research chemist in 1923. In 1934 it was granted permission to be known as the Devonshire Royal Hospital and in 1948 became part of the National Health Service. The Hospital was closed in 2000. A large collection of archives for the hospital can be found at the record office under reference D4508.

Visit the Local Studies Library to see the many 18th and 19th century illustrated tourist guides and other histories and search the catalogue for a selection of archive material relating to The Crescent and other baths in Buxton. Further records will also be available in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth House, and discover more about the Roman baths, the thermal springs, the Crescent and the town on the Wonders of the Peak website from Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. As always, don’t forget to take a look at Picture the Past for photographs and illustrations.

Visit our catalogue for a List of archive collections relating to Hydropathic establishments in Derbyshire, including Smedley’s Hydro (now County Hall) and Rockside Hydro which was used as a treatment centre for soldiers during World War Two, both in Matlock. In fact, the oldest part of the Record Office building was first built at a “hydro”, and we still refer to it as Wyvern – the original business being known as Wyvern House Hydro. Unfortunately, the only record we have is a sale catalogue of 1920 just prior to the buildings second incarnation as a grammar school.

There is a very useful and detailed guide to Hydros in Matlock available in the Local Studies Library, along with other publications about these establishments and some of their patrons, particularly John and Caroline Anne Smedley, including several editions of the former’s Practical Hydropathy (not-the-cold-water-system) and the latter’s Ladies Manual for Practical Hydropathy.

Above: Smedley’s Hydro – The Cold Plunge Pool within the Turkish Baths, 1927. Courtesy Picture the Past.
Hotels and Public Houses

Of course, there are hundreds different hotels and public houses across the county, and thousands more when we consider all those that no longer exist. There are general sources giving an overview of the different establishments at different times:

  • Trade directories from 1781 available in local studies. A small number for Derbyshire and other parts of England and Wales are also available online from the University of Leicester.
  • Newspapers, with adverts and reports from the mid 18th century, including the Matlock Guardian and Visitor May 1902-1939 with details of people staying at the various hydros
  • Ordnance Survey maps marked up to show the location of public houses just after World War War, see D5884/1
  • Census returns, recording the manager’s name and details of his or her family and household

For details of specific establishments, try


Derbyshire has been a tourist destination for centuries, The country’s first National Park, the Peak District celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, nearly 90 years after the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 that raised the profile of campaigns for public access to “open” country.

The main archive for the Peak District National Park Authority is held under reference D4721, but there are several others available too, including for its predecessor the Peak Park Joint Planning Board. Thousands of photographs of the Peak District can be found on Picture the Past, and the archives and local studies contain hundreds of guide and picture books, travel diaries, postcards, published histories, and maps. Search the catalogue for terms such as Peak District, the name of specific site or village, or even a subject/term such as travel, holiday, day trip, etc. See also archives of local bus companies who often ran tours and day trips.

Away from Derbyshire, there are various national and international travel journals, particularly of individuals on The Grand Tour (of European cultural centres, often a rite of passage for the upper classes).

Leisure and Entertainment

From adverts for travelling showmen and women to cinema and theatre listings to detailed accounts of public (and private events) newspapers and local periodicals in Local Studies are invaluable for researching the social scene and wide variety of entertainment since the 18th century. There are also a number of archive collections for:

World War Two

During the Second World War various buildings were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for various purposes, including Smedley’s Hydro which became a Military School of Intelligence and Rockside Hydro which became an RAF psychiatric hospital. Willersley Castle at Cromford was temporarily used as a maternity home for mothers from London during the Blitz. Memoirs of the buildings during this time can be found in the collections here, particularly local studies. However, most of the archives are held by the Ministry of Defence, The National Archives and, for Willersley Castle, in the Mothers’ Hospital of the Salvation Army collection at Barts Health NHS Trust Archives (St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives).

A list of the archive collections for other hospitals (including former workhouses and asylums) and maternity homes in Derbyshire is available in our catalogue.

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