DERBYSHIRE, England - History and Description, 1868


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"DERBYSHIRE, a midland county, lying to the N. of the Trent, between 52° 41' and 53° 30' N. lat., and 1° 10' and 2° 4' W. long. It is bounded on the N.E. by the West Riding of Yorkshire, from which it is partly separated by the rivers Derwent, Rother, and Sheaf; on the E. by Nottinghamshire, from which it is separated by the Erewash; on the S.E. by Leicestershire, from which it is partly separated by the Trent; on the S.W. by Staffordshire, from which it is separated by the Dove and Trent; on the W. by Staffordshire and Cheshire, from the former of which it is separated by the Dove, and from the latter by the Goyt; and on the N.W. by Cheshire, from which it is here separated by the Etherow.

In form it is irregular, the northern part being broad, and the southern part narrow. Its extreme length from N. to S. is 56 miles, its extreme breadth from E. to W. 34 miles, and its area 1,029 square miles, or 658,803 statute acres. A small portion of Derbyshire near the southern extremity is detached from the main part of the county, being shut in between Warwickshire, Leicestershire, and Staffordshire. The population of Derbyshire in 1861 was 339,327, against 296,084 in 1851, showing an increase of 43,243, or at the rate of 15 per cent., during the ten years. Since 1801 it has more than doubled. In 1861 the number of inhabited houses was 69,262, and of uninhabited, 3,436.

Before the conquest of Britain by the Romans, Derbyshire formed part of the territory of the Coretani, and was afterwards included in the Roman province Flavia Cæsariensis. During the Saxon period Derbyshire was comprehended in the kingdom of Mercia, and at Repton on the Trent the Saxon kings had a residence. In the reigns of Ethelred and Alfred, Derbyshire was the scene of frequent contests between the Saxons and the Danes: the latter long held possession of the town of Derby.

William the Conqueror made considerable grants of land within the county to Henry de Ferrers, whose son he created Earl de Ferrers, and his grandson Earl of Derby. William Peverel, a natural son of William the Conqueror, also received extensive grants of land, and to him is attributed the building of the Peak and Bolsover castles. Richard I. deprived the Earl of Ferrers of the title and possessions of the earldom of Derby, and bestowed them on his own brother, John. After the latter ascended the throne, the earldom of Derby was restored to the Earl de Ferrers. In the insurrection of the barons against Henry III., the Earl of Ferrers and Derby took a very active part, but having been taken prisoner at Chesterfield, his estates were confiscated, and, along with the title of Earl of Derby, were bestowed upon Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, son of Henry III.

From this period the earldom of Derby long remained united with that of Lancaster, Edmund was succeeded in the earldom of Derby and Lancaster by his son Thomas, who, on the failure of the insurrection against Gaveston and Le Despenser, the favourites of Edward II., was taken prisoner and executed. Thomas was succeeded by his brother Henry, and Henry was succeeded by his son Henry - that Earl of Derby who commanded the English army in Guienne. On the death of the latter, the earldom of Derby and Lancaster fell to John of Gaunt, who had married Henry's daughter Blanch. John of Gaunt was succeeded by his son Henry, afterwards Henry IV. Henry VII. conferred the title of Earl of Derby on his supporter, Lord Stanley, in whose family it has ever since continued.

In the early part of 1642, Derbyshire was held by the royalists; but in the October of that year Sir John Gell entered the county with a small body of infantry, and having received reinforcements, attacked and captured several of the royalist strongholds, and defeated the king's army at Swarkestone Bridge. In 1643 he reduced Bolsover Castle, which was commanded by the Earl of Newcastle. The royalists afterwards regained possession of the northern part of the county. In 1644 a battle was fought at Egginton Heath. In his march into Yorkshire after the battle of Naseby, the king gained some advantages over Sir John Gell.

The northern part of Derbyshire, which is called the Peak, is very elevated; the southern part is in general flat. The scenery of the Peak, consisting of elevated moorlands, intersected by deep, well-wooded valleys, is very varied and beautiful. The principal heights of this district are Blakelow Stones, 1,800 feet high; Kinderscout, nearly as high; Axe Edge, at the head of the Dove, 1,758 feet high; Lord's Seat and Main Tor, 1,751 feet.

These hills are mostly bleak and barren, affording scanty pasture to large numbers of sheep. A lateral ridge runs between the basins of the Dove and the Derwent. A branch of the Pennine range, which leaves the main ridge in Yorkshire and runs along the boundary of Yorkshire and Derbyshire, crosses Derbyshire in a south-easterly direction, and forms the eastern boundary of the basin of the Derwent. Of this range the principal elevations are Oxstones, 1,377 feet high, and Aport or Orpit Hill, 980 feet.

The principal rivers of Derbyshire are the Trent, Derwent, Dove, Erewash, Mease, Goyt, Sheaf, and Rother. The Trent, after flowing N. for 10 miles, along the border of Derbyshire and Staffordshire, enters the former county below Burton, runs E. for 11 miles through Derbyshire, then flows N.E. for 10 miles, along the borders of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire, till it joins the Erewash, when it leaves Derbyshire altogether. The length of its course along and within the border of Derbyshire is 31 miles.

About three-fourths of the entire county are drained by the Trent. The Trent is navigable as far as Burton: since 1805, however, by agreement with the Trent and Mersey Canal Company, the Trent has not been used for purposes of navigation above its junction with the Derwent. The Derwent rises on the borders of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, flows S. through Chatsworth Park, by Matlock, Cromford, Belper, and Derby, then E. into the Trent. Its principal tributaries are the Westend river, Ashop, Noe, Wye (which rises near Axe Edge and flows S.E. by Bakewell), Ambergate, and Ecclesburn: its entire course is about 60 miles.

The scenery of the Derwent is in many parts remarkably beautiful. This river was some years ago made navigable as far as Derby, but has since been superseded by the Derby canal. The Dove rises on the slope of Axe Edge, flows S. by Longnor and Ashbourne into the Trent below Burton. It forms the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Its chief tributaries are the Manifold and Churnet from Staffordshire: its course is about 45 miles.

The scenery of the valley of the Dove, especially of that part called "Dove Dale", is unsurpassed by that of any other English river. Its waters are very clear and of a bluish tint. In spring the Dove frequently overflows its banks. The Erewash rises in Nottinghamshire, enters Derbyshire 3 miles from its source, and flows S. into the Trent: its course is about 20 miles. The Mease rises in Leicestershire, and flows into the Trent its course is about 20 miles. The Goyt rises near Axe Edge, flows N.W. till it joins the Etherow; the united streams then flow S.W. into the Mersey at Stockport. The Rother rises near Chatsworth Park, flows E. to Chesterfield, then flows N.E. till it enters Yorkshire. The Sheaf rises in Derbyshire and joins the Dove at Sheffield.

Derbyshire is well supplied with canals. The Trent and Mersey canal begins at Wilden Ferry, and runs through Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire: its length is 93 miles. The Derby canal connects Derby with the Grand Trunk and Erewash canals. The Erewash canal commences in the Trent, runs along the valley of the Erewash, and joins the Cromford canal. The Cromford canal commences at Langley Bridge, and runs past Codnor, whence it has a branch to Pinxton, along the valley of the Derwent to Cromford Bridge. The Nutbrook canal is a branch of the Erewash canal, commencing near Shipley. The Chesterfield canal commences at Chesterfield, follows the valley of the Rother, and joins the Trent below Gainsborough: its length is 46 miles, 12 only of which are in Derbyshire, the remainder being in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.

Notwithstanding the hilly character of Derbyshire, it is intersected by several important lines of railway. The Midland railway connects Derby with Chesterfield and the north, from which line a branch, passing through most beautiful scenery in the valley of Wye, was opened to Buxton in 1863. The Birmingham and Derby Junction runs in a south-western direction from Derby to Egginton, where it quits the county; the Midland by one section connects Derby with Burton, and by another with Loughborough, Leicester, and Rugby; the North Staffordshire line connects Derby with Macclesfield, and has a branch to Ashbourne.

Mention ought also to be made of the Cromford and High Peak railway, which although only intended for the conveyance of minerals and merchandise, is interesting as having been commenced as far back as 1825, and opened for traffic in 1830, rising upwards of 990 feet in 33 miles. It was worked by fixed engines and horses, but is now superseded by the Buxton line.

The climate of Derbyshire varies according to the elevation of the land: in the N., where it is hilly, the annual rainfall is very large; in the lowlands it is about the same as in the surrounding counties. The soil of the mountainous parts is barren, whilst that of the lowlands is highly productive. Derbyshire, to the S. of Ashbourne, Duffield, and Sandiacre, belongs to the New Red sandstone or red marl formation.

In the red sandstone near Darley Abbey, gypsum is quarried and used by the potters of Staffordshire for moulds, &c. The new magnesian or conglomerate limestone occupies the eastern part of the county. Underlying the magnesian limestone are the coal measures. The principal coal-mining districts are about Chesterfield and Alfreton, between Ashbourne and Derby. There are also some coal-mines at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, on the borders of Leicestershire. In the coal district, ironstone is found. Carboniferous limestone occupies the centre of the county, and is quarried as marble. In this formation china-stone and fluor-spar are found.

Where the carboniferous limestone crops out are the lead-mines, from which about 4,500 tons of lead are obtained yearly. Millstone grit occupies a tract between Duffield, Belper, and Wirksworth, and extends to the northern border. There are numerous limestone caverns in Derbyshire, the most remarkable being the Devil's cavern, 2,700 feet long; Eldon Hole, 180 feet deep, near Castleton; and the Bagshaw Grottoes, 2,000 feet long, containing stalactites., There are warm springs at Matlock and Buxton, and at Stoney Middleton, where the Romans established a bath.

Agriculture, especially in the north, is backward. A large proportion of the land is in pasture. There are rich meadows along the courses of the rivers: along that of the Dove are large dairies, where great quantities of cheese are made. Large crops of wheat and barley (the latter for the Burton breweries) are grown on the red marl, and oats on the poorer land. It was formerly the custom when the wheat was thin in the spring to sow barley amongst it; the produce of this mixture was called "blend", and ground to meal, of which the poorer classes made bread. Spring wheat is now sown instead of barley. Potatoes are grown in large quantities.

The oxen are of various breeds; the heaviest kinds are fattened on the rich pastures of this county. The sheep on the hills are similar to the Cheviot: in the lowlands, South Down and Leicester are most esteemed. Derbyshire has no very large woods. Coppices and plantations, where poles are grown for the mines, are numerous.

The principal manufactures of the county are cotton, calico, silk, and lace. Derby is the chief seat of the manufactures. The lead-mines are under the jurisdiction of stewards appointed by the lessees. They preside in the barmote courts, held twice a year, and determine all disputes that arise in working the mines.

The county returns six members to parliament; two for the N., two for the S., and two for Derby. At the period of the Domesday Survey Derbyshire, was divided for civil purposes into five wapentakes-viz., Scarvedale, Hamestan, Morlestan, Walecross, and Apultre. It is now divided into six hundreds: High Peak, Wirksworth, Scarsdale, Morleston and Litchurch, Appletree, Repton and Gresley. Derbyshire forms an archdeaconry in the diocese of Lichfield, and contains nineteen rural deaneries. It is divided into nine unions, including 272 parishes and townships : Chapel-en-le-Frith, Bakewell, Glossop, Hayfield, Shard-low, Ashbourne, Belper, Chesterfield, and Derby. Besides Derby, which is the only parliamentary borough and market-town, there are sixteen other market-towns Alfreton, Ashbourne, Ashover, Bakewell, Belper, Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Chesterfield, Crich, Ilkeston, Wirksworth, Cromford, Dronfield, Heanor, Tideswell, and Winster.

The principal antiquities of Derbyshire are Druid circles of stones and barrows at Arbor-low and Stanton Moor, and some cromlechs at Hathersage. The British road Icknield Street crossed the county from S.W. to N.E. The Romans had stations at Derventio, Buxton, Brough in Hopedale, and Melandra Castle; and roads - Long Lane, from Little Chester to Chesterton, and another through Buxton to Manchester. There are remains of Melandra, Mackworth, Castleton, and Codnor castles, of Haddon Hall, and South Wingfield Manor House, of the priories of Repton and Gresley, Dale and Beauchief abbeys, and Yeaveley preceptory.

The chief seats of the nobility are Chatsworth and Hardwicke, of the Duke of Devonshire; Bolsover, of the Duke of Portland; Elvaston, of Earl Harrington; Bretby, of Earl Chesterfield; Melbourne Park, of Viscount Melbourne; Hassop, of Earl Newburgh; Sudbury, of Lord Vernon; Doveridge, of Lord Waterpark; Redestone, of Lord Scarsdale."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]