Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

The Peak District

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A COACH leaves Manchester daily during the season for Buxton. On the occasion of availing myself of this conveyance, I had reason to rejoice at having attached my fortunes on that day to the down, instead of the up, vehicle.

We departed at three o'clock in the afternoon, and had proceeded on our way till we arrived in sight of our partner coach, advancing in the opposite direction, when we perceived the horses were running away as furiously as their clumsy action would allow, for they were apparently (even seen under present advantages) a pair of floundering heavy brutes. Our driver immediately gave them a wide berth, and inasmuch as they preferred the wrong side of the road, he very prudently took up a station on the other. It was well he did so; for on came the coach, rolling and swinging in the track we left, while a stout coachman sat on the box, calling who ho in vain, and pulling with all his might against a pair of determined hard-mouthed 'uns, both obstinately bearing towards the off side of the road.

The vehicle had no sooner passed us, (much closer by-the-way, than was agreeable,) than it was evident that a catastrophe was inevitable, as the cattle continued to incline more and more towards the hedge; in the mean time we remained stationary, anxiously waiting the result. Nor were we long in suspense, for some obstacle caused the vehicle suddenly to stop; either a horse fell or ran foul of the bank, or a wheel grazed, or some such casualty happened—we could not see what it was, otherwise than by the effect produced; the coach gave a violent lurch, being all but over, then righted, at the same time flinging out of his seat an unlucky man who sat on the top. I saw him with his heels up, and his head downward, in figure like the letter X; and in that position he fell, with the joint force of gravity and progressive motion.

Our passengers were most eager to render assistance, as well from curiosity as commiseration, being really desirous to know, at least, whether the unfortunate man was alive or dead; but the driver whipped on his horses in spite of entreaty and remonstrance; neither to this moment do I know how the poor fellow, whom I saw on his short journey, head foremost, to the hard ground, fared when he got there.

The object of the coachman, by his forward movement, no doubt was to-keep his passengers in ignorance of the extent of the damage; and thus it is, that the necessity is not unfrequently obviated of providing answers to obliging inquiries, and preventing coach accidents from finding their way to the ears of the public.

After a long descent towards the town of Buxton, the entrance leads, by a well-kept gravelled road, under a handsome gateway, to an open space, bounded on one side by elevated ground, with walks cut in the turf, parallel, one above another, and, on the other side, by a circular colonnade. Within the colonnade are the post-office, showrooms of bijouterie, marble ornaments, &c., also the three principal inns—namely, the Great Hotel, St. Ann's Hotel, and the Hall.

It was my lot to go to the first of these, although they are all so inviting, as to outward appearance, that I had no particular reason for making a selection, other than because the porter who had seized upon my portmanteau seemed determined to deposit it in one of the others. Nor had I reason to repent my choice; for without disparagement to any other house of entertainment whatever, I may fairly say I never was in a better. The building was solid and spacious, the bedrooms lofty, well fitted up, and the price of each marked on the door. The whole establishment is conducted altogether in a manner indicating that the superintending authorities are well versed in the savoir vivre.

For the very few days I was in the house, there was but one other individual besides myself in the coffee room—an apartment furnished with maps, and in every particular more like a private library than a room in an inn; and it really was to me a source of regret when I compared the low charges in my bill with the fare that, under circumstances so disadvantageous to the landlord, had been provided. However, it then being the race week, the stock in hand was probably more exuberant than usual. Besides the low charges above alluded to, a stipulated sum, on an equally reasonable scale, was made for the servants.

The site of the town of Buxton is highly elevated above the level of the sea; a fact one is inclined to forget, as, although for the greater part of the way from Manchester the ascent is gradual, the last mile of the journey is all down hill. However, the effects of altitude are perceptible to the senses.

When I rose in the morning, the weather felt cold, yet, as it was early in the summer, that was not extraordinary; the wind also hummed through the window frames, almost as if it were November; but in this variable climate, even a severe change at any time of the year is not wonderful. On looking around in a country, as it were, a valley surrounded by hills, the purity and bracing effect of the air were at once remarkable, and the white fleecy clouds, moreover, though the day was clear, being certainly nearer the earth than is usual in fine weather, that circumstance brought one at once to the natural conclusion, that the earth was nearer to them. And then the matter of altitude occurred to my recollection.

Sylvan shade and retirement, when they can be procured, are agreeable appendages to a watering place, and though there is a spot where both may be had at Buxton in great perfection, yet an individual may remain there some time without finding it out, merely on account of its being so immediately contiguous as to be mistaken for private property.

It is a piece of woodland, so secluded that lovers and doves may wander therein as if in a labyrinth, among purling streams and shady walks, and coo or whisper, side by side, protected by branches so luxuriant and leaves so thickly matted, that neither party, no matter how reasonably near, can disturb another.

The approach to this grove is by an entrance, as it were leading to a shrubbery, close to the inn, and separated from the rood only by a slight fence. Gravel walks lead in various directions through a garden and lawn, diverging among large thriving trees, such as horse-chestnut, fir, birch, and sycamore. Amid the branches of the sycamores, a colony of rooks have established their domicile above, and below the smaller shrubs wave their branches in the shade—the willow, lilac, and golden laburnum. Not far removed, the scene is rendered still more rural by a pond, on which I counted no less than forty-two ducks; and, on its banks, abundance of poultry, including pea and guinea fowls. Following the course of the walks within the thicket, the scenery is that of a wilderness, but that here and there a rustic bridge is thrown across the stream that trickles at one's side, and now and then one is invited to repose by commodious benches.

One chief feature of this retired spot is a hermitage of heather, the seat entirely encompassing the inner circumference, and here people have left behind them the traces of their meditations, having sat with slicks in their hands, and no doubt for want of something better to do, poked and poked again, till they have made a deep round hole exactly in the middle.

Though it is not easy to conceive any plot of ground laid out in a more tasty and neat manner, yet, taken of itself, there is nothing uncommon either in the plan or its execution; but the effect of space, which has been given within limits exceedingly confined, has been most ingeniously contrived. It really would appear, while walking within this plantation, that one has wandered far within the recesses of a forest; and yet, after all, it is no more than a narrow belt of woodland carried, all the way round, along both sides of a ravine.

The buildings of Buxton much resemble those at Bath in appearance; the spring adheres at all times and seasons to the temperature of 80°, the charge each time for dipping being two shillings; but there is a large reservoir, or caldron, to which the public are admitted, and where folks bathe, as it were, by the drove, at one shilling a head.

The number of persons who visit these waters on account of chronic lameness of every description, is very remarkable, and, no doubt, amounts to a proof of their efficacy; in the mean time it is amusing to observe the sympathetic gradation of habits and exercise with that of convalescence. The principal promenade of the invalids is upon the gravel walks in front of the colonnade, and as these extend one above another to the summit of the elevated ground, in proportion as the sick or lame person finds his strength increase, just in the same proportion does he advance higher up the hill; so that the patient who at first was barely able to hobble along the lower walk, marks every day the progress of his recovery till he is lost sight of in his diurnal ambulation altogether.

I particularly noticed one old gentleman the first day I arrived; he was remarkable on account of his purple but healthy face, snub nose, and chin projecting over his stomach as if on purpose to balance his body. All disease in his system had evidently flown to his heels, for the lower part of his legs and his ankles were so swollen as to be puffed out over his shoes, till his feet exactly resembled those of an elephant. In this state he was dreadfully lame, and a kind old lady accompanied him in his walks, always holding him tenderly by the point of his elbow. The waters achieved such a surprising effect on this old gentleman (who, by-the-way, but for this overflowing of the humours, must otherwise have been sound in wind and limb) that, in three days, to use a horsedealer's expression, "he pulled out all but right." I afterward met him at a distance considerably removed from the old spot, without his old lady, taking his exercise quite alone. He was, however, as I imagine, irremediably spavined, or stiff in the joints; for, though he hustled along with great resolution, his pace was a sort of canter, one knee joint doing double duty, while the other performed only half. As the swelling of his feet subsided, his shoes became too big, and clattered as he dragged them along.


The extensive excavation known by the name of Poole's Cave, within a mile of Buxton, is a considerable point of attraction to the visiters; and it certainly is, compared with the rest of our English caverns, a very respectable burrow. By persons in the vicinity, who seldom diminish distances, or otherwise detract from objects of local curiosity, it is said to be in length six hundred and sixty-nine yards, neither a yard more nor a yard less, the last hundred yards nevertheless being confessedly inaccessible, unless to those content to crawl and clamber, within confined space, over loose heaps of stone, and among abrupt ledges of the cleft rock. After having made the experiment, it appears to me, as far as I can judge, that the whole accessible distance is about three hundred yards; that is, a little more than half the estimate; but, taken as it is, Poole's Cavern loses a part of its just reputation from its proximity to the Devil's Cavern, in comparison with which all others sink into shade; besides, the exhibition has fallen into the hands of quiet, unpretending people, who thus make a small addition to their livelihood, and are content, without puffing or placarding, merely to receive those visiters who voluntarily are inclined to view it. To compare it with any other English cavern, that of Wokey Hole, in Somersetshire, strikes me as being the nearest as to dimensions, although the latter is somewhat inferior.

Having walked from Buxton, according to directions received, to the cottage of the guide, situated very near the mouth of the cavern, I was somewhat surprised to find her a woman. Whether on this special occasion, or in conformity with established custom, I know not, but she was attended by a motherly-looking person, also a female—so that three of us entered the cavern together, each provided with a farthing candle fixed in a ring at the end of a short stick. At first, for the space of a dozen yards or more, we were obliged to stoop considerably; afterward we went upright the rest of the way, though the ground under foot was very rough and difficult to walk upon. In many parts, the path led over a surface pointed and uneven, here and there sprinkled with rolling stones, among chasms, where a fall might have been attended with serious consequences—especially by our feeble, uncertain light, every step seemed attended with the risk of slipping away, one knew not exactly whither.

However I might have been inclined to hold cheap the services of a female guide at starting, I had, very soon, reason to form a different opinion, finding that I really had enough to do to keep pace with my fair conductresses; for the ladies, with equal confidence, whether with or without the light of their candles, dashed onward through the gloom as if familiar with darkness, and tripped along before me, as lightly, in comparison, as a couple of Diana's nymphs. Whithin these recesses, their advantages were such as no visiter could compete with; acquainted, by daily practice, with every inch of the ground, they knew every stone on which to place a foot, as well as those to be avoided as unsteady and slippery; whereas to decide for one's self, and select a footing at every stride, taking the chance whether or not the thing trodden upon might rock or roll, were matters not very conveniently determined in a hurry, or by the light of a farthing candle. As I plodded on, I could not help thinking, from time to time, as a drop of water fell sputtering into my miserable candle, what a predicament I should be in were my two guides, by way of a frolic, to desert me—and I really was, in point of fact, neither more nor less than at the mercy of these women; a predicament in which I trust many a respectable personage has been before me.

At the distance of a hundred yards from the entrance of the cavern, the roof is of a considerable height; and here is a spring of clear water, from which the poor people in the neighbourhood regularly fill their pitchers; thence, the path led onward by the side of a deep gully, the average height of the roof above varying from twenty to forty feet; although we could seldom discern either the roof or the bottom of the gully, the whole above appearing to be a huge unbroken mass of rock, exhibiting magnitudes and irregularities sufficient to leave an impression on the senses. I was quite satisfied with what I had seen, having walked long enough in the dark, when we arrived at the "Queen of Scots' Pillar," a column of stalactite or calcareous matter, deposited by the dripping of water, many feet in height: this point may be called the end of the journey, for here the cavern appears to terminate in a cul de sac. However, it is possible, by climbing up a few rude steps to the mouth of an aperture above, to crawl within it on the hands and knees, a little farther, although the ladies were both disinclined to make this latter experiment. On our return we passed through a small natural tunnel, leading to the gully, along the bottom of which we now proceeded for some distance.

This cavern abounds with large and remarkable forma of stalactite, each dignified by a particular name—generally that of some animal—though imagination must be hard pressed to acknowledge the resemblance. Nevertheless, some are highly picturesque, consisting of uncouth masses, assuming all sorts of fanciful figures: even in the Devil's Cavern there are no specimens of stalactite equal to these: those in Wokey Hole in Somersetshire, before alluded to, of all others that I have seen, stand next in rank. An extraordinary multitude of bats, by-the-way, inhabit the latter excavation. I visited it during the present summer, when a large space of the roof was covered by a herd of these little demons, hanging by their heels, close together, within a few yards of the entrance. My guide said that, in the winter, they invariably inhabit the interior recesses, approaching, as summer comes on, nearer to the entrance. On changing their position, they first drop off singly, and by twos and threes, letting go their hold on the rock: but always following each other, and congregating again in the new spot in a similar cluster.

The whole of the formation of Poole's Cavern (as is very well known) is limestone. Great quantities of lime are dug in the immediate neighbourhood, and conveyed by a tunnel, through an intervening hill, to the adjacent canal.

The limeburners and quarrymen have dotted the side of the hill with their extraordinary dwellings. These, from a distance, have a most unusual appearance, and resemble so many large ant hills. They are literally burrows or holes, scooped out of the limestone rock, wherein the men live under ground. I regret I did not go to the spot to examine them.


It is not very easy to procure, at these watering places, correct information as to the particular points worthy of being visited in the neighbourhood; some of which are lauded far more than they deserve, and others just as much too little, according as it may suit the interest of him who replies to the inquiry. The best way, I believe, after all, of obtaining information of this sort, is to apply to the bookseller; who, in the twinkle of an eye, pops into your hand a neat volume, price two shillings, as a general answer to all interrogatories.

Having received, in the first place, various and opposite directions as to the best way of being conveyed to "The Devil's Cavern," and "The Shivering Rock," I decided on hiring a gig, by which means I proposed to take a passing glance at the latter phenomenon, which stands close to the road, and then, leaving the vehicle at Castleton, walk to the former. I procured, accordingly, a very respectable grass-green buggy, for which the owner restricted himself to the moderate charge often shillings.

The horse was what might be called good looking, though the moment he lifted a foot from the ground I perceived him to be what is technically called "a short stepper," that is to say, so equally affected with chronic lameness in all four of his legs, that nobody could say which was the worst, or detect any perceptible difference in the action of either: however, as that was rather an affair between the horse and his owner, and the cushion was a comfortable one, I got on the seat and drove away. Starting with a tolerable notion of the animal's pace—in fact he had but one—five miles an hour, (to which, being a willing brute, though he could do no more, he always kept up,) I presently discovered still another failing, and this, whatever might be the cause, was mainly inconvenient. It was a violent predilection to the hedge on the near side of the road, and the off side of his mouth was so hard as to be totally callous, so that a strong continuous pull on the off rein was indispensable, in order to keep the near wheel out of the ditch. At first I thought he was stone blind, and, meeting two farmers on the road, in order to save the trouble of getting out of the carriage, I begged one of them to be so kind as to examine his eyes. The farmer, lifting up the eyelid with his finger and thumb, said, he could see well enough; upon which, thankfully receiving the assurance, nothing remained but to drive on and apply force to force. It is extraordinary how frequently lazy grooms cause this defect by lounging a young horse too much the same way, the better to favour the right hand that holds the whip; and then again, the law of the road disposing the animal to the same bias, that law, or tendency to incline towards the near side, confirms the habit, till at last it becomes the law of nature. From such a cause the off side of a horse's mouth is generally, as may be remarked, the more callous of the two; yet I cannot remember ever in my life to have met with muscles and a crest quite so rigid as these.

"The Shivering Rock," removed only a few hundred yards from the high road between Buxton and Castleton, has the appearance of a huge earthy cliff, from whence, as people assert, stones are continually falling from the top to the bottom, and yet, wonderful as it may appear, have never been known to remain on the spot and accumulate. This miraculous story was related to me by several respectable people more than once, and always with a remarkable air of gravity and sound faith. Yet notwithstanding such preliminary information, the moment I cast a glance on the object itself, I was perfectly satisfied to waive the trouble of a nearer approach. Though I was within one or two fields' breadth of it, and it was moreover on the lively side of my horse's mouth, and he would have taken me thither with all his heart, had I for a moment ceased to pull at him, yet I absolutely had what some call the bad taste to drive away. "The Shivering Rock," as before observed, an earthy cliff, is of considerable height, not quite perpendicular, but nearly so. Stones, from the size of a man's fist to that of his head, are mixed up in the soil like plums in a pudding, or gravel in a gravel pit. As regards the rolling or falling down of these stones, it is not wonderful that, so long as the earth adheres together, they remain in their places, or that, as soon as the latter becomes loosened by frost, moisture, or the ordinary changes of the atmosphere, they tumble down. The only question, therefore, that remains to be decided, is, What becomes of the stones after they are down; it being evident, from the fact that none are to be seen at the bottom, that those that have fallen must have gone somewhere?

All I can say to this is, that provided the stone walls in the immediate vicinity be not composed of stones of the Shivering Rock, those of which they are built so nearly resemble the former as not to be discernible one from the other.

From this spot, or thereabout, I caught the first glance of the site of "The Devil's Cavern," not an elevated spot, but a valley, than which very few in England are deeper. Down the hill, whereby I was now proceeding, a drove of ponies were wending their way slowly along towards the low land, each with a cargo of lime on his back, for the purposes of manure.


The town of Castleton is situated very near the entrance of the Devil's Cavern. If ever there was an overstocked market, as regards marble ornaments and mineralogical specimens, the produce of the Derbyshire caves, it is within the precincts of this said town: the windows of every small shop in the streets are crowded with articles manufactured and natural, and no less various are the ways and allurements by which a stranger is enticed to buy. It seems that no sooner does a "traveller arrive at the Red Cow" than every eye is upon him; at least, in my case, the moment I had disposed of my quadruped in the stable of the inn, I was assailed by numerous importunities, to which, having a direct object in view, I failed to attend.

Nevertheless I could not help halting for a moment on my way to the cavern, on perceiving on one of the shop windows a paper, on which was written "Admission free of expense ;" at the same time, merely turning the objects of the proprietor in my mind, whose leisure at least could be of little value when disposed of so cheap, I observed that the door, which had neither lock nor latch, was fast closed by an iron bar. This circumstance, causing me to smile, an air of simplicity, I presume, flitted across my countenance; for immediately a sleek, rosy, smirking gentleman, who, it appeared, had been watching my motions all the while, now skipped across the kennel and withdrew the bar. For one moment only I stood upon his threshold; the first and almost the only object I saw within being "A full and perfect Account of the Devil's Cavern. Price One Shilling."

There are few palpable realities of nature so nearly allied to the impressions of fiction as this excavation. I cannot, since I was born, remember meeting with any so striking. It exactly resembles the spot described in the pages of Virgil,

"Spelunca alta fuit, vastoque immanis hiatu."

A stupendous chasm, crowned by perpendicular rocks which form a lofty beetling cliff, while stunted trees spring here and there from the fissures of the stone, and thickly matted ivy affords an inaccessible retreat for flocks of chattering jackdaws. The magnitude of dimensions here presented, as well as the bold and graceful sweep of the cavern's jaws, exceeded all I had anticipated: the nearest object, by way of comparison, that at this moment presents itself to my mind, as likely to convey some notion of the entrance of this palace of night, is one of the large arches of Peterborough cathedral.

On entering within, the coup d'ceil is thoroughly unique, and creates an almost unlimited idea of space and profundity. Nothing is wanting, as far as the eyes can comprehend, to produce such a sensation, nor could a more characteristic vestibule of the pale Prince of Darkness be found than the lofty and ample vault, most properly denominated "The Hall of Pluto." There are, nevertheless, certain appearances which serve, in a great degree, to dissipate the illusion, and disturb the succession of fanciful images, now rapidly, as the eye ranges along the vast subterranean vista, engendered on the senses— appearances calculated at the outset to incline the mind to plain matter of fact, reduce speculation to definite space and measurement; as well as drag the thoughts downward towards terrestrial matters by a direct appeal to the pocket. In the first place, a cordwainer and his assistants have established themselves, and daily work at their trade, within the entrance of the cavern; and in the next, the regular charges for the admission of visiters are promulgated on a board suspended on the side rock. These charges are as follow for one person: For a guide, 2s. 0d.; candles, 1s. ; a blue light, 1s. 6d.; and thus, in a decreasing scale, according to the number of the party.

On setting forward to explore the recesses, I could not help thinking that had at that moment a ragged urchin stepped up with the exclamation, "A link, your honour," how gladly I would have remunerated him, for our shilling's worth of candles was comprehended in two, of which the guide carried one and I the other; such mode of proceeding being, though customary, the very worst that can be imagined. A greater extent of prospect would be penetrated by the light were the guide to elevate both candles at the end of a pole, instead of thus compelling the visiter to carry one close to his own nose. The path all the way is smooth and even, leading by the side of a ravine, wherein a stream trickles along towards the entrance of the cavern; therefore the said path somewhat resembles the towing path of a canal. The whole distance from end to end is accounted eight hundred yards, instead of which one might write down five hundred, and probably then be nearer the mark.

After proceeding a considerable part of the way by the side path before mentioned, the breadth of the cavern becomes considerably extended, till progress is impeded by a lofty rock which stretches directly across the track. The stream here makes its way from beneath a low arch or tunnel, under the rock, thence occupying a wider channel, and as it traverses the open space, its widening banks assuming, by degrees, the appearance of a pool. This pool is "the river Styx," and the tunnel, or arch, is now to be passed by the help of a small punt fastened to the shore; the dark aperture being precisely calculated to call to mind one of the most interesting of the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor.

The preparations for the adventure were simple enough, namely, to lie on one's back on a wisp of damp straw at one end of the punt, while the guide occupied the same position at the other end. The guide then dragged the punt through, grasping the points of the rock with his fingers; and, as he was performing this service, he extolled, at the same time, this wonderful phenomenon of nature, and said there was nothing else in the world equal to it—but as we were creeping slowly along, I happened to remark above, by the light of my candle, as I lay upon my back, as I thought, marks of the jumper chisel; an indication of the rock's having been blasted, and a proof, consequently, that the tunnel was artificial. This he stoutly denied; so I attempted to stop the punt, on which he pulled harder, and we both pulled opposite ways; but luckily I got, on one occasion, a better hold than he, and ascertained the fact. The truth is, that a more commodious passage might have been readily cleared over the aforesaid rock, but the proprietors have preferred the tunnel, originally impassable, but the natural channel of the stream; thus creating a difficulty to produce an effect.

After completing this voyage, in extent only a few yards, no other obstruction is encountered in the way. At the extremity the altitude becomes very considerable; and here one has particular cause to lament the want of sufficient illumination; for the dimensions of the cavern altogether are, at this part, grand and extensive. The exhibition here concluded by the display of a single consumptive blue light, which the guide, by the help of a couple of scaling ladders, placed on an elevated position, estimated by himself as forty yards, though probably not more than as many feet. In a few seconds the eighteen-pennyworth of sickly flame expired, hardly allowing the man time to find his way down the ladder.


Although I made a premeditated visit to the Devil's Cavern, I found myself beset at various points on my way thither, by placards and invitations, calculated to allure me from my course, and divert my steps towards the Speedwell Mine. As to the comparative merits of each—in the one case, they are obtruded on the observation, while the beauties of the former lie shrouded in their own excellence. On leaving Castleton, I was some minutes, for want of correct information, quite undetermined which of the two caverns to see first; and had I not then had time and opportunity to inspect them both, I can hardly, at this moment, say which of the two —the Devil's Cavern or the Speedwell Mine—would have had the preference. For it was impossible to ascertain, at a short notice, from those of the inhabitants to whom I made application, which of the two excavations was the better worth seeing, owing to that natural combination in society that prevents one man from prejudicing, under any circumstances, his own or the interest of his neighbour. It is perhaps more natural than unaccountable to what an extent this feeling prevails, and how it tends, on some occasions, to bind even the reputable and disreputable together. Thus as to the Speedwell Mine, no matter under what form I put the question, the answer only tended to show how various are the ways to keep a man in the dark without actually putting him under ground. The best way after all of obtaining experience is to buy it. Having done so, I am enabled to declare that the Devil's Cavern is really a wonder of nature; the Speedwell Mine, on the contrary, a counterfeit.

A mile before arriving at the spot, or even before knowing exactly where it is, a stranger becomes versed in most of the leading particulars—such as, "The wonderful Speedwell Mine ;" "Progress made in a boat 750 yards under ground ;" "Large cavern, where a cascade roars like distant thunder;" "A bottomless pit, a pool or abyss, wherein a plumbline of sixty-four fathoms has not found bottom ;" and so on.

Progress in a boat is certainly made, and I dare say for the distance underground stated in the specification; but the channel is nothing more than an ordinary level, neither a wonder of nature, nor an unusual work of art —many similar may be seen in the coal mines. In the present case, in consequence of the failure of a lead-mining speculation, the level in question filled with water the moment the means adopted to pump out the latter, and prevent its accumulation, were discontinued.

The cascade "roaring like distant thunder" is but a dribbling rivulet, artificially secured by a dam, whose sluice is suddenly let loose by the guide, which manoeuvre causes nervous people to start, and thus produces an effect.

Then for the pit—whether it be bottomless or not—all I can declare is, that I was not even enabled to see the surface.

The expedition from one end to the other was effected, in the first place, by descending a long flight of stone steps to the level, or subterraneous canal, before alluded to. Here the guide untied a large punt fastened to the steps, in which we could sit upright while he propelled the same along the level, by grasping wooden pegs driven for that purpose into the rock on both sides, the water not being quite three feet deep.

At the extremity of the level, we disembarked, and found ourselves in an open space, where certainly the altitude is very considerable, the top, by the help of a blue light, not being perceptible. Here the stream of water appeared trickling down a steep descent, and afterward passed out of sight under the rock. The guide said the stream was the same which afterward flows through the Devil's Cavern; there is no reason to doubt the assertion, and it gives reason to reflect upon the various unexplored caverns, natural excavations, and reservoirs, which, no doubt, influence the course of streams as they pass through the bowels of the earth.

Seeing we had advanced to the end of our journey, and could explore no farther, I ventured to ask when it was probable we might encounter that cascade whose waters roared like distant thunder. Whereupon the guide made manifest that, in order to generate the thunder, it was indispensable himself to play the part of Jupiter. Accordingly, approaching a wooden tank, containing two or three hogsheads, and lifting up a sluice at the bottom, all the water rushed out. After this parturition of the mountain, I asked for the abyss. He flung a fragment of stone, in a line with the water's course, some distance within the passage or tunnel. The stone fell, and I heard a splash: and that, though it sounded as if the water were deep, concluded the exhibition of the "bottomless pit."

Nothing now remained but to remunerate the proprietor, who lived in a cottage at the entrance of the cavern, for as much as I had seen; on which occasion I found him in a state equally inclined to see, and charge double. The interview ended in my being cheated, and obtaining nothing in reply to remonstrance but—fumes of rum!



I TOOK my place in a two-horse coach, which departs every day from Buxton, wherein a young lady and her very young bridegroom, for such I took him to be, occupied the opposite seat. Having probably passed their honeymoon at Buxton, they were returning, as they said, to Sheffield. Their looks and behaviour caused me to arrive at the above conclusion, as well as other indications, such as the ring on the lady's finger, and the various frivolous changes she insisted on among parcels carried in the gentleman's pocket; besides, both simpered on the subject of domestic felicity, and declared that the walks, shrubbery, and hermitage at Buxton were quite enchanting. The young gentleman was an arch-looking little being, but certainly an apology for a husband; he had youth on his side, being under twenty, but he was a starveling, very probably an abortion, for the lids of a large pair of eyeballs were imperfectly separated, as in the case of a little dog ten days old. The lady, on the contrary, was at least half a dozen years older, of fine features, and a showy figure. On my side sat a fat married lady, holding a healthy little child on her lap with remarkably large staring eyes. The bride showed much attention to the child, and, although with a patronising air, talked very graciously to it, and to the fat lady, its mother, now and then: and, moreover, being laden with ornaments, she at last drew from her wrist a broad golden bracelet, and gave it to the little girl to play with. The child soon grew restless and cried, till other measures having failed, the fat lady, flattered by the attention paid to her infant, very reasonably resolved to consider herself as if at home and in her own nursery, at the same time making preparations that caused the whole party to look different ways. In the first place, the young gentleman looked at the bride, saying something in her ear at the same time that made her frown; the young lady, drawing down a thick, while, plaited veil, looked discomposed, and as if she wished to find a way out of the coach; the little child, with open mouth and outstretched arms, looked as if it were ready to devour its mamma; the fat lady, resting her chin upon her throat, looked as if she thought the child's swallow not half big enough; and I looked, as far as I was able, passive, and quite determined to see nothing improper.

On arriving at Bakewell, (and by this time the child must have been nearly choked,) our party broke up. Here we met the Sheffield coach. The mother, child, bride, and bridegroom, went together to Sheffield, while I proceeded alone to Matlock, and took up my quarters at the old Bath Hotel. There happened then to be no company in the house. I was ushered into the public room, a large rambling apartment, of which the floor was so rickety, that at one part especially there appeared serious chance of tumbling into the cellar. The furniture looked ancient and uncomfortable; a huge screen of faded moreen, a small jingling pianoforte, and, for the accommodation of a single individual, no less than thirty-seven ill-fashioned chairs. My bedroom, of which there were a score similar, in the same corridor, was no bigger than the stateroom in a ship.

The activity of some folks' minds is surprising; under all circumstances that can possibly be imagined, they contrive to find a vent by their effusions in prose and verse, and bequeath thoughts to others on a wall or window pane, no matter whether the poetaster be a prisoner about to be hanged the next morning, or (as it now appeared) the votary of pleasure at a watering place. At all events, I confess I dedicated some minutes to reading the various couplets in verse, moral sentiments, and names of people inscribed on the glass of the windows in this public room, of which every pane was absolutely covered. I transcribe two or three, verbatim, in order to show the description of feelings entertained by the inhabitants of this celebrated watering place, as they may have been engendered at different times towards each other. For instance,

"Now you are gone, my dearest B.,
Matlock has no charms for me."

Then in prose—"Charming Miss A.—Black-eyed Miss B.—Gray-eyed Miss F." After which, in another handwriting, "Are gone, thank Heaven." Again, "Humpbacked Miss B. looks kind at Colonel L." And so on— "Ex pede Herculem."

I had no sooner finished my dinner, sitting alone at one end of this spacious room, than the delegate of a trumpery band of music, without knock or apology, advanced unceremoniously, the glasses jingling at every stride, and "hoped his honour would remember the music." As soon as he had departed, in came fruit women, offering fruit to sell; so that it appears they all collect in a flock, attracted, like condors of the desert, to pounce upon the first solitary stranger who, at the beginning of a season, arrives at the hotel.

However, as I drew my chair to the window on a fine summer afternoon, I could not help feeling a shade of sympathy for those who might possibly sit there in December, rejoicing such was not likely to be my own lot; and feeling that, with the enjoyment of so lovely a rural prospect as appeared without, it were over fastidious to complain in fine weather of matters within.

There are few spots in England, or elsewhere, more romantically grand than the lofty ridge of rock which rises immediately above the town of Matlock. The contrast is particularly striking between the bold outline, formed by rugged points of limestone rock, and the brilliant verdure of the trees and shrubs sprouting from the fissures. The whole is rendered still more beautiful by the river below, whose sheltered surface is usually smooth as a mirror.

Each of the several caves in the immediate vicinity of Matlock is vaunted by its individual proprietor, and his friends, as being the one superior to all the rest; therefore, as I had nothing better to do, I visited the greater part of them one after another. In a limestone stratification abounding in subterraneous cracks and gullies, and where lead mines have been at various times opened, and again deserted, it follows that the natural excavations aforesaid become in time so blended together with the artificial levels, that at last it is difficult to determine which is which. In the mean time, in order to turn to account the chivalry of the visiters of Matlock, every description of hole into which a man can crawl on all fours is made private property; there being folks in the world, who, were an old woman to stand sentry over a jay's nest, would pay a shilling to be allowed to climb a tree and see it. These caves, were it not that the supply is fully equal to the demand, would yield an ample harvest to the proprietors; but, as it is, there are so many, that competition has effectually kept down the price of admittance. One shilling is the stipulated charge, and one cannot help forgiving the eagerness with which the poor people who exhibit them solicit patronage. The trouble and labour they undergo are not trifling, and one is the more inclined to pity, from the liberality they display in illumination, and even grudge the light of ten or twelve candles' ends, furnished at their expense.


This is nothing more than a deserted lead mine, exhibiting, occasionally, irregularities of surface along the line chosen for the level. The advantages derived from inspection are rather negative than otherwise, as they consist chiefly in a well-swept path, and thanks to the superintending housewife, a total absence of snails and slugs, to which she is a mortal enemy. The privilege, too, of walking upright is worth noticing, as, where little is to be seen on either side, it is just as well not to knock the head against things one does not see above. The sides of the cave are chiefly of the fluor spar, from which it bears its name, though I saw no specimens worthy of observation in my walk from one end to the other. The ascent from the town is remarkably steep, the path leading through a thickly planted jungle. The guide, an old woman, lives in a small hut, or rather a den, at the mouth of the cave; on arriving at which is seen at once the better part of the exhibition, namely, the rude group of fanciful rocks which rear their dark forms hard by.


This cavern is on a much larger scale than the Fluor Cave, and to those persons to whom such exhibitions are novel, is sufficient to convey to the mind a good notion of subterranean scenery. The guide is a civil intelligent man, with a smattering of mineralogical science. On the occasion of my paying a visit to the cavern, when I called at his house, he happened to be absent, having already proceeded to the cave with a party of ladies. The wife, who bore the appearance of an industrious, over-wrought woman, undertook to conduct me; and it was distressing to observe how hard she toiled, with a heavy infant in her arms, to surmount a steep ascent, for the sake of so small a gratuity— though she, like all the rest, was probably urged by a competitive spirit, yet poverty was evidently the main spring that set it in motion. This poor woman, besides the burden of a large family, contended against the malady common in the neighbourhood, called the "Derbyshire neck"—an endemic protuberance in the throat, or goitre. Five sisters of this woman, as she informed me, were all similarly affected, more or less. The complaint almost exclusively attacks females; male cases being extremely rare.

When we arrived at the cave, we entered by a narrow level, along which we proceeded a considerable distance, till the sides, diverging by degrees, disclosed at last a natural excavation. Here the dimensions were of considerable magnitude, the path ascending by a flight of uneven steps, to an open, wide space above, whose flat roof was wholly unsupported for a great extent.

As the party whom we were seeking appeared in the distance, they created a very picturesque effect. Upward of twenty young ladies on the high ground, each with a tallow candle at the end of a long stick in her hand, were approaching to meet us, the foremost having already arrived at the summit of the steps. The light was strongly reflected on their countenances, and the outlines of their figures particularly distinct, as they stooped down occasionally here and there to pick up a piece of spar, (in this cave of exceeding good quality,) or as they cautiously explored the way before them, holding down their tapers. In the mean time, their tongues were not idle. On they came, like a flock of geese, with the gander in front; for there marched the guide, hammer in hand, displaying at every moment his activity and gallantry, by severing from the rock, with his instrument, bits of spar, the particular object of any lady's fancy. His daughter, too, a little girl of fourteen, was engaged in a similar occupation.

There is a particular spot at this part of the cavern, so suited for the exhibition of the witches' scene in Macbeth, that the guide, with the assistance of the rest of his family, has been induced to undertake the performance, whenever a sufficient number of visiters are inclined to patronise the exhibition; and here those who delight in the illusions of fancy have an opportunity of being gratified at the display of a picture, the chief features of which are the work of nature.


This cavern is merely a deserted lead mine. Within, a fine group of rocks are piled upon each other and rest on exceedingly small points. To this part of the cave, which is probably natural, has been given the name of "The King's Palace."


There is a right and a wrong road from the Cumberland to the Rutland Cavern; the former descending straight from a point on the side of the hill, first into the town, and then up the opposite brow; the latter, keeping the elevation, and making a circuit along the summit. The latter is the track recommended by him of the Cumberland to his visiters, as being both easy to find, and the shortest; in my case it proved certainly not only the longer, but the most intricate—however, had I not pursued the track in question, I should never have seen the New Speedwell Mine, the name of which would have alone deterred me from paying it a visit. I should have been determinedly averse to entering the new mine, having before been so thoroughly bamboozled at the old one; but as I was walking along by this route on my way to the Rutland Cavern, I was suddenly accosted by a poor old woman, watching like a spider at an angle in the path; so that, beset by her importunities, and persuaded by her miserable appearance, I suffered myself once more to be inveigled. The ancient creature looked comfortless, and exerted all her kindness and activity to please me; I did not, therefore, think the entrance money ill bestowed, though the interior of the cavern was not worth the trouble of exploring, taking into consideration the risk of breaking the shins.


Of all the Matlock caverns," The Rutland" best repays the pains of a visit. It is not only the most spacious of any, but the spar, of which the walls consist, is of a better quality: besides, there are good specimens of lead ore, and it is easier traversed than the rest.

At one part, the guide has a clever mode of showing to the best advantage the interior and roof of a lofty chamber, by drawing up to the top, by means of a pulley, a wooden hoop which serves as a chandelier, and is garnished with tallow candles, sufficient to throw a light upon the remarkable features of the place, and illuminate its extreme recesses. After descending a few rugged steps at the entrance, the walking within is then, remarkably good; and as it is situated in one of the most picturesque situations in the neighbourhood, close to the town, there is not only more to be seen, both within and without, but the sight is obtained moreover at less trouble and inconvenience.


There are many rival shops and exhibitions, or showrooms, in the town of Matlock, all containing choice specimens of ornaments in spar and Derbyshire marble; petrifactions also, or rather preparations of calcareous matter, similar but superior to those at the Dripping Well at Knaresborough. Many of the articles are the work of Italian artists. The principal dealer in articles of vertu is Mr. Mawes, to whose establishment I paid a visit, and from whence, being once within, it is quite impossible to depart, without a direct impeachment of one's taste, or—making a purchase. For Mr. Mawes is really possessed of the talent of inducing people to buy articles without knowing the reason why, merely by the persuasive silver-tongued strain in which he recommends them. In the first place, he treats the opinion of a customer with an air of consummate deference and respect, giving every individual that enters his shop credit for profound knowledge of the antique; while, at the same time, he allows him no chance, by edging in a word sideways, to expose his ignorance. Taking, then, such scientific attainments as granted, he commences a fluent oration, descanting on the beauty of his statues with peculiar energy, sometimes pouring forth a torrent of classical information relating to their history; at other times allowing it to exude and ooze out in such a manner, that a stranger, unless tolerably au fait, has little to add to the learned disquisition. Nature, with considerable benevolence, the better to qualify him for his profession, has presented him with a mouth considerably above the middle size, a showy set of teeth, and lastly, a never-ending, still-beginning smile, that plays on his features from sunrise to sunset; that is to say, so long as he is in the act of entertaining his company. As, with a tolerable figure and address, a due attention to attitude, strong-knit knuckles and bony wrists, he passes from statue to statue, his sleeves tucked up part of the way to his elbows, pointing out perfections to his customers, and gazing, in studied air and posture, at their symmetry of proportion, he almost appears as if, like Pygmalion of old, he were in good truth and reality absolutely enamoured.

George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

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