A Dark Wood, Dark Deeds and a Lamp

Dethick Church. The Elizabethan Thomas Babington lived nearby

“The serene rolling landscape gives us a quiet and secluded walk where jays abound and the villages and hamlets are a delight. The dark woods contrast with the high open land which gives glimpses of distant views.”

Cromford to Matlock through Dethick : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

The writers on the A Dark Wood, Dark Deeds & a Lamp route:

Ouida - Alison Uttley – Florence Nightingale – Charlotte Yonge - Friedrich Schiller - Anthony Babington

With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak


A story from a dog’s point of view was not normal late Victorian fare, but a visitor to Derbyshire wrote a nine volume book about this subject, which begins in this vicinity. She was an eccentric author, rejected by Geraldine Jewsbury, who we met on the last walk, in her role as a publisher’s reader, but became one of the most popular authors for a period. Her sixty books allowed her a lavish lifestyle, but in the end she died in poverty.

Imagine you are a small child of eight or nine and your only way to school, and back home again, is through a dark wood. Not only was this true for a local author, but she would capture that same sense of childhood fear some thirty years later as she turned to writing, following the tragic suicide of her husband. Her books became such an established part of every childhood, that it is said that the Queen read them to her own children.

Sir Richard Arkwright is the renowned founder of cotton mills and is a name that many people remember. But it would be his son that would go on to form the family dynasty, and take the family business in different direction. If you will excuse the pun, there is an everlasting yarn about another part of the World Heritage site, and the story is even more remarkable. It's business has run for over two hundred and twenty five years. Again it is a father and son combination that achieved the initial success. We will then come across a lady from a well-to-do family, known very well to our industrialists, who lived in a large house and who wrote about how to treat patients. The words and sentiments expressed in the book are commonplace in modern times, but when they were written, they were new and the nursing profession had hardly started.

A compact collection of buildings around a small church, that stands proudly on a rise over the fields of flowing grass, produced a man who would be horribly executed when he was twenty five years old. But by that time, he was assured a place in one of the best remembered royal rivalries in the history of this country.

On this part of The Literary Way we turn away from some of the more popular tourist areas, briefly embrace the legacy of the Industrial Revolution, and then rise up on to an undulating stretch of countryside with quiet walks, sleepy lands and some wonderful distant views.

We pass round the corner from Scarthin Pond and rejoin the Derwent Valley, along which runs the busy A6 from London to the northwest of England. We can look up the main road to the north and can see Arkwright’s Masson Mill. Up on the hill in front of us is Willersley Castle, but it was originally called Willersley Hall. It was built in the 1780s as the home of Richard Arkwright, but was not finished in time for him to move in, and it was his son who lived there. We can then enter the original mill complex. High upon the rocks is the aptly named Rock House, which is where Richard Arkwright senior lived while establishing the mills. If we turn into the mill complex and stand on the bridge over the leat we get to feel of the scale and gloom of these buildings. Imagine being a cotton worker used to plying your trade by a small cottage window and then being moved to these edifices of automation. The three and four-story dour limestone buildings give a hint of the obscurity and hard labour that was forced on the workers within them. Opposite to the mills is the beginning of the Cromford canal, which was the main form of transport in original days of the Industrial Revolution. The canal goes south from Cromford to join the Trent Navigation system and the canal structures of midland England. The area now has extensive open views and we might want to sit by the canal to consider our next writer. Precise information about the location of her Derbyshire references are difficult to determine, but we have chosen this location for a number of reasons. Let us first introduce her, and in doing so, draw out the references to where we are now.

The Love of Dogs

I am only a dog.

I find in all autobiographies which I have ever heard read that it is considered polite to commence with self-depreciation. But for all that I do not consider myself the inferior of any living creature: I never heard of any autobiographies that did consider himself so. According to their own account they are all ‘incompris’ and I suppose I was also; for I was always held in contempt as a dumb brute. Nobody, except that wise woman Rosa Bonheur, ever discerned that animals only do not speak because they are endowed with a discretion far and away over that of blatant, bellowing, gossiping, garrulous Man.
– Ouida

The above extract is taken from the start of the novel, Puck, by Marie Louise Rame. Marie was born in Suffolk in 1839 and had a French father and English mother. But hers was no ordinary writer’s career and she became as well known, as much for her eccentric ways, as she was for her work. She considered herself more French and continental than English. After her father disappeared under mysterious circumstances, he went to France never to return, she had her mother as her constant companion on her travels. She held very firm views on many matters both politically and socially. These included the protection of animals, especially dogs. She was friendly with her cousins, the Lockwoods, and visited them many times in Derbyshire. Her book, Puck, begins in Derbyshire, although her preferred setting for her other novels was in Europe. Her book starts with Ben, who is a quarryman and his concern for the new puppy. An interesting link with another writer in The Literary Way is at the end of the introduction where Ouida references one of her preferred French writers, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who we met in Ellastone.

Marie lived the last thirty years of her life in Italy, and while she often wanted to return to England, she would not leave her dogs and could not bring them with her because of rabies laws. In all, she wrote forty novels as well as many short stories. She frequently wrote to major newspapers on the current issues of the day, but shunned any invitation to supply autobiographical information. In fact, she frequently wrote that she should only be known by her pseudonym, Ouida. The origins of the word are believed to be her childish attempts to pronounce her own name Louise. Her lifestyle became more and more bizarre as she progressed in the literary world. During her most famous period she would stay for extended periods, four months or more, at the famous Langham Hotel in London. She wrote many letters about the protection of animals and she corresponded on this subject with a writer we shall meet later on The Literary Way, Henry Salt.

The original owner of Puck was a quarryman, and a look around the hills here, show that quarrying is of prime importance to local commerce. The book also mentions the River Derwent and lead mining, the latter we already know to be dominant in this area for many centuries. In her book called Strathmore she refers to the ‘Black Rocks of Derbyshire’, which are part of the large hill to the south west of the canal basin. Ouida always wanted to offer her view on social matters. This extract is when she describes a woman she knew from Derbyshire.

I once knew a perfectly well-bred person who yet could neither read nor write. I can see her now in her little cottage in the Derbyshire woods on the brown, flashing water of the Derwent River (Darron, as the people of Derbyshire call it), a fair, neat, stout old woman with a round face and a clean mob-cap. She had been a factory girl in her youth (indeed, all her womanhood had worked at the cotton-mill on the river), and now was too old to do anything except to keep her one-roomed cottage, with its tall lancet windows, its peaked red roof, and its sweet-smelling garden, with its high elder hedge, as neat and fresh and clean as human hands could make them.
View and Opinions
– Ouida

Her money management was very poor and she was frequently in debt and evicted from the houses in which she lived with a variety, and often a large number, of dogs. She was a very popular writer and would often seek publishers advances before even the book had been started. She held a very high opinion of herself, but she also had many friends and admirers who were prepared to help her. She died in Italy in 1908.

Alice Jane Taylor

So we leave the canal and, after passing Cromford station, we turn up into the woods. A path through the woods and across a field brings us out on a track near to Castle Top Farm. It was at this farm, in 1884, that Alice Jane Taylor was born. She had a long life and lived to the ripe old age of 92. She went to secondary school further up the Derwent Valley at Bakewell, where she received a good education, so that just after the turn of the twentieth century she went to University in Manchester, where she studied physics. She chose teaching as a career, and as a result moved away from her home in Derbyshire, but her fond childhood memories of her native county always stayed with her.

Tragedy struck her family life, when she was widowed in her late forties. It was then that she took to writing. It is perhaps not surprising that her first books resulted from her acquaintance with children. She slightly changed her first name and used her married surname. The name Alison Uttley soon became recognised as a well-known author. She is most famous for the books that she developed early in her writing life, and these focused on animals, especially Little Grey Rabbit. In all, she would write over one hundred books. At least two of her novels were set locally, The Country Child, which is a fictional account of her childhood, and her book called The Traveller in Time, which is set in the nearby farm complex of Dethick, which we shall shortly visit.

But let’s return to her own youth. Her farming parents were keen that she had a good education and that meant that she had to attend the local primary school. We will now trace the route, which is along The Literary Way that would take her to school and formed the opening to The Country Child. Let’s get a feeling for the life of Alison Uttley, near the end of the 19th century. We take the path past Castle Top Farm and into Bow woods. This was her route to school. In the story Susan is a little girl of about 9 years old. The book opens with the chapter entitled Dark Wood.

A little later on in the book when she is at home on the farm, she looks at her library which consists of four books. It is interesting to note that one of those books was Robinson Crusoe, which gives us a coincident link with the previous chapter and Daniel Defoe. Before we consider her work The Time Traveller, which is set a little further along The Literary Way, we will encounter two families who became, not only important locally, but also made a significant mark nationally and internationally.

Two Hundred Years of Fashion

As we leave the end of the Bow Wood, we come out to Lea Bridge, just near the small village of Holloway. Immediately apparent on our left is an industrial premises. It carries the sign, which shows us that it is part of the World Heritage site of the Derwent Valley Mills. However, this site is clearly different to Arkwright’s mills just along the road at Cromford. A quick look at the complex shows that it is still fully operational. John Smedley’s factory has been on this site since 1784 making over 225 years of production of cotton and wool knitwear. For the original business name, and its products to survive, since the early part of the industrial revolution is a truly remarkable achievement when one thinks of the turmoil in the clothing industry that has happens in any decade let alone two centuries. What really raises this achievement to the highest levels is that company still works from the same mill.

The company was founded in the late eighteenth century by John Smedley and Peter Nightingale. The latter is a name that we shall re-visit shortly. The mill site was typical of many that were established at the time, in that it was next to a stream with a good flow of water, which would provide a means for washing the materials. The business has always been managed by successive generations of the Smedley family and continues to operate, not only from Lea Mill, but from other factories as well. The founder had a son, also called John. We shall find out more about John, junior, later in the nearby Derwent Valley, where he made such a lasting impression, but for now we can say that it was his enterprise that changing the faltering business into a long-term successful one.

The Medical Needs of the Army

We move further along the valley and we take a footpath, near to Lea Mill and after crossing some fields, we come to a large house, which was built by Peter Nightingale, the partner of John Smedley. It passed from Peter to William Nightingale via his mother. The house we are looking at is called Lea Hurst. It was the home of one of most iconic and inspirational figures in English history. To William and Fanny Nightingale, a daughter was born on the 12 May 1820 in Florence, Italy. They named their daughter after the city. They were a successful family and had sufficient income to own several residences in different parts of this country. Against her family’s wishes Florence took a great interest in helping the poor and the sick. She gained the knowledge of the time in hygiene and sanitation, as she visited and helped, in hospitals in this country and in Europe.

Her fame came when she went to the Crimean peninsula to help the wounded soldiers, and that is where she gained the name, ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. Even after her return, she worked tirelessly on the reform of the medical services in the Army. What is little known about her, is that she authored several books and pamphlets on medical matters. In the English educational system, we become aware of the work and person of Florence Nightingale from an early age. Later on in life, we see her referred to many times as a result of anniversaries and other retrospective views of events in history.

Let’s see how the inspirational nurse was commended by her sovereign. Queen Victoria’s letter to her, was included by Lytton Strachey in his biography of Florence. Strachey firstly puts the letter in context and then quotes from it. Scutari is the hospital for the Crimean War in which Florence worked.
It was not until July, 1856 — four months after the Declaration of Peace—that Miss Nightingale left Scutari for England. Her reputation was now enormous, and the enthusiasm of the public was unbounded. The royal approbation was expressed by the gift of a brooch, accompanied by a private letter.

“You are, I know, well aware,’ wrote Her Majesty, “of the high sense I entertain of the Christian devotion which you have displayed during this great and bloody war, and I need hardly repeat to you how warm my admiration is for your services, which are fully equal to those of my dear and brave soldiers, whose sufferings you have had the privilege of alleviating in so merciful a manner.

I am, however, anxious of marking my feelings in a manner which I trust will be agreeable to you, and therefore send you with this letter a brooch, the form and emblems of which commemorate your great and blessed work, and which I hope you will wear as a mark of the high approbation of your Sovereign!”
Florence Nightingale
- Lytton Strachey

As an aside at this point, Lytton Strachey is characterised in a book by one of the twentieth century’s most famous authors. The inspiration for the story was found when the author visited a friend on The Literary Way. But for now let us return to the lady with the lamp. Florence Nightingale had strong views on the role of women, as well as the development of the care of patients, and she wrote, Notes on Nursing, What it is and What it is not.

The Time Traveller

We leave the view of Lea Hurst and pass through the small village of Holloway. It is then across the fields to Dethick, which is a collection of buildings now consisting of three farms and a church. The building on our right was formerly Babington Manor and is now Manor Farm. This towered church, which could stand proudly in the centre of any village, has virtually no catchment area. Yet the manor and the church, especially its religious symbolic nature, would play a part in a significant event in the history of this country. For that event we must return to Elizabethan times.

Queen Elizabeth I had a significant problem that threatened her reign. Her father Henry VIII had set up the Church of England by breaking away from the Pope and the Catholic Church because of his marriages. Up to that time the populace of the country were Catholics.There was a lot of resentment at the time that Henry had taken such drastic steps, including the dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth fully supported her fathers’ church and was intent in making the protestant church stronger. But the difficulty she had, was her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a staunch catholic and regarded by many the rightful queen, not only of Scotland, but of England.

Elizabeth and her advisors feared a plot to assassinate her. Their problem was that Mary had done nothing wrong. But she still posed a focus for unrest in the realm, so she had been placed under ‘house arrest’. Elizabeth asked some of her advisors to confine Mary in a restricted manner, but that she was not to be put into prison. She moved around the country and was resident in difference places at times. One of her ‘keepers’ was the Earl of Shrewsbury, whose wife Bess would go on to build Chatsworth and establish the Cavendish dynasty with its extensive house and estates. Mary was also held in Sheffield Castle.

Messages of support were smuggled into Mary. Elizabeth’s spies and loyal aristocrats kept careful watch on anything that could associate Mary with a plot to kill Elizabeth. If that happened, Mary could be charged with treason and executed. A further complication was that Catholic Spain was sabre-rattling against the Protestantism in England. Would-be Catholic plotters could always ensure clear support for their ideas and promises of riches and elevation, if they succeeded. The stance taken by Spain would result in them sending the Spanish Armada.

It is against this background that Thomas Babington, a twenty-one year old, swore that he would do his utmost to place Mary on the throne of England. Thomas lived in the building on our right, the former Babington Manor. The plot was discovered and Thomas Babington was cruelly executed. It would lead, in a complex set of links, to the implications that Mary supported the plot and she too was executed. Mary, Queen of Scots has been a story that has enthralled people for centuries, and because of its intrigues and behaviours it has featured heavily in fictional literature. We are going to find a number of instances on our journey of how fiction has been woven with facts, and this story is one of the most renown.

Earlier on this walk we passed Castletop Farm where Alison Uttley was born. So let us take Alison as our first link between Dethick, Anthony Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots. One of Alison Uttley’s most successful books is called The Time Traveller. It is about a young girl who lives with her poor family in London in the early twentieth century. She is in poor health and so the parents decide to send her to an old aunt and uncle who live on Manor Farm, which in the novel is called ‘Thackers’. In exploring the big old house, she finds she has the power to step back in time. She enters the house just before the Babington plot, where she meets Anthony and the household as it was in Elizabethan times. Alison Uttley’s childhood home was a farm a short distance away and she had a friend at Dethick and would regularly visit there. In the introduction to The Time Traveller she shows how she became interested in Dethick and the Babingtons.

All my early years were spent at the farm across the hill-side from the small manor-house I have called ‘Thackers’ in my story, and I often climbed to the crest and looked down the well known fields to the church tower with its emblazoned shields which rose from among the barns and haystacks of Anthony Babington’s birthplace. My father talked of Anthony Babington as though he had recently lived in the old farmhouse of his neighbour.

He spoke of secret passages underground which he had entered in his own childhood. The tunnels had been filled in but the memory remained. Country tradition is strong and they said that Anthony Babington tried to help the Queen of Scots to escape from Wingfield along these hidden galleries to the little manor farm. The unsuccessful plot took place two years before the great plot which shook England and brought the Queen to the block and Babington to the gallows.
The Time Traveller
- Alison Uttley

The Courting of Anthony Babington

Charlotte Yonge was born in 1823 and so was a contemporary of Eliza Cook. However, she had a very different life, although they did have a number of things in common. Both had a large output of writing, although Charlotte produced novels, rather than poems. Also both ran their own periodical magazine. Where Charlotte’s life was different was that she virtually never left her home county of Hampshire. She dedicated herself to supporting young women, through her commitment to the church. Early in her career, she produced a best-selling novel called, The Heir of Redclyffe, which was a romantic story with a Byronic lead, which she wrote when she was twenty-five years-old. In its day, it rivalled the works of Dickens and Thackeray, although it is little known today. It made her sufficient money, not only to be able to live comfortably, but to also fund some missionary ships. She not only produced nearly fifty novels, but plays and collections of stories, as well as many religious commentaries.

It would be over thirty years after her initial success, and many other books, before she would produce Unknown to History, which is about Mary, Queen of Scots. She blends her own inventions with the historical facts and follows Mary from when she is in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Anthony Babington is part of the Earl’s household and has been there since he was a page-boy. He grew up with a girl, who is under the care of Mary, and he is keen to marry her.

Mary, Queen of Scots in German

One of Germany’s leading nineteenth century playwrights was also poet, philosopher and historian. His name was Friedrich von Schiller. He was born in 1759.A few years before his death he composed a play called Mary Stuart. He portrays her as a victim, which was very much in keeping with his social philosophy writings. Lord Burleigh, also known as William Cecil, was one of Queen Elizabeth’s advisers. In this scene they are discussing Babington.

Mary: When did I that, my Lord? Let them produce the documents.

Burleigh: You have already seen them: They were, before the court, presented to you

Mary. Mere copies written by another hand; Show me the proof that they were dictated by me, that they proceeded from my lips, and in those very terms in which you read them.

Burleigh: Before his execution, Babington confessed they were the same which he received.

Mary: Why was he in his lifetime not produced before my face ? Why was he then dispatched so quickly that he could not be confronted with her whom he accused?

Mary Stuart – Friedrich Schiller

Babington's Plea

Let us leave the Babington Plot with his own words. This is the plea, for mercy, which he wrote to Elizabeth, who rejected it and had him executed.
Most gracious Sovereign if either bitter tears, a pensive contrite heart or any dutiful sight of the wretched Sinner might work any pity in your royal breast I would wring out of my drained eyes as much blood as in bemoaning my dreary tragedy should lamentably betray my fault and somewhat no doubt move you to compassion but since there is no proportion betwixt the quality of my crimes and any human commiseration. Show sweet Queen some miracle on a wretch that lyeth prostrate in your prison most grievously bewailing his offence and imploring such comfort at your anointed hands as my poor wives misfortunes doth beg my child innocence doth crave my guiltless family doth wish and my heinous treachery doth least deserve. So shall your divine mercy make your glory shine as far above all princes as my most horrible practices are more detestable amongst your best subjects whom lovingly and happily to govern I humbly beseech the mercy Master himself to grant for his sweet son’s sake Jesus Christ.
Plea for Mercy
– Anthony Babington

We take our leave of Dethick and pass over the footpaths and quiet lanes to the hamlet of Riber. On our approach to the buildings there is one that stands out as having a long history. Riber Hall is seventeenth century building, with many other associated buildings of the same age. The hall’s entrance from the narrow lane is very uncharacteristic of grand houses. It has quaint rounded steps, with gates and railings. The main structure has leaded and mullioned windows, and yield a view of Babington’s times. There is little doubt that the main hall and the nearby buildings are left from another age, untouched as the centuries have rolled past them.

A Smedley Legacy

It is a building that we cannot yet see that is Riber’s most famous landmark. If we make our way past the hall, turn left at the end of the lane and follow the path, we walk down the side of Riber Castle. As we clear the woods, so we are greeted with a spectacular view of the Derwent Valley and Matlock.

The four towers of Riber Castle dominate the sky line and can be seen from practically all of Matlock in the valley. Its Gothic nature has been accentuated in recent years has it has fallen into disrepair. It was build by John Smedley, the son of the founder of Lea Mill. It was completed in 1862, and became his home. He lived here until he died and it remained the home of his wife until her death. It then passed from the family and had a very chequered history until the present day when it is being renovated. We leave the castle by going down the footpath, which leads us to the road into Matlock. We then enter Matlock through the Hall Leys Park, which is a century old town centre park.

Let’s rest awhile in Hall Leys Park

The River Derwent flows through this municipal park, which is over a hundred years old and has been updated and adapted to modern living. But it has also retained traditional flower borders and a boating lake. Near to the Derwent are the markers for previous flood levels. Suffice it to say that the river in those periods of spate would have been above a person’s head if they had been in the park at the time. These were real floods that have been documented, but in the next next we will come across a fictional account of the Derwent bursting its banks.

At the Cromford end of our walk, we celebrated the long existence of the John Smedley production and at the end we have seen the eccentric castle that he build, but there is still more of him to come after he went through a life changing experience. The Smedley’s partner family, the Nightingales, gave the nation one of its most noted heroines and the small village of Dethick has played its part on the national stage, both in fact and fiction.