In the time of the Britons, the district now forming the county of Derby was part of the territory occupied by the Coratini; under the government of the Romans, it was included in the division Flavia Cæsariensis. During the heptarchy it was part of the kingdom of Mercia, and the counties of Derby and Nottingham being chiefly north of the river Trent, the inhabitants of both were called North Mercians. The county is in the diocese of Lichfield and province of Canterbury; it forms an archdeaconry, comprising the deaneries of Ashbourn,Castillar, Chesterfield, Derby, High Peak, and Repton, and contains 137 parishes. For purposes of civil government it is divided into the hundreds of Appletree, High Peak, Morleston and Litchurch, Repton and Gresley, and Scarsdale; and the wapentake of Wirksworth. It comprises the borough and market-town of Derby, and the market-towns of Alfreton, Ashbourn, Bakewell, Belper, Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Chesterfield, Glossop, Tideswell, Winster, and Wirksworth. Under the act passed to amend the representation, the county is divided into the Northern and Southern divisions, each sending two members to parliament; and two representatives are returned for the borough of Derby. The counties of Derby and Nottingham formerly constituted but one shrievalty, and the assizes for both were held at Nottingham until the reign of Henry III., from which period until the division of the shrievalty in 1569, they were held at Nottingham and Derby alternately; but the assizes for this county, which is included in the Midland circuit, have since uniformly been held at Derby, except in the year 1610, when, on account of a commotion at that place, they were removed to Ashbourn. The Epiphany, Easter, and Michaelmas quarter-sessions are held at Derby, and the Midsummer sessions at Chesterfield.
The entire county, excepting the hundred of Morleston and Litchurch, is within the jurisdiction of the duchy of Lancaster court held at Tutbury, in the adjoining county of Stafford, for the recovery of small debts, and for determining on pleas of trespass, assault, &c. Many of the parishes in the hundreds of High Peak and Scarsdale, and in the wapentake of Wirksworth, are within the jurisdiction of the Peveril court, of the same nature, held at Basford in Nottinghamshire. The mines and miners are subject to certain ancient customary laws and regulations, which were ascertained by a jury under a commission appointed in 1287, but which vary in different manors. An officer called a barmaster holds courts twice a year, at which are decided all questions respecting the duties payable to the crown or the lessee; disputes relative to working the mines are settled, and punishments are inflicted for aggressions upon mineral property. Debts incurred in working the mines are also cognizable in the barmote courts, which are held for the High Peak at Monyash, and for the wapentake of Wirksworth at Wirksworth. One of the most remarkable of the ancient mining customs is that by which an adventurer discovering a vein of lead unoccupied, in the king's field, is entitled to work it on the land of any person, without making compensation to the proprietor: this custom is still in force, though it is understood that gardens, orchards, and highways are excepted; and it is the office of the bar-master to establish adventurers in the possession of such veins.
The surface of the southern portion of Derbyshire is for the most part tolerably level; but to the north of Derby the hills begin to rise gradually, and in the north-western part some attain a considerable elevation, forming a continuation of the ridge which, from the northern part of Staffordshire, divides the island in its course northward. Various collateral ridges extend from the main line of hills in irregular courses southwestward, the principal being that separating the valleys of the Dove and the Derwent, and that bounding the valley of the Derwent on the east, from each of which stretch divers minor ranges. Some of the valleys in the elevated tracts are very beautiful, particularly those of Castleton, Monsall-dale, and Glossop. Indeed, the most picturesque and remarkable scenery is exhibited in the great number and variety of valleys or dales with which the limestone districts abound, and the general characteristics of which are precipitous rocks of singular and striking aspect, forming their boundaries, with mountain streams and rivulets winding through the lower parts, which are frequently well wooded. Except in the valleys, the scenery is by no means interesting, consisting chiefly of uncultivated moors, on some parts of which large masses and groups of rocks are seen projecting above the surface, occasionally in very grotesque forms. The Soils consist of clay, loam, sand, and peat, irregularly intermixed: the southern part, which has been distinguished by the name of the fertile district, has mostly a red loam on various subsoils; peat-mosses abound on the elevated tracts in the northern part of the county. The arable lands, which are of the greatest extent in the southern, middle, and eastern parts, have been estimated as forming no more than one-fifth of the superficial area, though now certainly constituting a larger proportion. A considerable quantity of camomile is cultivated for medicinal purposes in the parishes of Ashover, Morton, Shirland, and North and South Winfield, this plant having been introduced about the year 1740. The proportion of grass-land is very great; and the making of cheese forms an important feature. Ancient woods are scattered through the county, and numerous modern plantations have been made. In the parishes of Hope and Glossop, in the northern part of the Peak, are sheep-walks of vast extent, designated the Woodlands, comprising about one-half of the waste and barren lands, and which are private property, but have no fences to separate the different manors, parishes, or townships. The principal tract of common moors is that called the East Moor, or High Moors, extending northward from Ashover and Darley almost to the northern verge of the county, and distinguished as black and white lands. Part of what was the Peak Forest has long formed the extra-parochial liberty of the same name, in which all traces of wood have been succeeded by green pastures and stone fences.
The geology and mineralogy of Derbyshire present a great variety of interesting features. The substrata of the southern part, beyond a line drawn from Sandiacre to Ashbourn, consist of gravel and sand, intermixed with large portions of red marl, very irregular in form; in several places are beds of gypsum of considerable extent. The substrata of the other parts consist of limestone of various kinds, with toadstone, gritstone with shale, and coal with indurated clay. The lower-most of these is a stratum of limestone, which occupies a narrow space on the western side of the county, extending southward from the mountain called Mam Tor to Hopton and Parwich, and nearly to Thorp, and forming on the surface a tract of 40,500 computed acres. It abounds with caverns, of which several are of great extent, many are lined with incrustations of stalactite, and some have subterraneous streams. Immediately above this stratum are three others of limestone, and three of toadstone, in alternate layers, occupying nearly 51,500 acres of the surface, and extending from Castleton southward to Hopton, and from Matlock, Youlgrave, Bakewell, and Stony-Middleton, on the eastern side, to Wormhill and Chelmerton on the western. The limestone is the true metalliferous rock of Derbyshire, and exclusively occupies the attention of the miner: there are few situations in the Peak where this rock does not contain numerous veins of lead-ore or calamine; the several strata also abound with corallines, shells, and various organic remains. The strata next in succession above those of limestone and toadstone, are millstone-grit and shale, comprising 160,500 acres; the former is from 150 to 170 yards thick, and rests on the latter, which is about the same thickness. The limestone district above mentioned is surrounded by the "gritstone" district, as it is called, though in several parts the gritstone is wanting and only the shale appears. The quarries and kilns for burning the limestone are very numerous, a great quantity of lime being sold, chiefly for agricultural purposes, for the use of this and some of the neighbouring counties. A species of the limestone is in request as marble, commonly called Derbyshire marble, and used for chimney-pieces, slabs, &c.; the quarries from which it is procured are nearly twenty in number, and are situated in the parishes of Bakewell and Matlock. On the eastern side of the county is a stratum of yellow magnesian limestone, occupying about 21,600 acres. The coal strata, usually termed coal-measures, occupy a large portion of the eastern part of the county: the seams vary in thickness, and are separated by numerous strata of gritstone, and indurated argillaceous earth, known by the names of bind, clunch, and shale. Several of the coal shales contain beds of ironstone, and an abundance and variety of impressions of fern and other plants. The total extent of the coal-measures is computed by Mr. Farey at 190,000 acres. It is probable that some of the collieries were worked by the Romans; they were evidently known to the Saxons; and it is on record that those at Denby, which are still considered to produce some of the best coal in the county, were worked so early as 1306.
It has been satisfactorily ascertained that the Derbyshire Lead-mines were worked by the Romans, if not by the Britons; they are chiefly in the wapentake of Wirksworth, and the hundred of High Peak, and are exceedingly numerous; the Gang mine, in the liberty of Cromford, has been the most productive of recent years. The annual quantity of lead procured, about 1789, as stated by Pilkington, was between 5000 and 6000 tons, exceeding by half that raised of late, many mines having been discontinued owing to the decreased price of lead. Several of the mines produce ores of Zinc. Fluors of various colours are found in some of the mines, being much used in the fusion of brittle and churlish ore; the more beautiful specimens called Blue-John are wrought into vases and various other ornamental articles at the manufactory at Matlock. Iron has been known as the produce of this county from a very early period: the district in which the ironstone is found extends from the neighbourhood of Dale Abbey northward, throughout the hundred of Scarsdale, into Yorkshire. Mr. Farey ranks this as the fourth county in England, as to its produce of pig-iron. Gypsum, or alabaster, is obtained in considerable quantities. The number of Stone quarries is very considerable, some of them producing stone of a good and durable quality for building, which is exported in large quantities. Grindstones, of the millstonegrit, are obtained from several quarries, and are in great request, being extensively sent to the south-western parts of England: scythe-stones, finer whetstones, and hones, are made at several places. Many of the mines produce ochres, and a few of them small quantities of china-clay, which has of late years been used at the potteries in Staffordshire. Pipe-clay is found at Bolsover, Killamarsh, Hartshorn, and Hartington; and potters'clay of various sorts, and fire-clay, in the coal districts: the latter is in high repute for making bricks to be used in the construction of iron-furnaces, coarse crucibles, &c. Few counties exhibit a greater number or variety of extraneous fossils than this; the several strata of limestone, and some of those of gritstone, as well as the coal-measures, containing an abundance of organic remains, both animal and vegetable.
As a manufacturing county, Derbyshire ranks next after Lancashire, Staffordshire, and Warwickshire. The woollen manufacture, which was carried on before the reign of King John, is now chiefly confined to the parish of Glossop, on the Yorkshire border; but the spinning of worsted is carried on at Derby, Melbourn, Tideswell, &c.; and the weaving of blankets at Whittington. The manufacture of silk, and that of stockings, were introduced about the beginning of the last century; the former is still chiefly confined to Derby, and the latter is conducted at Derby, Belper, Chesterfield, and the villages on the eastern side of the county, principally in private dwellings. The manufacture of cotton was established here in 1771, by Sir Richard Arkwright, who in 1773, in conjunction with two more gentlemen, made at Derby the first successful attempt to manufacture calicoes in this kingdom. The spinning of cotton is now extensively carried on at many places; and there are numerous factories for the weaving and printing of calico, some bleaching-grounds, and factories for weaving cambric, fustian, muslin, and tape, and for making candlewicks. Machinery for the cotton-factories, stockingframes, &c, is made at Derby, Alfreton, Glossop, Belper, Heanor, Matlock, Butterley, &c. The linen manufacture is not of great extent: flax is spun at Darley-dale, and there are linen-yarn mills in the parishes of Ashover and Glossop; the weaving of linen is carried on at Belper, Turnditch, &c., and lace-weaving at Derby and Melbourn. There are many tan-yards and paper-mills; and agricultural implements are made in various parts, the tract between Chesterfield and Sheffield being especially noted for scythes, sickles, hoes, spades, &c. In the cast-iron works at Chesterfield, Butterley, &c, cannon, cannon-balls, &c, were cast during the war: cutlery and various articles of steel are made at Derby and Chesterfield, and in the villages north of the latter: there are several chain-manufactories, principally in the northern part of the county; and the making of nails is carried on to a considerable extent, chiefly at Belper and in its vicinity. At Derby is a large manufactory for spar or fluor ornaments; and there are saw-mills for marble and stone at Bonsall, Lea-Bridge, and Wirksworth; a long-established porcelain manufactory at Derby, and one of more recent date at Pinxton; also potteries at or near Chesterfield, Alfreton, Belper, Ilkeston, Gresley, Hartshorn, Tickenhall, &c. Hats are made for exportation at Lea-Bridge, Chesterfield, &c.; and shoes for the wholesale trade at Chesterfield and other places.
The principal rivers are the Trent, the Derwent, the Wye, the Dove, the Erewash, and the Rother. The Trent was made navigable to Burton-bridge under an act obtained in 1699; but in the year 1805, the navigation from that bridge down to Shardlow was given up, by agreement with the proprietors of the Trent and Mersey canal, which runs by its side; and as connected with this county, it is now navigable only from Shardlow to the mouth of the Erewash. The Derwent was formerly navigable from Wilne Ferry up to Derby, but the navigation was discontinued when the Derby canal was completed, in 1794. The Trent and Mersey or Grand Trunk canal, which forms part of the important line of communication between Liverpool, Hull, Bristol, and London, passes through Derbyshire, from Burton, to its termination at Shardlow, following the course of the Trent. The Chesterfield canal, begun in 1771 by Mr. Brindley, and finished in 1776 by his brother-in-law, Mr. Henshall, enters the county at Killamarsh, and terminates at Chesterfield. The Erewash canal, begun about 1777, commences in the Trent navigation, and terminates at Langley Mill, where it joins the Cromford canal, having its line chiefly through Derbyshire, in the vale of the Erewash. The Cromford canal, begun about 1789, and completed about 1793, commences at Langley Mill and terminates at Cromford: at Butterley it passes through a tunnel, 2978 yards long; at Lea-Bridge, near Cromford, it is carried over the Derwent by an aqueduct, 200 yards long and 30 feet high; and over the Amber, at Bull-bridge, is another aqueduct, of equal length, and 50 feet high. Near Codnor-Park iron-works, a branch of this canal diverges northward to Pinxton, where commences the main line of the Mansfield and Pinxton railway. The Derby canal commences in the Trent and Mersey canal, north of Swarkston, proceeds to Derby, and terminates in the Erewash canal, half a mile south of Sandiacre; with a branch to Little Eaton, whence is a railway to the collieries at Horsley, Denby, &c. The Nutbrook canal, constructed about the year 1793, commences in the Erewash canal in the parish of Stanton-by-Dale, and terminates at Shipley-Wharf, after a northerly course of about four miles and a half. The Ashby de la Zouch canal, begun about 1794, and completed in 1806, enters at Marple-bridge, and terminates at Bugsworth: at Marple is an aqueduct over the Mersey, nearly 100 feet high; from the summit level of this canal extends a railway to the limestone rocks in the Peak Forest, a distance of seven miles. The county is intersected by three lines of railway belonging to the Midland Company, as is more particularly noticed in the article on Derby. The Cromford and High-Peak railway was opened in 1830.
The remains of the ancient Britons consist principally of numerous artificial mounds of earth and stones, called cairns or lows, situated on the moors, and several of which, on being opened, have been found to contain human bones, kistvaens, urns, beads, rings, and other relics; also of circles of stones, mostly of small dimensions, on Stanton, Hartle, Hathersage, and Olney moors. In the hamlet of Middleton, about three miles west of Youlgrave, is a very remarkable circular fortification, called Arbour-Lows, comprising some stones of larger size, and conjectured to have been a Druidical temple. One of the principal British roads, the Rykneld-street, afterwards used by the Romans, crossed the county from the border of Staffordshire to Yorkshire. The Roman stations were, Derventio, at Little Chester; a second, probably called Aguæ, at Buxton; a third at Brough, in the parish of Hope; and a fourth at Melandra Castle, in that of Glossop: but the only remains worthy of mention, besides the fortifications of some of these, are, the altar preserved at Haddon Hall, the inscribed blocks or pigs of lead found in different places, and the plate of silver discovered in Risley Park. At Parwich and Pentrich are camps of Roman form; and Chesterfield has considerable claims to be regarded as occupying the site of a station, probably the Lutudarum of Ravennas. Besides the Roman-British Rykneldstreet, the Roman roads most distinctly visible are, that called the Bathom-gate, leading from Brough to Buxton; a second, leading from Buxton towards Little Chester; and a third, supposed to have led from Chesterton, near Newcastle, in Staffordshire, also to Little Chester.
Prior to the Reformation there were thirteen Religious Houses, including two commanderies of the Knights Hospitallers, and one of the brethren of St. Lazarus; there were two collegiate establishments, and five ancient hospitals. The remains of the monastic buildings, which are all inconsiderable, are those of Dale Abbey, Beauchief Abbey, Repton Priory, and the commandery at Yeaveley. The only ancient Castles of which there are any striking remains are those of Castleton, formerly called Peak Castle, and Codnor. The chief old Mansion-houses are Haddon Hall, Hardwick Hall, South Winfield manor-house (now in ruins), and Bolsover Castle. Among the seats of modern date, pre-eminently distinguished for its magnificence, is Chatsworth, the princely residence of the Duke of Devonshire. Of the tepid Springs, the most remarkable are those of Buxton, Matlock, and Bakewell: that at Stoney-Middleton is not so warm as the Matlock waters. There are several sulphureous springs, of which the one at Kedleston is most used; also various chalybeate waters, the most noted of which is at Quarndon, two miles from Derby. Between Hope and Bradwell, and at Donisthorpe near Measham, are salt-springs; and at the distance of two miles eastward from Chapel-en-le-Frith is a spring which ebbs and flows at irregular intervals. Among the numerous other natural curiosities of the county, are the mouldering mountain of Mam Tor; the Bradwell crystallized cavern; the caverns called Elden Hole, Poole's Hole, and Peak's Hole; the Cumberland, Smedley, and Rutland caverns, at Matlock; and the rocks called Mock-beggar Hall and Rowter Rocks.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.