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British Industrial History

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John Smedley (1803-1874)

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John Smedley (1803-1874) of John Smedley

1803 June 12. Born in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, the son of John Smedley (1764-1840) and his wife Mary Roebuck

1819 Began work as an apprentice.

1825 he took over the running of the Lea Mills, and started an energetic expansion of its operations. Smedley's plan was to produce a wide range of finished garments, rather than simply manufacture cloth.

1847 June 29th. Married Caroline Harward, the second daughter of John Harward, the Vicar of Wirksworth. No recorded children.

1853 Patent. '778. To John Smedley, of Lea Mills, Matlock, in the county of Derby, Spinner, for the invention of "improvements in machinery or apparatus for opening, cleaning, blowing, or scutching animal wool, cotton, or other fibrous substances or materials."[1]

Smedley's success and growing wealth enabled him to undertake other grand projects. He developed an interest in hydrotherapy, and built Smedley's Hydro in Matlock, a spa resort that attracted patrons from around the world. As a family home he also built the massive and ostentatious Riber Castle on a hilltop overlooking Matlock. This is now one of Derbyshire's most famous landmarks.

1871 Living at Riber Castle, Matlock: John Smedley (age 64 born Wirksworth), Manufacturer and Hydropathist. With his wife Caroline A. Smedley (age 49 born Frome), Hydropathist. Also four visitors and six servants.[2]

1874 July 27th. Died. Of Riber Castle. Probate to John Thomas Marsden, of Riber Castle, Manufacturer, and Robert Wildgoose, of Holloway, Manager of the Lea Mills.

His widow, Caroline, continued to at Riber Castle until her death in 1892. The couple had no children and the castle was left to a distant Australian cousin, John Thomas Marsden, who instructed his uncle, George Marsden, to sell the property.

1934 Bio note [3]

Pioneer of Hydropathy

NOT the least interesting of the numerous articles in "The Derbyshire Countryside" is a biography of John Smedley - mill-owner, hydropathist, and philanthropist. Born at Wirksworth in 1803, his father transferred his worsted spinning and hosiery business to Lea Mills. He says himself that after making a fortune he decided to travel, but illness overtook him. He benefited by hydropathic treatment he received at Malvern, and, devising a system of his own, he used it for the benefit of his poorer neighbours. He began with a small Free Hospital Lea Bridge, and in 1833 bought a house on Matlock Bank for six patients. This was the beginning the present Smedley's Hydropathic Establishment. In 1875 it passed into the hands of a company, and soon became successful commercial proposition.

In 1862 Mr. Smedley conceived the idea of building for himself a residence midway between Lea Mills and his Hydropathic Home, and Riber Castle came into being. It is a famous landmark, visible for miles around.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [ The London Gazette Publication date:29 April 1853 Issue:21435 Page:1239]
  2. 1871 Census
  3. Derby Daily Telegraph - Tuesday 17 April 1934