Arts Derbyshire Header Image

Derbyshire heritage - spotlight on Matlock County Hall

Derbyshire boasts some of the greatest arts and heritage attractions in the country. In our series of articles about Derbyshire's cultural heritage, we included a feature on places which walks you through the best of the County's cultural experiences. In this article, we take a closer look at the County Hall in Matlock. 

A short history of County Hall, Matlock 

The impressive building of 'County Hall' is now the headquarters of Derbyshire County Council, but it has had many different uses over the years.

It started life in 1851 as an 11 room private hospital, managed by Ralph Davis of Darley Dale, two year later it was sold to the hospital’s medical adviser, John Smedley.

The Smedley family are well know in the area, and one of their mills is still in operation today in a small village called Lea Mills five miles south of Matlock. The mill manufactures high quality knitwear for the exclusive fashion houses of the world.

The small hospital was destined for much bigger things and within the course of  a year it was transformed into the internationally acclaimed ‘Hydropathic Hotel’, better know as Smedley’s Hydro. In its heyday it had more than 260 bedrooms and catered for over 2,000 people who were attracted by the health benefits promised by the water cures and treatments available.

Well know personalities of the day including Sir Thomas Beecham, the English opera impresario who founded the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1932, Sir Harry Lauder, who was King Georges V’s favourite Scottish comedian and Bramwell Booth, the son of the Salvation Army’s founder, were among those who booked into the Hydro. John Smedley handed over the day-to-day running of the Hydro to Dr William Bell Hunter in 1872, two years before he died, aged 71.

The Hydro continued to expand and function to capacity until the outbreak of World War One in 1914 when development was halted.

Further improvements took place after the war and it prospered until 1939 when it was requisitioned by the War Department for use by the Military School of Intelligence.

Although business resumed after the War, in 1946 the building’s days as a fashionable  Hydro were numbered as people looked for alternative holiday resorts and the popularity of hydrotherapy declined.

The building was sold in 1956 and County Hall, as it is now named, is the administrative headquarters of Derbyshire County Council.

A plaque commemorating the opening of the Offices by Alderman Charles White, CBE, JP on 28 April 1956 can be seen just inside the main door.

The stained glass window on the County Hall stairway

One of the most imposing features of County Hall is the stained glass window installed in memory of John Smedley, who bought the building in 1853 and transformed it into the internationally acclaimed Hydropathic Hotel.

It covers three floors alongside the staircase rising up from the main Smedley Street entrance and was designed and constructed by Shrigley and Hunt in 1882.

Thousands of people flocked to the hotel, attracted by tales of the healing of its water treatments and these feature heavily in the imagery of the window.

The ground floor windows are filled with large, single figures and the colour of the design is emphasised by the silvery white Renaissance-style canopies above it.

The left hand window feature Hygeia, the Goddess of Health, who is represented by a female figure with a serpent and cup. The inscription reads “Mens sana in corpor sano” meaning a “healthy mind in a healthy body”.

In the centre window is the figure of “Truth” seated at the bottom of a well, holding a mirror in one hand and a goblet of pure water in the other. A medallion portrait of John Smedley appears above this figure and at the base is the motto “Magna est veritas et prevalebit” meaning “Great is the Truth and it will Prevail”.

On the right hand window is the figure of Esculapius, the Greek God of Medicine and the words “ Venienti occurrite morbo” meaning “Hasten to meet disease as it comes”.

The pool of Bethesda is depicted on the middle floor windows. The left hand one show Jesus with St John healing a sick man, the angel troubling the water is in the right hand window and in the centre is a group of people beside the pool. The sheep market at Jerusalem can be seen in the background.

Pure Air, Pure Water and Exercise are represented by the three female figures on the upper floor window, where the bottom panels are decorated with fish and marine animals. The whole window is surrounded by a rich egg and dart border and across the windows are the words “Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest”.

An inscription at the bottom dedicates the window in the memory of John Smedley saying he was born in 1804 and dies in 1875. Interestingly, the windows’ designers appear to have got their facts wrong as according to information held at the County Council’s Record Office he was born in 1803 and he died on 27 July 1874.

A print copy of this article appears in the reception area of County Hall on Smedley Street in Matlock.

Get involved 

If you have information that we haven’t included, then let us know! Similarly, if you consider yourself the expert on a particular subject, or you simply fancy writing up and getting some information published for this series, then get in touch by email at:


Many thanks to Deborah Porter, Sharon Stevens-Cash, Carole Crompton, Bygonederbyshire, Peak and Fell Walking, The Derby Local Studies Library and Robert Steadman for picture contributions to this series. 

Featured artists

Angela Thompson

Angela Thompson

Paula Sharples

Paula Sharples

Richard Bett

Richard Bett


Derbyshire Festivals

Take a look at all the amazing festivals that Derbyshire has to offer right throughout 2020, right on your doorstep - come along, join in the fun and see the world-class entertainment.

Arts Derbyshire on Facebook and Twitter

Come and join in the conversation.