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Derbyshire heritage - writing

Derbyshire is connected with a large number of great writers – too numerous to mention all. D H Lawrence, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Cotton and Izaac Walton are amongst the world-renowned authors associated with the county. And of course, many well known modern-day writers hail from the county as well. Read on to uncover which parts of the county are associated with which writers.

In the beginning... or at least quite a long time ago 

Many early recorded writers in Derbyshire wrote on the topics of religion, politics and antiquity. It is not until some years later that poetry, novels and creative writing became a popular form of entertainment that was widely distributed in printed form.

Starting with Dr Thomas Linacre (1460 - 1524)  who was an author of works on Latin Grammar, De emendata structuraLatini sermonis (published 1524) and Progymnasmata Grammatices vulgariawritten for the use of Princess Mary; also for his translation work in Greek including translations of Galen and Aristotle.

Thomas HobbesHowever, he is more noteworthy as having been the physician to both Henry VII and Henry VIII and was responsible for the foundation of the College of Physicians by Royal Charter. Dr Linacre was born circa 1460 at Brampton near Chesterfield and is interred at St Paul’s Cathedral in London following his death in 1524.

Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) the philosopher, died in Derby at the age of 91 was most noted for his work Leviathan(published 1651). The book is regarded as the earliest and most influential example of social contract theory, dealing with legitimate government and the maintenance of social order.  He had a lifelong association with the Cavendish family, was mathematics tutor to the young Charles, Prince of Wales (1630-1685) and had close associations with Ben Jonson and Francis Bacon. He moved his efforts into philosophy after 1629. He was chosen to work in 1645 alongside Descartes and Gilles de Roberval to referee the debate between John Pell and Longomontanus over the problem of squaring the circle .  He is interred within St. John the Baptist Church in Ault Hucknall.

Pictured above right: Thomas Hobbes. Courtesy of Chesterfield Library volume of portraits and

Llewellyn JewittSir Aston Cockaine/Cokain (1606 - 1684) was a prolific poet born at Ashbourne Hall in Ashbourne in 1606  and who’s literary life was likely supported by his status as an aristocrat (though he died in poverty).  He was closely associated with renowned writers of the day and was a cousin of Charles Cotton. Described (by self) in the preface of The Dramatic Works of Sir Aston Cokain: with prefatory memoir, introductions and notes as:

"a gentleman who, in the reign of King Charles the Second, lived at his seat at Ashbourne, a market-town in Derbyshire, situate between the river Dove and Compton. He was of an ancient family, … was anciently allied to King William the Conqueror, and in those days lived at Hemmingham Castle, in Essex.”

A number of his poems are collected together in an 1877 publication Poems by Sir Aston Cockaine, originally published in 1658 as Small poems of divers sorts. One of his compositions also appears in ‘The ballads & songs of Derbyshire’ edited by Llewellyn Jewitt (1816-1866) and published in 1867. 

Pictured: Llewellyn Jewitt. Bromby Collection.  Provided by Picture the Past

Known to be a resident of Derbyshire was the 17th century divine and intellectual, Dr William Outram (born 1625) who published work about the Sacrifices. Outram is referenced in the the Diary of Samuel Pepys (4th February 1662-63) where he is an examiner at a boy’s school, quoted by Pepys as being ‘one of the ablest and best of the Conformists, and eminent for his piety and charity, and an excellent preacher’.

An early and significant body of written and published works associated with Derbyshire are the Wolley Manuscripts. The Wolley Manuscripts were compiled by Mr Adam Woolley/Wolley of Riber who had amassed papers for over 50 years. They were bequeathed to the British Museum in 1828 'for the use and inspection of the public’, and they are significant to Derbyshire and to the UK. Their significance in history is in the foresight of their compiler who recorded not only legal matters, details of transactions of land, wills etc., but also recorded are various elements important to social history.

Some volumes 'form a collection particularly designed to assist in a scheme for a general history of Derbyshire, consisting of Terriers, Court Rolls, Rentals, Petitions, Inventories, Letters, and other Original Papers ; also copies of Inquisitions, Wills Charters, Seals, Fines, Decrees, Surveys, Legal Briefs, Cases, Pleas, Abstracts of Titles, Particulars of Properties on Sale, Church Notes, Parish Register Extracts, Lists of Sheriffs, Pedigrees, Grants of Arms. Many of the latter class are in Mr. Wolley's own hand. They form ten thick folio volumes.'

Others are, ‘Fair Copies of Charters & other Ancient Documents relating to Derbyshire’ and ‘Derbyshire Church Notes’ and ‘an account of Roman coins found in Derbyshire’.  If you have spare time and the interest, you can visit the County Hall Local Studies Library to view microfilm versions of the documents.  The originals are now held in the British Library.

William Bagshawe (1628-1702)  was born in Tideswell in 1628 and ordained in 1650 at Chesterfield. Upon being ejected from the Church in 1662 due to the restoration of the monarchy and the Act of Uniformity, he took to the road as a travelling preacher. He became known as the ‘Apostle of the Peak’ and had a colourful life, including having a number of warrants for his arrest issued. There is a large collection of deeds, records and documents collected by the Bagshawe family relating to many Derbyshire matters, and this collection includes several volumes of sermons, treatises and journals of the 'Apostle of the Peak' and other early Nonconformist ministers. See also, W.H.G. Bagshawe, A Memoir of William Bagshawe of Ford Hall, styled "The Apostle of the Peak" (London: Mitchell and Hughes, 1887).

Charles CottonCharles Cotton (1630-1687) was born in 1630 at Beresford Hall, near Hartington the son of wealthy parents.  He is remembered best for his close friendship with Izaak Walton (1593 - 1683), with whom he co-authored The Compleat Angler (first published 1653 and 1676 ), and also for the authoring of his world-reknowned poem, 'The Wonders of the Peak’ in 1683. His books remained in publication until the 1930s, such was interest in his work.

Cotton and Walton spent many hours fishing on the River Dove in Beresford Dale near Hartington where together they built a fishing temple that still stands and bears the inscription Piscatoribus Sacrum. Cotton died in 1687 and is buried in St James, Picadilly, London but there is also a family pew at the church in Alstonefield.

Pictured above right: Wonders of the Peake by Charles Cotton.  Picture courtesy of  Deborah Porter

Pictured below left: Charles Cotton. Courtesy of Chesterfield Library volume of portraits and

Thomas Bancroft (1633–1658) was a poet and an associate of Sir Aston Cokaine. He was born and was native of Swarkestone and his first publication was The Glutton's Feaver, that appeared in 1633. He also published Two Bookes of Epigrammes and Epitaphs (1639), contributed to Brome's Lachrymce Musarum, or the Teares of the Muses(1649) and finally published The Heroical Lover, or Antheon and Fidelta, and Times out of TunePlaid upon However in XX Satyres in 1658.  By 1658 he was living in retirement in Bradley near Ashbourne. 

Benjamin Robinson (1666-1724) was a Church Minister born in Derby in 1666. He was respected as a theologian and had many of his views published. He founded a school in Findern and was a chaplain and tutor for the family of Sir John Gell of Hopton. He died in 1724 and is buried in Bunhill Fields, Islington – a burial ground for non-Conformists.

Anthony Blackwell (1672 - 1730 ) author of The Sacred Classics (published 1727 and full title The sacred classics defended and illustrated: or, an essay humbly offer'd towards proving the purity, propriety, and true eloquence of the writers of the New Testament), was born in Kirk Ireton in 1672. He was educated and then became a headmaster at the old Derby Grammar School, which was founded in 1160 and awarded Royal Charter in 1554 (closed 1989) making it the second oldest grammar school in the country.  Blackwall was also vicar at Elvaston from 1699-1723.

Samuel Richardson (1689 - 1761) authored many popular novels at the time of George II and was effectively the founder of the modern novel. The Pamela series, Clarissa series and The History of Sir Charles Grandison (published 1753) were popular novels of their time. He was born 19th August 1689 in Mackworth, where he and his family spent the early years of his life before they returned to life in London.

Originally he was, by profession, a printer and publisher. He published many notable publications such as the Journals of the House (a contract he was granted by the House of Commons); the Daily Journal from 1736-37; the Daily Gazeteer in 1738.  Late in life, after enduring the loss of his first wife and all their five children, he took up his pen and published his first novel at the age of 51. His debut in the literary scene was well received and he became a writer of note. Friends in his circle included Dr Samuel Johnson and Sally Fielding, and his fiercest literary rival was Henry Fielding.

Samuel JohnsonDr Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) is perhaps much better known by his most famous book Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language. Published in 1755, it stood as the most accomplished British Dictionary for over 150 years whereupon the Oxford English Dictionary was published. He married his wife Elizabeth Porter on 9 July 1735 at St. Werburgh's Church in Derby. He courted controversy in this coupling since his wife – a wealthy widow - was 21 years his senior and he was notorious for his lack of success in maintaining health in his own financial dealings.

Pictured right: Dr Samuel Johnson. Courtesy of Derby City Council and

Jedidiah Buxton (1707–1772) was lauded as an arithmetic genius and he appeared in a handful of articles featuring him and his special gift, including a memoir contributed by him in 1754 (Gentleman’s Magazine 1751, 1753 and 1754). Buxton was born and native of Elmton and a portrait of him hangs at Elmton Church. 

John Whitehurst (1713 - 1788) was a clockmaker and scientist who began the preparation of his work An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth(published 1778) whilst still living in Derby. Joseph Wright of Derby completed a portrait of Whitehurst. 

Robert Bage (1730 - 1801) novelist was born in Darley Abbey in 1730. Originally a papier, he turned to novel writing at the age of 53 and produced six novels in the next 15 years.

Hutton’s History of Derby/Derbyshire and Philip Kinder’s History of Derbyshire are referenced often as sources in the compiling of Lyson’s Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire (published 1817). William Hutton  (born in Derby in 1723, died 1815) also authored History of Derby (1791) and History of Birmingham (1781) amongst other historical works and poetry. In researching his work History of the Roman Wall he undertook a journey on foot of over 600 miles at the age of 78 in order to trace the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall.

Erasmus DarwinAn associate of Derby’s most famous artist, Joseph Wright of Derby was Dr Erasmus Darwin(1731 - 1802), a physician, philosopher and key thinker who authored The Botanic Garden(1789-91), The Loves of Plants(1789) and The Economy of Vegetation (1791) amongst other works. He was a member of the Lunar Society and also the Derby Philosophical Society and he was an inventor of many things including a horizontal windmill, an artesian well, a copying machine and a speaking machine. He was also grandfather to naturalist Charles Darwin. 

Darwin was educated at Chesterfield Grammar School and spent most of his life practicing as a physician in the Midlands. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Pole, whose home was Radbourne Hall, near Derby and moved there. They lived their until 1782, whereupon they moved to Full Street, Derby. They moved again to Breadsall Priory in 1802 and weeks later he died there very suddenly. He is buried in All Saints Church, Breadsall.

Pictured: Dr Erasmus Darwin. Courtesy of Derby City Council and

William Newton (1750-1830) was coined ‘the Minstrel of the Peak’ by Anna Sewardwho wrote favourably of Newton in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1785.  She recommended him as a ‘labouring-class poet’ and although his work was never published as a collection, he often submitted individual poems for publish in the Sheffield Register (1787-94). He also appeared in William Wood's Genius of the Peak(1837) .

Richard Howitt (1799-1869), poet, was born in Heanor and was brother of writer William Howitt (1792-1879). Richard published a volume of poems in 1830 Antediluvian Sketches and another in 1840 Gipsy King and other poems. He is buried in Mansfield.

William published many poems, texts, children’s stories and novels during his lifetime and worked collaboratively with his wife Mary Howitt (1799 - 1888) who was also a writer and poet. Mary’s most famous poem is 'The Spider and the Fly' which was parodied by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures Underground. William and Mary were very successful in the literary world and became close associates with many eminent literary figures of the day including Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth.

D H Lawrence (1885 - 1930) was born 1885 at 8a Victoria Street, Eastwood, (just over the border in Nottinghamshire). This is now the home to the D H Lawrence Birthplace Museum, that celebrates the life of this classic writer. D H Lawrence spent large parts of his life living outside of the county, but he loved his hometown and locality which he called ‘the country of my heart’. He spent a year living at Mountain Cottage in Middleton-by-Wirksworth, where he produced a novel, The White Peacock, but far from providing happy memories in this white peak village, reputedly he hated it there.

Monica Edwards (née Monica le Doux Newton 1912–1998) was an English children's writer of the mid-twentieth century best known for her Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm series of children's novels.

From this County, great novels have been born 

Many books have been inspired by locations in Derbyshire by many of the great names in literature.

Charlotte Bronte (1816 - 1855) used North Lees Hall in Hathersage as inspiration for the Gothic mansion of Thornfield in her novel Jane Eyre (1847). Bronte stayed at Hathersage Vicarage with her friend Ellen Massey for 3 weeks in 1845. She commenced the writing of Jane Eyre shortly after and many settings in the novel can be recognized as places around Hathersage.

Eyam is a village endowed with an unfortunate heritage due to the visitation of the Plague in 1665. Largely, this has provided the inspiration for many books about the plague. Children of Winter (1985) by Berlie Doherty is loosely based on the story of the plague village of Eyam, as are The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brookes (2001), A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh (1983), Kiss of Death (2006) by Malcolm Roseand Astercote by Penelope Lively (1970).

Rutland ArmsPictured above: Rutland Arms Hotel. Courtesy of Derbyshire Local Studies Libraries and

Jane Austen (1775 - 1817) came to Bakewell in 1811 and stayed at the Rutland Arms Hotel as a part of her travels around Derbyshire. She visited Chatsworth and other tourist destinations during her stay and she too took inspiration from her visit. Derbyshire’s dales and Chatsworth House are clearly the inspiration for settings in her novel Pride and Prejudice (1853).

The room in which she stayed (leftmost window on the 1st floor, overlooking Matlock Street) has the following notice posted outside.

"In this room in the year 1811 Jane Austen revised the manuscript of her famous book "Pride and Prejudice".  It had been written in 1797, but Jane Austen, who travelled in Derbyshire in 1811, chose to introduce the beauty spots of the Peak into her novel. The Rutland Arms Hotel was built in 1804, and while staying in this new and comfortable inn, we have reason to believe that Miss Austen visited Chatsworth, only three miles away, and was so impressed by its beauty and grandeur, that she makes it the background for "Pemberley", the home of the proud and handsome Mr. Darcy, hero of "Pride and Prejudice".

The small market town of "Lambton", mentioned in the novel, is easily identifiable as Bakewell, and any visitor, driving thence to Chatsworth, must immediately be struck by Miss Austen's faithful portrayal of the scene - the "large handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground and backed by a ridge of woody hills." There it is today, exactly as Jane Austen saw it, all those long years ago.

Elizabeth Bennet, heroine of the story, had returned to the inn to dress for dinner, when the sound of a carriage drew her to the window. She saw a curricle driving up the street, undoubtedly Matlock Street which these windows overlook, and presently she heard a quick foot upon the stair - the very staircase outside this door.

So, while visiting this hotel and staying in this room, remember that it is the scene of two of the most romantic passages in "Pride and Prejudice", and "Pride and Prejudice" must surely take its place among the most famous novels in the English language."

Chatsworth House2Pictured above: Chatsworth House, inspiration for Jane Austen when writing Pride and Prejudice and the setting for parts of Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.  Picture supplied courtesy of Sharon Stevens-Cash

Amanda Foreman’sGeorgiana, Duchess of Devonshire grabbed the headlines when it was published in 1999. It described the life of the wife of the 5th Duke and her time at Chatsworth. The book, in turn, was inspiration for the film starring Keira Knightley called The Duchess in 2008.

Alderwasley is the setting for Penelope Farmer’s novel Glasshouses (1988). The landscapes described throughout the book are drawn from Alderwasley Park:

"Most Derbyshire houses were set gracelessly across hillsides, it seemed to her, in the full blast of wind and weather.  Her cottage, on the other hand, the sonte heart of it seventeenth century, not only sheltered under a hill, it stood at the gates of a park surrounding an undistinguished eighteenth century mansion now used as a school." 

Wirksworth provided George Eliot(1819 - 1880) with inspiration for the setting of Snowfield whilst writing Adam Bede. Published in 1859, it was her first novel, she borrowed from local characters and places in the town including that of her Aunt, who became Dinah Morris. Haarlem Mill is also reputed to be the mill in her later work Mill on the Floss. Various locations are marked with plaques on buildings, road names and tourist information pointing Eliot enthusiasts to points of interest around the town. Eliot also has links with the hamlet of Norbury, Derbyshire where many of her paternal ancestors are buried.

Alison Uttley was born in Cromford, educated at Lea School, Holloway and Lady Manners School, Bakewell. Her book The Country Child (1931) was a work of fiction inspired by her childhood in Cromford, where the following passage clearly describes the pond at Cromford near Scarthin Bookshop.

"Lost in the creases of the hills, until one turned a sudden corner, and found the little stone houses clustering round the duck pon, climbing up the steep rocks and sleeping huddled together about the old market square."

Cromford is also the key focus of Our Village: Alison Uttley’s Cromford published by Scarthin Books in 1984.

Matlock BathPictured above: Matlock Bath.  Photographer Robert Steadman

D H Lawrence’sThe Rainbow borrows from Matlock Bath and also describes Lawrence’s homeland in the country near Eastwood.

"The Brangwens had lived for generations on the Marsh Farm, in the meadows where the Erewash twisted sluggishly through alder trees, separating Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire.  Two miles away, a church tower stood on a hill, the houses of the little country town climbing assiduously up to it.  Whenever one of the Brangwens lifted his head from his work, he saw the church tower at Ilkeston in the empty sky." 
The Rainbow.

Brangwen HomePictured above: Church Cottage, Cossall. This location was a home to 'Brangwen' in D H Lawrence's 'The Rainbow'. Courtesy of George L Roberts and

Lawrence used the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire borders to furnish many of his famed novels such as Sons and Lovers (1913), The Virgin and the Gypsy (1930) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). A short story by Lawrence, Odour of Chrysanthemums(1911), is set in Selston and Underwood; a tale of death in the coalmines that are a feature of this part of Derbyshire. The eastern side of Derbyshire is also brought to life by Mary Howitt’sMy Uncle the Clockmaker (1844), which was set in Denby and No Sense Like Commonsense (1843) set in the Erewash Valley; and Kenneth Findlay’sLove From Daddy (1997), a thriller set in Ilkeston.

Jean Plaidy was one of the pen names of Eleanor Hibbert (1906-1993) a prolific historical novelist.  Plaidy brought to life Mary, Queen of Scots in her fictional work The Captive Queen of Scots (1963) which includes descriptions of Wingfield Manor and environs. Wingfield Manor was the prison from which Sir Anthony Babington, who lived in nearby Dethick, plotted his rescue of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Alison Uttley (1884 - 1976) was also inspired by Wingfield Manor in her story of Babington and Mary Stuart’s elaborate, but unsuccessful plan, A Traveller in Time(1939). Her home in Beaconsfield was called Thackers after the house in A Traveller in Time. The Thackers in the novel was inspired by a home in Dethick now owned by Simon Groom (ex Blue Peter presenter). Also covering the tale of Babington and Stuart are Unknown to History by Charlotte M Yonge (1882) and Come Rack Come Rope by Hugh Benson (1912).

The list, quite literally, goes on and on and on... so here's a list of miscellany for your perusal

  • Vera Brittain, writer, pacifist and feminist, (1893 - 1970) spent a part of her childhood in Buxton from the age of 11.  In the first part of her three part autobiography, Testament of Youth (1933) her time in Buxton  is discussed

  • New Mills was the setting for The Railway Children  (1906) by Edith Nesbitt(1858 - 1924)

  • Richmal Crompton (1890 - 1969) wrote the  Just William series. Inspiration taken perhaps from her time spent at St Elphin's School in Darley Dale, near Matlock

  • Ellen Fitzgerald (pseudonym of Florence Stevenson) wrote The Damsels of Derbyshire (1992), an historical romance novel with hero Lionel, Marquis of Ashton and heroine Lady Tabitha Spencer.

  • Castleton and Peveril Castle are the setting for Sir Walter Scott’s (1771 - 1832) magnus opus  Peveril of the Peak (1823) and  Ann Ward Radcliffe's (1764 - 1823) gothic romance The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)

  • Roy Hattersley (born 1932), Derbyshire resident for many years wrote Buster's Diaries, charting the life of his dog Buster (recently deceased in October 2009)

  • St Edmund's Church in Castleton still has a rare Breeches Bible from 1611.

  • A Sense of Place: Derbyshire in Fiction by Ruth Gordon is a treasure trove of Derbyshire based novels, poems and texts

  • Derbyshire author, writer and poet Tom Bates has written more than 80 potted histories of Derbyshire villages during his long career in writing and showbusiness (see him also featured in our Musicians article as Reb Lee.  Details of the books and articles he's published about his native Derbyshire can be found in full on the About Derbyshire website

The present day 

Bringing us up to date to the present day, Derbyshire born writer Hilary Mantel was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for her novel Wolf Hall. Hilary made history in 2012 upon being awarded the Man Booker Prize for the Wolf Hall sequel Bring up the Bodies. This makes her the first female writer to be recognised twice by the judges. Hilary was born in Glossop in 1952 and before becoming a writer, had a varied travel and work career that saw her engaged in social work, living in Botswana and Saudi Arabia. She was also film critic for The Spectator (1987 - 1991) and was awarded an OBE in 2006. Previous novels include Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988), Fludd(1989), A Place of Greater Safety (1992), A Change of Climate (1994), Experiment in Love (1995), The Giant, O'Brien (1998) and Beyond Black (2005).  She also published autobiographical Giving Up the Ghost: A Memoir (2003).

The current Derbyshire Poet Laureate is Matt Black. He took over from previous poet laureate, Ann Atkinson, and is the fourth Laureate for Derbyshire following in the footsteps of River Wolton and Cathy Grindod.

Ann Atkinson lived in the Peak for over 30 years until her death in 2012. She took to writing poetry upon the birth of her second daughter as a response to ‘straitened circumstances’.   She was living in a caravan near Eyam for the first four years of life in Derbyshire and found her environment a source upon which she could draw for her writing.

River Wolton grew up in London, lived in Sheffield for twenty years and then moved to North Derbyshire where she now lives. Derbyshire-based Cathy Grindod is originally from Lancashire and has been writing and performing for many years.

Berlie Doherty is a novelist, playwright, children's author and poet with a career that has spanned over 30 years. She was until 2012 Derbyshire County Council's ‘Reading Champion’ involved in many reading projects with young and old alike.  Doherty now lives in Edale, which is a setting that has provided inspiration for her writing. Deep Secret (2004) depicts the drowned villages beneath Ladybower Reservoir; Blue John(2003) was inspired by the Blue John Cavern at Castleton; Children of Winter (1985) is based on the village of Eyam. Although Berlie is best known for her children’s books her other works include plays for theatre and radio, novels for adults and libretti for children’s opera. 

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

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