Matlock was originally a series of small, detached settlements, which only gradually became linked together as a unified community. Even today, areas like Matlock Bath and Matlock Bank retain their individual identities and Starkholmes still insists on its separate village status.
Matlock Town, the historic centre around the parish church, is no longer central in modern Matlock. Further, the demolition (in 1967) of the headmaster’s house attached to the former Town School and the widening of the road here has destroyed the feel of an enclosed village green above the church.
But the character of the place is too strong to have been entirely lost. There are a number of historic houses in a cluster around the church. Immediately above is The Wheatsheaf which, as its name indicates, was once, a hundred years ago, a public house but long before that perhaps the medieval manor house. The date, 1681, on its façade no doubt relates to the seventeenth century dressed stone re-fronting of the building but the former roof lines on the far gable end and the limestone rubble of the side and rear walls betray its more ancient origin.
The Old Rectory
Beyond The Wheatsheaf lies the Old Rectory, set back in its own spacious grounds, though in these grounds two modem houses have now been built, one of which is the new Rectory. The Old Rectory appears at first glance to be a late eighteenth century building but its irregular plan is a clue to an earlier, more complex history. About 1980 the remains of a fifteenth century corbelled chimney were discovered in a room on the first floor.
Opposite the Old Rectory stands the former Town School. This was erected in 1870 and replaced in the 1990s by a new school higher up the hill. The Victorian building has been converted into housing.
At right angles to the old school stands the Duke William public house, of 1754, commemorating the Duke of Cumberland, the victor of Culloden, anathematised by Scots Jacobites but celebrated by eighteenth century Hanoverians, in Matlock as elsewhere.
The King’s Head, a little below, has been a private house since 1970. A date stone, which has now disappeared, indicated a date, 1628, entirely consistent with the surviving form of the fenestration. The reconstructed building to the east of the churchyard, on the far side of Stoney Way, has seventeenth century features, including a re-sited window high in the gable wall.
The hillside to the south of the church is known as Matlock Cliff. At its summit stands the ruins of Riber Castle. Built in the 1860’s by local industrialist John Smedley, the castle served as his residence, affirmed his status in the community and, as Professor Pevsner says, ‘formed an ideal eye-catcher for the poetical visitors to the baths’ on which Matlock’s prosperity had been founded. ‘Four grey walls and four grey towers’ transport us at once to the world of the Lady of Shalott. Sadly the castle has been derelict for many years, though there are now proposals for its rehabilitation.