Matlock, the Name

The earliest recorded mention of Matlock is in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name is there given in the form ‘Meslach’ which probably represents an alien scribe’s attempt to reproduce the local pronunciation since from 1196 the place is consistently referred to as ‘Matlac’, ‘Matloc’, or ‘Matloke’.

K. Cameron, The Place Names of Derbyshire, explains the meaning of the name as the ‘Maethel ac’, the oak where the moot (or meeting) was held’. In the triangular green to the west of the church and just below The Wheatsheaf there is indeed now an oak tree (of the turkey oak variety). This was planted in 1924 to replace a tree, in fact a sycamore, which blew down in a gale in 1903. This in its turn must have replaced an earlier tree or trees. Where else should one look for the site of the tree, which gave Matlock its name? It seems odd that the obvious conclusion should have been missed until now.

Church Street, formerly known as Tag Hill, is part of a significant ancient thoroughfare linking Wirksworth and Chesterfield; the medieval bridge over the Derwent at Cromford which replaced the earlier ford of the place name, testifies to the importance of the route. Only in the eighteenth century was a way cut through the rocks at Scarthin to allow a new road to Matlock Bath and beyond, following the line of what is now the A6.

A prominent landmark such as a solitary large oak tree beside a well trodden road would have identified a natural meeting place for an open-air public assembly and prompted the development of a settlement in its vicinity, especially one with the additional advantage of a sheltered, defensible position above the flood plain of a river.