Bridge waits 127 years for first official ceremony

The reopening of Matlock Bath's Jubilee Bridge today (Wednesday 23 July) seems certain to be the first time any official ceremony has taken place in the landmark's 127-year history.

No fuss was made when the bridge first opened in August 1887 as building works were behind schedule and therefore missed celebrations marking Queen Victoria's golden jubilee, which took place two months before, in June 1887.

Jubilee BridgeNo such problems were encountered this time around as Jubilee Bridge reopened on budget and on time for the District Council's annual Matlock Bath Illuminations season, which starts on Saturday 6 September.

Local historian Rosemary Thacker's research into the bridge - reopened after two months of renovations and now looking exactly the way it did back in 1887 - has revealed other fascinating facts.

  • The residents of Matlock Bath raised the money themselves for the bridge and new gardens on the promenade through public subscription and were immensely proud of their achievement. Later the bridge was handed over to the local council.
  • Before the bridge was built, the only way to get across to the other side of the Lovers’ Walks on the far side of the River Derwent was by ferry, including a “rope ferry” where travellers were pulled across in a boat by the owner. There were no boats on Sundays.
  • Jubilee Bridge therefore meant locals and visitors could cross the river free of charge for the first time.
  • But this didn’t last. Much to the consternation of local people – who had themselves raised the money to build Jubilee Bridge – a decision was made to place a turnstile on the bridge and make a charge to raise cash for the building of what became the Grand Pavilion in Matlock Bath.

Derbyshire Dales District Council commissioned the restoration of Jubilee Bridge earlier this year and work started at the end of April to make it structurally sound for the future.

Main contractors G.F Tomlinson Ltd of Derby have ensured all metalwork has been blast cleaned and defective metal re-plated, and the entire bridge re-painted with a 20-year guarantee. New floodlighting has been installed to pick out the bridge at night-time in ever-changing colours.

The Partingtons from Sheffield - one of the first families to cross the renovated Jubilee BridgeConnecting Matlock Bath's Promenade with the famous Lovers' Walks, the iconic bridge already has admirers. One of the first families to cross after its reopening were the Partingtons from Sheffield - mum Lydia, dad Jamie and daughters Joni and Clarice. 

Lydia Partington said:

"It's a beautiful restoration and the bridge looks absolutely amazing on a sunny day like today.  It only took us around half an hour to get to Matlock Bath – and it's such a lovely place not only for mum and dad to enjoy, but the children too."

Earlier this year Rosemary Thacker unearthed a newspaper article from 1887 which revealed Jubilee Bridge was originally painted in four colours - the outer faces of the main girders in a 'warm stone', the inner parts of the girders 'bluish grey', scroll work 'deep chocolate' and finials picked out in 'golden yellow'.

These colours have been replicated using modern available paint, with the revised colours replacing a maroon and cream scheme introduced in 1987. 

Cllr Mrs Carol Walker cuts the ribbon to officially reopen the bridgeChairman of the District of the Derbyshire Dales Councillor Carol Walker, who cut the ribbon to officially reopen the bridge at 11am on Wednesday, said:

“This is the first facelift for the Jubilee Bridge since its centenary year and we are grateful to Rosemary Thacker for helping to make the restoration as authentic as possible.

“So soon after our present Queen drove past the bridge on her recent visit to the Dales, it is exciting to think that it now looks exactly the way it did when first unveiled to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

“We made the money available for the work from our capital programme after local people, traders and the local media correctly pointed out that the bridge was in need of attention. With this year’s Illuminations only six weeks away, I am sure local people and visitors to Matlock Bath will approve of the transformation.”

The opening group included Cllr Walker, Deputy Leader of Derbyshire Dales District Council Cllr Geoff Stevens MBE, District Council ward members Cllr Garry Purdy and Cllr Bob Cartwright, Matlock Bath Parish Council vice chairman Cllr Michael Wilderspin, Andrew Pugh of the Heights of Abraham attraction and representatives from main contractor GF Tomlinson of Derby.

  • The Royal link with Matlock Bath began on 22 October 1832 when the then Princess (later Queen) Victoria visited, returning for a second visit in 1844.
  • Later, she recalled how, when in Matlock Bath, she looked out of her hotel window and saw the candle lights reflected in the River Derwent that flows through the centre of the village. The twinkling lights made a lasting impression on the young Princess and later inspired Matlock Bath’s annual Illuminations.
  • These visits served to enhance the reputation of the resort - and later the advent of the railway brought in 'day trippers' by the score. It was at this time that Matlock Bath developed its inland 'seaside' resort image it still carries today.
  • So Jubilee Bridge and the Illuminations are inextricably linked - and even today it was important to get Jubilee Bridge reopened in time for the 2014 Illuminations season (6 September – 25 October).
  • The Illuminations started in 1897, 10 years after the opening of Jubilee Bridge, to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, when Matlock Bath was illuminated by fairy lamps and Chinese and Japanese lanterns with a torchlight procession through the village - followed by a procession of illuminated boats on the river. The limestone gorge rock face was decorated with coloured bonfires.


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