Matlock Bath (Derbyshire): The Great Masson Cavern and the Great Rutland CavernMary Shelley
Matlock Bath (Derbyshire), Matlock Bath
Mary Shelly, Richard Rothwell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

About

Matlock Bath is a Derbyshire village primarily built on one side of the valley of the River Derwent near Matlock. In 1698 warm springs were discovered, and in the 19th century the village was developed as a spa town. Now, spectacular views of the Peak District, High Tor, and the scenery of the valley can be seen from the tourist attraction the Heights of Abraham, a hilltop park on top of Masson Hill. The park, which has been open since the Victorian period, can be accessed on foot or by a cable car. There are also two caves at the Heights of Abraham, the Great Masson Cavern and the Great Rutland Cavern, which wind their way deep underground, and through which visitors can explore the cavernous depths of the hillside.

Gothic heritage

In Mary Shelley’s iconic novel Frankenstein (first published in 1818), Victor Frankenstein and his friend, Henry Clerval, travel across Britain as Frankenstein flees his creation and his promise to make a female creature. The pair end up in Matlock bath, and Shelley writes:

"We left Oxford with regret and proceeded to Matlock, which was our next place of rest. The country in the neighbourhood of this village resembled, to a greater degree, the scenery of Switzerland; but everything is on a lower scale, and the green hills want the crown of distant white Alps which always attend on the piney mountains of my native country. We visited the wondrous cave and the little cabinets of natural history, where the curiosities are disposed in the same manner as in the collections at Servox and Chamounix. The latter name made me tremble when pronounced by Henry, and I hastened to quit Matlock, with which that terrible scene was thus associated."

Although this visit is fleeting in the novel, Matlock Bath and its wondrous cave is the perfect place to visit for anyone wanting to celebrate Shelley’s classic tale, and wanting to trace the footsteps of her notorious scientist Victor Frankenstein.

Other Literary heritage

Andrew Asibong’s 2013 novel, Mameluke Bath, is set in a futuristic version of Matlock Bath.

Further information

Celebrating Frankenstein’s bicentenary along with the gothic heritage of the Derbyshire village, Matlock Bath hosted the Frankenstein Festival in 2018. Inspired by the ghost story competition that sparked Shelley’s novel, the festival culminated in reading winning entries of its own short story competition in the appropriately Gothic ‘Wondrous Cave’ at the Heights of Abraham, complete with eerie green lighting.

Interesting fact

A famous visitor to Matlock Bath was Lord George Gordon Byron, who compared it to the Swiss Alps and gave the village the nickname ‘Little Switzerland.’ It was at his Villa Diodati in Geneva that the infamous evening of telling ghost stories happened with the Shelleys, spawning Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and perhaps inspiring her depiction of Matlock Bath in the novel.

For Visitors

You can find more information about visiting Matlock Bath at the following links:

https://www.visitpeakdistrict.com/explore/towns-and-villages/matlock-bath-p680391

https://www.visitpeakdistrict.com/things-to-do/attractions/caverns-and-caves

https://www.heightsofabraham.com/see-and-do/cavern-tours

http://www.thefrankensteinfestival.co.uk/