Natural history

Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1817.

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Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons, 'Natural history', in Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire, (London, 1817) pp. clxxxiv-cxcii. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

Daniel Lysons. Samuel Lysons. "Natural history", in Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire, (London, 1817) clxxxiv-cxcii. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

Lysons, Daniel. Lysons, Samuel. "Natural history", Magna Britannia: Volume 5, Derbyshire, (London, 1817). clxxxiv-cxcii. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,

In this section

Natural History.

Fossils and Minerals. —The mineral productions of Derbyshire are various and abundant, especially in the limestone strata, where lead ore is found in several forms, but most commonly in that of Galena or sulphuret of lead; that kind called slickemide, having a smooth glossy surface is found in the Odin mine near Castleton. A white lead ore, being a carbonate of lead, occurs in several mines; and green and yellow ores are found in some, though rarely. (fn. n1) A small portion of silver is frequently united with the lead, but not sufficient to be worth separating from it.

Copper ore has been found in small quantities in some of the Derbyshire mines. (fn. n2) The Ecton mine, though frequently spoken of as connected with this county, is within the borders of Staffordshire.

The coal district produces iron ore in great abundance, both in nodules and laminae, particularly in Morley-park, and at Winger worth, Chesterfield, and Stavely. (fn. n3)

The lapis calaminaris, or oxyd of zinc; the blende, black-jack, or sulphuret of zinc; and the ore of manganese, here called black-wad, are found in several of the lead mines; and pyrites in various forms in most of them. The ores of arsenic and antimony sometimes appear in small quantities, united with the lead ore.

Quartz crystals; various crystals of calcareous spar; and of fluor or fluate of lime; gypsum; selenite; barytes, here called cauk; steatite and sulphur, are among the fossil productions of this county: of these, the most admired is the fluor known by the appellation of Blue-John, or Derbyshire spar, found in the fissures of the limestone, particularly in the neighbourhood of Castleton (fn. n4); this substance, when polished, exhibits an infinite variety of shades of blue, purple, red, and yellow. Its peculiar beauty arises from a certain degree of transparency, which shews off these colours to advantage, and in the colours being striated in a direction contrary to the radii of the crystals, which compose the mass.

Petroleum, or rock-oil, being bitumen in a liquid state, is found in the black marble at Ashford; and formerly in great abundance in the limestone at Stony-Middleton. Elastic bitumen, a substance peculiar to this county, much resembling in appearance the caoutchouc, or Indian rubber, is found in the cavities of the Odin mine.

The coal, which abounds in this county in the parts already mentioned, is of several kinds, hard and soft, both of which burn to a white ash, and caking or crozling, as it is called, which usually burns to a red ash. (fn. n5)

The limestone of Derbyshire is of various colours, white, grey, yellow, blue, and black; and of various qualities, some being soft, and some sufficiently hard to be used as marble. When decomposed, the black limestone produces a substance called rotten-stone.

The toadstone of this county, also known by the names of black-stone, dun stone, channel, and cat-dirt, is a basaltic substance, a kind of trapp or amyg. daloid, of different colours and qualities; sometimes appearing in the form of a compact basalt, and sometimes soft, in a state of decomposition, approaching to clay.

Shale, clunch, and indurated clay, are found in various degrees of hard ness; and several kinds of clay and marie occur in different parts of the county. Lumps of fullers' earth are found in some of the gravel pits. (fn. n6)

Stalaetitical concretions abound in the caverns and fissures of the limestone strata; and the tufa or toph-stone, another calcareous concretion, inclosing the leaves of plants, and other substances, is also common in this county.

Few counties produce a greater number or variety of extraneous fossils than Derbyshire; the several strata of limestone, and some of gritstone, in this county, containing organic remains, both animal and vegetable, in great abundance.

Impressions of the leaves of plants, chiefly of the fern kind, are found in great abundance, in the nodules of iron-stone; and various other vegetable remains in the several strata of gritstone, and the iron-stone in the coal district. (fn. n7) One of the most remarkable, and of most frequent occurrence, is the fragment of a trunk or stem of some vegetable, sometimes nearly a yard in length, and 12 or 13 inches in circumference, thickly beset, in quincunx order, with holes, from the bottom of which rise small papillæ, and frequently inclosing a substance with a rough imbricated surface about one-sixteenth of its own thickness (fn. n8), passing through it (fn. n9) like a pith. The stem is sometimes surrounded with numerous slender lanceolate leaves proceeding from the papillæ. This fossil is most frequently found in the hard, light-coloured, silicious grit called crow-stone (fn. n10) : we observed it, with the leaves, in great abundance, among heaps of stones brought for mending the road, near North-Winfield. Petrified wood is found in the gravel-pits of this county. (fn. n11)

A great variety of coralline bodies (madreporæ, mileporæ, and tubiporæ) are found imbedded in the strata of limestone (fn. n12), and in chert: in the same strata, are seen the remains of entrochi or encrini, which are very abundant, particularly near Monyash and Bonsall, where the limestone in some places appears almost wholly composed of them. (fn. n13) They frequently occur in the chert, where the outer coat being destroyed, the inner part appears like a row of pulleys. (fn. n14)

Fossil shells abound in this county, especially in the limestone strata; where various bivalves,myæ (fn. n15), arcæ (fn. n16), and tellinæ (fn. n17), are found; and an infinite variety of anomiæ (fn. n18), some very minute and others not less than a foot in width. (fn. n19) Specimens of the gryphites are found in the red clay over the gypsum at Chellaston (fn. n20); and ostreopectines in the limestone at Castleton (fn. n21); as is the pinna, though rarely (fn. n22); a few bivalves occur in iron-stone. (fn. n23)

Of univalves, several varieties of the nautilus, the cornu ammonis, and the orthoceratites (fn. n24), are found in the strata of limestone, and a few specimens of the trochus, turbo, and helix.

A fossil unknown animal, much resembling those found at Dudley, at Coalbrook-Dale, and in Caermarthenshire, is sometimes, though rarely, met with in Derbyshire, principally in the black marble at Ashford. (fn. n25) The belemnite is also found in the limestone of this county, and plates and spines of echini at Castleton. (fn. n26)

A small alligator is said to have been discovered in the black marble at Ashford, and the tail and back of another. (fn. n27)

Indigenous Plants, either rare or not of general occurrence.

Names of the Plants. Where found. Authority.
Dipsacus pilosus Between Derby and Spondon (fn. n28) P. Dr. Johnson.
Gallium montanum Middleton-Dale P. Rev. D'Ewes Coke.
Polemonium cæruleum Near Matlock and elsewhere
Alisma ranunculoides Between Derby and Burton P. Mr.Whately.
Epilobium angustifolium Matlock and Darley P. Rev. D'Ewes Coke.
Daphne Mezereum Matlock and Chee-Tor P. Mr. Coke.
Paris quadrifolia Pinxton and Newton-wood P. Mr. Coke.
Arbutus uva ursi Woodlands Mr. Knowlton.
Saxifraga cæspitosa Castleton P. Mr. Coke.
—— hypnoides
Silene nutans Middleton-Dale P. Mr. Coke.
Arenaria verna Abundant amongst the lead-mines.
Sedum dasyphyllum Pinxton P. Mr. Coke.
Rubus chamæmorus On the mountains bordering on Cheshire and Yorkshire Mr. Knowlton.
Ranunculus lingua South-Normanton P. Mr. Coke.
Trollius Europæus Litton-Dale Botanists' Guide.
Ajuga Alpina Mountain above Castleton Mr. Dawson Turner.
Galeopsis versicolor Bet ween Matlock and Duffield Sir T. G. Cullum, Bart.
Arabis hispida Middleton-Dale Botanists' Guide.
Cardamine impatiens (fn. n29) Matlock P. Mr Coke.
Teesdalia(Iberis nudi caulis) Middleton-Dale P. Mr. Coke.
Erysimum cheiranthoides Near Ashborne Botanists' Guide.
Geranium sanguineum Near Buxton P. Mr. Woodward.
Lathyrus hirsutius South-Normanton P. Mr. Coke.
Vicia sylvatica Near Matlock-Bath B. G. Sir J. E. Smith.
Lactuca virosa Matlock P. Mr. Coke.
Carduus eriophorus Matlock B. G. Sir J. E. Smith.
Gnaphalium dioicum Between Hayfield and Kinder-Scout B. G. Mr. O. Sims.
Viola lutea Dove-Dale and in the Peak
Orchis hircina (Satyrium hircinum) Crich P. Mr. Coke.
(Listera) Ophrys cordata Ophrys muscifera Botrychium (Osmunda) lunaria Moor near Chatsworth Near Matlock Dethick B. G. Sir J. E. Smith. Botanists' Guide. P. Mr. Coke.
Polypodium calcareum Middleton-Dale Mr. Knowlton.
——dryoptera Chinley-Hill Botanists' Guide
Pteris crispa
Lycopodium alpinum P. Mr. J. Martin.
——selaginoides Mr. O. Sims.
—— inundatum Botanists' Guide.
Cyathea regia Limestone-rocks Mr. Knowlton.

Birds. — Kinder, in his MS. Natural History of Derbyshire, in speaking of rare birds, mentions " the siccasand, a long slender bird, something ruddie, the water-ousel, and the Granby crow." Pilkington mentions the hooded, or Royston crow, as sometimes seen, but not very common in Derbyshire; he speaks of the eagle as only occasionally seen for more than a century past: Willoughby says, that an eagle's nest was found in the Peak, near the Derwent, in 1668. Pilkington describes a great variety of falcons, which have been found in Derbyshire; but it does not appear that there is any evidence of the rarer sorts having bred in the county. There are black game in the Peak: ruffs and reeves are said to have formerly frequented Synfin-moor. Among the rarer birds of passage, Pilkington enumerates, the ring and rose-coloured ouzel, the Bohemian chatterer, and several water-fowl occasionally shot on the Derwent. A singular circumstance, connected with ornithology, has occurred in the parish of Ashover; on the cliff adjoining Overton-park is a rock, called as long as any person living can recollect, Raven's-Nest Torr; two ravens have constantly built their nest in this rock, and although it is taken every year, an apparatus having been fixed for many years to the rock for that purpose, yet the ravens constantly build in the same place.

Warm, Mineral, and other remarkable Springs. — The most noted warm, or rather tepid springs, in Derbyshire, are those at Buxton and Matlock.

The tepid springs at Buxton are numerous; the heat is uniformly 82o, in all seasons and circumstances. The water is remarkably pure, being very slightly impregnated with saline particles. (fn. n30) It is used both for bathing and internally, being chiefly recommended for gout, rheumatism, derangement of the biliary and digestive organs, and diseases of the urinary passages, for all of which it is in considerable repute. There are separate public baths for gentlemen, ladies, and the poor, and two private baths. The average number of visitors in the bathing season is computed at 700. These springs have been resorted to for medicinal purposes from the time of the Romans. (fn. n31)

The tepid springs at Matlock, which are three in number, are of much lower temperature than those at Buxton, the thermometer not rising higher in the bath than 68o. The water is extremely pure, and even less impregnated with mineral substances than that of Buxton. It does not appear that any actual analysis has been made of it. Dr. Percival observes, that it much resembles the Bristol water, both in chemical and medicinal qualities; and like that is recommended in hectic complaints, diabetes, &c. Matlock has probably more visitors in the course of the year than Buxton; but the greater number of them come chiefly for the sake of` amusement, and to admire the beauties of its scenery. (fn. n32) There are baths at Matlock, of which further mention is made in the parochial account.

There is no doubt that the waters at Bakewell were known to the Romans: the Saxon name, Bathecanwell, is taken from the baths. The temperature of the tepid chalybeate spring at Bakewell does not exceed 59 or 60 degrees. This water, which has been lately analysed by Mr. C. Sylvester, of Derby (fn. n33), is recommended as a tonic, (not being found to produce heat,) for indigestion, debility, and all complaints arising from an inactive state of the lymphatic vessels. As a bath it is recommended for chronic rheumatism. A large bath, erected over this spring about the year 1697, has lately been put into thorough repair. It is 17 feet high, 33 feet long, and 20 wide. Over the bath is a news and reading-room of the same length. At Bakewell also is a spring which has been found to contain in 60 quarts 13 cubic inches of sulphurated hydrogen. A complete analysis of it has not yet been made. (fn. n34) Its temperature is that of common water: it is supposed to be of about the same strength as the sulphureous spring at Kedleston, and useful in the same complaints.

The water in the tepid spring at Stony-Middleton much resembles that of Matlock, but is not so warm, being of only 63 degrees. The bath, which is open to the air is little frequented. There are tepid springs also at Stoke in Stony-Middleton, Brough near Hope, and at Cromfbrd. There was formerly also a tepid spring and a bath at Middleton in Wirksworth, but the water has been entirely lost.

The only sulphureous spring which of late years has been much in use is that at Kedleston: it is used externally for most cutaneous diseases, particularly those of an ulcerous nature; taken internally it is chiefly recommended as an antiscorbutic and diuretic. There is a convenient bath at this spring. Other sulphureous springs are at Agnes and Mudge meadows (three miles from Ashborne, on the road to Wirksworth); Bakewell (as beforementioned); Bradwell; Brassington; Cowley, near Dronfield; Kniveton; Millington-green, near Kirk-Ireton; Shottle, in Duffield; Shuttle wood, near Bolsover; West-Hallam; Whittington; and near Wirksworth town. (fn. n35)

At Cowley and Shuttlewood there are open baths, which are but little used; that at Shuttlewood is not even inclosed by a wall.

The most celebrated chalybeate water is that at Quarndon, two miles from Derby, and half a mile from the sulphureous spring at Kedleston. It is a good deal frequented in the summer season, and particularly recommended to persons of a weak and relaxed habit. There is a chalybeate spring at Buxton, much resembling that at Quarndon. Other chalybeate springs are at Ashover; Bakeweli (the tepid spring already mentioned); Birly, in Eckington (where was formerly an open bath); Bradley; Chesterfield; two at Duifield; Eccleston, in Youlgrave; Hope; Matlock; Morley-park; Shottle; Stanley; Tibshelf (much frequented a century ago); and Whittington. Mr. Farey enumerates Heage among the chalybeate springs: Pilkington calls this a martial vitriolic spring; and says, that it stops inward bleeding, and is good in ulcerous disorders.

Mr. Pilkington says, that he had heard of only one salt spring in Derbyshire, which was in the Peak, between Hope and Bradwell. Mr. Farey mentions this and another at Donisthorpe, near Measham.

All authors who have written on the springs of Derbyshire mention the intermitting spring in the Peak, about half a mile from Sparrow-pit, called Barmoor ebbing and flowing well. The intermission is not regular, and in dry seasons the ebbing and flowing sometimes ceases for several weeks. In wet seasons, the interval between ebbing and flowing is about five minutes. When we visited it, the season was rather dry, and we could observe no motion in it during. the space of half an hour. Tideswell took its name from a spring of this nature, which has long ceased to flow (fn. n36) : the site of the well is scarcely known.


  • n1. Farey, vol.i. p. 355.
  • n2. Ib. p. 252.
  • n3. Pilkington. vol. i. p. 132.
  • n4. See an account of the fluor mine in Mawe's Mineralogy of Derbyshire, p. 69.
  • n5. Farey, vol. i. p. 187.
  • n6. Farey, vol. i. p. 465.
  • n7. Many specimens of these are figured in Martin's " Petrificata Derbiensia," pl. 8 to 14. and pl. 19, 20, 25, 26, and 34. The figures in this work appear to be very accurately drawn.
  • n8. Parkinson's Organic Remains, vol. i. p. 435. It is figured in pl. iii. fig. i., and in Martin's work, pl. ii and 12.
  • n9. Dr. Woodward mentions a specimen of this fossil found at Higham in Scarsdale, which was five feet in length. Catal. vol. ii. p. 59. h. 34.
  • n10. Martin.
  • n11. Martin, pl. i.
  • n12. Ibid. pl. 17,18. 30, 31, 42,43, 44.
  • n13. Martin, pl. 2, 3,4. 24.
  • n14. Ibid, pl. 2. fig. 4.
  • n15. Ibid, pl. 27.
  • n16. Ibid, pl. 44. fig. i, 2.
  • n17. Pilkington, vol.i. p. 198.
  • n18. Martin, pl. 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 32, 33, 36, 37, and 46 to 49.
  • n19. Ibid, pl. 15, 16. Parkinson's Organic Remains, vol. iii. p. 263.
  • n20. Pilkington, vol. i. p. 199.
  • n21. Ibid
  • n22. Martin, pl. C.
  • n23. Ibid, pl. 27, 28, fig. 1, 2.
  • n24. Ibid, pl. 7, 35, 38 to 41.
  • n25. Ibid, pi. 45, *45. Pilkington. vol i. p. 200.
  • n26. Pilkington, vol.i. p. 198. Remains of the skeleton of an animal, a good deal resembling that of the crocodile, abound in the strata of blue lias in Somersetshire, and Dorsetshire, which is supposed by Sir Everard Home to have been an unknown animal, in several particulars resembling a fish. See Philosophical Transactions for 1816, p.571.
  • n27. Whitehurst's Theory, p. 184.
  • n28. Those which are marked P. are the authorities quoted in Pilkington's History of Derbyshire.
  • n29. Formerly called Cardamine petræa.
  • n30. The result of Dr. Pearson's analysis was, that 15 grains of residuum, yielded by a gallon of water, contained 13/4 grains of muriate of soda, 21/2 sulphate of lime, and 10x/2 carbonate of June, held in solution by a slight excess of carbonic acid.
  • n31. See more of the history of Buxton and its waters in the Parochial History.
  • n32. It was not till about the year 1730 that there were any accommodations for visitors at Mat lock-bath. Previously to that time there was no road through the valley, and the roads approach ing to it are spoken of as abounding in danger. Defoe, in his Tour through England, published a few years before, says, "This bath would be much more frequented than it is, if a sad stony mountainous road which leads to it, and no good accommodation when you are there, did not hinder; for from the bath you are to cross over the meadows, and then ascend a Derbyshire hill, before you meet with a house of refreshment. For some miles before you come to Mat lock, you pass over barren moors, in perpetual danger of slipping into coal-pits and lead-mines, OJ ride for miles together on the edge of a steep hill, on solid slippery rock or loose stones, with a valley underneath, the bottom of which you can hardly discover with your eye."
  • n33. It was found to contain, in ten wine-quarts of wate,
    Crystalised sulphate of lime Grains.
    Super-carbonate of lime 20
    Crystalised sulphate of magnesia 22
    Muriate of magnesia 1.6
    Super-carbonate of iron 3.1
  • n34. Mr. Carrington, a surgeon at Bakewell, is preparing for the press an account of this and other mineral waters at and near Bakewell.
  • n35. Farey and Pilkington.
  • n36. It continued to ebb and flow, but irregularly, when visited by Mr. John Martyn, in 1729. — Pilkington.