A Brief History Of This Scenic Peak District Village
Great Rowsley and Little Rowsley, separated by the River Derwent, unite as a village whose pretty, neat appearance almost belies its industrial past. Lying at the confluence of rivers Wye and Derwent, Rowsley’s scenic setting attracted notable nineteenth-century artists, anglers and poets for whom the Peacock Hotel provided suitably high-class accommodations. Built in 1652 as a residence for John Stevenson in keeping with his position as ‘Man of Affairs’ to Grace, Lady Manners, it became a hotel in 1828 at which the village’s two posting inns, The Nag’s Head and The Red Lion, closed down.
A peacock graces the coat-of-arms of the Dukes of Rutland, sole owners and Lords of the Manor of early Rowsley. In 1840 the Duke provided the village school and adjoining master’s house and, in 1854, the land and much of the building costs of St. Katherine’s Church, where Lord John Manners, future Seventh Duke of Rutland, erected a lovely memorial statue to his young wife and their baby daughter, depicted lying side by side and guarded by two angels. St. Katherine’s also has two treasures of greater antiquity – the churchbell, which originally hung in the chapel of Haddon Hall, and a large fragment of the head of a seventh-century preaching cross found in the River Wye.
Nineteenth Century Prosperity
The prosperity of nineteenth-century Rowsley was assured by the railway for in 1849 the village lay on the new branch line from Ambergate, with a station building designed by the famous Paxton. The line was eventually extended to Manchester, a major customer for building stone from Rowsley quarries.
From Burntwood Quarry and Boden’s stone merchants were despatched wagonloads of dressed stone and thousands of high quality ‘Derbyshire Peak Millstones’, many for export. The most up-to-date machinery produced tooled or polished flagstones and pavers, in addition to troughs and cisterns for farmers, brewers, chemical and cement manufacturers. Boden’s also met a high demand for their exceptionally pure fluorspar, alabaster for sculptors, Derbyshire spa for ornamental carriage drives and pleasure grounds, and tufa stone for the grottoes and rockeries of fashionable Victorian gardens. Rowsley churchyard itself boasts a large tufa rockery, as does the roadside garden of ‘the Beeches’, against whose boundary wall stands a stone fountain commemorating the 1841 coronation of Queen Victoria, alongside a village seat erected at the coronation of our present Queen.
A stone lamp-post opposite the Peacock Hotel bears a worn carving of 1867, expressing the gratitude of one John Holmes for fifty years’ residence in Rowsley. To this side of the road a carefully tended garden and climbing roses front the homely village hall, and across the narrow Wye bridge is the beautifully situated recreation ground.