Who build Riber Castle in Matlock and why?

Riber Castle is a 19th century Grade II listed building in Matlock, Derbyshire. It was build by local business man John Smedley in 1862 in the “gothic” style of architecture and intended to be his home where he lived with his wife. Locally it is known as “Smedley’s folly” due to the difficulty he had in getting a water supply to the summit of the hill he built it on.

John Smedley was born in 1803 and had a successful business career. He inherited his fathers cotton manufacturing company based in Lea Bridge, which he then diversified into wool and still survives to his day.

Smedley’s success and growing wealth enabled other commercial projects such as Smedley’s Hydro. The hydrotherapy business became so lucrative, it opened the door to other opportunities. Smedley built a resort for those seeking to relax and rejuvenate in the Matlock Springs where they could enjoy his service of hydrotherapy on tap.

Riber Castle is built on the hill overlooking Matlock and has a great view down onto the hydro. It’s location is so prominent it can be seen all the way down the A6 to Rowsley.

riber castle view matlock

After it’s initial used what did it go on to be used for?

After the death of Smedley and his wife the castle enjoyed a brief stint as a prep school up until the 1930s. The castle was then occupied by the MOD and used for provisions storage during World War II.

In 1960 Riber Zoo opened its doors to the public and was home to a variety of animals. Notably it was home to the European Lynx and ran a successful breeding program that saw some exported and released in a Spanish national park. The Zoo’s remained open for the next 4 decades finally closing after a change of hands that lead to some criticism surrounding animal welfare.

What’s happened in it’s most recent history?

Riber Castle was used as a filing location for the 2004 Thriller and cult hit Dead Man Shoes staring Paddy Considine and directed by Shane Meadows which was shot on location in Matlock.

dead mans shoes matlock

In 2006 the site was bought by a developer with the dream to convert it into luxury apartments whilst keeping the external appearance true to Smedley’s design. This is where the castle’s story ends. With over 8 million pounds spent to date and the completion target of 2014 long past the development has stalled and the site stands vacant except the 24 hour on site security.

I would love to be the commercial painter and decorator who is contracted in once the development gets going again but who knows when that will be.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Riber Castle and I look forward to your thoughts on the subject.

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