The Peacock, Rowsley

As many of you know, last year we bought a little bolt hole in Derbyshire. I fell for a cottage and it led me to the village of Rowsley, which I had never been to and knew nothing about. The village lies between Matlock and Bakewell and we are fortunate enough to have two wonderful historic houses, Haddon Hall and Chatsworth House, within walking distance of our front door. The night I fell in love with the house, I did what any history nut would do, and researched its history. It was a railway cottage built for the workers on the East Midlands Railway in 1886. However, the 1838 Tithe Map shows that it was built on land belonging to Haddon Hall, specifically in a piece of land called Nether Spring. This led me to change the name of the house from Strawberry Cottage to Nether Spring Cottage. Anyway, I digress, the point is that history dictates that we are “Team Haddon.”

The Peacock at Rowsley

Also on Team Haddon is the Peacock Hotel, which was built in 1652 for the steward to Haddon Hall. It then became the dower house for the Manners family, who still own Haddon Hall today. It was an inn by 1823 and soon gained renown for being one of the prettiest hotels in England. It was, and still is, much favoured by anglers as it sits on the River Derwent and the Haddon estate has a further three rivers running through it. Today it is a lovely hotel with 15 rooms and a restaurant with 3 AA rosettes.


Inns and public houses are always interesting to research. Because they had relatively large rooms, a cool cellar and could offer hospitality, they were often used to hold inquests for accidental deaths, in the past. A quick search of the British Newspaper Archive for the terms peacock, rowsley and inquest reveals the Peacock was used for this purpose on several occasions. The Derby Mercury of 25 July 1855 reports on the inquest for the Reverend Samuel Sunderland, who was killed when the last coach back from a pleasure trip to Chatsworth House tipped over turning from Rowsley Bridge into the railway yard. The coach was thought to have been overloaded, turned too sharply, or both. The verdict was “accidental death.” The Derbyshire Advertiser of 17 April 1863 reported on the inquest of a body found in the River Derwent by an angler. It was thought to have been in the water for some 6 or 7 weeks and was unidentifiable. The verdict on this one was “found drowned,” a pretty unfortunate death for the man, and also for any of his descendants trying to work out what on earth happened to their missing relative years later!

1870 saw one of my favourite verdicts “Died by Visitation of God, from natural causes” for Jacob Holmes a farmer of Rowsley who died suddenly in a barn. The Derbyshire Times on 26 July 1873 reports on a sad case in a pretty unsympathetic way. The piece was titled Inhuman Conduct of A Mother with the Dead Body of her Child and told of a Mary Ann Key, “a married woman living separately from her husband, and employed as a housekeeper for Thomas Hallows”  who had become ill and miscarried a child of about 4 months gestation and had put the body on the fire, as she was so ashamed. The verdict was “Still-born” but the jury also “expressed their horror and disgust at the way she had disposed of the body.” Poor woman. 1878 saw another coach accident. This time the coach was carrying people from Sheffield to visit Haddon Hall. Peter Warren fell from the top and one of wheels ran over his neck killing him instantly. It seems visiting historic houses could be a perilous pastime in the 19th century!

That was the last reported inquest held at the Peacock itself, but there was one last strange death reported in the Derby Daily Telegraph on 21 March 1974, which occurred at the hotel itself. A Mr Derrick Porritt, a history teacher at Stancliffe Hall Public School, who lived at the hotel, was found dead in his bathroom with 163 stab wounds. Incredibly, the police investigation concluded that the wounds were self-inflicted. A cousin testified that Mr Porritt had been worried about his financial position. All very odd. Presumably, the hotel was considerably cheaper to stay at than it is today!

The Peacock, Rowsley, Derbyshire