Famous People

Amber Valley has a wealth of interesting and sometimes colourful tales to tell about days gone by. The area has a realm of historical buildings just waiting for stories from their past to be discovered. The area's also been home to many famous people, both past and present, all adding to the interesting history of this beautiful valley.


Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots was arrested and imprisoned at Wingfield Manor for several years.

She was born in Scotland during 1542. The daughter of James V, became Queen at only 6 days old when her father died.  Her French mother sent Mary to live with the French Royal Family in France.  Mary later married King Henri ll's eldest son Francois, who was to inherit the title of King once his father died.

When Francois died in 1560, eighteen-year-old Mary returned to Scotland.  These were troubled times with much tension between Protestants and Catholics.  Queen Mary and many Roman Catholics felt that Mary was the legitimate heir to the English Throne.  Many people viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate, refusing to accept her parents', Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's, marriage as legal and that as the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister, Mary should be Queen of England.

Mary married her first cousin, Henry Darnley.  This marriage strengthened Mary's' descendants claim to the English throne.  1566 Mary gave birth to a son, James.  Her marriage to Henry was not a happy one and when he died mysteriously whilst recovering from Smallpox, suspicion fell upon Mary and her close friend the Earl of Bothwell. When Mary married Bothwell some months later the Scottish public rebelled against their Queen forcing her to flee to England.

Queen Mary sort protection from Queen Elizabeth, who refused imprisoning her instead.  For over a 19-year period Queen Mary was imprisoned in many places in England.  Whilst imprisoned at Wingfield Manor, in the village of South Wingfield, Queen Mary was prosecuted for conspiring to over throw Queen Elizabeth, in what was later to become known as the Babington Plot.  As a result of this plot Queen Mary was later beheaded.


Anthony Babington
Born in Dethick, Derbyshire, during 1561, Anthony Babington was son of Sir Henry Babington a wealthy Derbyshire landowner.

Babington served as a page to Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment at Sheffield.  In 1586 Babington was persuaded by John Ballard and other catholic emissaries to lead a conspiracy aiming to murder Queen Elizabeth and release Mary from her imprisonment at Wingfield Manor.  Coded messages were sent to Mary at Wingfield Manor.  These messages were intercepted by Queen Mary's secretary, Francis Waisingham and were later used against her. Badington fled but was captured at Harrow and executed with his other conspirators


John Flamstead

Born in Denby,  in 1646, John Flamstead was one of the great pioneers of astronomy.  His main legacy is the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, London and he became the King's first Astronomer Royal in 1675.  He remained at Greenwich for more than 40 years, pursuing his observations and improving the instruments. 

Two Centuries later the Royal Observatory was designated, at an international convention, as defining the prime meridian of longitude.  Flamstead could not have imagined when choosing the location for his observatory that his choice would be imprinted on maps and drawn in every country of the World.


Jedediah Strutt

Jedediah Strutt came from relatively modest beginnings, which makes his story all the more remarkable as he became responsible for the growth and prosperity of Belper, which was to develop from a small village to a thriving market town.

He was born of farming stock in South Normanton during 1726 and later married Elizabeth Woollat whose family had a hosiery business in Derby. 

It was Jedediah's early work on the mechanisation of the knitting industry that was to help determine his later success.  Jedediah Strutt invented and patented in 1766, an attachment for the Lee knitting machine, enabling it possible to produce ribbed knitting.  This became known as 'Derby Rib' and was a great boost to the whole of East Midlands hosiery industry.  The success of this invention was the pinical of Strutt's later success as it gave him the financial ability to assist Richard Arkwright's development of the cotton mills and later to pursue mill building itself.

In 1776 Jedediah Strutt built his first cotton mill in Belper. In the early 1780's Strutt and Arkwright stopped being business partners and pursued their own interests.  Strutt's first mill was added to in 1786 with another timber-framed development 'North Mill'.

Jedediah Strutt was renouned as being a fair employer.  He ensured that his workers were well fed and housed, received medical assistance and education but expected hard work and good behaviour.

Jedediah Strutt died in 1797 aged 70, although much of the building work he initiated continued for many years afterwards.


Sir Richard Arkwright

Born in Preston, Lancashire in 1732, the thirteenth child of a tailor.  As a young man Arkwright worked as a barber and wig maker, travelling around the country selling his wigs.  His travels brought him in contact with people from the cotton trade and he realised that there was a demand for an efficient spinning machine.

 Before mechanization, spinning had always been done by hand or foot in small workshops or by home workers.  It was a slow process and it was difficult to keep up with the knitters and weavers who turned yarn into cloth or garments.

 In 1769 Arkwright succeeded in inventing a machine for spinning cotton that since it was powered by water, became known as the Waterframe.  In order to finance the patenting of the machine, Arkwright found two partners John Smalley and David Thornley.  Once the patent was approved he added two more partners, Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need.  Together they opened a horse-powered mill in Nottingham, however horsepower proved expensive and so in 1771 Arkwright established the first successful water powered cotton mill at Cromford.  This mill is now open to visitors.

 Arkwright was knighted in 1786 and became High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787.


William Jessop

William Jessop was a noted English civil engineer, particularly famed for his work on developing various transport networks, including canal and rail during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

William Jessop was born in Devonport, Devon, in 1745, a son of a shipwright known to leading civil engineer John Smeaton through his work on the Eddystone Lighthouse.  When Jessop's father died John Smeaton, who also acted as his guardian, took him on as a pupil.  After working for some years as Smeaton's assistant, Jessop increasingly began to work as an engineer in his own right.

In 1790 he founded, with fellow engineer Benjamin Outram, an iron-works in Butterley near Ripley, Derbyshire.  Butterley Iron Works began to manufacture fish-bellied cast-iron rails, which marked an important advance in railway technology.


Curzon Family

The Curzon family originated from Normandy, but settled in the Kedleston area as far back as the 12th century.  In 1758, Sir Nathanial Curzon inherited the estate and very quickly instigated plans to demolish the old building and build a grand mansion with Italian influences. Sir Nathanial Curzon employed Robert Adam a famous Scottish architect to build Kedleston Hall.


Benjamin Outram

Benjamin Outram was one of the most remarkable civil engineers of the early Industrial Revolution.  He was born in 1764 in Alfreton, Derbyshire, the son of a land agent.

Outram assisted William Jessop on the Cromford Canal but soon became a leading engineer and canal surveyor. He worked on many canals in the East Midlands, including the Nottingham and Nutbrook canals.  He also worked on an improved system of horse drawn railways, using L section cast iron plate rails on stone sleepers, supervising the construction of several hundred of miles of track including many lines from collieries to nearby canals.

In 1790 Outram established, along with William Jessop, the Butterley Iron Works, the largest coal and iron works in the East Midlands, and was responsible for the export of iron products all over the world.


William Strutt

William Strutt was the son of Jedediah Strutt.

When the original timber-built North Mill in Belper was burnt down in 1803, William rebuilt it with an iron frame.  This mill was considered to be one of the most technologically advanced industrial buildings in the World, being fireproof.  This building was then followed by two more buildings the West Mill and the Reeling Mill in 1808.  The Strutt empire was expanding at such a rate that at a later date Jedediah Strutts first mill was cleared making way for a new five story South Mill in 1812.

Many of these developments are no longer visible today, however the East Mill still dominates the landscape today and the North Mill is now home of the Derwent Valley Visitor Centre.


Joseph Borne
Joseph Borne was born in 1788 the son of a local potter of some repute.  Joseph followed in his father's footsteps.  The early years of the nineteenth century were already seeing the early stages of the industrial revolution with many turnpike roads being developed increasing links between various towns and opening up new opportunities. 

During the construction of the Alfreton turnpike, Joseph Borne, discovered some high quality clay, with his experience he was able to see the worth of this clay and he obtained a lease for the clay bed.  In 1809 Denby Pottery was established.  It started as a small business and as the business became more successful the premises grew into what we now know as Denby Pottery.


John King
John King of Pinxton and Heanor invented a mine cage arrester in 1850 and transformed pit safety worldwide.  A model of his invention is held with the Heanor Heritage Trust.


Florence Nightingale - Centenary Year 2010

Florence Nightingale, born in Florence, Italy in 1820, daughter to Derbyshire landowner and industrialist, William Edward Shore and Francis Smith, revolutionised nursing to become the most famous woman of the 19th Century. 

During the Crimean war, she became the legendary 'Lady of the Lamp', whose shadow the sick soldiers kissed as she passed through their wards.  She was a powerful organiser and strict disciplinarian who worked tirelessly to improve conditions. 

Although she spent much of her time in London, she retained her connections with Holloway, visiting the family's house, Lea Hurst, during the summer months.  It was during her summers at Lea Hurst that Florence's passion for nursing developed.  She spent her time visiting the elderly and the sick in their homes and set up reading rooms at Whatstandwell and Holloway.  She provided books for Lea Primary School and provided the services of a doctor for the village poor.  Once a year, star pupils of the school were invited to tea at Lea Hurst. 

After the death of her father in 1874, she nursed her mother at Lea Hurst, Holloway, until her death in 1880.  During this period, she supervised improvements to the water supply and drainage in the local area before returned to London where she died in relative obscurity in 1910. 

Although many features of the Nightingale estate remain in the villages of Lea and Holloway, none are usually open to the public. Take advantage of the Florence Nightingale Festival to participate in the family Heritage Festival and access the private records. 


George Stephenson

George Stephenson built Midland Railway through Derbyshire.  He bisected what is now the Borough of Amber Valley with his railway in 1840. The cuttings and retaining walls through Belper are regarded as one of the great civil engineering feats of the period. His surveying tower can be seen at Milford.


John Marsden Smedley

Born 1851, John Marsden Smedley, spent much of his life in the village of Lea.  As well as being the local squire, he was also the owner of John Smedley Ltd, a manufacturer of fine woollen garments, (still thriving today).  In 1895 he rebuilt the farm of Lea Green into a fine house which is used today as a sports and conference centre.  In 1935 John Marsden-Smedley was inspired, perhaps by his visits to Bodmant and Exbury, to build his own rhododendron garden on a site located behind his existing garden.  He made a collection of 350 varieties of specie and hybrid rhododendrons and azaleas in a two acre site which he developed before his death in 1959, aged ninety-two.  Lea Gardens, as it's now known, can be visited daily from mid March to the end of June.


Robert Watchorn

Born in Alfreton during 1858. At the age of 21 he left the local colliery to emigrate to America.  After working in the coal mines in Pennsylvania he became involved in the trade unions eventually becoming a Union boss, Commissioner of Immigration and made a fortune in the oil industry.  Robert Watchorn never forgot the place of his birth and used some of his wealth to re-build the area of the town from which he orginated.


Barnes Wallis

Born in Ripley 1887, the son of a local Doctor, he was to become the 20th Century's most prominent aeronautical engineer developing airships, bouncing bombs, swing-wing aircraft and Concorde.  Barnes Wallis originally trained as a marine engineer but turned his hand to aircraft design in the early 1900s.

From the beginning of WW2 Barnes Wallis had been toying with the idea of how to destroy the big dams at Moehne, Eder and Sorpe on the Ruhr, which held back water, vital to the German war effort.  Barnes came up with the idea of the bouncing bomb after recalling how he used to skim pebbles across lakes during his childhood.  The bomb would need to explode next to the dam wall and below the water surface in order to produce a breach.  The idea was developed and in May 1943, a special handpicked crew raided the dams, successfully breaching Mohne and Eder dam. 


Ellen MacArthur

Ellen MacArthur, born in 1976, grew up in Whatstandwell, Derbyshire.  She first came to prominence when she finished second in the Vendee Globe round-the-world race in 2001.  Later that year she received the MBE from the Queen, and was handerd the freedom of the Borough of Amber Valley in April 2002.  On the 7th February 2005, at 2229 (GMT), Ellen broke the previous world record for the fastest single-handed around the world voyage, completing the journey in 71 days and under 15 hours.


John Tams

Tom Sharpe, actor, musician, producer.  Born February 1949 in Holbrook, Derbyshire, John Tams, is perhaps best known for his role, as Daniel Hagman the rifleman in popular ITV Napoleonic War Series, Sharpe, starring Sean Bean. He has appeared in numerous films and television series, as well as working in local and national theatre.  He has also made over 50 albums as either singer, musician or producer.  His first solo album, Unity, was released in 2001, winning Album of the Year with the song Harry Stone winning Song of the Year at the BBC Folk Awards.


Alan Bates

Born in Derbyshire in 1934, he attended Herbutt Strutt Grammer School in Belper where he won a scholarship to RADA.  He launched his film career in The Entertainer in 1960, quickly followed by Whistle Down the Wind and The Caretaker. He went on to appear in many period productions, notably Far From the Madding Crowd, The Go-Between and Ken Russell's Women in Love.  On television he scored a notable success in the title role of the BBC serial, The Mayor of Casterbridge, in 1978.  Alan Bates was knighted in the New Year Honours of 2003.


Gwen Taylor

Born Gwendoline Allsop, better known as the actress Gwen Taylor, was born in Crich, Derbyshire in 1939 where she lived for the first 11 years of her life.  She became a popular actress appearing in a diverse range of television, film and theatre over the years, including Sounding Brass in 1980, Duty Free in 1984, A Bit of a Do 1989, and most recently Heartbeat.


Robert Lindsay

The son of a carpenter, Robert Lindsay was born in Ilkeston.  He became a household name as Wolfie in the 1977 sitcom 'Citizen Smith.' Since then, he has appeared in a diverse range of roles and parts in television, films and stage productions in which he has won a large number of acting awards on both sides of the Atlantic.

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