The Smith family’s empire remembered

As the popular Matlock Bath Illuminations continue to draw in the crowds, the Mercury looks back at one river–faring family who were involved in the spectacular since the 18th Century.

Friday, 3rd October 2014, 4:45 pm

The Smith family were well–known business owners in Matlock Bath, owning the row boats in the resort from the end of the 1800s and dressing them up to take part in the Venetian Nights fete.

The first of the family to win a prize in the boat show was William Smith, who took second place in 1897. Afterwards, Samuel Smith won second place with a boat dressed as the Liverpool to the Isle of Man ferry.

Samuel again took second place in 1907.

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The family was finally victorious in 1933 when Arthur Smith, aged just 14 at the time, won first place with a boat dressed as a gondola.

Over the years the Smith’s celebrated further successes with boats in the shape of Noah’s Ark and the Jubilee State Bridge, until the start of World War One when the Venetian fete committee was dissolved.

Glenis Smith, who is married to Arthur Smith’s son, Jeremy, said: “After the war Arthur Smith, Wilfred Wright and Ramo Tinti helped reformed the Venetian fete committee.

“In the early 1950s Arthur won first prize the Arkwright Cup for the mermaid featuring one of his daughters Patricia Smith.”

In the early days the boats were illuminated using candles placed in holders, rather than electric lights.

Throughout the decades, the Smiths owned several other businesses in Matlock Bath, including the petrifying well, The Royal Museum, which is where the Princess Victoria pub is now, a cafe and a chip shop.

Arthur Smith made Blue John jewellery, which was sold in the resort.

“He even made some Blue John goblets for then Queen’s coronation in 1953,” Glenis added.

Arthur Smith died in 1967 and the Smith’s Matlock Bath empire died with his wife Hazel, in 1979.

Jeremy, who now lives in Matlock, explained: “My dad had always drummed into me to get a trade because for something to do during the winter, because in winter Matlock Bath was dead – so I took up engineering.”

He continued with the profession after his mother passed away.

Jeremy has fond memories of the illuminations from his youth.

“They used to be a real community thing in Matlock Bath,” he said.

“They were fantastic. Prior to it opening all the youngsters would help with what they called ‘bulbing’, and literally you had to be like a monkey climbing all over the boats and fitting bulbs.”

He said Matlock Bath, alongside Blackpool and Walsall, used to be renowned for its illuminations and the three towns would swap lights so that they had something different to show visitors every year.

The Matlock Bath Illuminations are continuing throughout October. For further information and to book tickets, visit