Derbyshire's Literary Connections - Famous Writers with a Derbyshire ConnectionDerbyshire's Literary Connections
Famous Writers with a Derbyshire Connection


Derbyshire's Literary Connections

Famous Writers with a Derbyshire Connection

Derbyshire and the Peak District has not produced a Charles Dickens or a William Shakespeare but has attracted a wide range of literary visitors and admirers over the years.

As far back as 1586 Elizabethan historian William Camden, was writing about the Wonders of the Peak, naming nine of them in his Britannia. Thomas Hobbes published his De Mirabilibus Pecci: Concerning the Wonders of the Peak in Darby-shire in 1636, followed by Charles Cotton's The Wonders of the Peak in 1681, probably the first successful guidebook to the region. The Wonders were Pooles Cavern and St Annes's Well at Buxton, Peak Cavern at Castleton, Eldon Hole, Mam tor, the Ebbing and Flowing Well at Barmoor Clough, Peak Forest and later Chatsworth House.

Then came Celia Fiennes, who from 1685 until 1703 travelled extensively around England alone apart from two servants. On her journey Celia kept notes in her journal about the places she visited and provided the first comprehensive survey of England since Camden. Celia Fiennes died in 1741. Her journal was discovered in 1885 and published three years later under the title, 'Through England on a Side Saddle'.

Of Derbyshire, Celia Fiennes wrote, 'All Derbyshire is full of steep hills, and nothing but the peakes of hills as thick one by another is seen in most of the county which are steepe which makes travelling tedious, and the miles long, you see neither hedge nor tree but only low drye stone walls round some ground, else its only hills and dales as thick as you can imagine,'

Celia Fiennes was followed 30 years later by Daniel Defoe on his 'Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain' in 1726, who dismissed Hobbes and Cotton's wonders except for Eldon Hole and Chatsworth, of which he described as 'one a wonder of nature, the other of art'. The landscpe to his eyes was just a 'howling wilderness' and he found the Peakrills, 'a rude boorish kind of people'.

These webpages offer a little information about some of the other literary 'notables' who have travelled through, stayed or lived in Derbyshire. If anyone has anymore information on the connections these people or others, have with the county and would like to share it with readers please email us.

Jane Austen 1775 - 1817

Jane Austen was an English novelist, the daughter of a clergyman. Today she is regarded as one of the great masters of the English novel. She spent the first 25 years of her life at 'Steventon', her father's Hampshire vicarage. Here her first novels, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey, were written, although they were not published until much later. On her father's retirement in 1801, the family moved to Bath for several years and then to Southampton, settling finally at Chawton Cottage, near Alton, Hampshire, which was Jane's home for the rest of her life. Northanger Abbey, a satire on the Gothic romance, was sold to a publisher for £10 in 1803, but as it was not published, was bought back by members of the family and was finally issued posthumously. The novels published in Austen's lifetime were Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Persuasion was issued in 1818 with Northanger Abbey. The author's name did not appear on any of her title pages, and although her own friends knew of her authorship, she received little public recognition in her lifetime.

It is generally believed that Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice was partly written in Bakewell which she calls 'Lambton' in her novel, possibly staying at the Rutland Arms in the centre of the town. offers much information on the life and works of Jane Austen.

Charlotte Bronte 1816 - 1855

Charlotte Bronte visited her close friend Ellen Nussey whose brother Henry was the vicar of Hathersage in 1845. She stayed for three weeks at the vicarage, around the same time that she was writing Jayne Eyre, which was published in 1847.

The name of the heroine in the novel and descriptions of places seem to tie in with the Hathersage locality. Her description of Thornfield Hall, 'three stories high, of proportions not vast, though considerable; a gentleman's residence, not a nobleman's seat; battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look', seem to match that of the 15th century manor house of North Lees Hall. 'Morton' in her book is possibly a rename of Hathersage.

Charlotte Bronte is Elizabeth Gaskell "The Life of Charlotte Brontë".

Charles Cotton 1630 - 1687

Charles Cotton, English writer, angler and friend of Izaak Walton, was born in 1630 in Beresford, on the Staffordshire, Derbyshire border. His mother was Olive, daughter of Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston, Derbyshire and his father a wealthy landowner with many literary connections.

He was well educated, with a good knowledge of french, italian as well as the classics, but it usure as to wether he went to Cambridge.

In 1656 Cotton married Isobella Hutchinson, daughter of Sir Thomas Hutchinson of Owthorpe, Notts. Two years later his father died, leaving him the considerable estates at Beresford and Bentley. The River Dove flows through Beresford Dale and it is here that he learnt to fly fish and possibly where he met up with Izaak Walton who befriended him for many years.

In 1664 he published a burlesque titled Scarronicles, which became a popular work which ran into 14 editions. His pleasant, unaffected verse includes "An Ode to Winter and "The Retirement. He also wrote burlesques of Vergil (1664) and Lucian (1665) and a translation of Montaigne's Essays (1685-86).

His wife died in 1670, leaving him 3 sons and 5 daughters. He remarried in 1675 to Mary Russell, daughter of Sir William Russell, and widow of the Earl of Ardglass.

He spent a great deal of time fishing with Izaak Walton and together they built a fishing temple on the banks of the River Dove in Beresford Dale near Hartington, bearing the inscription Piscatoribus Sacrum. The temple still stands, on private land.

Two years later he wrote the celebrated second part of Walton's 5th edition of 'The Compleat Angler'. The work was the first detailed treatice on fly-fishing.

He also wrote 'The Wonders of the Peake', a long topographical poem popular in the 18th century. This and his other poetry, published posthumous reflect Cotton's enjoyment of life.

Cotton's later years were marred by financial difficulties, his income from his estates and writings being insufficient to support his life style and he had to sell Beresford Hall in 1681.

He died in 1687 and is buried in St James's Church, Picadilly, London.

There is a family pew in the small church at Alstonefield, Derbyshire and a pub in Hartington bears his name.

Daniel Defoe 1661 - 1731

The son of a London butcher, and educated at a Dissenters' academy, he was typical of the new kind of man reaching prominence in England in the 18th cent.-self-reliant, industrious, possessing a strong notion of personal and moral responsibility.

He was nearly sixty when he turned to writing novels. It was not until 1719 that he published his famous 'Adventures of Robinson Crusoe'.

Defoe's great novels were not published under his name but as authentic memoirs, with the intention of gulling his readers into thinking his fictions true. Two excellent examples of his semihistorical recreations are the picaresque adventure Moll Flanders (1722), the story of a London prostitute and thief, and an account of the 1665 great plague in London entitled A Journal of the Plague Year (1722). Defoe's writing is always straightforward and vivid, with an astonishing concern for circumstantial detail. His other major works include Captain Singleton (1720), Colonel Jack (1722), Roxana (1724), and A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27), which is where we find his Derbyshire connection.

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