Daniel Defoe – Novelist (1659/1660-1731)
Daniel Defoe travelled nearby, and is said to have found people still living in caves, one thought to be the large cave easily reached at the base of Harborough Rocks beside the High Peak Trail. (See High Peak Trail). Click here to read Defoe’s writings about his visit to Wirksworth and the surroundings. Wikipedia article on his life is Here.
George Eliot/ Mary Anne Evans – Novelist (1819-1880)
Wikipedia article on her life Here
Mary Anne Evans is said to have visited her aunt and uncle, Samuel Evans and his wife Elizabeth, who came to live in Wirksworth about 1814. They were
portrayed as Adam Bede and Dinah Morris in George Eliot’s famous novel ‘Adam Bede’. The Adam Bede name lives on in a number of businesses and streets, as it does in Snowfield View and ‘The Mill on the Floss’, Speedwell Mill.
Sir Richard Arkwright – Inventor & Industrialist (1732-1792)
The Derwent River Valley, downhill from Wirksworth, was where the factory system was born. Towards the end of the 18th century, Richard Arkwright developed a system of mass production of cotton thread using his revolutionary water-powered mill at Cromford.
Together with other mills along the river valley and with the associated mill workers houses it is now preserved as part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Arkwright had direct dealings with Wirksworth as the nearby important town and in 1777 he leased land at the southern end of the town to build a small cotton spinning mill. Here he installed the first steam engine to be used in a cotton mill, though this was used to replenish the millpond that drove the mill’s waterwheel rather than to drive the machinery directly.
Arkwright’s daughter Susannah married the town’s squire Charles Hurt and lived with him in Wirksworth Hall (now demolished) . Arkwright’s widow, Lady Arkwright moved to Wirksworth on his death. Richard Arkwright the second went into partnership with Wirksworth man John Toplis to develop a bank Toplis had established in the town and this became sufficiently important to print its own Wirksworth banknotes
Sir Frederick Treves – Surgeon (1853-1923)
Treves came to Wirksworth in about 1878 with his wife, having bought a share in the practice of William Milligan. They lived in Coldwell St at Treves House, which is the second house up from the corner of North End. His time in Wirksworth proved controversial and they left about a year later. Read more here: http://www.wirksworth.org.uk/x186.htm#article
He went on to become a prominent British surgeon of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, now known for his friendship with Joseph Merrick, “the Elephant Man”.
DH Lawrence – Novelist (885-1930) & Frieda Lawrence (1879-1956)
David Herbert Richards ‘D.H.’ Lawrence lived with his German wife Frieda for a short while at Mountain Cottage, Middleton by Wirksworth. Frieda was required, as a German national at the end of World War One to sign on weekly at the Police Station in Wirksworth – now The Old Lock Up.
Dame Ellen MacArthur – Sailor and Adventurer (1976-)
Dame Ellen MacArthur first hit the headlines in 2001 when she raced single-handedly non-stop around the world in the Vendée Globe when only 24 years old. After some years continuing to sail, she retired and set up the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Her connection to Wirksworth is that her family lived in Whatstandwell, and she went to school in Wirksworth.
Mia Ayliffe Chung – model/ bar worker/farm worker) (1995-2016)
Mia, a Wirksworth girl, sadly achieved notoriety because of her murder (allegedly by a fellow backpacker) in Australia on 23rd August 2016. The same attacker also (allegedly) caused the death of Tom Jackson, a fellow backpacker from Congleton in Cheshire, UK.
Mia’s mother, Rosie Ayliffe, is campaigning to reform farm work labour laws in Australia and is raising funds and awareness through her tireless work, campaigning and blogging to make a change in the world. You can find out more about Tom & Mia’s legacy here.
Gavin T Munro – Artist and Chair Farmer (1975 – )
Originally from nearby Matlock, the head of Full Grown Ltd is known for his Grown Furniture. He and his teams are based in the area, and hope to revolutionise manufacturing through a new way of employing ancient techniques to Grow Furniture – yes: you read that correctly – to Grow Furniture!
Gavin has featured widely in the National and International Press.
Karl Johnston – Kick Boxing World Champion (1989 – )
Karl Johnston was born and brought up in Wirksworth. He gained his Professional K-1 World title on May 7th 2017, defeating the very strong and game Christakis Alexandrou from Cyprus.