CLA Member Profile: Riber Castle


One of Derbyshire’s most prominent landmarks, Riber Castle, is in the final stages of a massive redevelopment project that aims to breathe new life into what had become derelict and dangerous, condemned by the elements to certain ruin, but rescued at the eleventh hour by a visionary entrepreneur.

With four 75ft high towers, 1,450 feet of battlement walls, and standing at an altitude of 853 feet, the castle has formed a dramatic silhouette overlooking the spa town of Matlock and the surrounding Derbyshire Dales for over 150 years. It is a sight familiar to millions, and one that can be seen from afar.

Built in 1862 by a local mill owner and philanthropist, John Smedley, the castle has a chequered history, as a grand private residence and hydro, then a period as a private school.

During the Second World War, the Ministry of Food used it for bulk storage, a move that contributed to its demise as stockpiled sugar found its way into the fabric of the building, rotting the internal timbers.  Much of the timber, metal and stone that was left was gradually removed, and in the 1950s, the roof was removed. What remained of the castle eventually became an ill-fated wildlife park, which closed in 2000.

This was when a local businessman - the descendant of a family with a keen interest in historic buildings and interior design - stepped in to realise a long-held dream to give the castle a new lease of life.

His vision was to keep the appearance as near as possible to Smedley’s original design, but give it a new use as luxury apartments, with helipad, underground car parking below a croquet lawn, an ultra-modern swimming pool and gym on the site of the original bath house, a walled garden and an orangery.

Despite initial opposition from some quarters, the proposed development also received considerable support. English Heritage gave its backing to the scheme because they felt a sensitive conversion was the only viable means of preserving the Castle from total deterioration.

After overcoming all objections, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister granted consent in 2006 and work started to secure and make safe the remaining structure and to meet planning obligations, including the re-housing of bats and great-crested newts that had made their home on the site.


The permission allowed the conversion of the castle into 26 apartments and a further 10 in the outbuildings. Ten new-builds in the grounds were approved as enabling buildings, on the grounds that their sale is a means of generating revenue for a developer who has guaranteed to renovate a listed building at risk.

However, the completion of these new dwellings is not permitted under the planning consent until the renovation of the castle has been completed. 

During construction, the team have made full use of stone that can be salvaged from the old building, but they are also cutting matching new blocks from locally-quarried gritstone. Local suppliers and manufacturers are used wherever possible and the 119 windows were hand-made by local craftsmen with each carefully styled and coloured to match the original designs. 

CLA Member and project manager Ivan White has overseen all the development work to date, and says that the project is now at a stage where new investment could bring the project to a much speedier conclusion and offer a good return for either a new owner, or joint venture with the existing team. 

Ivan explains: “I knew from the outset that the restoration of the castle would be a massive undertaking. The site is the size of a small hamlet, but all the hard work’s been done, there is no debt and we’d really like to accelerate the completion. I could see the first apartments being marketed with a year.

“The infrastructure and the mains services are in and the majority of the apartments are up to second fix stage. It’s the perfect time to take a step back. We owe it to future generations to get this right.”

The apartments are on three levels and some even boasting their own private balconies in the towers and battlements. Needless to say the views on all sides are spectacular.


Access is by grand staircase or glass lift through the original grand salon, which occupies the full length of the building with a gallery and towers at each end. The fine Italian plasterwork, elaborate iron vaults and ornate patterned stained glass roof have been painstakingly renovated to create an unmistakeable air of opulence.

The infrastructure and services are equally impressive; completely modern but reflecting the castle’s original layout. Underfloor heating is supplied by state-of-the-art boilers, installed where Smedley’s coal-fired systems once operated.

A modern misting fire suppression system gives added peace of mind, Effective double glazing now fills the original window frames, and control panels in each dwelling give complete flexibility over the purpose of each and every electrical switch.

Broadband is currently supplied to the site via W3Z Wireless Broadband - a CLA Derbyshire Member - but fibre is already installed to a new central server, ready for fast connection to the firbreoptic network.

So the development is now at a crossroads, and offers a rare window of opportunity for an individual or company with the vision and wherewithal to play a key part in Derbyshire’s heritage and help restore Riber Castle for the benefit of generations to come. With over 100,000 sq ft of accommodation and 18 acres of grounds, the potential is as extensive as the site.

The local planning authority has indicated that it is willing to consider alternative uses and the current owners say they will offer total flexibility on the structure of any financial and management partnership -  and promise an attractive return on investment for all parties. 

Ivan knows every inch of the site, and can give the history of every piece of stone, and the plans for every corner, without having to refer to any paperwork. His knowledge will certainly be invaluable to any new investor.

For further information on Riber Castle, contact Ivan White on 07595 599530 or