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Fork Handles: Hardware Stores and Ironmongers
Marsden’s in the early 20th century, sometime after 1912. Photo courtesy of Tony Holmes.

Shops in Wirksworth’s Market Place have sold ironmongery and ancillary goods from the middle of the 17th century up to the present day. The range of goods for sale increased over the years to meet their customers’ needs.

Wirksworth’s hardware stores and ironmongers sold domestic goods including metal and non-metal furnishings – cutlery, pots and pans, tinware, buckets, tools, nails, fire grates and guards, cast iron stoves and ranges, paraffin and lamp oil, cartridges and mangles, mats, rugs, brushes; and agricultural implements. Marsdens proudly advertised their ‘prize-winning milk churns’ and a photo from the mid-1900s shows a vast array of tools and equipment on display.

Wirksworth’s first recorded ironmonger, Robert Buxton (d.1665), worked in the Market Place. His premises comprised a dwelling house, upper chamber and shop and alongside such humble dwellings were merchants’ houses. Number 7 Market Place (now Marsden’s gift shop) was one such house. It still retains the elaborate 1620s plasterwork ceiling it inherited when the building became an ironmongers in the 1840s.

The 1791 Universal British Directory lists two Wirksworth ironmongers, John Collinson and John Wright, who was also a grocer. Geoffrey Marsden, founding father of the successful Marsden ironmongery business is listed as a brazier. As Marsdens expanded into the tin ware and ironmongery business the owners were still listed as braziers.

During the 1820s and 1830s two ironmongers continued to trade in the Market Place. Edward Haslam and James Saunders, an ironmonger, whitesmith and nailmaker. In 1821, a man named Webster traded in St John Street, and in 1831, a George Packard.

In the 1840s and 50s, James Stevenson traded in the Market Place before moving to Wash Green, while George Wilson Jnr had premises on Coldwell Street. 

By 1845, Thomas Tomlinson had a shop in St John Street, where also he sold groceries. By the late 1850s, Tomlinson had moved to 23 Market Place (now Mistral) as an ironmonger. The shop remained an ironmongery until 1935, under various owners who sold a wide range of goods. You can still see the Tomlinsons ghost sign in faint paint on the Mistral side wall.

From the 1860s, two ironmongers came to dominate local business for the next 75 years – Johnstons and Marsdens. Number 23 Market Place eventually closed as an ironmongers when Robert Johnston retired. Robert Johnston was a well-respected member of the Wirksworth community. He died in 1938 and is buried with his wife Kate in the Baptist cemetery, North End.