The dark side of winter

By Matt Elton, 5 January 2010 - 11:20am

As snow forces revellers in Yorkshire to extend their New Year's celebrations to three days, Alan Crosby considers the bitter reality of winters past

Alan Crosby, editor of The Local Historian
Tuesday 5 January 2010
Read more from Alan's blog

 

I enjoyed reading about the 60 hour New Year party at the Tan Hill Inn, high on the lonely moors above Arkengarthdale in North Yorkshire. Generally claimed, doubtless correctly, to be Britain’s highest pub, the inn is also famous being so far from anywhere else. Even on a sunny summer day it’s a long and maybe even melancholy journey across miles of brown peaty moorland – though for more than half a century the fact that the Pennine Way passes the door has been the source of a steady stream of trade (and the sight of the pub in the distance has brought immense relief to thirsty and weary wayfarers).

The moors round about are dotted with dozens of disused coalpits, tiny collieries where, until the late Victorian period, local men worked the thin poor quality seams of shaly coal. A couple of miles away were the lead mines of Swaledale, which flourished until the mid-19th century – and Tan Hill itself stood at the meeting point of drovers’ roads, the great high-level cross-country routes along which large herds of cattle were driven down from Scotland and the Solway lowlands over to Yorkshire and the eastern counties, or along the spine of northern England towards industrial Lancashire.

When the snows are deep in bleak and remote places such as Tan Hill it’s impossible not to think of the hill farmers who, for generation after generation, have struggled to make a living from these high and marginal places. Tales abound of the great snows of the past – the bitter winters of 1894, 1940, 1947 and 1963, when drifts were many feet deep and lasted for months on end, cutting off whole communities for long periods and paralysing the local economy.

Without the 4 x 4s and helicopters which are now expected to be brought into use, and in the absence of a culture which stated that ‘they’ (the authorities who always get the flak and the blame) should ‘do something’, local people dug their way out with shovels, and walked long and dangerous distances to find help. People often perished, as forlorn entries in parish burial registers often remind us: ‘A stranger, lost in the snow’, ‘A poor child, found dead in a snowdrift’. The Tan Hill New Year party was clearly great fun – but snow and bitter winters have their darker side.

 

Take it further

 

You can read more from Alan every month in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine – and don't forget to have your say in our forums.

 

The white stuff
previous blog Article
National treasure
next blog Article
The white stuff
previous blog Article
National treasure
next blog Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here