Amazing snow pictures of Derbyshire from the past light up poet Mark Gwynne Jones' new audio artwork

Rarely seen old photographs of snowy winters in Derbyshire and archive recordings will be unveiled in a new video montage.

By Gay Bolton
Monday, 20th December 2021, 4:45 pm

Poet and recording artist Mark Gwynne Jones’ latest release ‘Snow!’ will go live on the Peak DIstrict National Park website on December 30, 2021.

Mark said: “The project took me from the meteorologist at Middleton by Wirksworth who has climbed the hill to record the weather every day for over 20 years to the Mountain Rescue who saw the avalanche at Wilderness Gully; from Hannah James singing the Castleton Carol, to old hill farmers recounting how they 'left the house by the bedroom window and slid down drifts into the yard, 'cos all around the house was buried'.

"One of the oldest recordings is the voice of Thomas Birds, a timber feller from Youlgreave born in 1879. He says 'I think 1910... 1911... were a bad winter. It snowed anythin’ from 10 to 12 foot deep.”

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Batham Gate Road, Buxton, in 1963 (photo: Picture the Past)

People’s voices and stories were the most fascinating aspect of the project for Mark. He said: “Before mains water, gas or electric life was a matter of survival. The stories open up a direct link with the past and give us some perspective.

“On the subject of survival, old shepherds have told me our vintage breed of sheep, the Derbyshire Gritstone, have supernatural powers for forecasting snow. 'They know if there's a storm coming... sometimes two days before it arrives, and will clear off and get somewhere safer. Except in your '47 and '63 winters... which left them nowhere to go.'

Mark gathered the recordings, atmospheres and voices over several years. He said: “It's an audio artwork now set to this wonderful collection of old Derbyshire photographs courtesy of Derbyshire Records Office and Picture the Past.”

‘Snow!’, which is the latest release in Mark’s Voices from the Peak series, includes the music of Psychicbread, Ashley Hutchings and Esther Swift with sound production by Paul Hopkinson.

Heavy snowfall in Derbyshire in 1947 (photo: Picture the Past)

Mark said: “A few years ago I was commissioned to write a snow poem for the series Derbyshire On Film, and ever since I've been fascinated by people's memories of big winters in and around the Peak District. It got me wondering if we'll see the likes of them again, or will our stories of snow today be the stuff of folklore for our grandchildren?”

One of his own vivid memories of a Derbyshire winter stems back to childhood and when he was nine years old. Mark said: “I crashed through the ice of a frozen lake at the bottom of a quarry. It was somewhere we used to skate, well, run and slide. On one occasion my big brother wasn't sure if the ice was strong enough, so sent me out to test it. He was right!

"We lived at over 800 feet above sea level, and were snowed in regularly. To the point where even tractors couldn't get out.”

Mark is hoping to release three new audio artworks which again may be set to film. The subjects he is looking at are ravens, stone circles, water and is appealing to readers for stories connected with these themes.

Shining Well at Farley, near Matlock, 1946-47 (photo: PIcture the Past)

For more Voices from the Peak – journeys through the Peak District in word, film, & sound, visit https://markgwynnejones.com/voices-from-the-peak-2

Frozen cascade at Chatsworth in 1963 (photo: Picture the Past)
Dove Holes in the early 1940s (photo: Picture the Past)
A snow plough at The Slopes in Buxton around 1907 (photo: Picture the Past)
Knabb Hall Lane, Tansley (photo: Glyn Roberts).
Derbyshire Gritstone sheep have supernatural powers for forecasting snow, according to the county's old shepherds (photo: Peak District National Park Authority).
Mark Gwynne Jones recording the wind howling in Monsal Tunnel, a sound which features frequently in Snow! (photo: Alex Ivanov)