Do you ever get side-tracked by a subject while researching another? Most of us have at some point! This is probably one of the strangest and most interesting ‘distractions’ I have encountered. As part of a future exhibition about cycling, I have been searching through the Record Office for interesting bicycle-related items. During a thorough search of the Local Studies card index catalogue, I came across a reference to ‘Waterfall, J Poems (broadsheets) published by J Waterfall 1890s.’
It turned out to be a large book of printed poems and articles about Bakewell and the surrounding area, by a gentleman called Joseph Waterfall. His writings are entertaining and interesting in themselves, but the book also revealed an amazing insight into the author’s life, which raises many questions. We live in a day and age where it’s easy to be sceptical, and this story really is sometimes quite hard to believe.
According to the available information about him, Joseph was born in Maidstone, Kent, without the use of his legs and with limited use of his arms and hands. He was born of poor parents, had no education, and in addition to doing some shoe shining, mainly lived off parish relief due to his disability. He spent the last years of his life in an almshouse in Bakewell. He would cut out the letters of his articles and poems from old papers and place them on a sheet where they would then be printed.
These ‘broadsheets’ were sold for a penny to supplement his income, until he tragically died in a fire in his almshouse, in 1902. This was apparently reported in a local Bakewell newspaper. His story is so unbelievable even a film or book about it probably couldn’t do it justice! This is a letter from a lady who bought one of his broadsheets:
Having reached this point I decided to see what would happen if I searched for Joseph on the internet. This turned up a published document (I am unable to provide a link but the search terms I used were “Joseph Waterfall Bakewell”) that a Mr David Trutt, from Los Angeles, California had written, called ‘Joseph Waterfall Poems: The Poet of the Peak.’ It appears he had been inspired by the author during a visit to the Local Studies library in Matlock in 2007, while researching Haddon Hall poetry. His interest was such that it prompted him to look at census records, parish registers and newspapers about Joseph. He obviously spent a great deal of time looking for information about him, and it’s extremely fortunate that he published this research. In Mr Trutt’s words:
“The poems and unusual life story of Joseph Waterfall were found by chance.
The editor has found no reference to Joseph Waterfall in books about Bakewell or
Derbyshire; and is loath to allow this information, which surfaced by chance, to
once again disappear.”
Having done a quick search of the Record Office online catalogue it appears that there is a little bit more information about him (which I will definitely be pursuing, along with the newspaper report!)
In the meantime here are some of his articles and poems. If anyone has any further information about this incredible story please get in touch!
Oh, by the way, after realising I had been (gladly) waylaid by his story, yes, there was a poem in there about cycling that he wrote, which I hope will be appearing in our forthcoming exhibition!