Joseph Waterfall – Poet of the Peak with ability

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.’

Card Ref Waterfall

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.

Cut and Paste

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:

A Letter

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!

Remarkable Places and EventsQueen VictoriaDorothy's FlightChristmas

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!

rave review


I have just finished reading the enthralling “The Secret Rooms” by Catherine Bailey. She set out to write a history of the impact that the Great War (1914-18) had on the  Duke of Rutland’s estate at Belvoir in Leicestershire, but found herself drawn instead into a real life mystery concerning the forbidding locked rooms where the 9th Duke died in 1940, which had been kept closed ever since…

She discovered that three separate time-spans had been completely erased from the records in these rooms, the Muniment Rooms where the estate documents live, and had been deliberately deleted across all categories of records; the clear perpetrator must have been the Duke himself, who literally died in the attempt.

A real page turner ensues, with a child’s tragic death, swindled inheritances, and intrigues at the very top of the British World War One Command. The 9th Duke had not managed to completely destroy the trail, and Catherine Bailey was able to piece together most of the sad, dark story.

If you love archives and libraries (and you do, you are reading this), I highly recommend this gripping read, which dramatically highlights the importance of irreplaceable original documents and the amazing real life stories they illuminate.

Borrow it from your local library!

On This Day: ‘Cloud-Burst at Rowsley – Remarkable Floods’

From the Ashbourne Telegraph, 2nd August 1912, Derbyshire weather not unlike early July 2012:


On Saturday there was a cloudburst at the Haddon Hall tunnel, about a mile and a half from Bakewell on the Midland line.  Debris from the hills above the railway was quickly washed down and a large part of an embankment slipped, and the earth completely blocked the line from Manchester to Derby.

Water streamed into the Haddon tunnel until it was about two feet deep, and traffic was completely dislocated, and for over half an hour several expresses were held up in the vicinity.

It was found that some damage had been done to the railway, and it was necessary for the trains to proceed with caution.  A party of Bakewell golfers, who were proceeding to Matlock to play a match found that their train was unable to proceed, and they walked home again.  Expresses between Manchester and London were diverted via the Dore and Chinley line, but the local traffic was stopped on both sides of the Haddon tunnel.

The whole of the sidings were flooded – that is 36 miles of rails.

Mr. A. Hawes, Clerk to the Bakewell Guardians, said the roadway by Haddon Hall was under water as well as Rowsley.  He added: “I think the worst of the fall was beyond FillifordBridge, where the water was so high on the roads that it forced holes through the boundary walls one could crawl through.  The amount of damage done must be enormous.”

On the moors above Sydnope, over the 1,000 feet level, Mr. Edwards a dog fancier, resides with his family.  His experience was alarming.  Lightning first struck his house in the roof, ran along the gutters, and down the spouts to earth.  A second flash struck the chimney, and ran down into the house, where it swept the fire out, and burnt the hearth rug.  Mr. Edwards says the house was full of strong smelling sulphur and smoke for some minutes, and he took his wife and child out of the house for safety.

Lightning also struck a house in Vineyard Terrace, belonging to the Stancliffe Estates Co., and there it went through the roof and two ceilings, and finally visited the front room, smashing the fire-grate.  At Hackney three trees – an oak, a pear, and an apple – in a row were struck.  Cows are also reported to have been killed in the fields.

Much damage was also done to the well-known cottage which stands close to the Haddon Hall, and the flood from the hills was so great that the occupants only just managed to get out of the building in time.  All round this historic spot the meadows were under water.  

The County Local Studies Library holds the Ashbourne Telegraph, 1903-1957 – just ring to book a microfilm reader.