A Big Freeze: Derbyshire, 1614

Stories of global warming are being held up as our increasingly strange weather is documented, but there have been disastrous years in the past, such as in the early 17th century, when the following comes from the parish clerk in Youlgreave, Derbyshire. It was only a few years after the tstunami that wiped out huge areas along the Bristol channel, from South Wales to Devon and Somerset:

This year, 1614-15, began the greatest snow which ever fell upon the Earth within man’s memorye. It covered the Earth fyve quarters deap uppon the playne (i.e. 45 inches). and for heapes, or drifts of snow, they were very deap so that passengers both horse and foot, passed over gates, hedges and walles. It fell at ten severall tymes, and the last was the greatest, to the freat admiration and feare of all he land, for it came from the foure pts of the worls so that all c’ntryes were full, yea the southe p’te as well as these mountaynes. It continued by daily encreasng until the 12th day of March (without the sight of any earth, eyther uppon hilles or valleys), uppon wch daye, being the Lorde’s day, it began to decrease : and so by little and little consumed and wasted away, till the eight and twentieth day of may, for than all the heapes or drifts of snow were consumed, except one uppon Kinderscout, wch lay till Witsun week. Hyndrances and losses in this peake c’ntry by the snow afore abovesayd. (1) It hindered the seedtyme. (2) It consumed much fodder. (3) and many wanted fewell, otherwise few were smothered in the fall, or drowned in the passage : in regard the floods of water were not great though many. The name of our Lorde be praysed. There fell also ten lesse snows in Aprill, some a foote deep, some lesse, but none continued long. Uppon May day in the morning, instead of fetching in flowers, the youthes brought in flakes of snow which lay above a foot deep uppon the moors and mountaynes. 

The author compares this with Blackmore’s description in Lorna Doone of the great snowfall a century later in Devonshire. But the following year he claimed no rain fell from March 25 to 2nd May, then only a single shower. Only 2 more fell till 4 August, so that the greater part of the land was entirely burnt up, i.e. a drought.

It is hard to imagine how people survived this – 2 years without crops, a problem which was likely nation wide. I also struggle to understand how people kept their faith when it seems they were being punished – or perhaps tested – with such cruelty.

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