The North Yorkshire moors have never been noted for mild winters, although in recent years we seem to have escaped lightly. It is taken for granted that only an hour or two after snow begins falling, the radio will inform us that the A66 road from Bowes to Brough is blocked, invariably followed shortly by the news the A171 Guisborough to Whitby moor road is also impassable. Farther south, Blakey Ridge and the Rosedale to Kirbymoorside road are both notable victims after heavy snowfalls and while the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge was cut off for three days in the winter of 2010-2011, neither has suffered so badly in recent years as in the harsh winters before the 20th century.
R.H. Hayes in his History of Rosedale wrote that in 1878 the snow began in November and lay for three months, then four years later a single blizzard blocked the Rosedale railway line from December to February. These were only a foretaste of the marathon winter Rosedale was to endure 1895
On New Year's Eve, 1894. the Judas kiss of the first snowflake heralded a mammoth blizzard. Within minutes, thick flakes of snow came swirling out of the leaden sky to be driven by freezing winds. The farm stock scurried for shelter and stayed there while the storm raged for three days. The wind, as though dissatisfied, nudged and sculpted the snowfalls into deep drifts stacked high against buildings while its probing fingers groaned among the timber rafters. By 2nd January, 1895, the roads were impassable, the railway line was closed, and the Pickering- York train was trapped in drifts at Kirbymoorside.
A group of miners due to begin work at the Sheriff Pit, set out on the following Tuesday to walk the five miles from their homes at Lastingham. At times wading waist deep in the snow, they were eventually forced to turn back after three miles. Returning home in the driving snow, one of the miners. Willie Gibb, became separated from the group. He spent a harrowing six hours lost and was lucky to be alive when he was found at Rosedale Bank Top by another party of miners later in the day.
On January 13, a second blizzard struck the dale so violently that houses were almost buried by the drifts. Six days later, however, a road was opened from Hutton-le-Hole, but without the railway to remove ironstone already mined, the pits had gone on short time. Instead, over 100 men were employed in gangs to dig out the railway line, which was buried beneath 20 feet of snow. Hundreds of moor sheep were missing, and as food was short an attempt was made to reach Pickering for a load of flour, using a large sledge pulled by four horses. The attempt failed.
By February, the blizzards were punctuated by spells of bitter cold, up to 40° of frost being recorded at Malton. Hardship became the norm. The East Mines had completely closed down. H. Champion and W.I. Mayman opened a soup kitchen at Rosedale Abbey, where 58 families were each given a loaf of bread and a quart of soup. Further south, at Lastingham, where 200 grouse driven by starvation from their snow-covered feeding grounds appeared in the village street, the Rev J.S. Salmon organised a soup kitchen for his parishioners, while at Hutton the honours were done by J.F. Shepherd of Douthwaite Hall.
William Cooper of Aislaby Hall gave two waggon loads of coal, but a gang of men had to dig out the road up the dale in front of the coal carts while needy families made their way as best they could to collect their share. Men and women carried coal on their backs while children dragged loaded sledges as they trudged through the snow.
Hungry and cold, the dale's communication with the outside world was almost severed. The postman had to leave his cart at Cropton Lane and make his round on horseback, changing exhausted mounts frequently to complete his delivery.
The misery lasted until March 19, when a thaw finally began. Although spirits lifted. it was mid-April before the railway was reopened. Ironstone mined during January -- when Sheriffs Pit had been working short -- time prior to the February closedown, stood in a huge heap awaiting shipment. Only by August was this backlog cleared. Where the heap had been, black compacted, snow remained three feet deep, a reminder of the first blizzard.
Incredibly, after such heavy snow falls, a drought followed the thaw. Grouse, once driven from their feeding grounds by hunger, now flew into the railway cuttings to slake their thirst on melted snow from the drifts which remained until mid-June.
Winters have been severe since. In 1900, there were 12 foot snowdrifts, and in 1917 the railway was blocked for five weeks. Fortunately, conditions have never exceeded the misery and hopelessness the population of Rosedale suffered for four long months during that blizzard of 1895.
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