Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us (sigh) and if, like me, you are not a massive fan of the over-commercialised hype that surrounds it every year then you may like this week’s blog post. Derbyshire is full of precarious spots named Lover’s Leap. Why, I hear you cry! Is it because we are a particularly lovelorn people? I am going to look at the legends and the artwork, but also the postcards people sent to each other from these locations to see if there are any clues.
There are hundreds of Lover’s Leaps around the world; Wikipedia highlights a few. Unsurprisingly, it’s a name given to dangerous rocky outcrops, usually in a range of hills or on the side of a valley. One thing is for certain though, if you jumped off a Lover’s Leap, especially in modern clothes, you might not be as lucky as some of the women in the tales below…
Let us begin at Stoney Middleton. A village near Eyam, whose people famously quarantined themselves during the plague of 1665-6. If you visit Stoney Middleton now you can’t help but notice several businesses adopting the Lover’s Leap name. It is very much part of the village’s imagination and the Lover’s Leap in Stoney Middleton perhaps has the best story of them all. Apparently in 1762, Hannah Baddaley, having been jilted by her beloved, flung herself from the cliff, only to be saved from death by her voluminous skirts which acted like a parachute. Visitors to Stoney Middleton, however, were less interested in the local lore and its romantic connotations, instead visiting to recuperate and relax. The postcards above tell of an interesting range of activities, from eating and horse riding, to painting with ‘his lordship’!
Dovedale is perhaps the most famous Lover’s Leap in Derbyshire. During the Napoleonic wars a young woman, believing her sweetheart dead in battle, threw herself off Lover’s Leap. Once again the billowing skirts saved the day, they caught in the branches on her way down and she was able to scramble to safety. On returning home she discovered her lover wasn’t dead after all and was actually returning home from the war to see her. Some say, however, that she was a jilted lover and stayed single for the rest of her days. Which one is true? No one knows.
Despite it being the better known of the Lover’s Leaps we don’t have any written postcards of this spot. But who needs a postcard when you could buy a patchbox? Enamelled patchboxes with various designs could be bought as souvenirs in the boutiques under the Crescent, Buxton. Lover’s Leap was one of the available designs. Sadly we do not have a Lover’s Leap patchbox in our collections, but pictures of a couple can be found online – very fetching.
The last Lover’s Leap of our post is in Ashwood Dale, near Buxton. Here the Leap is part of a wide limestone chasm, rather than an individual rock or cliff. The story is different too, and, surprisingly, non-skirt based. Two lovers were eloping to Peak Forest church to get married but were hotly pursued by their parents. On reaching Lover’s Leap their horse sprang across the gap leaving the parents behind and unable to cross the chasm. The lovers reached the church safely and presumably got married. There are a lot of postcards in the museum’s collection from this spot, some are even slightly romantic. A couple of senders were fans of the rhyming couplet, here is my favourite:
“He who seeks not the dames to please
Should be condemned to die;
Though no man has succeeded yet,
All men should daily try.”
Of course, this is not all of the Lover’s Leaps in Derbyshire, and there are many more all around the UK. If you have an interesting story to add to any of these, or a story of another Derbyshire Lover’s Leap, then feel free to let us know. There are hundreds of interesting stories in our postcard collection and I have only scratched the surface here. Follow our main museum blog for more collections related posts. I will leave you with a quirky little number from Buxton: