This is a short film I made in which I wanted to contrast busy modern life with the beautiful Derbyshire scenery. It is a film in which the rushing passing traffic gives way to the slow and sedate and allows some passing contemplation of one person.
I am not sure what the inspiration for this project was. I think it was a number of things coming together at the same time. What I do feel sure about was that the insprations came together for one purpose. That was to remember Harry in a way that was respectful and positive. It is also a project that has been helped by a number of people for which I am grateful.
My own personal experience of Harry was very limited, I saw him from a distance but never spoke to him. He was, however, often spoken about and never did I hear a bad word. Finding the reality about him is not easy - he was a man of mystery and many were convinced that they knew things about him - even when there seemed to be no reason for it.
Myths and History
It is hard to know what is true and what is fantasy about Harry, mainly due to a blend of having too little information and of people having misinformation. I also struggle with finding the line between being respectful and sharing information that is not mine to share.
With this in mind I would ask people to remember that all of this may be incorrect.
Harry was born in Neepsend, Sheffield (possibly on Fox Street), in 1927. He then lived with his parents (Fred and Elsie) on Wallace Road. He had at least one brother, who would visit him in Baslow, and he may have had a sister, in Australia, who wanted him to come to her but he decided not to. It is thought that he was a skilled electricion who may have had an electrical shop. Some people say that he was an educated man, some are convinced he was a Doctor although there seems no reason for this. Some also say that he had musical skills and played piano.
He married a Greek woman in the late 1940's/early 1950''s, I do not know if they had children. There are suggestions that he left in the 1960's and travelled, only re-appearing sporadically. Some believe that his wife died and that he could not cope with it. This was why he became 'homeless'. However, this is just 'theory' and others have different ideas. This includes him being an eccentric rich man.
The first memories of him being around Baslow seem to be around the begining of the 1980's which coincide with the time when his mother died - I do not know if there is a connection.
My understanding is that he moved into the small cave on the A619 and lived there until local thugs turned him out. He then was offered shelter in a doorless stone outhouse on a farm down the hill on Sheffield Road. He had developed a pracice of digging a hole, making a fire in it and then covering it in soil. This gave him a heated area of land on which to sleep.
He lived this way until 1997 when he developed a severe infection in one of his legs. This required him to go into hospital. He may have refused surgery as it would have meant him loosing his leg and ending his 'outdoor' lifestyle. Subsequently he passed away and was buried near the river at St Anne's Church. The service was very well attended.
Locals erected a bench in his honour with an engraving that read -
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
I am the happy wanderer
The words 'The Happy Wanderer' were also engraved on his grave stone.
His bench was removed due to need for repair in 2015 but the engraved plaque is being re-installed, by the Parish Council, on a circular bench around a tree in the village centre.
I am very grateful for Derek's permission to use his photographs as well as giving me some first hand information. In his words -
"When I first met Harry he was sat in the bus shelter next to the small sweet shop on Baslow Green. He asked me for money so that he could buy a cup of tea from the sweet shop but said that the sweet shop would not let him in due to him being so dirty. I fetched him a cup of tea and a hot pastie from the shop. He didn’t eat all of the pastie saying “I am saving some for the animals on the farm." I sometimes left money at the sweet shop for a few cups of tea and Harry just had to ask for tea and they brought one out for him."
One of the images that Derek took of Harry won image of the month in Practical
Photography magazine, following which he reuturned to see Harry again. Derek continues -
"I went to see harry and offered to buy him some new clothes, but he said that if I did that he would only burn them in his hut for warmth. Knowing that he did not spend his money on drink I decided to let him have some money and when I next saw him it turned out that the first thing that he bought was an easter cake with chocolate eggs on it. Eventually I asked Harry where he lived and he told me that a local farmer was allowing him to sleep in a small outbuilding in one of his fields and if I wanted to, I could visit him. Eventually after getting permission from the farmer, I visited harry in his hut in the field.
The first time that I visited Harry I found him in this small hut that had one window without glass and one doorway without a door. He was cooking his breakfast in the hut. This breakfast was two rashers of bacon draped over an empty Coke can that was being heated by a small wood fire in a disconnected small cast iron stove that he had in the hut. These two rashers of bacon was all the food that he had, so I was stunned when he offered me one, which I obviously declined. In one of the images you can see the mess inside of the hut which Harry slept in. On one occasion there was a well-dressing type of flower arrangement on Baslow green on show to the public for the Weekend. Apparently Harry sat at the side of it with a tin on the floor beside him and took more money than the well-dressing donation box."
The photograph that won image of the month went on to win image of the year in Practical Photography Magazine. The image was then put in against all the other magazine images that the publisher runs and was exhibited in The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It didn’t win but recieved a lot of high profile attention. Derek finishes his account -
"I decided that I would go to see Harry, tell him of all the famous people who had seen his image and to see what I could get Harry to make his life more comfortable in his shed. Imagine my shock when I arrived in Baslow, asked where Harry was and to be told that his funeral service was a few days ago. His funeral was very well attended and apparently, he had died of gangrene of the leg.
Memories of Harry
Whilst I had hoped that people would leave comments about their memories on YouTube but most people either told me of them or sent them via email (including a selection from Baslow's WI, thanks to Ann). Here are a few of them.-
Does anyone know his story. I heard he was a very clever educated man
whose wife died and he couldn't live his life as it was without her so he took to that
way of life. He used to walk through our Village and Mum filled his tea caddy up and
gave him a sandwich. We knew him as Harry the Tramp. Bless him.
We met Harry before he lived in the cave One evening in Yeld Wood we were out with our dog and came across this little figure sitting under a conifer tree. Knees tucked up very still back resting against the trunk! Our children thought he was a pixie. He hadn't ventured down to the village yet so we had no idea who he was.
Harry gratefully accepted a warm tweed jacket from my late husband saying,
"It'll be good for Sundays".
Lovely memories, he used to come to the door of the old Prince of Wales pub
when I worked there and ask for matches to light his fire.
It was always rumoured that Harry had a sister who lived in Hull, whether that
was true or not I don't know but I do know that Harry found a support network in
Baslow second to none. Baslownians were exceptionally good towards him. Before
he moved into the cave, on Chesterfield Road, Harry lived in a wooden stable
provided free by a local farm; in the mornings he walked along to Goose Green and
a drink was brought out to him from the local shop, which he consumed in the bus
shelter. Here he received generous “handouts” from the regular local lorry drivers,
sometimes a sandwich other times a five-pound note. Baslownians helped him with
his Pension application enabling him to buy his own provisions and he received the
best of health care from Baslow. With long hair and a face blackened with woodfire
smoke he was instantly recognisable but, as far as I know, he was never taunted or
ridiculed – social distanced, yes, because he didn't have a bathroom but always
treated with respect. Later in life when he moved into the cave he still received
generous food deliveries from Baslow residents and in wintertime he was always
given good warm coat. The people of Baslow who supported Harry never sought
thanks for their actions, they just wanted to give him help.
I can remember Harry the Tramp, he used to be seen around the Church
and School and along other roads & paths. The Doctors surgery staff used to help
him and there were Christmas collections for him.
A friend of mine was chased down by Harry once because her husband had lent him a pound and he was wanting to pay him back.
I never had a lot of contact with Harry but I remember that he always had a smile.
There are other memories of Harry dotted around the internet on various blogs such as -
The Sheffield Forum where there is a detailed account of him getting bread and buns from Fletchers bakery delivery van.
Also the Sheffield History website in which you can see information from his nephew Simon and reference to Harry being in the top 200 famous Sheffielders.