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The Giddy Edge

High Tor, the Rock Face & the View Beyond

Switzerland View

High Tor has been the subject of countless paintings and photographs over the years but this old postcard, dating from about the 1920s, is very different as there is no soft landscape surrounding the Tor. The sheer, stark rock face is totally dominant and, clearly, nothing else mattered to the photographer but the hard stone and the long drop of the cliff face. It is a powerful image.

"It [High Tor] has furnished the subject of many a picture, and even in our school-boy days has been used as an arithmetical question. In the lapse of years since it was first noticed, it has lost none of its interest, and it continues at the present time as undiminished a source of attraction, as if it had only just emerged from the overflowing waters. It is 396 feet in height, but being composed of solid limestone, looks massive in the extreme[1]". Although he was writing about High Tor a hundred and fifty years ago, Jewitt's description is true today, even if local schoolchildren are probably not set maths questions about its height.

It was not until 1903 that climbers were successful in scaling High Tor[2]. For several years beforehand "experienced cragsmen" had looked at the rock, but all attempts to climb it had failed. This changed on Saturday 12 December 1903 when three young men decided to try their luck. The leader was Mr. James William Puttrell of Sheffield, who was accompanied by Mr. W. Smithard from Duffield and Mr Arnold Bennett from Sheffield[3]. The three of them went to the foot of the cliff at noon on the day of they had set for their challenge, a point which was reported to be 250 feet above the River Derwent and 200 feet from the summit. The plan was to climb up the High Tor Gully, which is a long black line that appears to split the Tor in two. The top of it can be seen on the above image - the first large indent from the left hand edge.

It took four attempts before the leader worked out how to approach the climb and the climb itself took them almost three hours to complete[4]. The feat was described as the "most prominent, and undoubtedly finest rock-climb in Derbyshire"[2]. It most certainly set a precedent for future generations of climbers.

High Tor Matlock 3292, published by R. Sneath, Paradise St., Sheffield. Copyright - Real Photograph. Unposted
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Written and researched by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] ed. Jewitt, Llewellynn "Black's Tourist Guide to Derbyshire" (1864) pub. Adam and Charles Black Edinburgh, pp.239-40. Quoting from his "Matlock Companion". The height of High Tor seems to vary in the sources. However, the Ordnance Survey maps show the 600 foot contour around the top of High Tor.

[2] "Sheffield Evening Telegraph", Tuesday 15 December 1903. Record climb at Matlock. Ascent of the High Tor Gully.

[3] The 1911 census tells us that James William Puttrell, then aged 42 and single, was a house decorator (an employer) who was living with his parents at 2 Hanover Square in Sheffield, though he had earlier (1901) been a table cutler manager. It is uncertain who the other two young men were, but it is possible that Arnold Bennett was a married bricklayer who lived at Dronfield Woodhouse and was then aged 35. The 1901 census has also been checked, but proved uninformative.

[4] Although the days in winter are short, the climb took place before changes to the clock, with the introduction of British Summer Time in 1916, occurred in Britain.