In search of the strange in Glossop

By Michelle Collier

Artist in residence at George Street Community Bookshop, Autumn 2022.

About the residency

As a past resident of Glossopdale, I became fascinated by the local lore: strange lights skipping across the Longdendale Valley, whispers of the ‘old gods’ and unexplained ghostly sightings. I couldn’t help but wonder – what else inhabits this ancient valley and its dark peaks? And so, I decided to go looking…

In Autumn of 2022, I was selected for an artist residency with George Street Community Bookshop. During the 5–6 weeks I inhabited the bookshop, I set out on a search for the stranger side of Glossop, collecting spooky stories and tall tales as inspiration for new written and illustrated works. But I wasn't alone in my endeavours. Almost 100 people joined me, sharing their stories, wandering the local landscape, sketching, photographing, writing, printmaking and performing.

Here's what we got up to...

Workshop wall covered in many post it notes of strange stories, anecdotes or unusual history – collected and created during my residency in the bookshop. There are also thermal photos of locations around Glossop stuck on the board.

Part one: seeking stories

My residency began with a research phase – a mixture of bookshop reading (dipping into their excellent local titles collection), and chatting with bookshop visitors, volunteers and local artists. I was bowled over by the generosity of everyone I spoke to, who shared with me a mixture of personal experiences, local history and a raft of interesting folktales.

Did you know, for instance, that the Norfolk Arms is home to at least four ghosts? Or that the local apothecary once hawked a baby soothing formula that yes, you guessed it, contained lethal ingredients? And what about the phantom Grey Lady of All Saints Church who may or may not have pushed her husband down a well? And that's before we even consider Bleaklow and its ghosts, the curious Mouselow stones or the countless sightings of the Longdendale Lights. 

What I discovered was a place steeped in folklore, ancient customs and belief in the supernatural. There are too many stories to list in full here, but the curious among you may enjoy the following books which have set out to document some of the stranger local history and folklore.

Recommended reading:

  • Folktales of the Peak District (Mark P. Henderson)

  • A Glossop Apothecary (Faye Hartley)

  • Ghosts & Legends of the Peak District (David Clarke)

  • Customs of the Peak District and Derbyshire (John Merrill)

  • A Peak District Calendar of Events, Customs & Folklore (B Woodall)

  • The Little Mannie (by Manchester Museum)

  • The Glossop Cabinet of Curiosities (by Tim Campbell-Green)

Part two: wandering the weird

After collecting local stories, it was time to get outside to visit some of the locations from these tall tales! And so, off we went to explore Glossop through the lens of local folklore, ghost stories and urban legend. I told some of the stories I'd discovered in my research, my fellow wanderers shared their own experiences, and together we documented the landscape through words, sketches and photographs. (You'll find the rough route below if you want to get out walking!)

 

We also had two very special guests come a-wandering – author Mark P. Henderson, who performed a couple of local folktales, and Tim Campbell Green (of Glossop Curiosities) who shared some curious local history with us.

I curated and led the walk as part of my residency, with support from WAN.DER, KIN.DER and Glossop Creates. Thanks to Richard Tymon for the photos.

Feedback: "Such a breathtaking experience!", "A witty initiative", "A wonderful wander", "Lovely to see the landscape and townscape through fresh eyes."

Part three: mythmaking

After exploring and documenting the stranger side of Glossop, we used this as inspiration to create new stories inspired by the old tales.

 

The following zine collects some of these new stories, along with photos from the WAN.DER. Each story was written by a local participant during a 'writing the weird' flash fiction workshop I led at the bookshop.

Flash folk

Flash Folk 'zine

Download the zine to discover stories of witchcraft, cursed stones and devilry... if you dare!

Part four: printmaking

Inspired by the many stories unearthed during the research phase of my residency, I created five new miniature lino print artworks – designed to be printed as bookmarks, in keeping with the residency setting. I then hosted drop-in printmaking sessions at the bookshop so that visitors could try their hand at lino printing, and take home a locally-inspired bookmark. 

Each illustration is inspired by elements of the stories I heard or discovered during my residency: the treacherous water spirit of Mermaid's Pool; the mysterious black cat that stalks the moors; the murderous Grey Lady of All Saints Church; the ghost of Hilda Knight who haunts the theatre in the form of a butterfly; the unexplained Longdendale Lights; the mysterious Mouselow Stones; the Celtic God Cernunnos; the dangerous elixits of the old apothecary; and the many ghosts that are said to haunt Glossop.

Part five: live storytelling event

The end of my residency coincided with Halloween weekend. So what better way to round things off than with an evening of strange tales in the bookshop!

This very special evening was a mix of local folktales courtesy of Mark P. Henderson, flash fiction written during the creative writing workshops, strange personal encounters and an original short story from local author Matt T. Hill.

Thanks.

This residency took place as part of 'Bookshops for All' at George Street Community Bookshop, funded by Arts Council England. Special thanks to Jonathan and Steve for all their support.

Thank you also to everyone at KIN.DER and Glossop Creates for their support and collaboration on the WAN.DER. And to Anna, Ben, Caroline, Clare, Cordelia, Ghislaine, Lauren, Martha, Matt (both of you), Michael and everyone who dropped by the bookshop to share their stories.