Village Life Then and Now: The Drowned Villages – Part 1

Derwent in the Trees
The pretty village of Derwent

While exploring the next batch of photos in the database following my post last month, I found a lot more photos in the database than I expected of the two smaller villages in the Upper Derwent Valley that were drowned by the construction of the Ladybower Reservoir: Derwent and Ashopton as well as pictures of the temporary workers’ village of Birchinlee.

Last month, our tour ended at the Anglers’ Rest Inn; this month we jump five or so miles to the North to explore Derwent Village and its surroundings.

Derwent Post Office
Derwent Post Office (on left)

Derwent appeared on a multitude of postcards during the first two decades of the twentieth century. It was a thriving hamlet, surrounded by farms of all sizes, with a post office, a school, a church, and the 250 year old Derwent Hall. Derwent Hall was built for Henry Balguy in 1672 on the site of an earlier hall. Over the next two centuries it had several owners, including the Duke of Norfolk, and finally became a Youth Hostel.

Derwent Hall
Derwent Hall and gardens

As well as an imposing exterior, and splendid gardens, the Hall also had an impressive interior. Much of the wood panelling was removed at the end of the Hall’s life and installed at the Waterboard’s Yorkshire Bridge offices. Those have now been converted to residential use; when the apartment containing the panelling came up for sale a while back, I was hugely impressed by the photos that were shown off on the estate agent’s website.

Flooding of the Upper Derwent Valley began early in the twentieth century, with the building of the Howden and Derwent Dams above Derwent Village. After the First World War, a much bigger reservoir was proposed to supply the growing cities of the north midlands and South Yorkshire.

Derwent Church Exhumations
Derwent Church Exhumations

The residents of Derwent, Ashopton and a number of the surrounding farms were evicted (with the clearances including some farms well above the proposed waterline, although a number of houses, along with the former Roman Catholic chapel, remain inhabited around the edge of the Ladybower Reservoir).

In the churchyard, screens were erected around the graves as bodies were exhumed, to be reburied in Bamford churchyard.

Derwent Church and Ruins 1943
Derwent Church and Ruins, 1943

By the early 1940s, village buildings were in ruins although still recognisable, but by the middle of the decade, the whole village was submerged, only for parts of buildings to emerge again in the drought of 1947. Tourists, including my Dad and his parents, visited the village, and were photographed viewing the church tower.

The tower was subsequently demolished to prevent future visitors from attempting to climb it.

Derwent Church Tower Dad
Dad in front of Derwent Church Tower, 1947

The village has reappeared during subsequent times of drought, notably in 1976 and in 1996, when one intrepid adventure filmed a series of amateur videos, which have since been archived on YouTube. Even during an average summer, outlines of buildings can be spotted, as I documented in 2013. Further back from the banks of the reservoir are also partial buildings, though I’m yet to figure out how they relate to the houses, or whether they were outbuildings of one kind or another. Shortly after that visit, I compiled a list of online vidoes about the drowned villages although I can’t guarantee all of them are still live.

A number of books have been written about, or inspired by, the drowned villages, including Vic Hallam‘s Silent Valley books, and Berlie Doherty’s young adult novel, Deep Secret.

Derwent Valley Walk 070613 (32)
Remains of Derwent buildings, 2013
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