Village Life Then and Now: Drowned Villages Revisited

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Ruins of Derwent Church with its Foundation Stone

Back in 2016, I wrote about the lost Derbyshire villages of Derwent and Ashopton – submerged under the waters of Ladybower Reservoir – and Birchinlee, the ‘tin town’ that existed only for the few years during which two earlier reservoirs were constructed. In the summer and autumn of 2018, a prolonged period of dry weather caused the water levels in the reservoir to drop until more of Derwent Village was revealed than at any time in the past twenty years. I’ve managed to get out to the various sites several times over the past six months, and have been fascinated to see just what’s left of the various demolished buildings and structures left over from the works of the early twentieth century.

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Mill Brook and its surviving bridge (of at least three originally): commonly under the waters of the reservoir beyond

On my first visit, in the middle of September, the waters of Ladybower were already low enough that the ruins of Derwent Church were fully exposed and accessible, and I was able to locate a foundation stone inscribed with the year 1867. The Mill Brook that still flows along its original bed through what was the centre of Derwent Village had been reduced to a tiny stream.

Higher up the valley, I found the paired cottages shown on some old maps as Water Houses, and was able to climb over remnants of the lower walls to identify doorways and hearths (and possibly also a set of stairs). Between Water Houses and the main village, the layout of the kitchen gardens of Derwent Hall was clearly outlined by old stones.

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Derwent Hall’s kitchen gardens still visible in outline
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The ruins of Water Houses
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Pillars of the former railway viaduct close to Birchinlee

A month later, I explored the area around Derwent Reservoir and the site of Birchinlee. Up there, I found many pillars of the old railway viaduct, most of which are usually under water, as well as some structures I believe to be part of the station, usually inaccessible even when visible above the water. I also climbed down into the cellar of the Birchinlee Canteen, although it appeared to have long since been stripped of any interesting artefacts.

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Ruins of Derwent Hall with the valve house beyond

I returned to Derwent Village the following week, and was able to carefully walk out to the ruins of Derwent Hall, where I found the remains of fireplaces and carved stone building ornamentations. I was particularly impressed by carvings on the gatepost.

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Hall fireplace and gatepost

In the village itself, the waters had receded further from the church, and it was possible to identify the school beyond, although I only ventured a short distance along the remains of a path that once linked the two. Also tantalisingly out of reach was an old valve house on the other side of the reservoir.

My final visit was in December, on Boxing Day. By that point, we’d had some weeks of heavy rain. The Hall, Valve House, and most of the Church were submerged once again, and water was lapping at the walls of Water Houses.

I have a feeling it might be less than another two decades before the buildings appear again; however, I’m a little concerned how well they will survive given how many tourists they attracted this time around, not all of whom were adequately respectful of the area’s history.

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Viaduct at approximate site of Ashopton Village showing how low the waters were in October


  1. These things are fascinating. I live in a small town part of which was inundated by a massive reservoir early in the last century. It hasn’t got low enough in dry periods to show any of the buildings from the five towns it wiped out in full or in part, and many of the buildings were removed before the waters rose, but there are trails in the hills above that were once roads, and you can see foundations of farms that had to be abandoned as part of the watershed. Even some plantings survive, like hydrangea bushes, and orchard trees, that haven’t quite been overtaken by the forests. I don’t wish lack of water on anone, but the remnants of once-functioning towns and farms do make us reflect on parts of the past that are often forgotten.


    • My house is built on what was the grounds of the big house down the road. I often wonder if the apples I scrump from the embankment beyond my walls are descendents of the trees that once grew in the orchard marked on old maps.

      There are ruined farms under and above the reservoirs here too, and I keep meaning to explore the bridleway that should lead to the reservoirs on the other side of the hills.

      Thanks for such a thought-provoking comment.


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