The Flooded Villages of Derwent, Ashopton and Birchinlee
When King George VI formally opened Ladybower Dam in 1945, the impounded waters of the River Derwent were already rising behind it to engulf the remains of the empty villages of Derwent and Ashopton.
Ladybower was the third dam across the Derwent, for between 1902 and 1916, two mighty dams had been built at Howden and above Derwent village, but these had caused the destruction of only a few isolated buildings. It was Ladybower Dam that required the tragic sacrifice of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent.
Derwent Village was a small collection of stone-built dwellings and outbuildings gathered around a narrow winding street. In the whole village, it was unlikely that there dwelt more than sixty souls. At the top end of the village was a large Victorian vicarage (the gate posts are still there), and at the bottom, an Anglican church (1867) and school. Roughly alongside the road but well below it ran the narrow Mill Brook, which fed into the River Derwent.
At the bottom of the village, flowing right down the valley, was the River Derwent, and if you crossed it by the ford or by an old Pack-Horse Bridge, you reached Bridge-End Farm. In later years, beside Bridge-End Farm was built a typical stone water Valve House with distinctive stone roof. Although it was disused, the Valve House still stands.
Situated away from the village, and with its own Roman Catholic chapel, stood the magnificent Jacobean Derwent Hall which was built in 1672. Derwent Hall had its own lake and large ornament gardens. Some relics from Derwent Hall can be found in the museum. At a distance, further up the banks of the Derwent and at the end of open parkland, were Hall’s kitchen gardens, the site of which can still be seen. Nearby they stood the Waterhouses, a row of cottages.
Apart from the Valve House, Pack-Horse Bridge (removed to Slippery Stones above the head of Howden Dam) and the vicarage (later demolished because it stood too near the edge of the water), the whole of Derwent Village was demolished before the waters rose to engulf it in the mid-1940 ′s.
Stand today beside the car park at Bridge-End, overlooking the Derwent Valley, and you can still see signs of the village. To get your bearings, first look left, north up the valley and note the pipe bridge which carries the aqueduct taking water from the valley to the filter plant at Bamford. Just this side of the bridge, and on the far side of the river, are the ruins of the Water-houses, below which can be seen the outlines of Hall’s kitchen garden. Then let your imagination carry you across the open park where many a cricket match was played – and through the iron gates, past stables and outbuildings to Derwent Hall.
Almost opposite Bridge-End car park, but a little to your left and on the far side of the valley, the solid ruins of Derwent Hall are plain to see. Two items of masonry will help identify it, for at the north-west corner stands a large carved seat, a little like a hat, which was very popular with courting couples in the past (and as popular today for a family photo on the rare occasions that it reappears). On the east front (nearest you), there stands a solitary carved gate post. This once held an ornate wrought iron gate that led to the ornamental gardens.
Right opposite the car park and across the narrow ditch-like bed of Mill Brook are the ruins of Derwent Church, looking like two flattened piles of rubble. In amongst them still is the date stone. Of all that can still be seen at Derwent, Mill Brook is perhaps most surprising, still bringing water down from the hills and following the same line as it did before the brook was merged with the dam over 50 years ago.
Before the lower Derwent Valley was flooded in the mid-1940 ′s, most of the buildings were demolished, and much of the stone has since been used to strengthen beaches (edges) of the reservoir to reduce erosion. At Derwent Village – opposite the present Bridge End car park – the church tower was first left as a memorial but then blown up in 1947. But when the waters are down, you can still see the ruins and outlines of buildings, the lines of walls and hedges and can even stumble across the occasional dated stone or remains of a long-submerged bridge.
As the waters recede, below the church will appear the outline of the school and schoolhouse, which stood on the corner where the road from the village and the road from the Hall met to continue down to Ashopton.
If you do make the trip, please be careful and remember the code: Take only photos and leave nothing but footprints.
Not all of this beautiful village was lost to the waters of Ladybower Dam, for some buildings were above the high water line. Walk north a little way along the road, up Vicarage Hill towards Fairholmes, and you pass on the right the Roman Catholic chapel. Once a school, it is now used as the present Village Hall. Even the road, narrow and overhung with trees, is still as it was in the 1930′s when it was the road through Derwent to Ashopton.
Ashopton was quite different to Derwent. It was a working village standing beside the main turnpike road from Sheffield to Glossop, at the point where it was joined by the roads from Derwent and Bamford. It was a convenient place to break a journey.
A toll keeper’s cottage stood at the junction of the Sheffield and Bamford roads, while at the other end of the village was a pub – the Ashopton Inn, which in earlier days catered for coaches and horses, a garage, a post office and a Methodist Church. At one time, there was also a smithy. Around the village, there were several farms, some of which still stand.
So where Derwent Village seems to have been a close sort of place, existing almost as an out-station to the Hall, Ashopton was probably a better example of a living village. In the 1930′s, it was linked to Sheffield with a bus service which ran almost hourly.
Virtually nothing remains of Ashopton today. The village lay immediately below and to the south of the Ashopton Viaduct, which became a sort of bypass road. Divers who have ventured down say that it is now all covered with silt swept down from the Ashop Valley, apart from the Ashopton Inn, which is marked by a pile of rubble.
If you stand on the Ashopton Viaduct today, looking down towards Bamford, the village was below you, slightly to the left. To the right, remarkably, for the line was closed more than 70 years ago, can be sometimes seen the piers of the bridge that once carried the railway line from Bamford to Derwent.
But where Derwent Village has yielded up so much of its past for our delight, Ashopton has kept its secrets and will go on doing so!
To satisfy the needs for water of the growing industrial towns of Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, two dams were built just before the First World War. First, Howden Dam and then Derwent Dam below it at the head of the valley down, which flows the River Derwent on its long journey from Howden Moors to Matlock, Derby and the River Trent.
But Howden and Derwent Dams were not enough, so in the 1930′s, work began again, this time on a third dam across the Derwent at Yorkshire Bridge, beside the Ladybower to Bamford road.
Flooding the upper parts of the valley had meant the loss of a few, mainly isolated buildings and the building of a temporary ‘tin town’ at Birchinlee to house the men building the massive dams and their families. A railway line was laid from Bamford to Howden Dam to transport materials and the workmen and their families. Much of the present road from Ashopton viaduct to Fairholmes and Howden is built on the bed of the line.
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