Friday, 14 May 2010

Derwent and Ashopton

Today I went to Sheffield's local studies library to see if they had anything on the flooding of the Derwent Valley and the 'drowned' villages of Derwent and Ashopton. They had some interesting photographs, including an extraordinary one of the tower of Derwent Church rising out of the waters of the reservoir, but I can't reproduce those on the blog. Here, instead, is an excerpt from Bill Bevan's book, The Upper Derwent: 10,000 Years in a Peak District Valley, published in 2004. I think it captures the social meanings of the inundation very well.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the largest impact on the Upper Derwent landscape was about to begin and it [...] would be finished within fifty years. By the time it was complete someone born into the family occuping Bridge-End Farm in 1900 was living in a new terrace house just north of Bamford. By then their farmhouse was demolished, fields and carefully maintained dry-stone walls were lost, Derwent Hall was a pile of rubble and the dead who had been buried in Derwent churchyard since the 1870s were settling into the graveyard at Bamford. The heart of the community had moved en masse.

The reason for this was the need for water in the growing cities and towns of South Yorkshire and the East Midlands. Three Acts of Parliament were passed between 1899 and 1904 enabling Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to improve their water supplies by flooding the valleys. Town planners in northern England looked to the valleys of the Pennines and other uplands as potential reservoirs. This flooding of the valleys necessitated the removal of much of the existing dispersed farming population and associated patterns of land-use while leaving the grouse moors relativly undisturbed. For a temporary period, a new society was implanted into the area comprising the navvy dam builders themselves who were housed in the purpose-built village of Birchinlee, also known as Tin Town. By the time the reservoirs were finished the valley landscape was transformed under large bodies of water which covered farms, fields, Derwent Village and Ashopton. For anyone living in the valleys at this time, the impact must have been incredible. (page 142)

I think this evokes the context well: the growth of the industrial cities creating a demand for water, the relocation of a whole rural population (including the dead from the churchyard), the untouched grouse moors (shooting being the sport of the upper classes), and the arrival of the navvies - the stigmatised population of itinerant workers who built this country's industrial infrastructure.

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