The Lost Villages of Ashopton & Derwent in the Peak District is the destination – plus a little of The Dam Busters, Monks and Abandoned Farmsteads and some hot chicken soup thrown in for good measure.
The Peak District, as with many other places that are right under your local nose, is full of fascinating history – from recent times to as far back as the end of the last ice age. Apart from the beauty of the place, if you only look twice you can find some great evidence. We are really a bit Johnny come lately aren’t we, when you just stop to think that your very footsteps were walked 10,000 years ago or maybe that pile of rocks you stepped on to tie up your boot laces, were put there to clear a field 4,000 years ago or indeed that prehistoric rock art that was etched 6000 years ago.
One particular place I am interested in is the more recent history of the Upper Derwent and the lost villages of Derwent and Ashopton which were submerged following the construction and flooding to form Ladybower Reservoir in the 1930’s.
Ladybower was built between 1935 and 1943 by the Derwent Valley Water Board to supplement the other two reservoirs (Howden and Derwent built 1900-1916) in supplying the water needs of the East Midlands. It took a further two years to fill (1945).
The two viaducts, Ashopton and Ladybower, carry the trunk roads over the reservoir and were built by the London firm of Holloways, using a steel frame clad in concrete. The project was delayed when the Second World War broke out in 1939, making labour and raw materials scarce. But construction was continued due to the strategic importance of maintaining supplies.
Certainly, by 1946 both villages were submerged. The water level in the Ladybower reservoir during a dry spell can drop that much that the remains of the lost village of Derwent reappear (drought conditions in 1976 and 1989 1976, 1989, 1996 and 2003 uncovered much of Derwent stonework).
Derwent Village was a small collection of stone-built dwellings and out-buildings but the main activity was at Ashopton – a contrast to Derwent, as it was a working village standing beside the main road from Sheffield to Glossop, a crossroads and stop point to break a journey. The Ashopton Inn no doubt would be a watering hole no doubt and once this pub also catered for coaches (and horses) the local garage, post office and many a church wake. . Around the village were several farms and some of this still stands.
Birchinlee is also not to be forgotten, although a temporary ‘tin’ town built to house the men [and their families] building the dams of Derwent and Howden between 1902 and 1916, it was still very much part of the Derwent community. Accommodation at Tin Town consisted of workmen’s huts and its infrastructure included a school, canteen (pub), post office, shops, recreation hall, public bathhouse, police station, railway station and the population rose to 900 people.. Remnants of “Tin Town” can still be seen when walking to the west of Derwent Reservoir.
The spire of Derwent parish church was the last significant building in the villages to disappear from view and, in the early days of the reservoir, the spire would re-appear eerily through the morning mists when water levels were low. Later, the spire was demolished for safety reasons.
Built in 1876 the village church like so many, was the centre of social and worship activities. In 1940, the remains of 285 people were exhumed from the chapel graveyard and the “contents” reburied at Bamford.
The last service was held at the church on the 17th March 1943 and on this same day, the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron was formed at R.A.F Scampton under the command of Wing Commander Guy Gibson – better known today as The Dambusters who would later practice over the Howden and Derwent dams.
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. The Derwent valley has a long history of worship – Abbey Grange, for example, an extensive farm built by monks which in 1299, the Welbeck estate at Crookhill was valued in a taxation roll at £7-17-6d.
The monks built 4 chapels in the valley. It would be great to locate them. I would be especially interested to find any evidence of one such chapel next time I am up there, a wayfarer chapel, which stood in the woodlands 130 yards south of Hope Cross and close to the Roman road, offering food and shelter to travellers.
Hope Cross, stands on a former Roman road on the crossroads of an important packhorse rout. The 7 feet high post with a square capstone bearing the names of Edale, Glossop, Hope and Sheffield on its faces dates back to 1737. Most likely there would have been a cross here before this one.
The Dam Busters
As the waters began to rise, Lancaster bombers flew over the Howden and Derwent dams (which already existed in the higher reaches of the valley – built just before the First World War), in order for pilots to practise low-level bombing runs for the Dambuster raids on the reservoirs of the Ruhr. Even at that time, the squadron would not have known their target until only the eleventh hour – to cross the Netherlands and Germany at zero feet and to drop a bomb on the Ruhr dams. Operation Chastise, better known as the Dam Busters raids, carried out by Royal Air Force 617 Squadron on 16th and 17th May 1943..
Pictured above, a Lancaster Bomber of the type used in the raid flies above the Derwent Dam during a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1988. Later, a tribute flypast was in 2013 for the 70th anniversary of the raid and also in 2014, as thousands watched the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers in the world flypast the reservoirs.
The opening ceremony marked the completion of a work programme initiated in 1899, when an Act of Parliament authorised the Derwent Valley Water Board to construct six reservoirs to supply water to Derbyshire and the surrounding corporations of Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield.
At the time of opening, the waters behind would have been rising over the villages or Ashopton and Derwent.
Today the reservoirs look a permanent and beautiful part of the surroundings and you would not so easily realise just how deep that Ladybower reservoir is without seeing some of the construction pictures showing the now ‘lost’ villages that now lie below. the Ashopton Viaduct would have towered over the doomed village below.
The Ladybower Dam’s design is unusual in having two totally enclosed bellmouth overflows (locally named the “plug-holes”) at the side of the wall. These are stone and of 80 feet (24 m) diameter with outlets of 15 feet (4.6 m) diameter. The bell mouths are often completely out of the water and are only rarely submerged, often after heavy rainfall or flooding. It would be great to see these in action.
As a recent walker of the Peak District, I find there is a huge amount of history to be discovered that makes walking in the area so much more interesting. I guess the same can be said for any area but I am particularly drawn to the farmsteads that were abandoned and one, in particular, is Elmin Pitts Farmstead, the remains of which I came across in the woodlands near Hope Cross.
Ladybower’s Lost Farmstead
Elmin Pits Farmstead, one of several farmsteads abandoned during the creation of the three reservoirs where substantial building fabric was left standing by DVWB. Like many of the farmstead sites, it now survives within woodland with public access managed by Severn Trent Water. Other farmsteads lost were Bellhag Farm, Bridge End Farm, Cockbridge Farm, Fairholmes Farm, Grainfoot Farm, Haglee Farm, Wellhead Farm & Wood’s Farm.
Built circa 1740-60, this now secluded farmstead ruins lies in the Woodlands Forest above Ladybower Reservoir. I think last occupied as late as the early 40’s.
The last time I was here was on Christmas day 2014. How’s that for a keep fit & keenness effort! Perhaps it is because of its seclusion in a beautiful forest setting and the moss-covered dry stone walls that were an alternative setting to getting fat with turkey.
An excellent stop for Xmas lunch. We sat on the throne pictured below that someone had made from the ruins of the stone walls. No campfire, however, but the flask of hot soup we took was most welcome (not turkey soup!).
Any information on who lived and worked here would be most welcome!
But don’t take my word for it – get out there and see for yourself. Maybe lose a few pounds too..
Take a Hike!
Now you are obviously wanting to get out for a walk that will take in some of Ladybower, Win Hill, Crook Hill, Hope Cross and Woodlands, including the abandoned secluded moss-clad Elmin Pitts Farmstead. This is a route you can easily improvise but I have plotted on a map for you and you can also download a GPX file of the route here if you have a GPS device to import it to.
This route starts at Heatherdene car park on the A6013 Ladybower to Bamford Road. GR SK 202859 €“ nearest postcode for Sat Nav: Hope Valley S33 0BY.
This walk has a varied mix of views including the Reservoir, the Viaducts the summits of Win Hill Pike and Crook Hill, the steady descent from the ridge to the Roman Road ( a stony track built by the Roman army) as well as a detour through the fantastic pine forest and rout up to the secluded Elmin Pitts Farmstead abandoned ruins. Following this, the route takes you down another ancient track descending downhill to cross the River Ashop then with care, the Snake Pass.
After a Climb uphill past Hagg Farm, reaching a saddle on the long ridge that stretches from Bleaklow to the Ashopton Viaduct. If you are still feeling energetic, then a short diversion to the twin summits of Crook Hills grit-stone tors will be in order before the gentle descent to the Viaducts and back to the car park.
Update: now see the video of this hike and a look around the farmstead..
References + more for you to check out –
In this ATV clip, the late Gwyn Richards interviews former residents of Derwent and Ashopton villages in Derbyshire which were flooded during the construction of Ladybower Reservoir in the 40’s. The B&W footage & commentary by Gwyn Richards is in the true spirit of the mood of the day, although filmed in 1966.
Revealed: 2018 take a look at what the low water levels revealed in 2018, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/daohaiku/46166016741/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/daohaiku/46162309931/ .. Thanks to Dr Anthony Oats (see comments)
Thanks to Doctor Bill Bevan – for the info in his Thesis submitted towards a PhD, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield.
There are some great books available on the history of the upper Derwent and I would certainly recommend Bill’s own books on the Ancient Peakland and many others.
Dr Bevan is an Archaeologist, writer, photographer and DJ (Unity Dub)
Also, I recommend the most excellent book Silent Valley by Vic Hallam. Vic owned and operated the former Derwent Dam Museum which was housed in the west tower of the Derwent Dam. The exhibition housed many interesting displays and items associated the 617 Squadron Dambuster raids of the Second World War. In addition, comprehensive information and several exhibits can be found on the lost villages of Derwent, Ashopton and Birchinlee.