Silent valley; the story of the lost Derbyshire villages of Derwent and Ashopton, now submerged beneath Ladybower Dam by Vic Hallam

The industrialisation of Britain was not restricted to the nineteenth century. As the 20th century gathered pace, the major cities of the Midlands and Yorkshire had to come to terms with the effects of ever-increasing growth, and this put additional strain on utilities in particular. Ever-increasing standards meant that new works had to be put in place to meet escalating demand for power, transport and, particularly (but often invisibly), water.

The problem with supplying water for major cities is that the reservoirs required to collect the water required are best built in upland areas of great natural beauty, and often occupied by people with little political influence – and therefore little say in what happens to them. Thus it was with the villagers of two settlements in North Derbyshire – Ashopton and Derwent. From 1920, when the enabling legislation was first passed, these villages were under delayed sentence of death as the powers that be had earmarked their valleys for flooding.

After much national opposition, work started on the Ladybower Reservoir in 1935.The coming of the Second World War made these reservoirs even more urgent, as industry – especially in Sheffield, with its strategic steel industries – needed greater amounts of water than ever before, and the work was accelerated. By 1941 impounding had started and the villages started to be demolished around 1943. This book chronicles the villages as they were, and their transition from viable, living communities to underwater ghosts. The pictures of the now-vanished buildings and people have an eerie sense about them, because these places are not just demolished; they are submerged, and forever inaccessible.

In one picture, the uncompleted viaduct for the diverted main road towers over the village whilst the local carrier goes about his business, delivering goods to the few villagers left. Meanwhile, children have come out to look at the carrier’s lorry, oblivious to the change that will soon come upon them. The alien presence of the new looms over the old, and must be a topic of conversation between the adults in the picture. It is perhaps the most poignant picture in the book, with a dreadful sense of oncoming disruption and exile. A slim volume that speaks more words than it contains on its pages.

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