Over 100 years ago the Derwent Valley in North Derbyshire was identified as having all the necessary attributes for water storage to satisfy the growing needs of the local population and industry in North Derbyshire, Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, the valley being deep and long, surrounded by gritstone edges with narrow points for dam building, and having a high rainfall.
Royal Assent for the Derwent Valley reservoirs was granted in 1899 and the first two dams, Howden and Derwent, were constructed between 1901 and 1916. A site above Grindleford railway station - Bole Hill Quarry - was chosen to supply around 1.2million tons of stone for the reservoir walls and railway infrastructure was constructed to support the quarrying operation. A a village called Birchinlee was constructed in the valley to house the workers, consisting of well ordered corrugated iron homes along with shops, a school and a village hall. The village, known as 'Tin Town', was dismantled on completion of the dams but the old village site can still be seen alongside the Derwent Reservoir just to the north of Fairholmes Visitor Centre.
Construction of the Ladybower Dam started in 1935 and continued throughout the years of World War 2 despite the difficulty of obtaining materials and labour. It involved the flooding of the villages of Derwent and Ashopton despite much controversy. Derwent Church had to undergo exhumation of it's graves for reburial at Bamford. The dam was completed in 1943 but it took 2 years to fill it. The church tower had been left intact and reappeared eerily above the waters in 1947 when the water level was low. The Packhorse Bridge at Derwent was moved stone by stone, and rebuilt at Slippery Stones, at the head of Howden reservoir, since it had a preservation order on it.
Together Howden, Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs form the largest area of open water in Derbyshire and the Peak District National Park, and have a combined capacity of 463,692 million litres. The reservoirs offer a fantastic recreational venue, attracting over two million visitors every year.
Much of the landscape they come to admire is the work of man as much as nature, yet it still retains an aura of wildness and beauty and a staggering array of wildlife, some of which is extremely rare elsewhere in Europe. In recent years forestry has become an important factor here and much of the sides of the Upper Derwent valley have been clothed in conifers. Fortunately the Forestry Commission are a relatively benevolent landowner who allow access and provide amenities for visitors, because this is a popular area for walking, cycling and fishing. They have an information centre and car-park at Fairholmes, just below Derwent dam, run in cooperation with the Peak National Park. In 1993, the Upper Derwent Valley became one of the Forestry Authority's first Centres of Excellence.
Derwent reservoir was used by the RAF's Dambusters to practise their low level flying techniques during 1943, in preparation for delivering Barnes Wallis' famous 'bouncing bombs' to German dams. Located in the West Tower of the Derwent Valley Dam is the Derwent Dam (617 Squadron) Museum
which houses a collection of memorabilia dedicated to the famous Dams Raid carried out by 617 “Dambusters” Squadron. It includes photographs and other material covering all aspects of the Dams Raid, including details of the training flights carried out by 617 Squadron over the Derwent Dam and material relating to the film “The Dambusters” starring Richard Todd as Guy Gibson, made in 1954. There is also an example of the famous “Bouncing Bomb”, which forms the centrepiece of the museum’s display.
Opening times are 10.00am to 4.00pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays only
Derbyshire and Peak District Rivers
Photographs from the reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley in Derbyshire at Derbyshire and Peak District Photographs