Derwent Reservoir is the middle of three reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley. It lies approximately 10 miles (16 km) from Glossop and 10 miles (16 km) from Sheffield. The River Derwent flows first through Howden Reservoir, then Derwent Reservoir, and finally through Ladybower Reservoir. Between them they provide practically all of Derbyshire's water, as well as supplying a large part of South Yorkshire, and as far afield as Nottingham and Leicester.
Derwent Reservoir is around 1.5 miles (2 km) in length, running broadly north to south, with Howden Dam at the northern end, and Derwent Dam at the south. A small island lies near Howden Dam. Abbey Brook flows into the reservoir from the east. At its peak the reservoir covers an area of 70.8 hectares (175 acres) and at its deepest point is 34.7 metres deep.
The Industrial Revolution and urbanisation of the 19th century created huge demand for water in the industrial cities of the East Midlands and South Yorkshire. Derwent Valley Water Board was created in 1899, to supply water to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. The proximity of Sheffield, combined with high average rainfall and low population, made the case for reservoir construction. and the decision to dam the valley to create the Howden and Derwent reservoirs.
The neo-Gothic solid masonry dam was begun in 1902, a year after Howden Dam was started, and proved a mammoth task. Between 1901 and 1903 a standard gauge railway of over 7 miles (11 km) was built from Bamford, to carry the thousands of tons of huge stones required for the construction of the two dams. Near to the southern end lay the newly opened quarry at Bole Hill. Remains of the railway can still be seen alongside Derwent Reservoir as well as at the western end of Ladybower Dam, where over 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of cutting and trackway remain, and are known locally as 'The Route'. Between the Howden and Derwent dams, the present road was built over the railway. After supplying well over a million tons of stone Bole Hill Quarry was closed in September 1914, with the end of the railway following soon after. The section between the Hope Valley Line at Hope and Yorkshire Bridge was relaid in 1935 to aid the construction of Ladybower Dam, but closed again in 1946.
Over 1,000 workers lived in the specially constructed self-contained village of Birchinlee, known as 'Tin Town', which consisted of well ordered corrugated iron homes along with shops, a school and a village hall. One of the metal huts was preserved and moved to Hope, where it is now a hairdressing salon. The workers that died during the construction of the dam were buried in Bamford churchyard.
The reservoir began to fill in November 1914, and overflowed for the first time in January 1916, with the water almost immediately passing into supply. The dam can support a total of 9.64 million cubic metres of water.
Only two years after the dam's completion in 1916, it was decided that the flow from the reservoir was insufficient to support the surrounding population. As a result, between 1920 and 1931 the River Alport and River Ashop were diverted from the Ashop Valley into the reservoir, using tunnels and a Venturi Flume. The diversion helped hold back water during the construction of Ladybower Reservoir.
The majority of the land around the reservoir is owned by Severn Trent Water, and of that, around half is woodland. The woods consist predominantly of larch, pine, and spruce conifers, with the remaining third mainly sycamore, beech and oak. The hills are given over to sheep pasture, leased to local farmers. The moorlands and gritstone edges are criss-crossed by footpaths, closed only during selected shooting periods.
During the Second World War, Derwent Reservoir was used by pilots of the Royal Air Force 617 Squadron for practising the low level flights needed for Operation Chastise, commonly known as the 'Dam Busters' raids. The valley was chosen due to its similarity to the Ruhr Valley dams, which were to be the target for the 'bouncing bombs' devised by Barnes Wallis. Today there is a commemorative plaque on the dam, and the west tower houses Derwent Dam Museum. The exhibition, owned and run by Vic Hallam, tells the tale of 617 Squadron; the making of the 1954 film; and contains an example of the 'bouncing bomb', along with a display on the history of the valley and the lost villages of Derwent and Ashopton. On 16 May 2008, a commemorative event to mark the 65th anniversary was held at Derwent Reservoir, including a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The event was attended by Les Munro, the only surviving pilot from the original raid, and Richard Todd, the actor who played Wing Commander Guy Gibson in the 1955 film, 'The Dam Busters'.
At the western end of Derwent Dam stands a memorial to a sheepdog named Tip. Her master, Joseph Tagg, was a well known local sheep farmer who helped found Hope Valley Sheepdog Trials, and during his later years lived in Yorkshire Bridge. On 12 December 1953, Tagg, aged 85, went out for the last time with his faithful border collie, and vanished completely. Despite an exhaustive search neither he, nor his dog, could be found. It was not until 15 weeks later that Tagg’s remains were discovered, with Tip, now completely exhausted, lying about five metres away. Somehow, Tip had managed to survive heavy snow, biting winds and freezing temperatures on one of the most hostile stretches of moorland in the country. Tip was carried back to the rescuer’s lorry and later transferred to a caring home, where she was carefully nursed back to health. A year later, in May 1955, she died. However, the hearts of those familiar with the story were so greatly touched, that a memorial was erected in her memory.
Derbyshire UK: Link
Discover Derbyshire and the Peak District: Link