Derwent: 3D memorial to the village where 75 years ago parishioners left their church service – never to return

Ladybower Reservior, near Sheffield. Two villages are buried beneath the water. Picture by Chris Lawton
Ladybower Reservior, near Sheffield. Two villages are buried beneath the water. Picture by Chris Lawton
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It was on Sunday morning, on a March weekend milder than this, that the villagers filed out of their parish church on the edge of the Peak District. They never went back.

The church bell that day, exactly 75 years ago, sounded the death knell for Derwent. Within weeks, it had been abandoned to its fate.

Ashopton Village - demolished in the early 1940's to make way for the Ladybower Reservoir

Ashopton Village - demolished in the early 1940's to make way for the Ladybower Reservoir

It was one of two “drowned villages” sacrificed to the demand for mains water in South Yorkshire. The Ladybower Reservoir engulfed it and the neighbouring hamlet of Ashopton – the bulldozers trundling in as the RAF practiced overhead for the Dam Busters raid they were planning to inflict on Germany.

The war memorial has been all that’s left of Derwent – until now. In a surviving village a couple of miles away, they are putting the finishing touches to an exhibition of 160 remarkable and rarely-seen photographs.

Postcards produced for the tourist trade, mounted in an album and kept for generations by a collector, were auctioned last year. A few were previewed at the time – but the entire collection, digitally enhanced and enlarged, some in colour, is now about to go on view.

They will be seen alongside new computerised representations of the former villages, modelled by students at Chesterfield College. It will be the first time they have been seen in three dimensions since the drought of 1976, when the steeple of Derwent church briefly appeared above the waterline.

Postcards of life in Derwent and Ashopton. Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers

Postcards of life in Derwent and Ashopton. Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers

It was at that church 75 years ago today that prayers were said for the last time. They removed the bell and re-hung it, a decade later, in St Philip’s at Chaddesden, a new suburb of Derby. The rest of the old community, including the magnificent Jacobean Derwent Hall, was demolished and then flooded. The village pub, garage, shop and tea rooms – where the old post cards would have originally been sold – were all swept away.

“The last church service must have been incredibly sad,” said Kathleen Hearnshaw of the local history group in Bamford, which paid £310 for the postcards when they went under the hammer at Hansons in nearby Etwall.

“Those villagers gave up a whole way of life. Most of them were rehoused in an estate. Everything must have been completely different for them – they would have been self-sufficient until then.”

The estate was at Yorkshire Bridge, a hamlet named after a packhorse bridge which crosses the River Derwent to the south of the dam on the reservoir. A few people there still recall fragments of their childhoods in Ashopton and Derwent, and will be interviewed for the exhibition at Bamford Village Institute on April 21 and 22.

Postcards of life in Derwent and Ashopton. Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers

Postcards of life in Derwent and Ashopton. Courtesy of Hansons Auctioneers

A few of the postcards show the reservoir and its infrastruc­ture, under construction in the background, beginning to cast a shadow over the villages.

“They must have known that they were going to have to leave,” Ms Hearnshaw said.

But most of the pictures are witness to a way of life washed away with the villages – of locals washing their sheep, and waiting to board stagecoaches.

Auctioneer Charles Hanson said the seller was an elderly lady who wanted to remain anonymous. “It is thanks to people like her that we now have some understanding of what life was like before the villages ended in a watery grave,” he said.

The Derwent church steeple appeared above the waterline during the 1976 drought

The Derwent church steeple appeared above the waterline during the 1976 drought