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.