When King George VI formally opened Ladybower Dam in 1945, the impounded waters of the River Derwent were already rising behind it, to engulf the remains of the empty villages of Derwent and Ashopton.
Ladybower was the third dam across the Derwent, for between 1902 and 1916 two mighty dams had been built at Howden and above Derwent village, but these had caused the destruction of only a few isolated buildings. It was Ladybower Dam that required the tragic sacrifice of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent.
Derwent Village was a small collection of stone built dwellings and out-buildings gathered around a narrow winding street. In the whole village it was unlikely that there dwelt more than sixty souls. At the top end of the village was a large Victorian vicarage (the gate posts are still there) and at the bottom an Anglican church (1867) and school. Roughly alongside the road, but well below it, ran the narrow Mill Brook, which fed into the River Derwent.
Over the Mill Brook at the top of the village was a narrow bridge which is still submerged but without its parapets. There were also three smaller foot-bridges, one of which led into the church and church-yard.
At the bottom of the village, flowing right down the valley, was the River Derwent, and if you crossed it by the ford or by an old Pack-Horse Bridge you reached Bridge-End Farm. In later years, beside Bridge-End Farm was built a typical stone water Valve House with distinctive stone roof. Although it was disused the Valve House still stands.
Situated away from the village, and with its own Roman Catholic chapel, stood the magnificent Jacobean Derwent Hall which was built in 1672. Derwent Hall had its own lake and large ornament gardens. Some relics from Derwent Hall can be found in the museum. At a distance, further up the banks of the Derwent and at the end of open parkland, were the Hall’s kitchen gardens, the site of which can still be seen. Nearby them stood the Waterhouses, a row of cottages.
Apart from the Valve House, Pack-Horse Bridge (removed to Slippery Stones above the head of Howden Dam) and the vicarage (later demolished because it stood too near the edge of the water) the whole of Derwent Village was demolished before the waters rose to engulf it in the mid 1940′s.
Stand today beside the car park at Bridge-End, overlooking the Derwent Valley and you can still see signs of the village. To get your bearings, first look left, north up the valley and note the pipe bridge which carries the aqueduct taking water from the valley to the filter plant at Bamford. Just this side of the bridge, and on the far side of the river, are the ruins of the Water-houses, below which can be seen the outlines of the Hall’s kitchen garden. Then let your imagination carry you across the open park where many a cricket match was played – and through the iron gates, past stables and outbuildings to Derwent Hall.
Almost opposite Bridge-End car park, but a little to your left and on the far side of the valley, the solid ruins of Derwent Hall are plain to see. Two items of masonry will help identify it, for at the north-west corner stands large carved seat, a little like a hat, which was very popular with courting couples in the past (and as popular today for a family photo on the rare occasions that it reappears). On the east front (nearest you) there stands a solitary carved gate post. This once held an ornate wrought iron gate which led to the ornamental gardens.
Right opposite the car park, and across the narrow ditch-like bed of the Mill Brook, are the ruins of Derwent Church, looking like two flattened piles of rubble. In amongst them still is the date stone. Of all that can still be seen at Derwent, the Mill Brook is perhaps most surprising, still bringing water down from the hills and following the same line as it did before the brook was merged with the dam over 50 years ago.
Before the lower Derwent Valley was flooded in the mid 1940′s most of the buildings were demolished and much of the stone has since been used to strengthen beaches (edges) of the reservoir to reduce erosion. At Derwent Village – opposite the present Bridge End car park – the church tower was first left as a memorial but then blown up in 1947. But when the waters are down you can still see the ruins and outlines of buildings, the lines of walls and hedges and can even stumble across the occasional dated stone