Manuscripts and Special Collections

Derwent Valley Water Board, 1899-1974


Due to concerns about meeting demand for water in the growing cities of the East Midlands and disputes between these cities over access to the waters of the upper River Derwent, the Derwent Valley Water Board was formed under the Derwent Valley Water Act 1899. This was to enable the construction of reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley in the Derbyshire Peak District, in order to supply Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Sheffield and parts of Derbyshire. Construction costs were apportioned in relation to the proportion of water that each corporation or authority had been allocated under the 1899 Act and membership of the Board reflected this arrangement.

Howden Reservoir was officially opened in 1912 and Derwent Reservoir was brought into use in 1916. Water from the reservoirs passed through filters constructed at nearby Bamford and was transported via aqueducts and pipelines, which divided at Ambergate, Derbyshire, into the Nottingham and the Derby (and Leicester) supplies. A second instalment of work by the Board involved diverting water from the Rivers Ashop and Alport into the Derwent Reservoir, with the construction of a filtration plant at Yorkshire Bridge and duplication of pipeline along various sections of the aqueduct. Construction of Ladybower Reservoir formed the third instalment, with work starting on Lady Bower Dam in 1935 and the official opening of the reservoir taking place in 1945. Work began on improvements to the filtration and treatment of the water in 1965, and due to further demand increases, Church Wilne storage reservoir and treatment works in Nottinghamshire opened in 1972, for water extracted from the Lower Derwent River. The Board was dissolved under the Water Act, 1973 and responsibility passed to the newly created Severn Trent Water Authority in 1974.


Multi-level descriptions of the Derwent Valley Water Board records are available through the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. The catalogue was produced in 2011-2012 with support from The National Archives Cataloguing Grants Programme.

The collection comprises a full series of indexed bound minute books (DVW/G), 1899-1974, a small selection of undated photographs (c.1950-c.1974) documenting work carried out on behalf of the Board in Belper, Derbyshire, and a printed booklet 'The Derwent Valley Water Board: a short description of the undertaking' dated c.1970.

Maps and plans relating to specific elements of intended works such as the building of Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire, show the intended water level of the new reservoirs, indicating the buildings which would be submerged in the process (part of the 'lost village of Ashopton, Derbyshire). Interestingly, the water level indicated on these plans differs from the eventual level on completion of the work.

Also present are a series of significant plans (DVW/P/1) dated 1901-1914 showing the designs for various buildings which formed part of the 'tin town' at Birchinlee, Derbyshire, built for workers involved in the construction of Derwent and Howden Dams in the Derwent Valley.

Plan of Birchinlee, 1914 (DWP/P/1/30) 

During the period of the construction of the great public works such as railways and dams, groups of nomadic workers known as navvies, would travel looking for employment, sometimes sleeping out in the open or arriving en mass with families in tow at the nearest village. The 1899 Derwent Valley Water Act stipulated that the Board should provide sufficient accommodation and hospitals with sanitary arrangements for the workmen they employed. When work started in 1901 on the construction of the Howden and Derwent Dams, a temporary village was constructed for the workers and their families. The village was named Birchinlee, after the existing farmhouse at the site, in the parish of Hope Woodlands, Derbyshire, and was served by the railway siding built by the Derwent Valley Water Board for transporting building material from Bamford to the two dam construction sites. The population of the village reached a maximum of 967 in 1909.

Huts were constructed with galvanised corrugated iron sides (hence the nickname 'Tin Town'); 84 workmen's huts were eventually built, some of which housed the ganger, his family and eight men, and some of which provided family accommodation for married workmen. Other buildings included a school, shops, bath-house, police station, canteen, recreation hall and isolation hospital (for the treatment of infectious diseases prevelant at that time). Plans which have survived here include the staff club, general hospital, isolation hospital, canteen and huts for workmen. The existence of a canteen in the village serving alcohol was of some concern to the Temperance Movement and the minute books record the ongoing dispute with the Board. The plans record a number of extensions made to the canteen, suggesting its popularity amongst the workers.


Next page:  Severn Trent Water Authority, 1974-1989

Manuscripts and Special Collections

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