Derwent village in Derbyshire was ‘drowned’ by the Ladybower reservoir in 1944; the church spire, as seen in this old postcard photograph, was left intact as a memorial, then later dynamited in 1947, due to safety concerns.
Why are these villages referred to as ‘drowned’? Personified, yet no people are left in the water, even the bodies buried in church cemeteries are exhumed prior to flooding. Also, why is this metaphor of the village underwater, so unnerving, yet fascinating and compelling. Sarah Hall’s novel Haweswater (2002) explores this contradiction in terms of the ‘drowning’ of the Measand and Mardale Green villages in the Mardale valley. The decision to ‘raze’ the buildings prior to the flooding is taken for the following reasons:
‘A village underwater and perfect? There was something sinister about it, was there not? It would look like slaughter, or like murder, like martyrdom, certainly incriminating’ (p. 215).
Hall’s writing is not alone in courting the ghosts of the submerged; there is also Hilary Mantel’s short story ‘The Clean Slate’ (2003) and Reginald Hill’s detective novel On Beulah Height (1998). These texts skirt an act of preservation, a nostalgia, the impossible village and notions of the ‘perfect’ village as impossible too.
Also, why is there such frisson when these villages re-emerge from the water during drought?