The intriguing story of a lost' Dales village has been uncovered after 80 years. Ruth Campbell discovers what life was like for the 1,250 people who lived and worked building a vital reservoir, only to see their homes and community dismantled after 15 years
IT is easy to look up and outwards and become distracted by the stunning view - the wild, rugged hills, the beautiful open moorland and the huge, impressive dam at the centre of Scar House Reservoir.
But there is an equally gripping story unfolding beneath your feet - look down, and you discover the eerie outline of a "lost village", purpose-built for the 1,250 people who lived and worked here in the 1920s.
There are clues to this other world in the tracks and ridges in the earth and the weathered foundations of long forgotten buildings. The hobnailed bootprint of one worker is clearly embedded in a slab of concrete. A piece of cable lies, untouched, in the spot where it was last used.
It is still possible to follow the line of the old railway which connected this remote village with the outside world.
Now, thanks to new research by local historian Andrew Bolt, the lost village of Scar House, near Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales, has resurfaced after 80 years.
The model village, which boasted houses with indoor toilets, which few homes in the rest of the valley were lucky enough to enjoy, was built in 1922 for the workers constructing the dam wall on the River Nidd.
It even had its own 600-seater cinema, a village newspaper, a hospital and a post office with its own post mark.
But after 15 years, once the dam was completed, the village, and its community, was dismantled, with many buildings sold at auction or demolished on site. Workers returned to their homes in Ireland and the south of England. All that was left behind were the concrete foundations. Scar House village simply disappeared.
Andrew, a Yorkshire Water contractor and keen historian, stumbled across this forgotten world while researching the work of Bradford architect William Illingworth, who, among many other projects, had worked on Scar House Reservoir. He started to piece together the story of Scar House and, before long, the past was coming to life before his eyes: "The first thing you notice is the remaining weathered structures of what once formed the village," he says. "The car park is set on different levels, where the family homes and bungalows of the workers used to be."
In his book, A Walk In The Past*, he set out to chart the history of the village frozen in time.
"Being a keen rambler as well as a historian, I realised there was more to this reservoir than meets the eye."
Andrew determined to solve a number of puzzles about what stood where and pieced together a detailed map of what Scar House looked like in the early 1920s.
"It really does make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end when you stand there and imagine it as it was. It is like real-life archaeology," he says.
His map now allows us to walk in the footsteps of people who were born, married and died here.
We can picture where the gymnasium, canteen and reading and recreation room once stood and perhaps imagine what sort of conversations and transactions were carried out in the grocer's, butcher's, draper's, newsagent's, fishmonger's hairdresser's and fish and chip shop Andrew has uncovered on site.
It was a remote and often difficult environment: "People were relying on supplies coming in. It was a bit like the Wild West," says Andrew.
"One chap went insane up there. We complain when we get a bit of snow on the road, but in winter they often didn't see anyone for weeks, they were isolated.
There was only the train to take you in and out."
The work was hard.
Scar House Reservoir, built to supply water to West Yorkshire, was a huge building project. The excavation work alone took about three-and-a-half years and two fixed aerial cableways spanning the valley carried the one million tones of masonry needed to build the 233 ft high dam.
"It was a slow process in those days,"
says Andrew. It was dangerous too. All the stone was excavated by men in flat caps and hob nailed boots with no safety equipment. "There were many accidents and some died in the construction of the reservoir," he adds.
But the village had its attractions, with people here living in luxury compared to the industrial back streets of the old mill towns and cities many had come from.
"They had better homes than people in the outlying areas.
There were inside bathrooms and toilets - Pateley Bridge had never seen the like of it," says Andrew.
The air was pure, the children went to school and the hospital and healthcare facilities were second to none. "Life could be harsh, but the general feeling was that it was a nice place to live. Children loved the fresh air and had little jobs in the community."
People used to travel from all over the area to attend lantern shows and other entertainment in the popular concert hall. Pathe Newsreel films were shown regularly in the cinema. "There was a lot of religious content. They probably would have watched Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy films too," says Andrew, who points out that the old projection room is one of the few buildings still standing on the site.
None of the buildings, some of which cost as much as £2,000 to build, a small fortune at the time, went to waste.
There were ten hostels, each accommodating about 60 navvies, for single men. "Most of them were auctioned off.
The original canteen now stands in Darley, used as the village hall. It was transported down from Scar in sections on a flatbed long wheelbase lorry. I met one woman who had one of the buildings on her farmstead. Her father bought it cheap," says Andrew.
The workers and their families had no option but to move on. "Although they were supposed to be using direct labour, it appears workers came from all over country and sometimes the world to work here," says the historian.
Today, Scar House is a popular spot for walkers, with more than 150,000 people visiting every year. "This is a beautiful place," says Andrew.
"When you get out of the car, you notice how silent it is. It captivates you.
But it is not only a great place to come for a walk, it has so much history behind it."
He hopes his book will help those attracted by the riddles of the landscape to picture the village as it once was. It also serves as a fitting tribute to those who dedicated so many years of their lives to building such a vital resource.
* A Walk In The Past by Andrew C Bolt (£11.99, including p&p, available from Laing O'Rourke, Unit 706, Thorp Arch Trading Estate, Wetherby LS23 7BJ, cheques payable to Andrew Bolt).
A donation will be made to Water Aid for every copy sold.