In a testament to the power of the legend of Atlantis, myth seems prevail when whispers of any potential underwater city are in the air. For decades the legend that an obscure mining village called Plashetts was submerged to facilitate the creation of Kielder Water has persisted. The artificial reservoir was constructed in the mid-1970s and opened in 1981 to meet the growing demands for water in the North of England. According to legend, if divers were to plunge to the bottom of the artificial reservoir they would be able to swim through the village, walk the streets of what once was Plashetts and perhaps even enter the old church or schoolhouse and bear witness to the toll 40 years of inundation has taken on a once-thriving community.
In contrast with Dunwich—which was the victim of natural forces—Plashetts was reputed to be the victim of enterprising planners and local officials. The myth was perhaps sustained by the British government’s history of using Compulsory Purchase Orders to seize land for large civil engineering projects. But would a malevolent authority really disenfranchise an entire village in their utilitarian zeal by clearing its population and flooding it with billions of gallons of water in order to strengthen their hydrological infrastructure?
Britain’s largely unwritten history of flooding remote rural settlements to create reservoirs only serves to add to the mystique. In 1939 the village of Mardale in the Lake District was submerged when the Haweswater valley became the Hawswater Reservoir to increase water supply to Greater Manchester in the North West of England. Before the submersion, its few villagers were moved out and the Royal Engineers were called in to demolish the buildings with explosives. Mardale’s demise is well-documented and its story leaves little to the imagination but another one of its contemporary sunken villages of the early 20th century invites fables. In 1944 the former village of Derwent in Derbyshire was drowned to create the Ladybower Reservoir as a solution to increased demand for water in the East Midlands. Although the village was demolished planners left the church tower of Derwent standing as a memorial to the lost village. As the water levels rose steadily the spire could be seen poking out of the deep waters. It would eventually be destroyed with explosives in 1947 after being deemed unsafe. To this day, in the right conditions, the structural foundations of houses and even bridges in Mardale and Derwent can be seen.
Although a cartographic analysis will confirm that parts of what was formerly the village of Plashetts are submerged under Kielder Water, the true story is slightly more nuanced than folklore suggests. Plashetts was indeed once a thriving village with 500 residents and all the amenities you might expect of a classic village—place of worship, school and of course a village pub. Plashetts’s relatively short life began at the height of the mining industry in Victorian Britain when it was created to house workers of the nearby mine, quarry and brickworks. Its remote location in the rolling hills of Northumberland meant it could only be reached by rail. Plashetts railway station connected the village with Edinburgh to the South and Hexham to the North and served both freight and passenger services.
The coal produced by the Duke of Northumberland’s mine was carried over the border into Scotland by pack ponies where it sold extremely well. By the start of World War I, the colliery at Plashetts employed 120 miners and its school had over 100 children enrolled. The village even had an active football team called Plashetts Rovers which played in a league with other local Northumberland sides. This paints a portrait of a blooming village very much in line with the legend—but this is where the real narrative deviates to contradict myth.
Subterranean conditions in the mine became increasingly torrid leading the miners of Plashetts to join the national 1926 General Strike by mine workers around the country who were protesting against decreasing wages and deteriorating working conditions. Although the national strike lasted just nine days, Plashetts held out for four months and by the time the miners returned to the pit the mine was more or less unworkable. The mine struggled on until 1928 when it was eventually shut down owing to a dramatic decrease in output. And so the mining industry which had been responsible for the birth of the village was also accountable for its death. With the largest employer gone it was only a matter of time before residents left for opportunities elsewhere. Although the school managed to stay open until 1939, already by 1930—just two years after the colliery’s closure—the village was described as “remote and desolate, with many of its dwellings derelict, and a dwindling population”.
Although there were scattered attempts to revive the coal mine Plashetts had become completely desolate by the early 1960s. In 1962 the Forestry Commission took the decision to level the village completely, observing that all of the houses were in an advanced state of dereliction with no doors or windows and unstable roofs. Although the Royal Engineers Corp of the Army were scheduled to demolish the village, they were prevented from using their desired type of explosive. This left the forest workers themselves to destroy the shell of the village.
With the village almost completely demolished by the late 1960s—five years before the construction of Kielder Water—any rumours of an entire active village being flooded can be put to bed. The remains of most of the buildings can be found on land near the edge of the water, but that is not to say that parts of the remains of the old village were not submerged by the reservoir. Plashetts colliery itself was drowned along with the foundational remains of the village train station and some waggonway tracks in and out of the mine.
Archives of the Hexham Courant Newspaper
Beryl Charlton, Upper North Tynedale: A Northumbrian Valley and Its People
D.J. Coats, N.J. Ruffle, ‘The Kielder Water Scheme’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers
V.J. Hallam, Silent Valley: A History of the Derbyshire Villages of Ashopton and Derwent
‘The “Lost Village” of Mardale’, BBC Cumbria (November 2003)