What might have been

‘Our READERS Say IS THE FARNDALE SCHEME NECESSARY’. (Hull Daily Mail, 26 August 1932)

In 1932 the Kingston upon Hull Corporation bought a large area of land in Upper Farndale in the North York Moor, c. 2,000 hectares. The Corporation had a plan to create a large reservoir behind a constructed earth embankment at Church Houses , and then using gravitation through a series of pipes/aqueducts bring a safe and reliable water supply down to Hull (c. 50 miles away). The plans also involved a second stage with weirs constructed in the neighbouring dales of Rosedale and Bransdale (and possibly Westerdale?) – with the collected water piped through the dividing hills into the Farndale Reservoir, if and when demand required it. The River Dove which runs through Farndale naturally flows into the River Derwent which then flows into the River Ouse which ends up in the Humber Estuary where Hull is located – so all within the massive Humber river basin.Landscape view - looking north up Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

From the regional newspapers of the time there is a suggestion that the City of York considered a similarly located reservoir during the first reservoir enthusiasm at the end of the 19th century. In the 1920s/30s there had been another such outbreak of enthusiasm to use large scale engineering to make the most of natural capital and ensure sufficient safe water supplies with all the resulting health and welfare benefits. Ideas of progress and modernism assumed that cities and industry would prosper and expand if allowed to. Reservoirs meant (rain) water could be collected, stored and released under control, rather than relying on unpredictable and capricious rivers. The Kingston upon Hull Corporation were willing to make the required large scale capital investment at this difficult time (the Great Depression) for a better future.

As well as the very useful amount of water that could be impounded, the North York Moors water would be soft (less minerals) and could be mixed with the hard water from the Hull environs, thus improving the water as a product (the projected saving in soap is presented as one of the benefits from the scheme). Destructive flooding downstream would be prevented. The construction would provide a scheme of work for up to ‘600 labourers’ from the unemployed of Hull.

‘This Farndale scheme will not only prove a blessing to Hull, but to large areas of the North and East Riding, and future generations will appreciate, perhaps better than the present generation, the foresight and sagacity of the Hull Corporation’. (Hull Daily Mail, 25 September 1933)

Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Farndale, as well as Rosedale and Bransdale, were farming dales, surrounded on most sides by moorland, with low populations of people. The Leeds Mercury of Monday 29 August 1932 reports on what farmers in the Farndale area thought about the plan to build ‘the second largest reservoir in the country’. There was apparently some ‘alarm’ and concerns about possible effects on the water supply lower down the catchment, but the report also emphasises the employment opportunities (a common claim with all infrastructure projects, now and then) and potential increases in property/land values. As well as the large scale areas of farmland to be lost, a small number of individual farmsteads (c. 3 or 4?) would be submerged however there would be no “drowned villages” as there had been elsewhere in the country. In the meantime the farmers in Upper Farndale remained the tenants of the Corporation.

‘Hull Civic Visit to Site of New Reservoir. From Our Own Correspondent, HULL, Wednesday. Members of the Hull Corporation Water Committee paid an official visit to Farndale, the site of Hull’s proposed new reservoir, yesterday. At the end of the day they wondered which to admire the most, the glorious scenery through which they passed or the vision and skill of the young engineer, Mr. T. H. Jones, which has led the Corporation to depart from its policy of deep well pumping stations within comparatively easy reach of the city and go out to the North Yorkshire moorlands [North York Moors]. Mr. Jones is the deputy water engineer, and less than three years ago, when doubts were entertained as to the advisability of proceeding with £900,000 scheme for a pumping station at Kellythorpe, near, Driffield, he cast about for an alternative…. CHOICE OF FARNDALE. Mr. Jones’s thoughts turned to the broad moors and lovely vallies of the North Riding, with their bountiful supplies of soft water. His choice fell upon Farndale, a selection that was afterwards confirmed by Mr. H. P. Hill, the Manchester expert, and endorsed by Parliament, when the necessary enabling bill was promoted. So it fell out that to-day Mr. Jones was able to point out the details of scheme which is estimated to cost £1,182,000 for the first portion and £2,127,000 [c. £144 million in today’s money] for the completed whole…The chief objective of the visit was Church Houses, Farndale, where the eastern end of the great dam will be, Mr. Jones indicated the great work that is to be carried out and which, far from detracting from the beauties of the valley, will add to them. A lake two and a half miles long and half a mile its widest point will set among the hills. The dam will be 1,900 feet in length and 130 feet high. Six thousand million gallons of water will be impounded [the capacity of Upper Farndale compared to neighbouring dales was why it had been decided on]’. (Leeds Mercury, Thursday 16 August 1934)

Farndale looking towards Oak Crag. Copyright NYMNPA.

During the 1930s arguments continued to appear in the regional papers – in letters, articles and editorials – mainly focused on who would have to pay for the scheme, who would benefit from the scheme, whether the water collected in Farndale was actually ‘pure’ or ‘peaty’, and whether the substrata of Farndale was pervious or impervious and therefore suitable for holding water (the top end of Farndale where it is sandstone rather than limestone is impervious). The main controversy seems to have been whether the reservoir was actually needed or not – opinions were based on short or long term perspectives. It was claimed the work itself would take at least 10 years, but would result in a secure water supply for Hull for somewhere between ‘100 to 150 years’ up to ‘all time’.

Whereas some saw it as another ‘grandiose and extravagant scheme’ the correspondent below is very keen, and seems the scheme very much as a win-win situation for all. It also references the drive at the time by many local councils trying to ensure that their own local citizens had access to national water resources.

‘HOW HULL’S WATER PROBLEMS MAY BE SOLVED’ FOR EVER HUMBERSIDE ECHOES A Day Out in Farndale Transforming a Countryside…I spent a very interesting and enjoyable day yesterday visiting Hull’s existing and prospective waterworks. A better day for an outing to Farndale could not been selected, and as one might imagine, the valley and the site of the dam were seen under ideal conditions. The journey was made by motor-car, and we proceeded by way of Thwing straight on to Malton, thence to Kirbymoorside, and struck the wonderful surprise view at Gillamoor. From this point of vantage one can see right across the valley, which, to its furthest upland extent, must be some eight or ten miles. To the left is the actual sweep the dale, and we proceed to follow this by descending a rather narrow roughly-stoned road. We have left many miles behind that part of the valley which has been described by Dr Eve as being difficult owing to limestone formation [Dr Eve was the lead proponent of the limestone in Farndale being pervious], and have yet many miles further the dale to go. A DELIGHTFUL VALLEY From this point the scenery is of the most delightful description. There is nothing of the wild moorland desolation about it. On the uplands the purple of the heather can be seen, but down in this smiling valley, where fields are being reaped of their hay, and corn fast ripening in the sweltering August sun, there is alluring geniality and intimacy. The road is undulating and tortuous; and as we turn first this way and that, new vistas open out that delight the eye, and more than satisfies one’s natural expectancy. The population is sparce: a cluster of a few houses doubtless constitutes a village, and such a place is Church-houses where we leave the car and proceed on foot up the hillside to the actual site where is proposed to erect the dam. And as one views the prospect – just a building here and another there, and not a soul in sight – one cannot put the idea out of one’s head that is the spot which Nature has assigned for such a use as the serving of a large city with pure water. THE FUTURE ASSURED A “Mail” correspondent has described this valley as dirty. What a libel! No air can be fresher; no countryside cleaner; no water purer than is to be found here. And let the man who says a reservoir will mar the amenities of the district blush for very shame; for here, in due time, will appear a beautiful sheet of water about 1,900 feet wide and over two miles in length and the valley preserved from spoilation for all time. Behind the dam will be stored six thousand million gallons of water – a year’s supply immediately available – and in the adjoining valleys of Rosedale, Bransdale and Westerdale are further supplies of such magnitude that, with the pumping stations Hull has, the water problem of the city is solved for all time. And we are less than 50 miles from Hull as the pipeline will go! Manchester has to go about 110 miles to Thirlemere and Birmingham nearly 80 to Wales. have said it before and I must say again: Hull is singularly fortunate in having found this place – thanks to Mr Jones, the Deputy Water Engineer – and having staked her claim to it’.  (Hull Daily Mail, Thursday 11 August 1932)

Towards the end of the 1930s the plans were well developed and permissions were in place, although the money still needed to be raised. So the work had not begun when WWII broke out. The war didn’t stop the newspaper correspondence on the Farndale Reservoir idea – one letter writer warned that open reservoirs like the one proposed for Farndale provided the opportunity for enemies to poison whole populations.

Landscape view - looking south from Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

After the war the Farndale Reservoir scheme remained, every time there was a summer drought there were calls to revive it. The end of the war meant more visions of progress, wellbeing and resurrected cities. The Kingston upon Hull Cooperation hadn’t given up. Back in 1933 the Corporation had received the required powers through Parliament to build the waterworks, to compulsory purchase land, to abstract water, to stop up access and to borrow the required monies to pay for it – and in the 1940s and following decades they continued to extend the time periods of these powers. The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported in September 1954 on the formation of the Farndale Local Nature Reserve largely to stop the large scale pillaging of wild daffodils. ‘Hull support for Famdale protection. Plan for nature reserve From our Hull staff. It is an offence to uproot flowers at Farndale, the North Yorkshire beauty spot, and in order to make Illegal also the picking of daffodils, the National Park Planning Committee of the North Riding County Council (as already reported in The Yorkshire Post) wish to establish the area as a nature reserve. The Water Committee of Hull Corporation, who several years ago acquired a large part of Farndale for a future reservoir unanimously agreed yesterday, to recommend the City Council to approve the nature reserve plan. It was pointed out that when the Corporation needed the land for the reservoir, the agreement on the proposed nature reserve could be terminated six months’ notice’.

What happened next?

Following on from the Water Resources Act 1963 the Yorkshire Ouse and Hull River Authority was formed. The Authority acting with the Kingston upon Hull Corporation and now also Sheffield Corporation promoted the new Yorkshire Derwent Bill, of which the Farndale Reservoir was one important element, aimed at regulating river flows and abstracting water supplies in Yorkshire.

The Bill received a second reading in the Houses of Parliament in 1970. The projected price for the Farndale scheme was now up to c. £8 million should everything go to plan (£132 million in today’s money), the reservoir was bigger than previously planned but there was less pipeline/aqueducts as modern reservoir technology used more controlled discharge into rivers and more abstraction downstream. There would be compensation for the farming tenants who would move to new homes, and rearrangement of farm holdings dividing up the remaining farmland between tenants.

As well as the continuing arguments over who would pay and who would benefit, by this time there was the added complication that the North York Moors including Farndale had been designated a National Park in 1952. So there were new arguments around the introduction of an uncharacteristic large scale water body into a designated landscape. But as well as providing water supplies for growing cities, by this time reservoirs were also seen as providing recreational opportunities and water catchment protection, in line with National Park purposes. The reservoir plans included woodland planting and a car park. The remaining wild daffodils would line the banks of the new waterbody – ‘A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. (I wandered lonely as a cloud by William Wordsworth). In the arguments Farndale was presented as a national asset by all sides, but there was disagreement over what type of asset that should be.

The North York Moors Planning Committee (the predecessor of the National Park Authority) did not object in principle. Around 10,000 people signed a petition against the construction of a new reservoir in a National Park. Already in the less than 20 years of its existence other major developments had already been allowed in the Park – the Cold War RAF Fylingdales installation and exploration for a potash development near Boulby.

There were various suggestions of alternatives to fulfil the need for water supplies in Yorkshire. These included abstracting more ground water, reference was made to a so called ‘underground lake’ left over after the last Ice Age beneath the nearby Vale of Pickering; or making use of desalination processes which were currently being developed in the USA and were apparently due to come to fruition in the 1980s. As it happened, desalination turned out to be very expensive and not the overriding solution everyone was hoping for.

So the bill was read in Parliament for a second time, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the Water Resources Board were both keen,… but then an All Party Select Committee tasked with vetting the bill before it became an Act threw it out on the vote of its Chair. So that was it. Hull and Sheffield do still have water supplies which suggests there were workable alternatives. Farndale remains a whole dale rather than half a reservoir.

Daffodil Walk, Farndale. Copyright NYMNPA.

Sources from The British Newspaper Archive

One thought on “What might have been

  1. The National Park didn’t object to the proposal at Farndale and, we’ve now got two mines on the go. In fairness the Park probably had no say in Fylingdales.

    But the park did object to someone in our village putting in the wrong sized glazing bars in their wood replacement windows. MMmmm?

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