A Stroll Around the 'Lost Village' of Damflask

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I have to admit, Sheffield has a perfect blend of town-life and country-life: and this also applies to its history.

 Point yourself in one route and you're wrapped in urban trappings, with the whole of the Steel City's industrial heritage pressed around you. But turn in the opposite direction and, in the same amount of time, you can find yourself in the heart of rural Yorkshire and it's own eclectic past.

The winter has truly turned optimistically towards spring. With a bright sun that darted occasionally through the clouds and the ground finally dry, I decided to do what I as of yet haven't managed: walk around the entire circuit of Damflask.
At 3.5 miles long, the fact that I have only gotten half way around the walk before in my life is as much a commentary on bad timing as it is my general level of rubbish fitness. But finally, having pulled on my trusty Converse shoes, I trogged briskly around the whole circuit of the dam in an hour. The scenery is, in a word, beautiful - with a vast polished expanse of water which sweeps in a gentle curve and then peters away into a marsh-like plain of reeds and thin twisted trees. Surrounding the dam is a pathway that briefly breaks into  a road as you cross the bridge, but is otherwise well maintained for a casual stroll and framed by thin strips of woodland and drystone walls that back onto farmland. The dam is a Mecca for British wildlife which has grown relatively tame through exposure to ramblers. Twice on my travels, for example, a little brown mouse has come out of it's home to sniff around my feet. As well as mice there are coots, moor-hens, herons, ducks, robins, blue-tits and other birds, all charmingly close.

While Damflask is a delight for anyone looking for a place to take in some quiet and fresh air, it also serves a very practical purpose. Stretching some 116 acres and filled with a capacity of 1,123.1 gallons it provides running water throughout Sheffield and, in times of drought, beyond. Currently it is owned by Yorkshire Water and in 2000 was opened up to unrestricted access for the local sailing club to use as well as the general public of walkers and fishermen.

Sheffield itself is fed by multiple dams and reservoirs, and Dam Flask's history is tragically tied up in the most infamous dam of them all.

At midnight on the 11th of March in 1864, Dale Dyke Dam's wall cracked and, despite the efforts of the owner - John Gunson - the wall burst, unleashing a torrent of water that destroyed 800 houses and claimed the lives of some 238 people as well as 700 animals. Downhill of the dam was the village of Damflask. The village was typical of the area, with a corn mill, paper mill, wire mill and - of course - a pub, named The Barrel Inn.

1853 map of Damflask village overlay with modern Google Earth image

The village was in direct threat of the waters of Dale Dyke Dam but, thanks to some life-saving serendipity the majority of the villagers were saved. A young man named Stephenson Fountain had been sent down to Sheffield to fetch a waterworks engineer when the crack was discovered but, on the way, his saddle girth broke. He stopped in Damflask village to repair it and mentioned the crack in the dam uphill. As word spread the villagers decided that the risk was too great and quickly moved themselves and their families to higher ground. Tragically, some did not act: Henry Burkinshaw scoffed at the idea of the danger and remained in bed. He had worked as a navvy in Dale Dyke Dam and reportedly stated that 'There isn't water enough in Yorkshire to burst that dam.' Within the hour the torrent of deadly water crashed down to consume the village and Henry's body was swept away, only to be discovered later half a mile away the next morning. His landlady, Mrs Kirk, and her pets all survived, having evacuated without him. The waters of Dale Dyke Dam completely destroyed the village and, in a twist of irony, it was never rebuilt, instead cleared and the land filled forever with new waters.

The history of  Dale Dyke Dam is firmly etched in the minds and educations of Sheffield residents. If you travel into the town centre, over to the Sheffield University area and up to the Weston Park museum, it has a whole section of it's gallery dedicated to exhibiting the artifacts that were pulled out from the wreckage that the disaster led behind.
Also if you travel on Ecclesall road, make sure to take a step into the General Cemetery. Buried among the slanted graves is the memorial of John Gunn - the site manager of Dale Dyke Dam - who was never able to forgive himself for the disaster. His grave, with sad hope, reads that he is now, finally, 'Removed from all suffering and strife.'

Perhaps Damflask is the most beautiful and fitting monument of all to this tragedy. As I walked around this strip of industrial countryside I was joined by countless people who also soaked up the freedom and the scenery. As well as a curious mouse, there were countless dogs that were delighted by the water. Joggers huffed past those walkers who ambled along to soak in the scenery. Wizened old men and couples sat on the benches and listened to the birds. Fishermen soaked up the quiet and waited for a nibble on their lines. Families rattled prams and children howled in delight as they charged past on push-along scooters down the straight safe paths. While the lost village will forever be at the heart of the dam as a reminder of the tragedy of the disaster, the people who use this beautiful place will walk across its surface as a reminder of the beauty of life that still presses on.

- Countryside photos taken by me in March 2014, filters courtesy of Instagram
- John Gunson's grave, mentioned in my article in 'Now Then' -Cemetery
-Damflask reservoir figures from Wikipedia 
- Damnflask village map from 'Sheffield history pro' by 'Gramps' and 'Jeremy'

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