The thought of a drowned village is compelling. It grabs hold of our imaginations and does not let go.
The waters are serene; the sun sparkles off ripples as Canada Geese swoop in to land. The purple-blooming moors of the hilltops descend into pine woods, the trees reaching the shoreline; the sedge beneath is dotted with pale yellow primroses in spring, mushrooms in the autumn, and fallen pine cones in winter. But no matter how peaceful Thruscross Reservoir looks, I cannot help but think about the village beneath the water. The homes, the families, the lives lived, the way of life taken by the dammed river.
Thruscross comes into its own when a storm breaks, when the open sky – undimmed by light pollution – becomes a fierce maelstrom of blinding light and thunderous resounding echoes. Then the waves of the reservoir whip up; their serenity transformed into ferocity by nature. The storm is somehow a fitting reaction to the changes mankind has made to this landscape, and the dead are angry. They want their village back. Their homes, their church, their school, their mills and their pubs.
Every so often, they get their wish. When a particularly dry summer empties the reservoir, the village resurfaces and people again walk the roads, cross the bridges and explore the ruins that were once busy with life.
During my research for The Haunting of Thores-Cross, Cursed and Jennet, I came across a lovely description of the lost village in The Yorkshire Evening Post dated April 30, 1914. It describes a village green with a post office (the postmaster also being the village cobbler), a mill pond complete with island, and the church as “one of the most beautiful little churches I have yet seen in Yorkshire.” In summing up, it describes the valley as “a standing type of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘deserted village’, [yet] Thruscross is still one of the most beautiful villages in our renowned county.”
In the Ghosts of Thores-Cross series, I draw on the original Viking name for the village – Thor’s Cross – which evolved into the modern name of Thruscross. In time, the west end of Thruscross became a village in itself, although in true Yorkshire fashion, nobody but the people who lived there know where the boundary between Thruscross and West End lies. Now it’s lost forever.
The River Washburn flows from its source high on the Yorkshire Moors into the valley, and was dammed in the 1960s to increase the supply of drinking water to Leeds, marking the end of a village that had been in decline since the 1840s. Its main industries were initially sheep rearing and the wool trade, then cotton spinning before a move to flax production at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Three mills were kept busy, and the population soared to over 600. By 1950, most of the flax production had moved to the cities of Leeds and Bradford, and less than 100 people still lived at Thruscross.
As the cities expanded, their water supply needed to be increased. Three reservoirs had already been created in the Washburn Valley: Fewston, Swinsty and Lindley. Thruscross lies at the valley’s head above Fewston, and despite its beauty, Thruscross was next in line to be flooded. Work on the impressive Thruscross Dam began in the 1950s, and the gates were closed for the first time for a test flood in 1966, giving rise to the iconic picture of the church roof standing proud of the water.
Despite the legends of the church bell ringing whenever the water level drops, the church was demolished before the valley was flooded proper, and whilst the graves were relocated to the top of the nearby hill, the stone from the church was re-used to construct a new church at Blubberhouses, where it stands alone, overlooking the A59 to Skipton, with a narrow view of the dam. But if you stand quietly on the reservoir shore and listen hard, you may yet hear the sound of a bell tolling through time . . .
I shall never forget my first look down the 200-metre drop of the dam, nor my shock when I learned that the whole structure sways as it holds back 1,725 million gallons of water! I spent my childhood playing on, in and alongside Thruscross Reservoir, and it’s no wonder the lost village of Thruscross captured my imagination. I hope Jennet and the other ghosts of Thores-Cross capture yours.
There are three books in the Ghosts of Thores-Cross series, which are available from amazon for Kindle and in audiobook, paperback, large print and hardback.
The Haunting of Thores-Cross: A Yorkshire Ghost Story
Cursed: A Ghosts of Thores-Cross Short Story
JENNET: now she wants the children
Signed Copies are available by clicking here
Laurence A (1992), West End: A Sunken Village, Smith Settle, Otley, W Yorkshire
Reid M (2006), The Yorkshire Water Way, Vol 1, Innway Publications, Harrogate, N Yorkshire