Can you hear the bell? – Joyce Janes

‘Why here?  Why our village?  It isn’t right.  Why do we have to lose our homes to supply water to Derby, Sheffield and Nottingham? My family have lived here for generations.  This is our valley, it can’t happen here.’
The words echoed, a distant memory.  Even now, so many years on James could hear his father’s anguished pleas.  He could picture the steely determination in the eyes of the engineers, and he remembered the desperate expression on the face of the man he loved and admired.
His father had always lived in Derwent, grandparents and great grandparents before him.  They were a family of stonemason’s and his father, Roger, had carried on the trade.  With great pride and much pleasure he used his skills to repair the elaborate carvings, created by his own ancestors.
A stubborn man it had been father who insisted the people of the village must fight the proposed dam.
‘I am a mason, aye and my ancestors before me,’ Roger told the engineers, but they were not going to listen, the decision was already made.
James had been 5 years old when the announcement was made that, despite fierce opposition, a great dam was to be built.  Young as he was, years later, he could remember the effect the decision had on everyone, the whole atmosphere in the area changed.
Many remembered Birchenlee, Tin Town, created to house the itinerant workers, brought in to build Howden and Derwent dams.  Their dams finished, Birchenlee was dismantled, workers dispersed, either moved on to projects in other areas, or living in villages around the Peak District.  Stigma was attached to these folk who followed the work, taking local jobs and causing trouble.  As James grew he met children of these workers, they were just like him, but he knew better than to tell his father that.
Building on the dam didn’t start for many years and initially the work had little effect on the village.
During March 1939 the last service in the church was held, after that Roger seemed to fade.
Encouraged by his father, James now an accomplished stone mason himself, refused work offered by the engineers.  He was prepared to travel the county rather than use his skills on the dam about to obliterate the valley he and his father loved.
Six years into the project people began to move from the village.  After eight, most had gone.
As people left and homes were abandoned, the village became a strange, eerie place.
When the big hall and cottages had been full of young families, the village had been a lively place.  Neighbours helped each other and worked together for the common good, theirs had been a strong community.  Now it stood in ruins, destroyed by the coming of this great dam.
Roger was a broken man.  He roamed the village, endlessly mending walls and fences no longer needed, closing doors that no one used and praying in the empty church.  He spent hours in the church, he sensed the presence of his ancestors there and wanted to hold onto that feeling, whilst he still could.
It was there that the idea came to him.
James had been working in Bamford church and was on his way home when he heard the bell.  It was months since anyone had rung the church bell, and now, the sound was echoing down the valley, just as it had in happier days gone by.  It’s joyous ringing flooded the valley just as the water would, in years to come.
Roger rang the bell every day for two years as his beloved village disappeared under the ever deepening water.  Determined to continue his protest as long as possible he even rowed across to the church, despite the pleas of his son.
One day Roger failed to return.  His boat was discovered broken in pieces, his body was found days later, washed up on the southern bank of the rapidly filling dam.

Not long after James walked onto the moor above the dam.  He stopped at some rocks halfway between the villages of Derwent and Edale, and there, where Roger could forever look upon his beloved valley, his son scattered his ashes.

Not long after Roger’s death, the bell was removed and re-hung at St Phillips Church in Chaddesden, near Derby.
In times of drought the tower appeared to rise from the water, in the now silent valley.  It became an attraction at such times and, to avoid another tragedy, the decision was taken to blow up the tower.
It is rumoured, that if you walk in the valley on a misty evening, you can hear the sound of Roger, still ringing the bell in the church his ancestors built.

 

Joyce Janes Writer for children

 

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