ON July 5 1932, the valve was opened on a new reservoir at the head of the Hodder Valley in Bowland causing the loss of a community that had endured for more than 1,000 years.

Now archaeologists are unearthing some of the ruins left behind when the the area was flooded. Nazia Parveen reports.

ANYONE using a map to find the village of Stocks-in-Bowland could be looking for a long time.

The area where it once stood, the Dalehead valley, was flooded in the early 1930s to create Stocks Reservoir to serve the increasing population of the Fylde coast.

It led to the loss and displacement of a whole community whose homes were demolished to make room for the construction of a dam and reservoir.

But now keen historians have ‘dug’ into Bowland’s past to uncover the remains of a forgotten church on the edge of Gisburn Forest once used by the villagers.

The Lancaster-based Oxford Archaeology North and keen volunteers have excavated the buried foundations of St James’s Church, the 19th century church demolished during the construction of the reservoir.

Historian Bill Mitchell, who penned The Lost Village of Stocks-in-Bowland, said the area was chosen by the Fylde Water Board due to an ‘unusual’ micro-climate with large amounts of rainfall.

An extract from his book says: “Daleheaders were a spirited, self reliant, somewhat isolated people who had come to terms with an area where the weather was often grim and every blade of grass must be coaxed from the cold, wet soil overlying the glacial clay.”

The water board began surveying the area in 1910. And by 1912 an act was passed in Parliament empowering the board to compulsorily purchase the land in the proposed water catchment area.

In 1915 the board began to purchase buildings in the village including Wheelwright’s shop and machinery owned by John Swale.

They also took over the local pub, The Traveller’s Rest, to accommodate engineers and officials.

By 1919 they completed the purchase of the whole village.

Mr Mitchell said: “The farmfolk and villagers were helpless against the might of the Fylde Water Board, with its powers of compulsory purchase. It was acquisition by stealth.

“The board employed the best solicitors, whereas the farm folk, with no spare cash, could not hope to have professional advice.

“Farms which were not in a flood zone were abandoned because they stood on the catchment area. They became memorials to a vanquished people.”

Farming continued in the area but on a much smaller scale as the board pursued a course of planting trees.

Most of the community was now in exile and tenant farmers who had no compensation settled where they could.

In 1926 the River Hodder was diverted through a tunnel to enable work on the dam to start.

And in 1927 bodies in the nearby graveyard were exhumed and re-interred one mile away.

The first step to construct the dam was to excavate a trench to a depth of about 100 feet.

The soil and rock was hauled away by four electric cranes to be tipped into railway wagons and carted away.

Workers lived in temporary shanty accommodation as they dug the land and the dam was built across the River Hodder.

In total 344 acres of the valley were flooded.

It was finished in 1932 and was officially opened by Prince George on July 5.

Helen Wallbank, assistant archivist at the Slaidburn Archive, said that even today descendants of the original villagers request to be buried near to the former village.

She said: “People still feel an extremely strong pull from the village and they consider this place their home.”

Now, archaeologists are studying parts of the village to record its history.

The walls of the entire nave and porch of St James’s Church have been uncovered, with a huge amount of earth dug out and barrowed away.

Every stone has been trowelled clean, drawn, plotted and photographed.

Over the winter a fence has been erected at the site and the foundations have been covered with geotextile and sand to protect them from the weather.

Work to uncover the foundations of the chancel begins in the spring.

Working in partnership with Slaidburn Archive, the project has been funded by United Utilities, with additional funding from the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Gaynor Murphy, sustainability manager at United Utilities, said: “The things we do today must be balanced with trying to make a positive contribution to tomorrow.

“We do this by conserving natural resources, protecting and enhancing the environment, supporting the communities we serve and maintaining economic growth.”