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Bradfield and the Dale Dike Dam Disaster

A quiet waterside walk around the site of a horrific 19th-century industrial tragedy.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 394ft (120m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Minor roads, bridleways, forest paths

Landscape Woodland, reservoir and meadows

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL1 Dark Peak

Start/finish SK 262920

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near livestock

Parking By cricket ground in Bradfield

Public toilets None on route

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1 Exit the car park and turn right on to the road. At a Y-junction go right towards Midhopestones. Follow this road uphill passing, on the right, a former inn, Walker House farm and Upper Thornseat. When the road turns sharply right, at the entrance to Thomson House, turn left on to the farm road.

2 From here go through a gate in front of you and on to Hall Lane, a public bridleway. Follow this along the edge of a wood then through another gate and continue right on the farm road. Another gate at the end of this road leads to the entrance to Hallfield.

3 The right of way goes through the grounds of Hallfield but an alternative permissive path leads left over a stile, round the perimeter of the house and across another stile to re-join the bridleway at the back of the house. Follow the bridleway crossing a stile, a gate and then past Stubbin Farm.

4 The next gate leads to Brogging Farm and the dam at the head of Strines Reservoir. Look out for a sign near the end of the farmhouse and turn left. Go slightly downhill, over a stile, follow the path, then cross a stile and go through a wood.

5 Cross the stream by a footbridge, keep to the right, ignoring a second footbridge, then follow the path along the bank of Dale Dike Reservoir to the dam head. From here continue through the woods, down several sets of steps and continue on the path looking out for the memorial to those who were killed as a result of the dam breaching in 1864.

6 Follow the path until it reaches the road. Cross the stile, turn right on to the road and proceed to the Y-Junction. Turn right, cross the bridge then look for a public footpath sign to Low Bradfield just before the entrance to Doe House. Cross the stile on the left and follow the path. The path crosses two stiles then terminates at a T-junction with Mill Lee Road opposite the Plough Inn. Turn left and follow this road downhill, through the village and back to the car park.

Just before midnight on Friday 11 March 1864, when the Dale Dike Dam collapsed, 650 million gallons (2,955 million litres) of water surged along the Loxley Valley towards Sheffield, leaving a trail of death and destruction. When the floods finally subsided 244 people had been killed and hundreds of properties destroyed.

During the Industrial Revolution Sheffield expanded rapidly, as country people sought employment in the city's steel and cutlery works. This put considerable pressure on the water supply. The 'Bradfield Scheme' was Sheffield Waterworks Company's ambitious proposal to build massive reservoirs in the hills around the village of Bradfield, about 8 miles (12.9km) from the city. Work commenced on the first of these, the Dale Dike Dam on 1 January 1859. It was a giant by the standards of the time with a capacity of over 700 million gallons (3,182 million litres) of water, but some 200 million gallons (910 million litres) less than the present reservoir.

Construction of the dam continued until late February 1864, by which time the reservoir was almost full. Friday 11 March was a stormy day and as one of the dam workers crossed the earthen embankment on his way home, he noticed a crack, about a finger's width, running along it. John Gunson the chief engineer turned out with one of the contractors to inspect the dam. They had to make the 8 miles (12.9km) from Sheffield in a horse-drawn gig, in deteriorating weather conditions, so it was 10pm before they got there. After an initial inspection, Gunson concluded that it was probably nothing to worry about. However as a precaution he decided to lower the water level. He re-inspected the crack at 11:30pm, noting that it had not visibly deteriorated. However, then the engineer saw to his horror that water was running over the top of the embankment into the crack. He was making his way to the bottom of the embankment when he felt the ground beneath him begin to shake and saw the top of the dam breached by the straining waters. He just had time to scramble up the side before a large section of the dam collapsed, unleashing a solid wall of water down into the valley below towards Sheffield. The torrent destroyed everything in its path and though the waters started to subside within half an hour their destructive force swept aside 415 houses, 106 factories or shops, 20 bridges and countless cottage and market gardens for 8 miles (12.9km). Men women and children were not spared, some whole families were wiped out, including an 87-year-old woman and a 2-day-old baby.

At the inquest the jury concluded that there had been insufficient engineering skill devoted to a work of such size and called for legislation to ensure 'frequent, sufficient and regular' inspections of dams. The Dale Dike Dam was rebuilt in 1875 but it was not brought into full use until 1887, a very dry year.

Where to eat and drink

The Plough Inn is over 200 years old and has held a licence for most of that time. A former farmhouse, it contains an enormous stone hearth, stone walls and traditional timbers. Real ales and traditional home-cooked food is the standard fare with a splendid selection of roasts on a Sunday. Children are very welcome if eating.

While you're there

Don't miss the Parish Church of St Nicholas, which dates from 1487. It contains a Norman font gifted by the Cistercian monks at Roche Abbey and a Saxon cross found at Low Bradfield in the late 19th century. But it is the Watch House at the gates of the church that sets it apart. Built in 1745 to prevent body snatching it is the last one to survive in Yorkshire.

What to look for

A memorial was erected at the dam in 1991 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the flood. It's a simple memorial stone surrounded by a small garden. Next to it there's a white stone bearing the letters CLOB. This is one of four stones that mark the Centre Line of the Old Bank and are the only trace today of where the earthen embankment of the previous dam stood.

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