A quick quiz. What do lampreys, freshwater salmon, glaciers, 300 year old swimming pools, and the V for Victory sign have in common? Well if you had come on the Jonny and Judy show tours around the Don Gorge this Sunday you would know!
As part of the Sprotbrough Lock Stoppage Open Day on Sunday 16th Feb, my colleague and Environment Manager, Jonny Hart-Woods, and I did two tours around the Don Gorge to chat to the excited throng about how the Gorge was formed (that’s where the glaciers come in), and how the geology has shaped the history and ecology of this now green and wooded valley.
It wasn’t always so green, and we had quite a few local people on the tours who hadn’t really thought about the area they live in and why it’s like it is. We walked from the lock, over the road to the island between the River Don and the cut, where we had a good vantage point to see the newly installed fish and eel passes. Jonny explained the need for the passes, and how the river is now so clean, we are seeing the lampreys and salmon swimming upstream in water where once, due to the level of industrial pollution, they couldn’t have survived.
That’s where I come in, firstly to explain why the project was delayed for a few weeks so that the remains of the old water mill, now submerged under the fishpass, could be recorded by archaeologists. And also to describe the scene on the river around 100 years ago with tales of quarrying, boat building and lime burning in the numerous lime kilns along the banks. By 1750, Levitt Hagg grew as a settlement to house the workers, and the small village survived for 200 years, though since being abandoned, the wooded banks have taken over and little evidence remains of this community.
We then took our tours back across the road and down the towpath, to look at the SSSI woodland and to see the Grade 2 listed remains of the Copley pump. Sprotbrough Hall itself no longer exists, but Sir Godfrey Copley constructed his New Hall between 1685 and 1700. After visiting Chatsworth and seeing the fountain powered by a water pump there, he commissioned his own pump to bring water from the River Don, up the valley side to supply his gardens, which included the Great Canal, the Little Canal, the Great Fountain and the Crescent Pool. By 1707 a lead lined heated swimming pool had been added, though I’m not sure this would meet current Health and Safety Regulations.
The last stop on the Jonny and Judy tour was the boundary wall upstream from the pump. This little historic gem was pointed out to me by Glyn, our Heritage Skills trained mason, who is working on this lock stoppage. A nice touch as we believe it would have been one of Glyn’s predecessors that incorporated the sign into his work in 1941.
In January 1941, a former Belgian Minister suggested that Belgians use a V for victoire as a rallying sign during World War II. Within weeks ‘V’s began appearing on walls throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and northern France. By July 19th, Winston Churchill referred to the ‘V’ for Victory campaign in a speech and suggested Britons follow suit and emblazon windows and doors with a ‘V’. Five days later, Glyn’s predecessors set their own ‘V’ in bricks in the stone wall.
All in all it was a great day, and after all the recent worries around the weather, it was such a sunny day that the open air swimming pool could have come in useful!
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from this author