Slideshow - Retro: The Tin Town that built Derwent Dams

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A hundred years ago a thriving community in the Derwent Valley that was home to 1,000 was disappearing.

It’s hard to see where Birchinlee, known as Tin Town, stood now as the spot beside the Howden Reservoir is mostly hidden beneath a plantation of trees.

Birchinlee - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914'Reunion of former residents - standing, from left, May Edwards, Harry Motley, Jane Harrington, Oswald Green, Walter Green, George Townsend and (sitting) William Motley and Frank Yates.

Birchinlee - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914'Reunion of former residents - standing, from left, May Edwards, Harry Motley, Jane Harrington, Oswald Green, Walter Green, George Townsend and (sitting) William Motley and Frank Yates.

Tin Town only lasted 14 years, its fate sealed by the completion of the Derwent and Howden Reservoirs, but in a different way to the famous lost villages of Ashopton and Derwent.

Whereas those villages were drowned under reservoirs, Birchinlee was purpose-built to house navvies building two of the dams and their families.

Birchinlee was known as Tin Town because of its distinctive corrugated iron and wooden buildings.

When the work finished they were sold off and moved.

The children of Birchinlee Village - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914

The children of Birchinlee Village - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914

One can be seen in the Peak District village of Hope, where it has been used as a hairdresser’s.

Sidney Lloyd, who lived in Birchinlee as a child, told The Star in 1982 that his father moved from Wales to work on the dams.

He said: “You might think a village of corrugated iron would be a bit rough and ready but it was well built and the homes were warm and comfortable.” The village was built by the Derwent Valley Water Company. By law they had to provide facilities for their workforce.

That resulted from the scandal over the builders of the Woodhead railway tunnel from 1839-52.

The village store in Birchinlee - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914

The village store in Birchinlee - the 'Tin Town' built for workmen constructing the Derwent Valley Dams - 1901-1914

Social reformers forced a Parliamentary select committee to investigate.

They found epidemics of cholera and dysentery, insanitary conditions and poor or non-existent accommodation and no proper healthcare.

By contrast, Birchinlee had its own shops, school, church, recreation hall and fire and police stations. Companies like Derwent Valley Water also recognised that decent facilities with a settled workforce meant higher productivity.

Life was tough for workers and for women alike, as most took in lodgers.

They would have served the first breakfasts at 5am and supper was at 10.30pm.

During their leisure time, residents enjoyed dances, whist drives, singing groups, flower shows, visits by concert parties and hand-cranked cinema shows.

Village football teams won cups in the Sheffield Amateur League and workers also played cricket and billiards.

The police station never used its lock-up. Resident Pc Neil McLean got men who argued to fight it out. Abstinence campaigner Robert Batty started a furious row when he claimed to have found “the road dotted with poor groups of fellows who were obviously the worse for liquor” one Whit Monday.

He said a padded cell was kept in the hospital for the worst cases.

An inquiry by the water company decided that Mr Batty had been misled by “fanciful and untrue statements” by workmen.

The correspondence was recorded by Dr Brian Robinson of Manchester University, whose mother was born in Birchinlee.

In his book, Birchinlee: The Workmen’s Village of the Derwent Valley Water Board, he concluded that it was in many ways a model village for the times.

The opening of Howden Dam in 1912 was a big occasion with a formal ceremony and celebrations ending with fireworks and dancing.

But by the time Derwent Dam opened in 1916, with no fanfare as the war was on, the workforce had been dispersed elsewhere and the huts sold.

* See Saturday’s Retro supplement for more lost Doncaster pubs, memories of Sheffield cinemas and life in a city toolworks, plus a look back to the time when Heeley was home to several water mills.