When we think of flood water, we think of unexpected surges washing out homes and streets. But what about the deliberate floods that we bring upon ourselves? A half-submerged church keeps a lonely sentinel over Rutland Water reservoir, near Peterborough. Normanton Church overlooks 12 square kilometres of watery horizon, where once sat two valleys of farmland, woods, and a small village.
The east is generally the driest region of England, so it had to outdo itself in order to meet the growing demand for water in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1973, a dam was built in Rutland, and the bottom of the two Gwash valleys, east of Stamford, were lined with clay to create an impermeable bowl for 140 million litres of water. It took four years for the twin valleys to fill up and become the largest artificial lake in the country.
Water security came at a cost. The village of Nether Hambleton, a rural settlement with a history going back to before the Domesday Book, was lost below the waterline. Prior to the flood, an archaeological dig uncovered Iron Age hut circles as well as Roman farmsteads, proving that the fertile land had been worked for thousands of years. Nonetheless, out of 64 surveyed sites, the valley was seen as an ideal location, both for its nearness to the Rivers Nene and Welland, which meant that it would be well-supplied, and for its proximity to Peterborough, a growing city that needed the water supply.
When the dam-builders came, they plugged the wells and demolished the village. It was thought that Normanton Church would be lost too, but after a public outcry it was protected by a small island and its floor filled with concrete to the intended waterline halfway up the building. Appearing to float on the water, the church is still used today for weddings and concerts. However, it will continue to symbolise the buildings that stood below it, the tip of a village lost under the reservoir.
This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.