The lost and abandoned 'ghost villages' around Greater Manchester

-Credit: (Image: Manchester Evening News)
-Credit: (Image: Manchester Evening News)


On the outskirts of Greater Manchester, there are several lost and abandoned villages and hamlets that were once home to thriving communities for hundreds of years. Some of these forgotten settlements were deserted voluntarily, while others were forced out in the name of progress.

Sometimes referred to as 'ghost' or 'abandoned' villages, these desolate places can still bear the visible remnants of buildings and roads, serving as a stark reminder of their past existence. The demise of traditional industries that sustained these communities is often the cause of their abandonment.

In the scenic areas around Greater Manchester, the construction of reservoirs has been another significant factor leading to the disappearance of communities and villages. These instances have often been the most controversial, and historically, painful - with residents witnessing the demolition of their homes, churches, and streets - tearing apart close traditional communities.

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Looking back at some of these lost and abandoned villages, we've delved into the reason why they became so and what stands now in their place. The ones listed below aren't a complete list, so any you feel we should cover in the future, let us know in the comments.

Mardale Green and Measand

Mardale - A village to be submerged by deepening Haweswater as a reservoir for Manchester
Mardale - A village to be submerged by deepening Haweswater as a reservoir for Manchester -Credit:PA Images

When the conditions are right, the remains of a village lost to supply Manchester with water reappears. During particular hot spells, the 'drowned' village of Mardale Green surfaces from its watery grave like 'Atlantis.'

In the 1930s, the picturesque Cumbrian villages of Mardale Green and Measand were submerged to create what's now known as the Haweswater reservoir. It was one of the largest reservoirs in England, meant to supplement the water from Thirlmere reservoir with the intention of supplying Manchester with drinking water for a hundred years.

The original School at Mardale founded in 1712
The original School at Mardale founded in 1712 -Credit:PA Images

The controversial construction of the Haweswater dam in the Lake District started in 1929 after Parliament passed an Act giving Manchester Corporation permission to build the reservoir to supply water for the urban conurbations of northwest England. At the time, there was a public outcry about the decision as the planned site of the reservoir was populated by the farming villages of Measand and Mardale Green.

In preparation for the villages being flooded, hundreds of people were forced to leave their homes, as well as 97 bodies removed and re-buried in a graveyard in the nearby village of Shap. The farms and houses of the villages of Mardale and Measand, and the well-loved Dun Bull Inn were demolished.

The village has dramatically reappeared due to falling water levels. Image: SWNS
The village dramatically reappeared due to falling water levels in 2021 -Credit:Phil Taylor/SWNS

Despite being demolished and submerged by the reservoir in the 1930s, when a prolonged period of hot weather occurs the water level can sink to such an extent that it's possible to walk among its ghostly remains. During times of drought the remnants of Mardale Green, including dry stone walls and an old bridge, can become visible. The last time the village showed itself was in July 2022, when a drought hit and water levels plunged.

Derwent and Ashopton

1939:  Derwent Hall in Derbyshire
1939: Derwent Hall in Derbyshire -Credit:(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Ladybower Reservoir is a well-known tourist spot to those familiar with the Peak District. The picturesque man-made lake was built in the Upper Derwent Valley between 1935 and 1943 - the largest in the UK at the time.

But the building of the reservoir came at a great cost - the bustling villages of Ashopton and neighbouring Derwent. Both villages which nestled high in the Peak District were lost forever when they were demolished in 1943 and drowned to provide clean water across the East Midlands as part of the Derwent Valley scheme.

The decision, imposed by the Derwent Valley Water Board, came much to the outrage of locals. Despite their protests, the villagers were relocated and rehoused in the nearby village of Bamford.

Bodies were exhumed from graveyards, a local church held its final service. The buildings that once made up these thriving villages were reduced to nothing but rubble.

As the dam filled, the crumbling ruins disappeared beneath millions of gallons of water, never to see the light of day again. All that remained was an untouched spire from the church of St John and St James, kept as a memorial for Derwent villagers.

For over a year it poked out of the water, posing as a haunting reminder of what once was. But when that too was demolished and vanished beneath the sheet of blue, no memory was left of the lost villages.

That was until heatwaves hit the country in 1976, 1989, 1995, 2003 and 2018. Low water levels meant the villages emerged in a rare occurrence, offering visitors an eerie glimpse into its past.

The ruins of Derwent Hall are exposed by low water levels in Ladybower reservoir on November 18, 2018
Derwent Village submerged apart from church spire poking out of the reservoir

During dry spells, a walk around the village community can still find signs of life beneath the water, including cottage doorways, walls, hearths, pump houses and bricks.

Stormy Corner

The long lost hamlet of Stormy Corner in 1960
The ruins of Derwent Hall are exposed by low water levels in Ladybower reservoir on November 18, 2018 -Credit:(Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

An entire village was wiped from the map to make way for development - but then left as wasteland for years. The story of Stormy Corner, a little-known hamlet nine miles west of Wigan, is a sad chapter from the post-war 'New Town' era, in which huge new estates were built to house families from the crowded inner cities.

In 1961, the West Lancashire mining village of Skelmersdale was designated as an 'overspill' community for people from Liverpool. The project would spell the end of Stormy Corner, a rural hamlet on its outskirts which dated back to the 19th century, but is remembered by few today.

Stormy Corner. View from the junction of Berry Street and Summer Street in 1967
Summer Street on Stormy Corner in 1960 -Credit:Lancashire Red Rose Collection

In its heyday, its cottages were served by shops including Fosters, which sold sweets, Dugdale's grocers, and Drapers, the local Co-op. There was a little school which was disused by the 1950s, two pubs, the Beehive and the Seven Stars, and as typical to an area of West Lancashire influenced by the migration of miners from Wales, a Methodist church.

Now all of it is gone, with the Stanley Industrial Estate on the site where the village once stood. The demolition began in 1967, the land earmarked for development as this rural area was transformed by the Skelmersdale New Town project.

Writing for the Ormskirk Advertiser in 1969, journalist Clifford Birchall depicted its desolation after the bulldozers first moved in.

"It is easy to tell which houses are occupied in Stormy Corner. Lace curtains hanging at the window distinguish the houses from those which have suffered in the death throes of what may be Skelmersdale's oldest community.

"Stormy Corner today lies executed, its only crime being that it was too old to keep up with the new town of Skelmersdale. A handful of people live there now, the memories of a crowded mining village all the more real as they are recollected in 20th-century silence."

Greenbooth

Six decades on, haunting memories of how the historic Norden village of Greenbooth became submerged under millions of gallons of water are still remembered by those who lived there. It was flooded in the early 1960s, after four years of construction, to create the last in a series of four reservoirs in the Naden Valley.

Today, Greenbooth Reservoir is an essential part of the beautiful countryside north of Heywood, visited by dog walkers, hikers and nature lovers. The story of how the Heywood and Middleton Water Board's proposals to flood the Naden Valley in the mid-1950s sounded the death knell for a declining village is still well remembered by a handful of eyewitnesses to the times.

Greenbooth's population had been shrinking for decades before the decision to flood it was taken. A 'throwback to the 19th century', it had been built around the local mill, and never had any electricity.

Greenbooth reservoir under construction
Stormy Corner. View from the junction of Berry Street and Summer Street in 1967 -Credit:Lancashire Red Rose Collection

The area was known as Green Booth when James Butterworth established a weaving mill there in the 1840s. Fed by local coal, it produced woollen flannel for clothing manufacturers across the north of England.

While it seems quaint and bucolic now, the 'new' village Butterworth established - which became known by the single word Greenbooth - was cutting edge for the time. With rows of terraces, a little school, and bigger homes for managerial staff, Butterworth was providing accommodation and a community for his workers, with rent and milk money deducted straight from their wages.

However there was no church, or pub, in the 19th century village of Greenbooth. And by 1911 it had lost its heart.

Greenbooth Reservoir, Rochdale, Greater Manchester
Stormy Corner Carnival in 1923

The plans to submerge the valley it sat in were confirmed in 1955 and the village was finally empty not long after. When it was demolished there were 46 houses left in the village, 20 of which were derelict.

The reservoir, measuring 40 metres high and 300 metres long was completed in 1963, and officially opened in August 1965.

Watergrove

Watergrove Village
How Greenbooth village looked from a distance

In the 1920s, to solve Rochdale's desperate shortage of drinking water, the council decided to build a reservoir by flooding the valley north of Wardle where the village of Watergrove had existed for nearly 700 years.

By the first half of the 19th century it was a thriving community. Its coal was in great demand as the industrial revolution gathered pace, but it was cotton that really brought people to the village.

The Watergrove United Free Methodist Church was built in 1852 and its baptismal register showed 616 births between 1854 and 1933. But by the depression in the 1920s the population had dropped to below 200.

Demolitions at Watergrove, 1935
Greenbooth reservoir under construction -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Meanwhile, Rochdale's drinking water situation was becoming precarious. In 1920 the town was buying 300,000 gallons of water a day from Bacup and during the 1934 drought Rochdale was buying more than one million gallons a day from Oldham.

Parliament approved Rochdale Council's application to build a reservoir at Watergrove and work began in June 1930. Some villagers resented the decision and one wrote in Lancashire dialect to the chief engineer at Watergrove saying people should use less water.

Watergrove Reservoir - Wardle
Greenbooth Reservoir, Rochdale, Greater Manchester -Credit:Colin Park / geograph.org.uk

Today Watergrove is a popular destination for watersports, horse riding, orienteering and walking and family day trips.

Does this story awaken any memories for you? Let us know in the comments section below.