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By Nick Ansell on

In pictures: Constructing the Scar House Dam

Photographic Archives Volunteer Nick has found some intriguing images in a collection covering the Nidd Valley Light Railway.

The National Railway Museum’s photographic archives include a large collection of about 890 images by Humphrey Household (1906-1986), who photographed many types of trains and railways all over the country (and some overseas) from the 1920s. He had a particular interest in minor, narrow-gauge and industrial railways, which feature strongly in his collection.

A series of his images which caught my attention and led me to investigate further depicted the Nidd Valley Light Railway, not only the usual shots of stations and rolling stock, but also some showing the massive engineering project to build the Scar House dam and create the reservoir which to this day still supplies water to Bradford. This post features a selection of his photographs taken in early summer 1928. They are arranged in geographical order from Pateley Bridge northwards to Scar House.

Map ©John Carey, reproduced with permission

The Nidd Valley Light Railway was originally built in the early 1900s for Bradford Corporation Waterworks Department to carry materials and workers to the construction sites for reservoirs in the Upper Nidd Valley. Public passenger services ran between Pateley Bridge and Lofthouse, and a steep contractors’ railway extended from Lofthouse to Angram Reservoir, which was completed in 1919. Scar House Reservoir was then built below Angram between 1921 and 1936.

Public passenger services ceased in 1929, and the line closed completely in 1937. Today, the area is open to the public for recreational use.

The Nidd Valley Light Railway had its own station in Pateley Bridge, separate from the terminus of the Nidd Valley Railway from Harrogate (built by the North Eastern Railway). The stations were connected by a goods line across Pateley High Street.

0-6-0 saddle tank steam locomotive ‘Blythe’, with a passenger train at Pateley Bridge. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_529 DS160108)

A steam railmotor ‘Hill’ was used for public passenger services between Pateley Bridge and Lofthouse.

Pateley Bridge locomotive shed and water tower, showing steam railmotor ‘Hill’ beside the shed and 0-6-0 steam locomotive ‘Blythe’ at the entrance. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_521 DS160102)

The first station on the route from Pateley Bridge was at Wath-in-Nidderdale, then the line followed the eastern shore of Gouthwaite reservoir and passed another station at Ramsgill on the way to Lofthouse.

Wath-in-Nidderdale station, station house and level crossing. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_530 DS160109)
0-4-0 steam railmotor car ‘Hill’ approaching Wath station on the descent from Ramsgill. It worked the Pateley Bridge to Lofthouse public passenger service. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_522 DS160103)
The dam at the southern end of Gouthwaite Reservoir, viewed from an elevated position on the eastern shore. The water level appears very low. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_533 DS160102)

Lofthouse-in-Nidderdale was the terminus of public passenger services.

0-6-0 side tank steam locomotive ‘Milner’ with a carriage and van at Lofthouse-in-Nidderdale station, ready to leave for Scar House. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_531 DS160110)

The line above Lofthouse was originally built as a contractor’s railway for the construction of Angram Reservoir in 1903. It was upgraded after Bradford Corporation decided in 1920 to build Scar House reservoir.

0-6-0 side tank steam locomotive ‘Milner’ crossing the bridge above Lofthouse-in-Nidderdale station and beginning the steep climb alongside the road on the private section to Scar House. It is likely that this was taken soon after the previous photograph. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_523 DS160104)

The steep gradient on this section meant that two or more locomotives, sometimes as many as four, were needed to haul heavy goods trains to Scar House.

The ‘Scar House special’, 0-6-0 steam locomotives ‘Milner’ and ‘Blythe’ with a goods train, banked in the rear with two other locomotives for the steep climb alongside the road towards Scar House. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_526 DS160106)

At Goyden Pot a 180-yard tunnel was built for uphill trains only, to cut off the sharp bend on the original line.

The entrance at the lower end of Goyden tunnel. The nature of the terrain was challenging, as is evident in this picture, and downhill trains used the original line, which can be seen alongside the road. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_527 DS160107)

The construction of Scar House reservoir was a major engineering project, and included a purpose-built village for the workers, numbering over 1000 at the peak.

Scar House dam under construction, showing the full length of the structure viewed from a distance down in the valley. Four steam cranes are seen on top of the dam, and another one below it alongside railway tracks, a truck, a water tank, and a stack of large stone blocks. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_535 DS160114)

There was a network of railway tracks linking the site in the valley with the quarries and stoneyard on the hillside to the north.

The Scar House dam construction site viewed across the valley from the south. The zigzag tracks linking the site with the quarries and stoneyard can be seen, with a locomotive in steam with three trucks in the centre of the picture. Beyond is the extensive stoneyard. In the foreground is a row of new large pipe sections manufactured by Glenfield & Kennedy Ltd of Kilmarnock, Scotland. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_537 DS160116)
A wide view of the Scar House dam construction site across the valley from the quarries high up on the north side, showing the dam below and looking across to the buildings of Scar village, where the workers lived. The zigzag rail tracks linking the construction site with the quarries and stoneyard are clearly visible. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_538 DS160117)

The final two photographs show the stoneyard and Carle Fell quarry above.

The masons’ yard above the Scar House dam construction site, with 0-4-0 side tank steam locomotive ‘Craven’ and a steam crane lifting blocks of stone. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_540 DS160118)
A general view of Carle Fell quarry above the Scar House dam construction site, showing several railway tracks with two steam cranes, a locomotive and a number of trucks. Humphrey Household collection (1996-7886_539 DS160119)

Looking into the context and background of this series of photographs has whetted my appetite to visit Upper Nidderdale. The area is in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with plenty of marked walking and cycling routes. This website by John Carey follows the route of the former railway, much of which is accessible, with photographs of surviving station buildings and visible remnants of the trackbed.

7 comments on “In pictures: Constructing the Scar House Dam

  1. Hi My Great grand father Joseph Storey was engine driver/fitter on the nidd valley railway until day of the sale in 1929, Before he was a Farrier in Pateley Bridge,

    1. Hi Richard, my great grandfather James Storey and grandfather Herbert Storey both worked as masons on the dam in 1921. Both came from Pateley Bridge.

        1. Sorry Richard only just noticed your reply. I have got back to a Peter Storey around 1720 but details are vague. Elias Storey 1771 was the last details I think were accurate. How about you?

  2. my grandfather worked on this car damn from it’s inception until the end plus my mother and a lot of her family were born up there and lived there for 14 years until it’s completion.

    1. Really interesting, Kevin. Did your grandfather say anything about the working conditions? My friend thinks a lot of construction workers would have died during the building, I was hoping that wasn’t the case and that more attention was paid to their safety, even though I know it would have been hard dangerous work.

  3. Hi, my great grandfather was the station master at Lofthouse Station, when Scar House reservoir was constructed. He was married with 5 children. His second child, my grandma has very fond memories of being brought up in the area. She had many stories of the railway and the workers who built the reservoir. I would be interested to know if you have any photos of my great grandfather and the station house. He was there from 1910 to 1925, having previously been stationed at Wath. Kindest regards Sue

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