Simon Armitage on Butterley Spillway

“Like a growing number of other people I’m very concerned about proposed changes to the
Butterley Spillway in Marsden, where I was born and grew up. The spillway isn’t just a functional device but a feat of engineering brilliance, a thing of great beauty and a monument to those people who worked on its construction. At the time it was built there was little in the way of mechanisation, and the spillway represents the efforts of hundreds of workers and hundreds of thousands of hours’ labour, not to mention a craft and technique unique to the period. The fact that it has been neglected by its owners over recent decades is sad and annoying, but to contemplate its replacement with something concrete and ugly would be a tragedy. Standing at the gateway of Wessenden Valley and on the cusp of the Pennine watershed, the spillway resembles a great sweeping staircase, a magnificent cascade, announcing a river system that flows eventually through the Humber Bridge and into the North Sea. Along with the reservoir bank and the stone steps on either flank, it forms an iconic tableau and superb backdrop to the village.

Over the past fifty or so years there has been a growing awareness of the strategic, cultural and environmental significance of Marsden as a settlement and a community. Its connection to the Luddite movement, its position on the Pennine Way, its internationally recognised moors, some held by the National Trust, and the extraordinary Standedge Tunnel are all factors in its geographical and historical importance. But another is Marsden’s contribution to the water industry, as evidenced by its unique number of reservoirs, bridges, catch-waters, rivers, streams, tunnels and its canal. In that sense, water is Marsden’s great theme, and the

Butterley Spillway is its great landmark. To begin dismantling the village’s past would be to jeopardise its future as a tourist destination, a site of cultural importance and a place to live.”

Simon Armitage, CBE, FRSL,
Professor of Poetry, University of Sheffield
Incoming Oxford Professor of Poetry

English Heritage

During the nineteenth century, at the time of the industrial revolution, the population of West Yorkshire, including Huddersfield and the Colne valley grew rapidly. An adequate supply of water for both domestic and trade purposes was essential and Butterley Reservoir was constructed between 1891 and 1906 as a storage reservoir to provide a reliable water supply to Huddersfield. The grade II listed overflow at Butterley Reservoir (also known as Butterley Spillway) was designed to provide for the controlled release of water from the reservoir in times of flood to ensure that water did not overtop and damage or even destroy the dam. Constructed of local sandstone with ashlar dressings, the spillway has a distinctive stepped base which includes two stepped cascades, reminiscent of the 300 year old Cascade within the grounds of Chatsworth House, some 40 miles away in Derbyshire. Throughout the country, similar reservoir building projects were undertaken to provide safe drinking water to the developing industrial conurbations and a reliable water supply for industrial processes. Only a small number of related structures have been listed and the overflow at Butterley is the only spillway of this type to be included on the Heritage List for England. Its listing at grade two demonstrates that it is a nationally important example of Victorian engineering and the quality of materials and detailing reflect the civic pride of the then Huddersfield Municipal Borough.

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