Dawson City

A view across the wooden 'city' was built to house the workmen and their families employed in the construction of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs, 1900 to 1912.

The Walshaw Dean Reservoirs

As a result of the growing population of Halifax, Halifax Corporation put out to tender  the building of three reservoirs (with a capacity of 205, 244 and 160 million gallons of water) on the moorland above Hardcastle Crags, purchased in part from Lord Savile. On the 25th. June 1900, the Corporation accepted the bid of Enoch Tempest from Manchester who had completed similar projects elsewhere.  His tender of £170,766.8.1d. was by far the lowest submitted. To supply materials and men to the remote upland area, a railway and a temporary settlement were constructed and in use from 1900 to 1908 for the building of the reservoirs.

The Hardcastle Crags Railway

The route railway began at White Hill Nook, above Heptonstall, along the edge of the Hebden Valley to Blake Dean and then continued up the valley towards Walshaw, a distance of five miles. There were spurs to reach both sides of the valley near the reservoirs and to assist with the transport of materials such a puddle clay.

One of the Engines used on the Hardcastle Crags Railway
One of the Engines used on the Hardcastle Crags Railway

On 17th. October 1900 work started on laying the three foot gauge track at White Hill Nook and by February 1901, the first two and a half miles had been completed. Eight wooden bridges, including one at Clough Hole, had been built. By April 1901, the track had reached Blake Dean where a trestle bridge over the River Hebden was built by sub-contractor George Greenwood of Hebden Bridge.

The bridge, built of pitch pine on stone pillars, was 105 feet high and 700 feet long. It was said to sway in the wind but was sufficiently strong to take the weight of two engines with trucks. Fifteen locomotives worked the completed line, initially hauled to White Hill Nook by teams of horses from Hebden Bridge station on Saturdays when the local tradesman could release their horses for hire. Materials were carried by a Mann steam lorry from the station to White Hill Nook and Heptonstall Slack.

The bridge itself has long gone but you can still see the supports, if you head out along our Railway Trail
Hardcastle Crags Tressle Bridge

Dawson City

To support the construction of the railway and the reservoirs, Dawson City was constructed, the name being drawn from Dawson City in Canada, the location of the 1899 Klondyke goldfields, where, it was said, some of the navvies had worked. It was sited on both sides of the road at Heptonstall Slack, near Draper’s Corner.

Is this his new broom?
Boy with a broom in Dawson City

Built of timber, there was living accommodation, carpenter’s and other workshops, storerooms, a locomotive shed, a tank for supplying the engines with water, a sawing machine with a 14hp engine. ( Gibson Mill was used for cutting sleepers from the trees felled from the surrounding estate.) Some of the living accommodation was for families in houses with a living room including a kitchen range and a bedroom. Large dormitories with wash houses were provided for the large number of single men.  Spring water supplied the site.

The construction of Dawson City commenced in October 1900 and by the spring of 1901 there were 22 huts to accommodate about 230 men, although only 12 huts were occupied by 150 men at that time. A mission room, with the Reverend W. H. Hickens as missioner, was used for worship and also as a Sunday School and social club.

Children pose for the camera in Dawson City
Children pose for the camera in Dawson City

For the children there were events at Christmas and mid-week lectures with tea and lantern slides. Games such as draughts and bagatelle were played by adults who competed with other local teams as did the cricket and football teams. As a result of the accidents at work, by February 1903, there was an emergency hospital to which the Halifax Corporation gave £50 a year. Enoch Tempest provided, free of charge, a hut and two beds.

The navvies

The men who built the railway were drawn from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales and Ireland. Their work with picks, shovel and explosives was hard and dangerous, resulting in many injuries and some fatalities. During the construction of the reservoirs, 3 “paddy mails” left White Hill Nook at 5.30, 5.40 and 5.50 preceded by a pilot engine for safety. Smoking was not allowed on site so the men smoked on the trains, often sitting with their legs dangling over the side of the coaches.


Waiting to board the train
Navvies in front of out buildings


The “paddy mails” carried the navvies who started work at 6.00 in the morning, ate their mid-day meal at work and returned in similar fashion to Dawson City at about the same time in the afternoon. They were mostly single men and by September 1905 there were about 540 men living in Dawson City. There were newspaper reports of navvies appearing before the magistrates for drunkenness and disorder in Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge.


“Dawson City” Heptonstall. Harry Armitage
Reservoir Railways of the Yorkshire Pennines. Harold D Bowtell
Mill, Murder and Railway. Peter Thomas