Crookes Valley Park has long been a favourite for residents, workers and students, one of three Crookesmoor Parks, the others being Weston Park and the Ponderosa.
I doubt that many people will realise that this is one of Sheffield’s newest parks, named Crookes Valley Park in 1951 as part of the city’s Festival of Britain programme.
Before this, the piece of land beneath Crookes Valley Road had been called the Recreation Ground, and the lake was referred to as the Old Great Dam.
However, the story of this park is fascinating and one that has probably been lost over time.
Our tale starts in 1782, when Joseph Matthewman, together with Messrs. Wheat, Lee and Gunning, of the Sheffield Reservoirs Company, were granted a 99-year lease by the Earl of Surrey to build a new reservoir in the Crookesmoor Valley.
They believed the supply of water to the town was inadequate and turned their attention to the deep valley at Crookesmoor which separated the townships of Sheffield and Nether Hallam, and where the sides of the hillside were abundant with fresh springs. The topography of the land allowed them to pin-up the water at little cost.
The Old Great Dam was completed in February 1785, spread over four acres and contained 21million gallons of water, fed by a small stream in its western corner.
It was later joined by the New Dam, Godfrey Dam, and the Ralph and Misfortune Dams, together with four smaller dams in the Crookesmoor Valley. They were later accompanied by the Hadfield Reservoir at Crookes, built at a height of 600ft above sea level.
Water was conveyed into Sheffield by wooden pipes, 1,100 yards to a working dam at Portobello, and then to a stone cistern at Division Street, then distributed through the streets in the upper part of town. The lower Crookesmoor reservoirs supplied the lower parts via Watery Lane.
The Old Great Dam was thought big enough to supply the town for years, but when the Sheffield Waterworks Company assumed responsibility in 1830, the population had grown from under 10,000 to nearly 50,000, doubling between 1780 to 1810.
The Crookesmoor Dams were no longer able to cope with demand and larger reservoirs were built farther out of town. All the dams, except Old Great Dam, were filled in, with the Town Trustees offering to buy part of its land in 1874 to create a public park or recreation ground.
The scheme failed and it wasn’t until the completion of Crookes Valley Road in 1893 that the idea was resurrected.
Before this time, the valley had been crossed using the Great Dam Road, roughly following the edge of the reservoir, but involved a steep descent.
A new road was required to link Winter Street with the other side of the valley, and a massive embankment was built between the two. The project needed 450,000 loads of material, and to assist, Sheffield Corporation offered a “free tip” whereby “good, hard, dry rubbish” could be taken for the formation of the road. For years afterwards, the area at the end of Winter Street was still referred to as “The Tip.”
In 1905, Sheffield Corporation created the Recreation Ground next to Crookes Valley Road with a shelter, the city’s first municipal bowling green, and tennis courts. However, the Old Great Dam, as well as the privately-owned Dam House beside it, remained untouched.
It wasn’t until 1951 that the Old Great Dam was turned into a boating lake, with thirty rowing boats, and the Dam House converted into the Festival Restaurant, offering “first class meals of a continental standard.” The whole area was renamed Crookes Valley Park.
Nowadays, the lake (as it has become known) is used for fishing, and don’t let anyone fool you that it isn’t deep.
Over the past 235 years, it has claimed hundreds of lives, most unaware of its chilly depths, estimated at between 45 and 60ft.