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Butterbrook Reservoir

Butterbrook Reservoir

In the Spring of 2015 South West Water decided to sell of some of their properties and the small Butter Brook Impounding Reservoir was one of them with a guide price of £40,000. The auction was to be held on the 25th of March and this particular plot was being handled by Bradley’s Estate Agents.  The reason for the sales of this and other South West Water’s properties was:

We regularly auction redundant assets to reduce our costs and keep customers’ bills as low as possible. Fifty per cent of the proceeds of the sale of the land will be returned to customers through South West Water’s next price setting. Novelty sites with small areas of surplus land always attract strong interest as people are able to invest relatively modest sums for their ‘little piece of England’. Several of our former storage reservoirs and pumping stations have been converted by their new owners into unusual homes.”

C. Shapland South West Water Property Manager. March 2015.

The auction was to be held on the 25th of March and this particular plot was being handled by Bradley’s Estate Agents. Their description of the reservoir was this:

This stunning and unusual reservoir set in approx. 7.7 acres, is surrounded by trees with a small disused building just beyond gates, its approach via a vehicular trackway. The reservoir could be possibly used as a retreat or fishery, subject to planning. The buyer is responsible for the upkeep of the boundary fence.”

Firstly, what is an impounding reservoir? Simply put it’s a basin that is constructed in a stream or river valley to hold the stream flow in order to store the water for use when supplies are insufficient. The now disused Butter Brook Reservoir was constructed in 1915 and the contractors who built the structure were R. T. Relf & Son. Its vital statistics are; 94 metres by 60 metres at its widest point which then narrows to 40 metres. The reservoir was the officially opened on the 31st of May 1916 by Lord Mildmay of Flete. It came under the auspices of Ivybridge Urban Council and was simply known as Butter Brook Reservoir.

It purpose was to supply Ivybridge with a sustainable water supply, however by 1994 it was only supplying 20 households with water. In addition it was found that at certain times of the year the aluminium levels of the water exceeded EU guidelines. This coupled with the fact that in 1994 the Broomhill treatment works were due to close meant that the Butter Brook reservoir became redundant and therefore closed, Rendell, p.11.

Back in 1976 Britain was in the grip of what was at the time described as; “the worst drought of the century,” along with the accompanying heatwave.  This lead to widespread water rationing and standpipes sprung up all over the country. One would have thought that the small and remote Butter Brook reservoir would not be affected but at the time every drop of water counted. Accordingly in the July of that year the South West Water Authority gave notice that for a period not exceeding 6 months the flow of compensation water from the Butter Brook Reservoir into the River Erme would be reduced. The main aim of this action was to reduce the threatened water supply deficiency within the area covered by South West Water.

Butterbrook Reservoir

For whatever reason this particular plot was withdrawn from auction and presumably still sits in the hands of South West Water? I would suggest there was a bit of poetical license when the brochure referred to a ; “small disused building”. Probably the reason that it is disused is due the fact there are just 4 bare walls with no roof.  In addition there are a few more little concerns with the plot, firstly for £40,000 you would have purchased a 150 year lease not a freehold property. You would have been responsible for maintaining the boundary fencing, entrance gates and the surrounding land. The lands were to be maintained in a satisfactory condition which also reflected the appropriate health and safety requirements. Should a future drought order be issued then South West Water reserved the rights to extract such water supplies as needed. But, bonus time, they would pay compensation for any proven loss of valuable fish stocks? South West Water would maintain access rights in order to inspect the structure of the reservoir and all its associated chambers and pipework. They also had the right to reclaim 50% of such inspection costs and/or any repairs deemed necessary to keep the reservoir in a satisfactory state. Finally, and here is the cruncher, multiple overnight occupancy was not to be allowed unless they were overnight fishing huts and permission was granted by South West Water.

So, “if me granny had balls she would have been me granddad,” time, or in other words dream on. In idle moments I often ponder what I would do with an enormous Lottery win. Always top of the list would be a visit to the Range Rover dealer to buy a top of the range model. More recently, second on the list would be a phone call to South West Water to see if it would still be possible to lease the Butter Brook reservoir. Bearing in mind the above restrictions would could be done with it? With the numerous mentions of fishes it appears they would be keen to see it turned into a fishing lake, stocked with “value fish.” The guidance notes for the lease clearly state; “multiple overnight occupancy will not be permitted,” but it says nothing about single overnight occupancy. In which case being filthy rich I would restore the old building when it would then become my peaceful, little bit of Dartmoor retreat. I would install a massive security fence around the plot, probably electrified and patrolled by rabid Dobermans along with a machine gun tower or two. All around would be missive signs saying; “keep of my laaand“and “can you run faster than a bullet” Not being antisocial or anything but I would need to ensure my top of the range Range Rover never got nicked. Another priority would be to clean up the reservoir waters and make it habitable for breeding otters and maybe a few beavers. I presume there was an electricity supply but if not install a couple of super duper silent generators in order to keep the beer cold. Yeah, Yeah, coo-ee, calling planet earth, permission for re-entry and wow look at those flying pigs.

The other little feature of this particular plot is that literally on the western edge of the reservoir is a small Bronze Age settlement consisting of eleven identifiable hut circles. All bar one are in a reasonable condition and there is possible evidence in the form of nearby upright stones that there are additional hut circles in the area+. There are four other hut circles on the southern edge of the enclosure and at least two more within the conifers trees of the reservoir compound. These are clearly marked on the early Ordnance Survey maps prior to the construction of the reservoir as can be seen from the map opposite

As a matter of interest, just below the reservoir there are some enclosed fields and these are known as ‘Century land’ or ‘Sentries’ with the corner of the field wall being known as Century Corner’. The word ‘century’ is a corruption of the word sanctuary which refers to glebe lands or Sanctuary Land that belonged to the local church . It was somewhere amongst these fields that an underground operation base for the Harford Home Guard was located. This OB acted as a store for food, ammunition and explosives along with bunk beds for the men to sleep in.

Butterbrook Reservoir

Rendell, P. 1994. Butter Brook Reservoir to Close – The Dartmoor Newsletter, Iss. 17. Plymouth: The Old Dartmoor Company.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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