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Temporary Exhibitions 2010: Water in North Craven: Display Boards

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Water for Life


From the earliest times, water has played a major part in shaping the landscape of North Craven

Millions of years ago, during the early part of the Carboniferous Age, this area was covered by a shallow tropical sea. Coral reefs built up in the warm, clear water and we can find their fossils today in the hillsides around Settle.

The characteristic limestone scenery owes much to the action of water, both from rainfall and streams. Water absorbs carbon dioxide from the air to form a weak acid, which slowly dissolves the limestone and seeps through cracks in the rock to produce the classic pavement pattern of 'clints'(slabs) and 'grikes'(cracks).

Streams run off the upper slopes of the hills and disappear through joints in the limestone, penetrating deeply into its heart through potholes and eventually creating an underworld of caves, complete with stalactites and stalagmites.

During the Ice Age, huge glaciers flowed along the valleys, depositing debris and carving out deep gorges. Waterfalls occur where rivers and streams tumble over cliffs and ledges produced by the erosion of softer stone and landshift caused by former earthquakes.

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Water for Life

Rain & Flood

This region of North West England, with its extensive areas of high ground and exposure to westerly Atlantic airflows has some of the highest rainfall in the country. Conditions are also extremely changeable and localised. Sudden heavy rain in one area leads to the flash floods which can prove a great danger to cavers and potholers.

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Snow & ice

Although in general, low temperatures and heavy snowfall are less frequent than in North East England, there have been some memorably severe winters over the last century.

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Water for Life

Basic Sources

In this country today most of us expect a plentiful supply of clean water to flow from our taps

Less than a hundred years ago this was far from the case and people had to spend much time and effort in carrying water from communal pumps, dipping wells and springs to provide for their domestic needs. Not a drop was wasted and soft rainwater was collected in slate cisterns from the roofs of houses and outbuildings for washing purposes.

Such supplies were often contaminated by run-off from land drains and pollution from animals and raw sewage. It was not fully realised until the second half of the 19th century that diseases such as cholera and dysentery were primarily spread through impure water rather than impure air.

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Water for Life

Improved Supplies

In the later Victorian period great efforts were made to improve public health and the provision of clean water and proper sewerage schemes was a high priority for the new local Councils, which were set up in 1894

Settle Rural District Council immediately began to tackle the problems of water supply and sewerage throughout the area of what is now North Craven. Ingleton was the first township to have a new reservoir, opened in 1902, and schemes for improved supplies to other parts of the district progressed steadily.

The design and construction of Settle's new Upper Reservoir is a remarkable example of the planning ability and foresight of the Surveyor to the Council, Mr T.A. Foxcroft. The town's first reservoir had been constructed in 1882, with a capacity of 70,000 gallons, which proved inadequate during dry periods. The supply was often turned off at night to allow the reservoir to fill up and residents complained bitterly of shortages!

The new Upper Reservoir, completed in 1906, was designed to contain 3,000,000 gallons, positioned to take advantage of additional spring supplies should they be needed and to "meet the requirements of Settle and Giggleswick for many years to come". It achieved this objective for the best part of a century, which says much for the thoroughness of our Edwardian forebears.

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Water for Work

Water Power for Mills

From medieval times the rivers and streams of our area have provided a source of power for driving machinery

The early mills existed for grinding corn, but had mainly fallen out of use by the middle of the 18th century.

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, many of the old manorial cornmills throughout North Craven were adapted for textile production and others were built, sometimes for more specialised uses, such as slate-cutting.

At Langcliffe and Settle there were mills for cotton spinning, weaving and paper-making. Initially they were powered by waterwheels, fed by a supply of water taken from the main course of the River Ribble through the construction of a dam and headrace. By the late 19th century the wheels had mainly been replaced by turbines, supplemented by steam power.

The mills on the River Wenning at High and Low Bentham were also involved at different periods in the spinning of cotton, flax and silk and were the major employers in the area until about forty years ago.

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Water for Work


As well as providing mechanical power, water can be harnessed to generate electricity

Early Examples

On the Ingleborough Estate in Clapham a limited supply of electricity was being generated by about 1890 from a water-driven turbine and dynamo to light part of the Hall. This was gradually extended to include the church and a number of street lights in the village. Despite the arrival of mains electricity, the Estate turbine continued to power street lighting until 1962.

Scalegill Mill, a former cotton and sawmill in Kirkby Malham was purchased as part of the Hanlith Hall Estate in 1912 and soon afterwards began to provide some electric lighting to the Hall, using the original waterwheel as its power source until 1922. Thereafter two turbines were installed and the mill dam cleared and re-walled to increase the head of water available.

The turbines generated sufficient power to provide electricity for cooking, heating and lighting at the Hall and some power for the Mill.

Green Settle 2010

Settle Hydro is a community hydro electric scheme which aims to generate about 165,000 units of electricity per year - enough for around 50 homes. An Archimedean screw has been installed at Settle Weir, next to Bridge End Mill using part of the old millrace. Settle Hydro has recently won two Green Business awards for the scheme.


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Water for Leisure

Time to Relax

North Craven provides a wealth of opportunities for the many people who enjoy relaxing in, on, or close to water


River swimming was a popular pastime before the building of local swimming pools. In Bentham, between 1920 and 1937, the wife of the Headmaster of Bentham Grammar School taught many people to swim in the Wenning. Lessons often took place in the "cut", the millrace that fed the turbines at Ford, Ayrton's Silk Mill. The well-known Bentham Holiday Camp was conveniently located on the banks of the Wenning so that campers could enjoy an early morning dip.

In Settle, a popular swimming and picnic place was Queen's Rock, on the Giggleswick side of the Ribble, opposite Kings Mill. The first swimming pool to open in the district was the Ingleton open air pool, constructed in 1933 by out-of-work coal miners. Settle's indoor pool opened in 1975, providing an all-year-round resource for the whole district.


Freezing winters provided opportunities for ice-skating on tarns and ponds.

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Water for Leisure

Time to Relax


The rivers, streams and tarns of North Craven have long been renowned for their fishing, attracting local people and visitors alike. Malham Tarn has been famous for the size of its trout from at least the 18th century and was a favourite fishing haunt of Arthur Ransome.


In the late 18th century, visitors to the area hired local guides to take them into some of the best-known caves, but cave exploration did not become a popular sport until a 100 years later. North Craven is home to many of the country's most spectacular cave systems, including Gaping Gill on the flanks of Ingleborough.


Among many popular waterside routes is the Ingleton Waterfalls Walk, opened to the public in 1885 enabling access to the famous waterfalls of the Ingleton Glens, carved from deep channels in the Rivers Doe and Greta.

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Temporary Exhibitions for other years may be found by clicking on the relevant links below:


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