The Lost World of Green Booth

(Greenbooth is in Rochdale but is covered here because reservoir was built by the Heywood and Middleton Water Board.)

The old village of Green Booth now lies deep beneath the waters of the Greenbooth reservoir to the north of Heywood. For younger Heywoodites this conjures images of a Biblical inundation, leaving an underwater village unwillingly trapped in time. In reality, the village of Greenbooth was already dead when the Heywood and Middleton Water Board built the reservoir and submerged it in the 1960s.

Green Booth village (Greenbooth Memories).

Although the place now has the one-word name 'Greenbooth', it was originally called Green Booth, with Green Booth Woods being on the slopes. The area has some significant history, as it was visited quite often in the 1750s by John Wesley, the famous founder of the Methodist Church. He stayed just up the hill at Blomleys, where he established a small Methodist chapel.

A weaving mill was built at Green Booth during the 1840s, on or near the site of a former corn mill that was probably erected during the 18th century. The new mill was owned by James Butterworth of Norden, and specialised in the production of woollen flannel. Coal for the mill came from the nearby East Knowl colliery.

Green Booth and surrounds, Ordnance Survey map 1851.

Butterworth created a village around his mill for the workers to live in, including two rows of terraced housing as well as some bigger homes for the managers. Rent was deducted straight out of wages, as was the cost of delivering milk to each house. There was a shop and a two-teacher school in the village but no pub or church, which meant that children had to walk over two miles to Sunday School while their parents attended morning service.

The Greenbooth Mills were already marked as 'disused' on this 1911 map.

In 1911 the mill, which by then was managed by Butterworth’s grandsons, went bankrupt. There were about 80 homes in the village at the time, but with the major source of employment gone the locals began to move away to find work elsewhere. Greenbooth village struggled on but the school closed in 1930, after which time the remaining children had to walk to Norden for school. The village apparently never received electricity.

The village in 1955 (Greenbooth Memories).
The Reservoir
The death knell for the village came in the 1950s when the Heywood and Middleton Water Board proposed the construction of a new reservoir there. The Naden Valley contained three reservoirs (Naden Lower, Naden Middle and Naden Higher) which dated back to the 19th century, and the Greenbooth reservoir was planned to complete the series.

The fate of Greenbooth was not unique, as the Rochdale villages of Watergrove (1938) and Cowm (1968) have also been submerged beneath reservoirs. The Greenbooth plans were confirmed in 1955 and the village was finally empty not long afterwards. As a measure of its decline, when it was demolished there were 46 houses left in the village, 20 of which were derelict.

High cliffs were carved into the valley and trees were torn down during construction of the reservoir, which cost in excess of £2 million and providing some 700,000,000 gallons of water to Heywood. It has a concrete foundation with a central core of watertight puddle clay, which was laid by workmen walking around on it and trampling it with the heels of their boots. The reservoir, measuring 40 metres high and 300 metres long was completed in 1963 and officially opened in August 1965.

Green Booth village, 1957. Note the derelict houses at the bottom of the photo. (Greenbooth Memories)

View from the south-west corner of the reservoir. (James Brownbridge)
The only visible reminder of Greenbooth village is this plaque on the side of the reservoir:

After completion, Greenbooth Reservoir soon became a popular summer swimming spot for the children of Heywood and surrounds. By the 1970s it was widely known among young Heywoodites that if the water level dropped enough during a drought season, you would be able to see the top of the church spire. This was of course nonsense as there was no big church in the village anyway, but it does show just how quickly an urban myth can take hold.

Children in Green Booth village. (Greenbooth Memories)

For modern children, the village of Green Booth was a lost underwater world, full of houses and churches, inhabited only by giant pike and quite possibly the skeletons of the villagers themselves. Although there is no such thing under the waters, there is still a sense of mystery about Green Booth, however, and the photographs of the village on Adam Lee's excellent website Greenbooth Memories have a genuinely haunting quality. They remind us that people lived their lives in this place, and went to school, played, loved, worked and died there. There were homes with fireplaces and beds and children. Everything changes, as we are reminded whenever we look at old photos of Heywood, but looking at the old photos of life in Greenbooth and then seeing what is there now is a stark reminder that if we don't record our history, it will one day be wiped from the map and vanish.



Anonymous said…
I used to go up Knowl hill every other Sunday and never knew the history of Greenbooth!
What a facinating story, thankfully because of the likes of you, the history WILL be consigned to history.
Well done.

Kate Gibson
peter kean said…
Walk round the reservoirs or over the moors most Sundays so great to know the history. Fantastic piece, thanks.
Chris Dawson said…
And thanks again. To tell the truth I thought the history was more widely known and I wasn't saying anything that anybody didn't already know, but from the feedback I've been getting that's apparently not the case.
Anonymous said…
It was actually part of Norden, Greenbooth village. The Heywood & Middleton Water Board was just the local water board. My father ran the Clay Lane/Red Lumb filter plant till he retired. It was renamed West Penine Water Board, no doubt the modernists have renamed it since I was there in 69.
Jane Heywood
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
People may also enjoy this link:
Chris Dawson said…
Thanks! Good link.
Anonymous said…
I did my dissertation on Greenbooth, So this page is very interesting! I'm just wondering where you found all your information from as some of this information I didn't find.

Great piece of work...
Chris Dawson said…
Thanks. There is a list of sources on this page, but which information are you specifically referring to?
Paul Lynch said…
"My father ran the Clay Lane/Red Lumb filter plant till he retired."

Wow, just that one sentence brings back so many memories for me...... I used to live just behind Clay Lane ressie and we used to swim in it in summer and venture out onto the ice (like some scary Public Information film) in winter if it froze.... they built a housing estate on the site of the reservoir now but I think the old pump house is still there....
cjphoto said…
I used to go fishing in Greenbooth reservoir when I was younger. As someone earlier pointed out, Greenbooth is actually in Norden, I lived about 1 mile down the road from there. We would walk up to the reservoir through the old tannery, which had an entrance by the church on Edenfield Road just opposite where the bus turn around is.
Unknown said…
My grandfather's farm is under there.
Geoff said…
My grandfather Arthur Harvey was superintendent at the reservoir during the war and up until retiring in the late fifties.The family lived at Nadin house during this time.
Unknown said…
my father was born in greenbooth village along with his siblings,he had many stories to tell of the village,my grandfathers name was arthur livsey,i remember him drawing a map of the village for a school aunty barbara is still with us,i will see if she has any photographs or any other memorabilia .