Chatsworth landscape team survey aftermath in the Peak District of worst floods in recent memory

The centre of Beeley was left underwater by the deluge of Storm Babet. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)The centre of Beeley was left underwater by the deluge of Storm Babet. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)
The centre of Beeley was left underwater by the deluge of Storm Babet. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)
The devastating impact of Storm Babet saw emergency services pressed into action across Derbyshire over the weekend, but in the villages around Chatsworth it was a small team of estate workers leading the response amid unprecedented conditions that will now require weeks of repairs.

On any normal day, the seven-person landscape team is usually out and about maintaining 1,000 acres of parkland, footpaths, roads and habitats, but when they arrived for work on Friday, October 20, it was quickly apparent it would not be a normal day.

Manager Ben Hanbury, who has worked at Chatsworth for 27 years, said: “The estate has tenants, pubs, hotels and other properties in surrounding villages and in situations like this we do all we can to help protect them. We all look after each other, and sadly it didn’t work this time.

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“When we got in at 7am there was already a lot of standing water around. The ground was saturated. With the amber weather warning in place for midday, the first thing we did was set out to Beeley with the sandbags we’d prepared. By 9am it was clear they wouldn’t keep the floods out. The amount of water was phenomenal and the speed it rose at – I’d never seen anything like it before.”

The streets were left thick with sludge carried from the surrounding countryside. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)The streets were left thick with sludge carried from the surrounding countryside. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)
The streets were left thick with sludge carried from the surrounding countryside. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)

The team’s storm response had begun several days earlier, draining the eight-acre Emperor lake to a level 80 centimetres below normal to try and contain the predicted deluge – by mid-afternoon on Friday it was overflowing.

Although a full analysis may take some time, the immediate explanation offered by people who know the lay of land suggests that there was so much rain over a prolonged period that the ground was unable to soak up any more.

Weather monitoring equipment on the estate recorded 20.8 millimetres of rain on Wednesday, 32.6mm on Thursday and then 81.6mm on Friday.

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Ben said: “It’s hard to put it into words. I’ve seen the river levels higher on the estate but this was just about the sheer amount of water that landed on us. It seemed to come from nowhere. It was blowing the lids off drains and culverts because there was so much pressure in the system.

Chatsworth landscape manager Ben Hanbury and his team operated as a backup emergency service on Friday. (Photo: Contributed)Chatsworth landscape manager Ben Hanbury and his team operated as a backup emergency service on Friday. (Photo: Contributed)
Chatsworth landscape manager Ben Hanbury and his team operated as a backup emergency service on Friday. (Photo: Contributed)

“It’s the worst incident I can remember and one of my colleagues who was born on the estate and worked here 40 years says the same. There was water in places it’s never been before, and buildings flooded that have never been hit.”

Some of the worst property damage was in Baslow, where Ben took a moment to record a video of the apocalyptic scene, as streets turned to rivers.

He said: “One of our properties was destroyed inside. We just managed to get the tenants out before the water broke the bridge.”

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Throughout the day, Ben and his team were racing against time to rescue stranded residents, help shift furniture to the upper floors of buildings and towing waterlogged cars to keep roads as clear as possible.

Some of the worst property damage occurred in Baslow. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)Some of the worst property damage occurred in Baslow. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)
Some of the worst property damage occurred in Baslow. (Photo: Ben Hanbury)

Ben said: “We were getting calls left, right and centre, and it was just a question of working in small teams spread across the whole area and prioritising.

“We had the fire service here for one situation in Beeley but we’d got it under control by the time they arrived. Other than that we tried to keep the pressure off the emergency services, who were needed elsewhere in communities where they don’t have a team like us.”

He added: “We knocked it on the head around 7pm. We were all soaked through and not had much chance to stop. We’d tried our hardest all day to protect what we could but it was past that point. We’d been beaten.

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“We took another drive around at 9pm and it was amazing how much the water levels had fallen. It went down as quick as it came up.”

Bar Brook burst its banks and inundated nearby homes. (Photo: Contributed)Bar Brook burst its banks and inundated nearby homes. (Photo: Contributed)
Bar Brook burst its banks and inundated nearby homes. (Photo: Contributed)

On Saturday morning, the team began their proper survey of the aftermath, detailing a long list of necessary repairs as well as readying for more rain after the Met Office warned of possible further flooding events in the coming days.

Ben said: “It’s going to take weeks and weeks of work to reinstate what’s been damaged. A lot of the gravel car park has been washed out, and the footpaths around Stand Wood.

“We’ve got broken drains and a sinkhole opened up in the middle of one road. In Beeley all the silt and mud had come down the hill and collected in the centre, so we’ve already had contactors out to help clean that up."

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He added: “We’re trying to prioritise the highest footfall areas to get them in usable condition, bearing in mind we also have to build two bonfires for next week’s fireworks displays and then we go straight into preparing for Christmas.

“We’re currently filling more sandbags but fingers-crossed we won’t need them. We’ve had similar episodes before – though we seem to be getting more and more of these heavy downpours – and we are as prepared as best as we can be.

“It’s not just our team but everyone on the estate – the house team, the visitor welcome team – all work together in moments like this, and we’ll all be out again any time we’re needed.”

Roads through the Chatsworth were almost impassable. (Photo: Contributed)Roads through the Chatsworth were almost impassable. (Photo: Contributed)
Roads through the Chatsworth were almost impassable. (Photo: Contributed)

A spokesperson for Chatsworth added: “We are supporting our colleagues, tenants and local communities who were affected by the flooding last week. As the water levels on and around the estate return to normal, our teams are working with our local partners on the clean-up operation.

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“In the face of such challenging circumstances, it is wonderful to witness the community spirit, co-operation and kindness shown by people across Derbyshire.”

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