The Lake Vyrnwy Obelisk

Lake Vyrnwy Dam and the associated waterworks was constructed in the 1880s to provide drinking water for Liverpool and Merseyside. Today the area is a nature reserve and conservation area popular with the many visitors who come to enjoy the magnificent scenery. Far less well known is the memorial obelisk now virtually hidden away on the wooded hillside above the lake, and its link with a rather poignant ghost story.

The hidden obelisk

Work on the lake began in 1881 and the massive stone dam was constructed to flood the valley of the River Vyrnwy over the following eight years. Beneath the waters of Lake Vyrnwy lies the “lost” village of Llanwddyn. The entire village was relocated to a new site built by Liverpool Corporation further up the valley. Llanwddyn itself was raised to the ground before it was finally flooded. Even the bodies in the churchyard were exhumed and reinterred at the new church before the village finally disappeared. On occasions, when conditions are just right and the water level low, the remains of the old village can still be glimpsed beneath the lake.

The dam at Lake Vyrnwy is often associated with practice bombing runs for Operation Chastise in The Second World War. Better known as the “Dambusters” raid, Lancasters of 617 Squadron breached the German Möhne and Eder dams and damaged the Sorpe dam in May 1943. However, the association with Lake Vyrnwy seems to be something of a local myth as the dam was never actually used for this purpose. So where did this story originate? It seems that at least one scene in the famous 1955 film, “The Dambusters” was shot at Lake Vyrnwy leading to the mistaken belief that the wartime RAF Lancaster bomber crews practiced there.

At the approach to the dam is a memorial to the Liverpool Corporation dignitaries who were responsible for commissioning the Vyrnwy Water-Works Project. At the height of its construction a thousand men were employed but not all were to survive. A second and far less public memorial, the obelisk, lists the names of the forty four men who lost their lives whilst building the massive structure.

The workmens’ own memorial

The memorial obelisk is hidden from view on the tree covered hillside behind the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel at Llanwddyn on the banks of the lake. No signposts mark the way to this sadly forgotten memorial. After parking at the hotel the path to the obelisk can be found starting from the furthest corner of the lower car park. It occupies a lonely, quiet spot high up on the hillside overlooking the lake and dam. The size of the obelisk comes as quite a surprise when it is finally reached. It is in remarkably good condition for its age, but judging by the overgrown path through the woods few people visit it these days. It is interesting to note that the memorial was erected by fellow workmen, rather than the Liverpool Corporation who employed them.

The men who were killed

The names of forty four workers are recorded around the square base of the obelisk which, to give an idea of the scale, is about six feet high. Although forty four men died during the construction only ten are listed as having been killed. These names are recorded on the side of the obelisk directly facing the lake and dam which claimed their lives. Given the terrible working conditions in those days it is possible those not killed outright in accidents died later of injury or disease. It is one of the ten workmen killed here who is associated with a local ghost story but unfortunately his name is lost to time.

The dam took some years to construct and consequently many men moved their families to the area whilst working on the project. One such family lodged at The Green Inn, Llangedwyn, situated in the beautiful Tanat Valley. In the 1880s the upstairs rooms were given over to providing long term accommodation for workmen and their families. The story goes that this particular family had a little girl who always used to sit in one of the upstairs windows and wait for her father to come home down the road from Lake Vyrnwy. Following a terrible accident at the dam the father was killed and his name added to those inscribed on the memorial obelisk. On occasions to this day visitors entering this quaint country pub for the first time have enquired who the pretty little girl is, sitting in the upstairs window of what is now the restaurant, and silently staring out along the road towards Lake Vyrnwy.

The Green Inn story first appeared in ‘Haunted Hostelries of Shrophire’ by Andrew Homer and published by Amberley.

Memorial stone:
To the memory
of men who have died
while employed in the works of
Lake Vyrnwy
1880 to 1890
Erected by their fellow workmen

First published in Mysterious Britain and Ireland