The Severn Yesterday
The name "Severn" is derived from the name Sabrina or Hafren which is based on a myth about the drowning of a nymph in the river.
Flood Markers in Worcester
The River Severn has flooded its banks many times over the years, as the above photo shows -
it continues to do so today.
In the 18th Century, farmers believed that flood water made the land more fertile and thought it a good idea to put in flood gates which could be opened in the winter and closed during the summer to prevent their crops being washed away.
In 1803, Thomas Telford, a great canal and bridge designer, suggested creating large reservoirs in Mongomeryshire to hold water when rainfall was high, then release the water into the Severn when it was low. However, it was not until 1964 that his idea came true, when the Clywedog reservoir was built to regulate water levels in the Severn.
The Celts used the river for transport and for food. They used a type of boat called a coracle (a round wooden frame covered with skins).
When the Romans arrived in Britain the Severn River formed a natural barrier at the edge of their Empire.They built many settlements along the River Severn, laying their roads from Wroxeter to Gloucester about 50A.D. Towns built along these roads were either defensive or industrial. Worcester, for example, became a flourishing little town where you could find many craftsmen such as blacksmiths, carpenters, bakers and potters and many used the river to transport their goods. A Roman fort was built at Gloucester - probably because this was the lowest part of the river that could be crossed. By the 2nd century it had become a busy centre of trade and industry
After the Romans had left, the Saxons set up camps along the Severn, using it to transport goods such as wool. At Clevelode near Upton- on -Severn there is evidence of a loading platform which can still be seen.
By the mid 7th Century the Saxons had built a new settlement by a ford in the River Severn; the Saxons called a settlement a ceaster - the one near Worcester was called Weoragan Ceaster. Weorgoran means "people of the winding river".
The Normans built castles along the river as defences from the Welsh tribes. Shrewsbury is an excellent example of a natural defensive site being built inside the loop of the river. Gloucester and Worcester also had Norman castles and cathedrals.
During Medieval times market towns began to grow up using the river to transport goods. Newtown in Wales and Tewkesbury are good examples.
From that time on, the river became very important to the lives of people as a means of transporting goods. The river was navigable to Welshpool and barges carried coal, iron and wool.
Worcester Railway Bridge 1859 Worcester Railway Bridge 2009
With the introduction of railways and improved roads during the late 1700's, river transport became less impotant. However, rail and road links needed new bridges. The bridge designed by Thomas Telford at Ironbridge was a masterpiece of design and was the first iron bridge in the world.
The Severn Valley Railway was built at this time, following the river valley. A railway bridge was built in 1870 across the Severn linking the Forest of dean with Gloucestershire, but it collapsed after a tragic accident and a new rail link was built under the Severn.
In 1827 the Sharpness Canal was built, bypassing the shallower river to let larger ships get to Gloucester Docks. Ocean going ships brought grain, timber and flour, and the main export was salt from Droitwich. At Gloucester Docks, goods were transferred to smaller barges. Barges called trows carried iron and smaller crafts called wherries carried coal, bricks and tiles upstream.
Canals were built during this time linking the River Severn with towns in the Midlands.
The 20th Century saw an increase in the popularity of road haulage and by 1960 the river had no more commercial use.
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