A River Runs through It
First published: April 2012
Author: David Cook, Priories Historical Society
For centuries humans have been using the natural environment to suit their needs, waterways were highly important routes to move goods and travel around the country due to the poor nature of roads in times gone by.
There are several rivers in north Nottinghamshire the Maun, Meden, Poulter and the Ryton which flow from the Pennine foothills easterly across the Sherwood Sandstones one by one merging before forming the river Idle before joining the Trent. This was not always the case though – the Idle once flowed northwards into the Humber near Thorne until Cornelius Vermuyden’s 17th century drainage project. The River Ryton runs through the middle of Worksop and is greatly responsible for the town’s early layout. Its path has been greatly altered during the last millennium; three mills have created dams and mill races such as Loin Goit once part of the Priory Mill complex which also included ‘the Canch’ where there was a large dam. To the west of the town the river was diverted northwards around 1842 when Newcastle Avenue, a revision of the Chesterfield Turnpike road was created. The river was straightened around the 18th century through the town and culverted under the town centre
There was only one natural lake in Bassetlaw known as Whitewater formed in an alluvial basin. The word Blyth is translated to 'white water' and thus we can assume the village takes its name from this lake. The lake was drained with a cutting straight through its middle by William Mellish in the 18th century thus transforming what had, by then, become marsh into arable farmland.
It has been argued that there was a Roman canal between Bawtry and the Trent similar to the Fosse Dyke in Lincolnshire, evidence is scant but there was definitely a canal in existence during early Norman times getting a mention in the Doomsday book as 'bigredic' and formed part of Nottinghamshire’s county boundary. This waterway probably helped found Bawtry’s inland port during the medieval period where lead, timber, limestone and millstones were transported from Derbyshire to London and other European ports. The actual course is now a mystery it is either part of Heck Dyke or part of the Mother Drain which was already in existence in 1610, the present Bycarr Dyke being cut by Vermuyden in the 1620’s. Doomsday notes that fishing rights were held at Saunderby by the king and a garden was held by one of the villagers in exchange for providing salt presumably to preserve the fish. Doomsday also mentions fisheries at Rampton, North Muskham, Gringley on the Hill whose fishery yielded a thousand eels a year.
Where there are rivers there are flood plains associated with them, these areas have always been marginal, even in Roman times when the brickwork field systems stopped at a certain height above the water courses. These tracts of land would probably have been used for grazing animals, fishing, washing clothes and bodies and collecting water for making into alcoholic beverages (rivers were full of diseases). Eventually land drainage from the 17th century onwards drastically reduced these areas. John Dyson Senior and his son were based at Newington, Bawtry undertook several drainage projects around North Nottinghamshire.
In the late 1760’s they drained the land around Laneham, partnered by James Pinkerton and also planned the drainage of Gringley Common and Misterton during 1787. Work commenced in 1796 with Thomas Dyson and William Jessop and was completed by February 1801 with the water being drained into the Trent at Misterton Soss via the mother drain. The water was fed initially by a windmill which was replaced in 1829 by a steam powered pump; the first outside of the fens (an area also worked on by the Dysons). The steam pumps were eventually replaced by diesel power in 1941.
Flooding occurs either due to prolonged rain flow causing rivers to overflow or after extremely heavy rain when the ground cannot absorb the vast amounts of water. The earliest known destruction of property which we can be certain of in our area are found at the Roman town of Segelocum, now known as Littleborough. This settlement stood on the western bank of the Trent and is known to have suffered from severe flooding at least twice during its occupation. The Trent takes its name either from the Celtic word for ‘overway’ or the old English word for ‘trespasser’ giving strong indications that it bursts its banks on regular occurrences. The residents built new homes above the deposits left by the river and began again.
The past 100 years have seen five flood events affecting Bassetlaw. On August 7th 1922 125mm of rain fell on Worksop over a 28 hour period during the bank holiday period bringing severe flooding to the area. Easterly depressions caused a prolonged rainfall led to the Ryton overflowing and flooding Worksop between May 21st and 22nd 1932. The worst hit parts of town were the low lying areas surrounding the river including Bridge Place, Ryton Street, the cattle market and Priorswell Road. The water line was well above Newcastle Avenue so it can be assumed the levels were very high. Flooding also occurred on 2nd July 1958 after heavy rainfall which had been preceded by a very wet June leading to the highest recorded levels of many rivers in the area. The most recent flooding of the town occurred in June 2007 when the town was inundated with run-off from several streams. 207 buildings around the town were flooded including 132 homes. Retford and South Carlton also bore the brunt of the incessant rain with many homes being flooded and most of the areas streams and dykes also broke their banks causing disruption all over the area.
The occupants of the Dark Age logboat recovered from the Idle at Mattersey Thorpe now in Bassetlaw Museum would not be able to recognise the waterways altered by us over the past few hundred years, the industrial age straightening and pollution killed most of the wildlife and only in the past few decades has it slowly returned. The recent Defra announcement to subside further river cleaning should give our wildlife an additional boost.Although the importance of rivers has diminished they are still an essential part of our landscape and should be cared for with the greatest respect.