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The River Trent is one of the major rivers of England.
Its source is in Staffordshire on the southern edge of Biddulph Moor. It flows through the Midlands (forming a once significant boundary between the north and south of England) until it joins the Yorkshire Ouse at Trent Falls to form the Humber Estuary, which empties into the North Sea below Hull and Immingham.
The Trent is unusual amongst English rivers in that it flows north (for the second half of its route), and in exhibiting a tidal bore, the "Trent Aegir". The area drained by the river includes most of the northern Midlands.
The name "Trent" comes from a Celtic word possibly meaning "strongly flooding". More specifically, the name may be a contraction of two Celtic words, tros ("over") and hynt ("way"). This may indeed indicate a river that is prone to flooding. However, a more likely explanation may be that it was considered to be a river that could be crossed principally by means of fords, i.e. the river flowed over major road routes. This may explain the presence of the Celtic element rid (c.f. Welsh rhyd, "ford") in various placenames along the Trent, such as Hill Ridware, as well as the Old English-derived ford. Another translation is given as "the trespasser", referring to the waters flooding over the land. According to Koch at the University of Wales, the name Trent derives from the Romano-British Trisantona, a Romano-British reflex of the combined Proto-Celtic elements *tri-sent(o)-on-a- (through-path-AUG-F-) ‘great feminine thoroughfare’.
In the Pliocene epoch (1.7 million years ago) the River Trent rose in the Welsh hills and flowed almost east from Nottingham through the present Vale of Belvoir to cut a gap through the limestone ridge at Ancaster and thence to the North Sea. At the end of the Wolstonian Stage (c. 130,000 years ago) a mass of stagnant ice left in the Vale of Belvoir caused the river to divert north along the old Lincoln river, through the Lincoln gap. In a following glaciation (Devensian, 70,000 BC) the ice held back vast areas of water – called Glacial Lake Humber – in the current lower Trent basin. When this retreated, the Trent adopted its current course into the Humber.
Unusually for an English river, the river channel has occasionally altered significantly in historic times. An abandoned channel at Repton is described on an old map as 'Old Trent Water'. Further downstream, archaeologists have found the remains of a medieval bridge across another abandoned channel. The course of the river was altered in the area of Ingleby in Derbyshire, "moving" 300 acres (120 ha) from one side of the river to another.
Nottingham seems to have been the ancient head of navigation until the Restoration, due partly to the difficult navigation of the Trent Bridge. Navigation was then extended to Wilden Ferry, near to the more recent Cavendish Bridge, as a result of the efforts of the Fosbrooke family of Shardlow.
Later, in 1699, Lord Paget, who owned coal mines and land in the area, obtained an Act of Parliament to extend navigation up to Fleetstones Bridge, Burton, despite opposition from the people of Nottingham. Lord Paget seems to have funded the work privately, building locks at King's Mills and Burton Mills and several cuts and basins. The Act gave him absolute control over the building of any wharfs and warehouses above Nottingham Bridge. Lord Paget leased the navigation and the wharf at Burton to George Hayne, while the wharf and warehouses at Wilden were leased by Leonard Fosbrooke, who held the ferry rights and was a business partner of Hayne. The two men refused to allow any cargo to be landed which was not carried in their own boats, and so created a monopoly.
In 1748, the merchants from Nottingham attempted to break this monopoly by landing goods on the banks and into carts, but Fosbrooke used his ferry rope to block the river, and then created a bridge by mooring boats across the channel, and employing men to defend them. Hayne subsequently scuppered a barge in King's Lock, and for the next eight years goods had to be transhipped around it. Despite a Chancery injunction against them, the two men continued with their action. Hayne's lease ran out in 1762, and Lord Paget's son, the Earl of Uxbridge, gave the new lease to the Burton Boat Company.
The Trent & Mersey Canal was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1766, and construction from Shardlow to Preston Brook, where it joined the Bridgewater Canal, was completed by 1777. The canal ran parallel to the upper river to Burton on Trent, where new wharfs and warehouses at Horninglow served the town, and the Burton Boat Company were unable to repair the damaged reputation of the river created by their predecessors. Eventually in 1805, they reached an agreement with Henshall & Co., the leading canal carriers, for the closure of the river above Wilden Ferry. Though the river is no doubt legally still navigable above Shardlow, it is probable that the agreement marks the end of the use of that stretch of the river as a commercial navigation.
The first improvement of the lower river was at Newark, where the channel splits into two. The residents of the town wanted to increase the use of the branch nearest to them, and so an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1772 to authorise the work. Newark Navigation Commissioners were created, with powers to borrow money to fund the construction of two locks, and to charge tolls for boats using them. The work was completed by October 1773, and the separate tolls remained in force until 1783, when they were replaced by a 1 shilling (5p) toll whichever channel the boats used.
Users of the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Loughborough Canal and the Erewash Canal next demanded major improvements to the river down to Gainsborough, including new cuts, locks, dredging and a towing path suitable for horses. The Dadfords, who were engineers on the Trent & Mersey Canal, estimated the cost at £20,000, but the proposal was opposed by landowners and merchants on the river, while the Navigator, published in 1788, estimated that around 500 men who were employed to bow-haul boats would have lost their jobs. Agreement could not be reached, and so William Jessop was asked to re-assess the situation. He suggested that dredging, deepening, and restricting the width of the channel could make significant improvements to the navigable depth, although cuts would be required at Wilford, Nottingham bridge and Holme. This proposal formed the basis for an Act of Parliament obtained in 1783, which also allowed a horse towing path to be built. The work was completed by September 1787, and dividends of 5 per cent were paid on the capital in 1786 and 1787, rising to 7 per cent, the maximum allowed by the Act, after that.
Jessop carried out a survey for a side cut and lock at Sawley in 1789, and it was built by 1793.
At the beginning of the 1790s, the Navigation faced calls for a bypass of the river at Nottingham, where the passage past Trent Bridge was dangerous, and the threat of a canal running parallel to the river, which was proposed by the Erewash and the Trent and Mersey Canal companies. In order to retain control of the whole river, they supported the inclusion of the Beeston Cut in the bill for the Nottingham Canal, which prevented the Erewash Canal company from getting permission to build it, and then had the proposal removed from the Nottingham Canal company's bill in return for their support of the main bill. The parallel canal was thwarted in May 1793, when they negotiated the withdrawal of the canal bill by proposing a thorough survey of the river which would lead to their own legislation being put before parliament. William Jessop carried out the survey, assisted by Robert Whitworth, and they published their report on 8 July 1793. The major proposals included a cut and lock at Cranfleet, where the River Soar joins the Trent, a cut, locks and weirs at Beeston, which would connect with the Nottingham Canal at Lenton, and a cut and lock at Holme Pierrepont. An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1794, and the existing proprietors subscribed the whole of the authorised capital of £13,000 (£1,190,000 as of 2011), themselves.
The aim of the improvements was to increase the minimum depth from 2 feet (0.6 m) to 3 feet (0.9 m). By early 1796, the Beeston cut was operational, with the Cranfleet cut following in 1797, and the Holme cut in 1800, with the whole works being finished by 1 September 1801.,br> The cost exceeded the authorised capital by a large margin, with the extra being borrowed, but the company continued to pay a 7 per cent dividend on the original shares and on those created to finance the new work.
In 1823 and again in 1831, the Newark Navigation Commissioners proposed improvements to the river, so that larger vessels could be accommodated, but the Trent Navigation Company were making a healthy profit, and did not see the need for such work.
The arrival of the railways resulted in significant change for the Company. Tolls were reduced to retain the traffic, wages were increased to retain the workforce, and they sought amalgamation with a railway company. The Nottingham and Gainsborough Railway offered £100 per share in 1845, but this was rejected. Tolls fell from £11,344 (£800,000 as of 2011), in 1839 to £3,111 (£210,000 as of 2011), in 1855.
Many of the connecting waterways were bought by railway companies, and gradually fell into disrepair. In an attempt to improve the situation, the Company toyed with the idea of cable-hauled steam tugs, but instead purchased a conventional steam dredger and some steam tugs.
The cost of improvements was too great for the old company, and so an Act of Parliament was obtained in 1884 to restructure the company and raise additional capital. Failure to raise much of the capital resulted in another Act being obtained in 1887, with similar aims and similar results. A third Act of 1892 reverted the name to the Trent Navigation Company, and this time, some improvements were carried out.
With traffic still between 350,00 and 400,000 tonnes per year, Frank Rayner became the engineer in 1896, and the company were persuaded that major work was necessary if the navigation was to survive. The engineer for the Manchester Ship Canal, Sir Edward Leader Williams, was commissioned to survey the river, while negotiations with the North Staffordshire Railway, who owned the Trent & Mersey Canal and had maintained its viability, ensured that some of the clauses from previous Acts of Parliament did not prevent progress. A plan to build six locks between Cromwell and Holme, and to dredge this section to ensure it was 60 feet (18 m) wide and 5 feet (1.5 m) deep was authorised by an Act of Parliament obtained in 1906. Raising finance was difficult, but some was subscribed by the chairman and vice-chairman, and construction of Cromwell Lock began in 1908. The Newark Navigation Commissioners financed improvements to Newark Town lock at the same time, and dredging of the channel was largely funded by selling the 400,000 tonnes of gravel removed from the river bed.
At 188 by 30 feet (57 by 9.1 m), Cromwell lock could hold a tug and three barges, and was opened on 22 May 1911. The transport of petroleum provided a welcome increase to trade on the river, but little more work was carried out before the onset of the First World War.
Increased running costs after the First World War could not be met by increasing the tolls, as the company had no statutory powers to do so, and so suggested that the Ministry of Transport should take over the navigation, which they did from 24 September 1920. Tolls were raised, and a committee recommended improvements to the river. Nottingham Corporation invested some £450,000 on building the locks authorised by the 1906 Act, starting with Holme lock on 28 September 1921, and finishing with Hazelford lock, which was formally opened by Neville Chamberlain on 25 June 1926. A loan from Nottingham Corporation and a grant from the Unemployment Grants Committee enabled the Company to rebuild Newark Nether lock, which was opened on 12 April 1926.
In the early 1930s, the Company considered enlarging the navigation above Nottingham, in conjunction with improvements to the River Soar Navigation, between Trent Lock and Leicester. There were also negotiations with the London and North Eastern Railway, who were responsible for the Nottingham Canal between Trent Lock and Lenton. Plans for new larger locks at Beeston and Wilford were dropped when the Trent Catchment Board opposed them. The Grand Union declined to improve the Soar navigation, because the Trent Navigation Company could not guarantee 135,000 tons of additional traffic. The Company also considered a plan to reopen the river to Burton, which would have involved the rebuilding of Kings Mills lock, and the construction of four new locks. An extra set of gates were added to Cromwell lock in 1935, effectively creating a second lock, while the Lenton to Trent Lock section was leased from the LNER in 1936, and ultimately purchased in 1946.
Frank Rayner, who had been with the Company since 1887, and had served as its engineer and later general manager since 1896, died in December 1945. Sir Ernest Jardine, who as vice-chairman had partly funded the first lock at Cromwell in 1908, died in 1947, and the company ceased to exist in 1948, when the waterways were nationalised. The last act of the directors was to pay a 7.5 per cent dividend on the shares in 1950. Having taken over responsibility for the waterway, the Transport Commission enlarged Newark Town lock in 1952, and the flood lock at Holme was removed to reduce the risk of flooding in Nottingham. More improvements followed between 1957 and 1960. The two locks at Cromwell became one, capable of holding eight Trent barges, dredging equipment was updated, and several of the locks were mechanised. Traffic rose from 620,000 tonnes in 1951 to 1,017,356 tonnes in 1964, but all of this was below Nottingham. Commercial carrying above Nottingham ceased during the 1950s, to be replaced by pleasure cruising.
Although commercial use of the river has declined, the lower river between Cromwell and Nottingham can still take large motor barges up to around 150 ft in length with a capacity of approx 300 tonnes. Barges still transport gravel from pits at Girton and Besthorpe to Goole and Hull.
The river is legally navigable for some 117 miles (188 km) below Burton upon Trent. However for practical purposes, navigation above the southern terminus of the Trent & Mersey Canal (at Shardlow) is conducted on the canal, rather than on the river itself. The T&M canal connects the Trent to the Potteries and on to Runcorn and the Bridgewater Canal.
Down river of Shardlow, the non-tidal river is navigable as far as the Cromwell Lock near Newark, except in Nottingham (Beeston Cut & Nottingham Canal) and just west of Nottingham, where there are two lengths of canal, Sawley and Cranfleet cuts.
Below Cromwell lock, the Trent is tidal, and therefore only navigable by experienced, well-equipped boaters. Navigation lights and a proper anchor and cable are compulsory. Associated British Ports, the navigation authority for the river from Gainsborough to Trent Falls, insist that anyone in charge of a boat must be experienced at navigating in tidal waters. Experience is especially necessary at Trent Falls, a lonely spot where the Trent joins the Yorkshire Ouse, to form the Humber estuary. The timetables of flows and tides of the two rivers and the estuary are very complex here, and vary through the lunar cycle. Boats coming down the Trent on an ebbing tide often have to anchor or beach themselves (sometimes in the dark) at Trent Falls to wait for the next incoming tide to carry them up the Ouse.
At certain times of the year, the lower tidal reaches of the Trent experience a moderately large tidal bore (up to five feet (1.5m) high), commonly known as the Trent Aegir. The Aegir occurs when a high spring tide meets the downstream flow of the river. The funnel shape of the river mouth exaggerates this effect, causing a large wave to travel upstream as far as Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and sometimes beyond. The aegir cannot travel much beyond Gainsborough as the shape of the river reduces the aegir to little more than a ripple, and weirs north of Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire stop its path completely.
The Trent historically marked the boundary between Northern England and Southern England. For example the administration of Royal Forests was subject to a different Justice in Eyre north and south of the river, and the jurisdiction of the medieval Council of the North started at the Trent. Although the rise of the identity of the "Midlands" has moved the boundary slightly (the modern idea of the "North" now usually starts at the boundary of Yorkshire), some slight traces of the old division do remain: the Trent marks the boundary between the provinces of two English Kings of Arms, Norroy and Clarenceux. Although little heard these days, the phrase "born North of the Trent", is one means of expressing that someone hails from the North of England.
On 7 October 2009 the government announced that the Trent had suffered a serious pollution incident when cyanide and ammonia from partially treated sewage found its way into the river, killing thousands of fish.
The River and Trent Valley provides cooling water to a large number of current coal- and later gas-fired electricity power stations along its route. Starting from the source to the sea, those adjacent power stations that continue to use, or have used the river as their source of coolant are: Meaford Power Station, Rugeley Power Station, Drakelow Power Station, Willington Power Station, Castle Donington Power Station, Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Wilford Power Station, Staythorpe Power Station, High Marnham Power Station, Cottam Power Station, West Burton Power Station and Keadby Power Station. Fuel in the form of coal was mainly supplied from the Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire coalfields via Toton Marshalling Yards—this being now replaced by imported coal brought by ship from abroad. There is one hydroelectric power station on the river, at Beeston Weir.
Among the Trent's tributaries are: River Devon, River Greet, River Derwent Derby, River Dove, River Erewash, River Idle, Nottinghamshire – meets the Trent at West Stockwith; River Leen, River Mease, River Soar Leicester – meets the Trent at Trentlock; River Sow, River Tame, Birmingham.