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River Severn Trading Vessels

The Early Days

During the 17th century, 60ft long barges would trade from the estuary up as far as Pool Quay,

near Welshpool. These vessels would have a single mast with sail and carry up to 40 tons of cargo. In the mid 18th century, larger barges were built to carry

between 80 and 100 tons of cargo, they were called Trows, [to rhyme with crow].

In 1756 there were 350 Trows trading on the Severn and in the Bristol

Channel.

Severn Trow

Due to the river being so shallow, gangs of men were employed to pull these barges up river to places such as Worcester, Bewdley and Bridgnorth. To assist the Trows on their passage, they would rely on the spring tides that ran up as far as Upton upon Severn. To come back down river they would hope to be assisted by any fresh water that may be in the river following a steady downfall of rain. Unfortunately too much fresh water means the barges could not get under the old Upton Bridge, as was the case in 1796 when vessels could only trade on the river for two months due to exceptionally long periods of flooding. This was a period when Great Britain suffered almost 30 years of wet weather!

The more common cargoes carried varied from coal from the Forest of Dean, timber, grain and vegetables. It could take as long as three weeks for these barges to travel the length of the river, too long to make it viable to carry cargoes up the river. Up until this period, rivers in England were the most important form of communication. The railway era had not arrived and roads were so poor and unreliable. But soon all this was to change and rivers would have to be improved to make them stay important. Thus during 1842, improvements were made to the River Severn to make the river deeper and easier to navigate.

Improvement to the River

It was during 1835 that the decision was made to canalise the Severn from Gloucester to Stourport with a series of weirs and locks. Remember it was only eight years earlier that the ship canal from Gloucester to Sharpness had been opened. This canal had been built to bypass the treacherous sandbanks and tortuous bends of the Severn between these two locations. Locks and weirs were constructed at Stourport, Holt, Bevere, Worcester, Tewkesbury and a weir only at Maisemore and Llanthony, Gloucester. A lock had already been built at Gloucester to allow vessels to enter the new canal from The Quay. The final lock was built at Upper Lode, Tewkesbury in 1858 and by 1890, when the river had been dredged, together with the removal of the rock bars, there was a depth of 10ft from Gloucester to Worcester.

It was during 1835 that the decision was made to canalise the Severn from Gloucester to Stourport with a series of weirs and locks. Remember it was only eight years earlier that the ship canal from Gloucester to Sharpness had been opened. This canal had been built to bypass the treacherous sandbanks and tortuous bends of the Severn between these two locations. Locks and weirs were constructed at Stourport, Holt, Bevere, Worcester, Tewkesbury and a weir only at Maisemore and Llanthony, Gloucester. A lock had already been built at Gloucester to allow vessels to enter the new canal from The Quay.

The final lock was built at Upper Lode, Tewkesbury in 1858 and by 1890, when the river had been dredged, together with the removal of the rock bars, there was a depth of 10ft from Gloucester to Worcester.


Soon after the completion of Upper Lode Lock two steamers were built to carry 150 tons of china clay from Poole to Worcester. The steamers, CUIRASSIER and IRONSIDES had sliding keels for use at sea and then raised whilst on the River Severn. Unfortunately the river was still unreliable, so the service was abandoned. To help continue the coal trade from the Forest of Dean, a lock was built in 1870 to bypass Llanthony weir at Gloucester. This lock is now disused, although the lock house is still occupied. The beginning of the 20th century saw a slow decline in the use of the River Severn as a commercial waterway, railways were taking most of the trade away from the river. From Worcester and Stourport narrow boats could enter the narrow canal system of England to carry their cargoes throughout the country. Many independent companies ran fleets of these narrow boats, the largest on the Severn was the Severn and Canal Carrying Company, who were continually fighting off competition from the railway companies.

A pair of narrow boats

Photomarine . Sharpness Shipping . Links . Gloucester Shipyard