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River Trent and new Gainsborough Riverside developments
The River Trent is one of the major rivers of Englandmarker. Its source is in Staffordshire between Biddulphmarker and Biddulph Moormarker. It flows through the Midlandsmarker (forming a once-significant boundary between the North and South of England) until it joins the River Ousemarker at Trent Fallsmarker to form the Humber Estuarymarker, which empties into the North Seamarker below Hullmarker and Imminghammarker.

The Trent is unusual amongst English rivers in that it flows north (for the second half of its route), and is also unusual 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 ford, 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 Ridwaremarker, 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-ā- (through-path-AUG-F-) ‘great feminine thoroughfare’ .


In the Pliocene epoch (1.7 m 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 Ancastermarker 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 Lincolnmarker gap. In a following glaciation (Devensian, 70,000BCE) the ice held back vast areas of water - called Lake Humber - in the current lower Trent basin. When this retreated, the Trent adopted its current course into the Humber.

Migration of course in historic times

Unusually for an Englishmarker river, the river channel has occasionally altered significantly in historic times. An abandoned channel at Reptonmarker 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 Inglebymarker in Derbyshire when was "moved" from one side of the river to another. This is recorded in Shakespeare's play Henry IV - Part 1:

"Methinks my moiety, north from Burton here,
In quantity equals not one of yours:
See how this river comes me cranking in,
And cuts me from the best of all my land
A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out.
I'll have the current in this place damm'd up;
And here the smug and silver Trent shall run
In a new channel, fair and evenly;
It shall not wind with such a deep indent,
To rob me of so rich a bottom here." Complete Works of William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, p433, 2007, ISBN 1840225572, accessed May 2009

History of navigation

Nottinghammarker seems to have been the ancient head of navigation until the Restoration, due partly to the difficult navigation of the Trent Bridgemarker. Navigation was then extended to Wilden Ferry, as a result of the efforts of the Fosbrooke family of Shardlowmarker. Later, in 1699, Lord Paget obtained an Act of Parliament to extend navigation up to Burton, but nothing was immediately done.

In 1711, Lord Paget leased his rights to George Hayne, who carried out improvements, quickly opening the river to Burton. He monopolised freight, causing discontent among merchants and encouraging interloping. His business was continued as the 'Burton Boat Company', but after the opening of the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Boat Company were unable to compete.

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 the Newarkmarker cut which, by means of two locks, brought the navigation into the town centre in 1772-3 and by-passed Averham weir, without closing it for navigation.

At the beginning of the 1790s, William Jessop was employed to make proposals for navigation between Shardlow and Gainsborough and made his second report in 1793. This proposed a cut and lock at Cranfleet near Long Eatonmarker opposite the mouth of the Soarmarker, a cut and lock at Beestonmarker to join the Nottingham Canalmarker, being built at the same time, and another at Holme Pierrepointmarker with the aim of increasing the minimum depth from to . This was authorized by Act of Parliament in 1794 and the work finished by 1801. Between 1911 and 1927, and again in the 1960s, the Trent was further enlarged between Cromwell and Nottingham. Today it can take large motor barges up to around 150ft in length with a capacity of approx 300 tonnes.

Navigation today

The river is legally navigable for some below Burton upon Trentmarker. However for practical purposes, navigation above the southern terminus of the Trent and Mersey Canal (at Shardlowmarker) is conducted on the canal, rather than on the river itself. The T&M canal connects the Trent to the Potteriesmarker and on to Runcornmarker and the Bridgewater Canal.

Down river of Shardlow, the non-tidal river is navigable as far as the Cromwell Lock near Newarkmarker, except in Nottingham (Beestonmarker Cut & Nottingham Canalmarker) 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 Fallsmarker, a lonely spot where the Trent joins the Yorkshire Ousemarker, to form the Humbermarker 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.

Trent Aegir

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, Lincolnshiremarker, 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-Trentmarker, Nottinghamshiremarker stop its path completely.

The literal North/South divide

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.
Beeston Weir


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.

Places along the Trent

Cities and towns on or close to the river include:


Among its tributaries are:

See also


  1. University of Wales Online Dictionary
  3. Koch, J.T. (2005:1512) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia ABC-CLIO Ltd (15 Mar 2006); 978-1851094400
  4. Koch, J.T. (2005:1512) Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia ABC-CLIO Ltd (15 Mar 2006); 978-1851094400
  5. Posnansky, M. The Pleistocene Succession in the Middle Trent Basin. {Proc. Geologists' Assoc 71 (1960), pp.285-311
  6. Jeffrey May History of Lincolnshire, Vol 1., 1976, History of Lincolnshire Committee, Lincoln.
  7. William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Pt.I., Act III, Sc. I
  8. C. C. Owen, Burton on Trent: the development of industry (Phillimore, Chichester 1978), 13-20.
  9. Charles Hadfield: The Canals of the East Midlands. David & Charles 1970
  10. Jame Cumberlidge, (1998), Inland Waterways of Great Britain, Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, ISBN 0-85288-355-2
  11. "Cyanide sparks River Trent pollution probe", accessed 8 October 2009

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