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The Waveney is a river which forms the border between Suffolk and Norfolk, England, for much of its length within The Broads.


The source of the river is a ditch on the east side of the B1113 road between the villages of Redgrave, Suffolk and South Lophammarker, Norfolk. The ditch on the other side of the road is the source of the River Little Ousemarker which continues the county boundary and, via the Great Ousemarker, reaches the sea at King's Lynnmarker. ( ). It is thus claimed that during periods of heavy rainfall Norfolk can be considered to be an island. The explanation of this oddity is that the valley in which the rivers rise was formed, not by these rivers but by water spilling from Lake Fenland. This was a periglacial lake of the Devensian glacial, fifteen or twenty thousand years ago. The ice sheet closed the natural drainage from the Vale of Pickeringmarker, the Humbermarker and The Washmarker so that a lake of a complex shape formed in the Vale of Pickering, the Yorkshire Ousemarker valley, the lower Trent valley and the Fenland basin. This valley was its spillway into the southern North Seamarker basin, thence to the English Channelmarker basin.

The river flows in an easterly direction though the towns of Dissmarker, Bungaymarker and Becclesmarker. From its source it forms the southern boundary of Bressinghammarker and Roydonmarker before reaching Dissmarker. Then comes Scolemarker, Billingford with its windmill, Brockdishmarker and Needhammarker before passing south of Harlestonmarker. Then comes Mendhammarker with its links to the artist Alfred Munnings, Wortwellmarker, Homersfieldmarker with its famous bridge, now the oldest bridge in England constructed from concrete, which is a Grade II listed structure and was restored in 1995, followed by Dentonmarker and Earshammarker.

The river makes a wide loop round Bungaymarker which was the historic head of navigation. Next comes Ditchinghammarker, Broome and Ellinghammarker before Geldestonmarker where an isolated pub stands next to the remains of a derelict lock and a dyke that leads to the village. This is the current limit of navigation. Gillinghammarker comes next before Becclesmarker, where the old town bridge restricts navigation to craft which have an airdraft of less than . Beccles was a fishing port for many years, and the parents of Lord Nelson were married in the church of St Michael. The river then meanders on past Burgh St Petermarker to Somerleytonmarker. Here Oulton Dykemarker branches off the Waveney and through Oulton Broadmarker towards Lowestoftmarker. A lock links Oulton Broadmarker with Lake Lothingmarker and the sea.

At Somerleytonmarker the Lowestoft to Norwich railway line crosses the river on a swing bridge, while at St. Olavesmarker, the Haddiscoe Cut branches off to the left to connect the Rivers Yaremarker and Waveney. The Cut was excavated in the 19th century to provide a direct route between Lowestoft Docks and Norwichmarker. Finally the river flows past Burgh Castlemarker into Breydon Water at the confluence of the two rivers. It now forms part of the river Yaremarker and reaches the sea at Great Yarmouthmarker.

There was a special version of the Norfolk wherry in use on the Waveney, with boats measuring no more than . There were also steam wherries.


The River Waverney was improved for navigation under an Act of Parliament obtained in 1670, which empowered five traders from Bungay and one from Downham Market to carry out the work. This included the construction of three locks, at Geldeston, Ellingham and Wainford, to extend navigation as far as Bungay Staithe. The navigation remained in private hands, and was not under the control of the Yarmouth Commissioners, who were responsible for the lower river. A second Act obtained in 1772 ensured that Suffolk magistrates received a 5 per cent share of all tolls obtained from the carriage of coal, which which to maintain the Waveney.

The short section of the river from Haddiscoe to Burgh Ferry was part of a grand scheme to link Norwichmarker to the sea at Lowestoft. The scheme originated in 1818, but was opposed by the merchants of Yarmouth, and it was not until 28 May 1827 that an Act of Parliament authorised the Norwich and Lowestoft Navigation Company, giving then powers to raise £100,000, with an additional £50,000 if required. From Burgh Ferry, boats would use a widened Oulton Dyke to reach Oulton Broad, and a new sea lock would be constructed to link the broad to Lake Lothing. This had four sets of gates, so that it could be used at all states of the tide, was capable of holding vessels which were , and used a system of sluices to enable the channel through Lake Lothing to be flushed with water from Oulton Broad. Completed in 1829, it was demonstrated in 1831, and although four operations of the sluices were estimated to have removed 10,000 tons of gravel and shingle out to sea, its subsequent operation was not as effective.

In the other direction, construction of Haddiscoe Cut began, to link the river at Haddiscoe to the River Yaremarker at Reedham, enabling vessels from Norwich to bypass Yarmouth. With funds running low, a decision was taken to borrow the additional £50,000 which the enabling Act allowed, and so a request was made to the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners for this amount. Work was completed on the cut and the upgrading of the river to Norwich, and the formal opening took place on 30 September 1833. The venture was a commercial failure, as development of Norwich as a port did not occur, and Lowestoft harbour was subject to silting. With income failing to match expenditure, the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners could not be repaid, so they took over the navigation in 1842, and sold it to the railway contractor Sir Samuel Morton Peto.

With the decline in the use of wherries for commercial trade on the rivers prior to the Second World War, navigation ceased on several stretches of the Broads, including the section of the river from Geldeston Lock to Bungay, where navigation rights were removed in 1934. Wainford and Ellingham locks have since been converted into sluices, but the Environment Agency has negotiated with local landowners to allow the use of this section by canoes and unpowered craft. To aid this, it has improved the facilites for portaging boats at the locks.

Mutford lock links Oulton Broad to Lake Lothing, and is the only working lock on the whole of the Broads. Two swing bridges carry the Lowestoft to Ipswich railway line and the A12 roadmarker over the cut to the east of the lock. The lock was refurbished in 1992, and is managed by Waveneymarker District Council, but there were discussions taking place in 2009 to transfer it to the Broads Authority, who manage the rest of the Broads.



  1. The River Great Ouse and tributaries, (2006), Andrew Hunter Blair, Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, ISBN 978-0-85288-943-5
  2. Engineering Timelines, Homersfield Bridge, accessed 12 July 2009
  3. Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust, Homersfield Bridge, accessed 12 July 2009
  4. The Canals of Eastern England, (1977), John Boyes and Ronald Russell, David and Charles, ISBN 978-0-71537-415-3
  5. Inland Waterways of Great Britain, 8th Ed., (2009), Jane Cumberlidge, Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, ISBN 978-1-84623-010-3

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