Newark’s history has been shaped by the River Trent. The Romans used the river as a trading highway, and later the Vikings found it a sure way to penetrate from the North Sea deep into the Saxon kingdom of Mercia, raiding as they went, during the period 873-4 AD, when they over-wintered their longships at Repton, Derbyshire.
Here we can see the junction of the Trent Navigation canal and the River Trent at Newark, Nottinghamshire. The Town Lock is off to the left, with the larger of the two chambers on the right. It is controlled from a two-storey brick-built lock-keeper’s station on the left of the lock. This part of the Trent Navigation is a typical ‘cut’, a section of waterway built to avoid weirs, shallow water, tight bends or other hazards on an otherwise navigable river. As you can see, the course of the Trent takes it away to the right of the photograph, through some lovely water meadows; unfortunately, the depth of the Trent would be inadequate even for the narrowboats and pleasure craft which are the main users of this stretch.
The use of the river, in navigation terms, lies with British Waterways, the overall management organization for canals and inland waterways in Great Britain. At the height of the Trent’s commercial use, commercial cargos from the near Continent (and even as far away as the Mediterranean) which had been transshipped at the port of Goole in Yorkshire onto barges and lighters, would make their way along the Trent as far as Newark, and then be off-loaded into the warehouses to the left of Town Lock (one still bears the title ‘Trent Navigation Co. Ltd’) for onward distribution. Other cargoes would be taken through to Nottingham, or carried by narrowboats to more distant destinations via canals such as the Trent & Mersey or the Coventry Canal. Local manufactured goods, raw materials and agricultural produce would flow in the reverse direction. Thus was the Industrial Revolution forged, before the rise of the railways.
This photograph was taken from the ‘slighted’ ruins of Newark Castle, and moored below you can see the ‘Sonning’ pleasure cruiser of Newark Line River Cruises. The ‘Sonning’ was built in 1902 as a passenger steamer for work on the River Thames, and can carry in excess of 100 passengers on local trips from Newark, through the Town Lock, past the villages of Farndon, East Stoke and Fiskerton and return. There is a lovely Edwardian salon on the lower deck, and a bar; when you add in a jazz band (as happens, sometimes), the whole experience becomes delightful.
Moves are afoot to revitalize the commercial traffic on the Trent, and a feasibility study by the East Midlands Development Agency and British Waterways has concluded that the existing carriage of animal feed and bulk aggregates could be expanded to other cargoes such as steel and power station waste. Since the largest barge to reach Nottingham carried just over 200 tons this would limit the types of materials carried, but there are certain supermarket chains that are considering the use of canals for deliveries (Sainsbury’s has already transported wine between Liverpool and Manchester, for example). With the ever-rising cost of fuel, canals could be making a comeback, particularly with items whose delivery is not time-critical.
All we need now is for someone to start breeding large numbers of barge horses!