River Parrett

River Parrett

Geobox River
name = River Parrett
native_name =
other_name =
other_name1 =

image_size =
image_caption = River Parrett near Burrowbridge
etymology = "The barge river" from Latin "paradie" barse
country = England
country1 =
state = Dorset
state1 = Somerset
state_type = Counties
region =
region1 =
district = Somerset Levels
district1 =
city = Bridgwater
city1 = Langport
city3 = Combwich
city2 = Cannington
landmark = Burrow Hill Cider Farm
landmark1 = Muchelney Abbey
landmark2 = West Sedgemoor
landmark3 = Blake Museum
landmark4 = Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum
landmark5 = Bridgwater Bay
landmark6 = Battle of Sedgemoor
length_imperial = 50
watershed_imperial = 1690
discharge_location =
discharge_imperial =
discharge_max_imperial =
discharge_min_imperial =
discharge1_location =
discharge1_imperial =
source_name = Chedington
source_location =
source_district =
source_region =
source_state = Dorset
source_country = England
source_lat_d = 50
source_lat_m = 50
source_lat_s = 48
source_lat_NS = N
source_long_d = 2
source_long_m = 43
source_long_s = 58
source_long_EW = W
source_elevation_imperial =
source_length_imperial =
mouth_name = Bridgwater Bay
mouth_location = Burnham on Sea
mouth_district = Sedgemoor
mouth_region =
mouth_state = Somerset
mouth_country = England
mouth_lat_d = 51
mouth_lat_m = 13
mouth_lat_s = 45
mouth_lat_NS = N
mouth_long_d = 3
mouth_long_m = 00
mouth_long_s = 31
mouth_long_EW = W
mouth_elevation_imperial =
tributary_left = King's Sedgemoor Drain
tributary_left1 = River Yeo
tributary_right = Bridgwater and Taunton Canal
tributary_right1 = River Tone
tributary_right2 = River Isle
free_name =
free_value =

map_size =
map_caption =

The River Parrett has its source in the Thorney Mills springs in the hills around Chedington in Dorset in England and flows west through the Somerset Levels. The mouth is a Nature Reserve at Burnham on Sea where it flows into Bridgwater Bay on the Bristol Channel. The river is tidal for convert|27|mi|km|0 miles up to Oath; and, because the fall of the river, between Langport and Bridgwater is only 1 foot per mile, or 20cm per km, [cite web |url=http://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/media/pdf/o/8/langport_and_river_parrett_education_pack.pdf |title=River Parrett Trail |accessdate=2007-12-08 |format=PDF |work=Langport & River Parrett Visitor Centre ] it is prone to frequent flooding, in winter and high tides.

The River Parrett is convert|59|km|mi|0 long and its main tributaries include the Rivers Tone, Isle and Yeo. The River Cary drains into the Parrett via the King's Sedgemoor Drain. The River Parrett drains an area of over convert|1690|km2|sqmi|1|abbr=on, comprising around 50% of the land area of Somerset. [cite journal |last=Thomas |first=H |authorlink= |coauthors=T. R. Nisbet |year=2007 |month= |title=An assessment of the impact of floodplain woodland on flood flows |journal=Water and Environment Journal |volume=21 |issue=2 |pages=114–126| doi = 10.1111/j.1747-6593.2006.00056.x |url=http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1747-6593.2006.00056.x |accessdate= 2007-11-22 |quote= ]

The River Parrett Trail has been established along the banks of the river. [ [http://www.riverparrett-trail.org.uk/ Somerset County Council: Parrett Trail Partnership] ]


The name means 'The barge river' from the Latin "paradie" 'barse'. [cite book |last=Robinson |first= Stephen |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Somerset Place Names |year=1992 |publisher=Dovecote Press |location= |isbn=1874336032 ]


The River Parrett was established as the border between Wessex and Dumnonia in 658AD following the defeat of the West Welsh (Dumnonia) at the Battle of Peonnum at Penselwood in the same year. This natural border endured for almost a century until further fighting between Anglo-Saxons and the West Welsh in the mid 8th century when the current borders of Devon (West Welsh) and Somerset (Anglo-Saxon) were established.

A ford, usable only at low tide, and later a ferry operated across the mouth of the river at Combwich, it is thought, since Roman times. The crossing lay on the route of a Saxon "herpath"; and in the 15th Century was regarded as part of the "King's Highway".Dunning, R. W. (Edr.) (1992). "The Victoria History of the County of Somerset". Volume VI: "Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes).Oxford University Press for the University of London Institute of Historical Research. ISBN 0-19-722780-5.] Records relating to the costs of the ferry exist for 1589 and 1810; and the "White House", a licensed victualler, on the Pawlett bank traded from 1655 to 1897. The river crossing has fallen out of use.

In the medieval period the river was used to transport Hamstone from the quarry at Ham Hill. [cite journal |last=Gerrard |first=Christopher M. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1985 |month= |title=Ham Hill Stone: A medieval distribution pattern from Somerset |journal=Oxford Journal of Archaeology |volume=4 |issue=1 |pages=105–116 |doi= 10.1111/j.1468-0092.1985.tb00234.x |accessdate= 2007-12-08 |quote= ]

Port of Bridgwater

Bridgwater was originally part of the Port of Bristol; however in 1348 the Port of Bridgwater was created, covering 80 miles of the Somerset coast line, from the Devon border to the mouth of the River Axe.Lawrence, J.F. (revised and completed by Lawrence, J.C.) (2005). "A History of Bridgwater". Chichester: Phillimore. ISBN 1-86077-363-X. Chapter 8: "The Medieval Port of Bridgwater".] Historically, the main port on the river was at Bridgwater; the river being bridged at this point, with the first bridge being constructed in 1200 AD. Quays were built in 1424; with another quay, the "Langport slip", being built in 1488 upstream of the town bridge. The river was navigable, with care, to Bridgwater town bridge by 400-500 ton (400-500 tonne) vessels.Fitzhugh, Rod (1993). "Bridgwater and the River Parrett: in old photographs". Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-0518-2.] By trans-shipping into barges at the town bridge the Parrett was navigable as far as Langport and (via the River Yeo) to Ilchester. After 1827, it was also possible to transfer goods to Taunton via the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. [cite book |last=Hawkins |first=Desmond |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Avalon and Sedgemoor |year=1982 |publisher=Alan Sutton Publishing |location=Gloucester |isbn=0862990165 ]

Combwich Pill, a small creek near the mouth of the river, had been used for shipping since the 14th century; and a wharf in the 18th century was used for the unloading of coal and tiles. From the 1830s, with the development of the brick and tile industry in the Bridgwater area, Combwich wharf was used by two brickyards to import coal and to export tiles to Wales and parts of Gloucestershire. This traffic ceased in the 1930s; and in 1950 the wharf was taken over by the CEGB to bring in materials for the construction of Hinkley Point nuclear power station. Since 1845, when the Port of Bridgwater Act was passed, the mouth of the river as far as the first bridge has been under the jurisdiction of the Port of Bridgwater. Sedgemoor District Council acts as the Competent Harbour Authority for the port, and has provided pilotage services for all boats over convert|30|m|ft using the river since 1998, when it took over the service from Trinity House. Pilotage is important because of the constant changes in the navigable channel resulting from the large tidal range, which can exceed convert|12|m|ft on spring tides. Most commercial shipping travels upriver as far as Dunball wharf, which handles bulk cargoes. [http://www.sedgemoor.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2392 Sedgemoor District Council, Facts on the Port of Bridgwater] ] Marine sand and gravel accounted for 55,754 tonnes of the total tonnage of 90,213 using the Port facilities in 2006, with salt products accounting for 21,170 tonnes in the same year, [ [http://www.sedgemoor.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=3078&p=0 Sedgemoor Council, Port of Bridgwater Trade Figures, 2006] ] while the roll-on roll-off berth at Combwich is used occasionally for the transfer of heavy goods for the two Hinkley Point nuclear power stations. Combwich Pill is the only site where recreational moorings are available in the estuary.

The Parrett Navigation

Trade on the river upstream of Bridgwater had developed during the 18th Century, with 20 ton barges operating between Bridgwater and Langport, while smaller barges carrying 6 or 7 tons operated on the upper reaches between Langport and Thorney, and along the River Yeo to Long Load bridge and Ilchester.G. Body and R. Gallop, (2006), "Parrett River Trade", Fiducia Press, ISBN 0-946217-25-4] The channel below the junction with the River Tone had been improved as a result of Acts of parliament passed in 1699 and 1707, "for making and keeping the River Tone navigable from Bridgewater to Taunton", and a third act with a similar purpose was passed in 1804. [http://www.jim-shead.com/waterways/sdoc.php?wpage=PNRC0641#PNRC637 Joseph Priestley, (1831), "Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain"] ] Traffic on the higher reaches was hindered by shoals in the river, and by the Great Bow bridge at Langport, which consisted on nine small arches, none of them big enough for navigation. All cargoes heading upstream had to be off-loaded from the bigger barges, carried to the other side of the bridge, and reloaded into the smaller barges. Traffic above Langport was sporadic, as the water levels were often inadequate, with the boats having to wait several days for the right conditions to proceed.

The abortive Ivelchester and Langport Navigation scheme had sought to avoid the bridge, by making the Portlake Rhine navigable, rebuilding Little Bow Bridge in the centre of Langport, and making a new cut to Bicknell's Bridge. Seven locks, each with a small rise, were planned but the scheme foundered in 1797, due to financial difficulties. After the cessation of hostilities with France at the beginning of the 19th century, there was renewed interest in canal building in Somerset, with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal being authorised in 1824, the Glastonbury Canal in 1827 and the Chard Canal in 1834. With the prospect of the Chard Canal in particular damaging trade on the Parrett, four traders from Langport including Stuckey and Bagehot, who together operated a river freight business, commissioned the engineer Joseph Jones to carry out a survey which was then put before parliament. It was supported by Brunel and a large quantity of documentary evidence. Objections from local landowners were handled by including clauses to ensure that surplus water would be channelled to the Long Sutton Catchwater Drain by culverts, siphons and sluices, and the Act of Parliament was passed on 4 July 1836.


The act allowed the proprietors, of which 25 were named, to raise £10,500 in shares and £3,300 by mortgage, with which to make improvements to the river from Burrow Bridge to Langport, to reconstruct the restrictive bridge at Langport, and to continue the improvements as far as Thorney. The River Isle, which joined the Parrett at Muchelney, was to be improved for its first mile, and then the Westport Canal was to be constructed from there to Westport. Locks were planned at Stanmoor, Langport and Muchelney, with a half-lock at Thorney.Charles Hadfield, (1967), "The Canals of South West England", David and Charles] An extra lock was added at Oath, when tests revealed that the depth of water would not meet that specified in the Act without it. Costs were considerably higher than expected, and a second act of parliament was obtained in 1839, to allow an extra £20,000 to be raised.

The section below Langport was completed and opened on 28 October 1839, while the section to Thorney and the Westport Canal were completed in August 1840. The Langport bridge was not finished until March 1841, at a cost of £3,749. £500 was received from the Langport Corporation, and a special bridge toll was operated from March 1841 to January 1843 to recoup costs. The total cost of the works was £38,876, and no dividends were paid until 1853, as all profits were used to repay the loans which had been taken out. There are no records of traffic, but it has been estimated at 60 to 70,000 tons per year, based on the toll receipts and the knowledge that the Stuckey and Bagehot boats carried about three quarters of the total tonnage.


The Bristol and Exeter Railway opened in late 1853, and the effects on the navigation were immediate, with receipts dropping from £1,440 in 1853 to £673 by 1857. The Company paid its final dividend in 1872. In 1875, parts of Westmoor were flooded, as a result of the Company being unable to repair the culvert under the river at Huish bridge, and Mr Thomas Mead opened the Langport lock gates to lower the upstream water levels. The Company had no option but to stop collecting tolls, and the gates were still open in 1877. On 1 July 1878 the Somersetshire Drainage Act was passed by Parliament, and it provided for the transfer of the navigation to the Drainage Commissioners at no cost, with options to abandon any or all of the navigation, but the Commissioners chose to abandon it all, despite petitions from users of the Westport Canal to keep their section open. Some boats continued to use the river to reach Langport and beyond until the early years of the 20th century. There is still a public right of navigation as far as Oath Lock, but very few private boats use the river, largely due to the fierce tides in the estuary and a lack of moorings along its route. [Jane Cumberlidge, (1998), "Inland Waterways of Gread Britain", 7th Ed, Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson, ISBN 0-85288-355-2]

Flood prevention

The tidal reaches of the Parrett and River Tone experience large volumes of silt entering them from the Severn Estuary on each tide. This silt can rapidly gather on the banks of the rivers reducing the capacity and performance of the channel, increasing the risk of flooding of surrounding land. [cite web |url=http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/commondata/acrobat/dredging_parrett_tone_1799520.pd |title=Dredging of the river Parrett and Tone. |accessdate=2007-12-08 |format=PDF |work=Environment Agency Fact Sheet ]

In the 1960s the Somerset River Authority was established. They undertook engineering works for drainage, including pump and river works, at the Parrett, King's Sedgemoor Drain and River Brue systems. They tried to ensure that agricultural lands benefitted from a potable water supply in the groundwaters from the Quantock Hills to the coastline. However as Bridgwater restricts the Parrett the actions on flood prevention have always been a little difficult to implement, while the M5 motorway which was cut through the west Polden Hills in 1971 has added to the flows. [(M.D. Stagg, Hydrology 2007, Clare L.(nee Jarvis)Stagg, bio systems water resources assistant hydrologist Somerset Rivers 1970).]

Various measures including sluice gates, known locally as Clyce, have been deployed to try to control the risk of flooding. In the 1970s, the Sowy River was constructed, to act as the Parrett relief channel. Excess water leaves the Parrett below Langport at Monks Leaze Clyse, and flows along the Sowy River to the Kings Sedgemoor Drain, from where it flows to the estuary by gravity, rejoining the Parrett near Dunball wharf. This has resulted in less flooding on Aller Moor. [ [http://publications.environment-agency.gov.uk/pdf/G3-02-BGNW-e-e.pdf Environment Agency, (Spring 2002), "The Parrett Catchment", Water Management Strategy Action Plan] ]

In the 1970s a study was commissioned by Wessex Water to investigate the likely effects of construction of a tide-excluding barrier, aimed at stopping the silt, just upriver of Dunball Wharf on the hydraulic, sedimentary and pollutant regime of the estuary. Results showed that a site further upriver could be viable. [cite journal |last=Maskell |first=J.M. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1980 |month= |title= River Parrett tidal barrier: hydraulic investigation |journal= Public Health Engineer |volume=8 |issue=1 |pages=11–19 |id= |url=http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?requester=gs&collection=TRD&recid=200131007326CE&q=River+Parrett&uid=791230041&setcookie=yes |accessdate=2007-12-08 |quote= ]

The area around the estuary, known as Parrett Reach, around the Steart Peninsula has flooded many times during the last millennium. The most severe recent floods occurred in 1981. By 1997, a combination of coastal erosion, sea level rise and wave action had made some of the defences distinctly fragile and at risk from failure. As a result in 2002 The Environment Agency produced the Stolford to Combwich Coastal Defence Strategy Study to examine options for the future. [cite web |url=http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/commondata/acrobat/stolford_to_combwich.pdf.pdf |title=Stolford to Combwich Coastal Defence Strategy Study |accessdate=2007-10-31 |format=PDF |work=Environment Agency ]

Following summer floods of 1997 and the prolonged flooding of 1999/2000 the Parrett Catchment Project was formed, partly funded by the European Union Regional Development Fund, by 30 organisations, including; British Waterways, Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Countryside Agency, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment Agency, Kings Sedgemoor and Cary Vale Internal Drainage Board (now part of Parrett Internal Drainage Board), Levels and Moors Partnership, National Farmers Union, Sedgemoor, Somerset County Council, South Somerset District Council, Taunton Deane and Wessex Water. They aim to tackle twelve areas, which, when combined, will make a significant contribution to reducing the adverse effects of flooding. These include the conversion of arable land, adoption of the Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) approach to controlling rainwater runoff from developed areas, dredging, raising riverbanks and improving pumping facilities. [cite web |url=http://www.somerset.gov.uk/somerset/ete/pcp/index.cfm |title=Parrett Catchment Project |accessdate=2007-11-05 |format= |work=Somerset County Council ] Further studies of the possible beneficial effects of woodland in reducing flooding have also been undertaken. [cite web |url=http://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/pdf/FR_report_2004-5_floodplain.pdf/$FILE/FR_report_2004-5_floodplain.pdf |title=Interactions between floodplain woodland and the freshwater environment |accessdate=2007-12-08 |format= |work=Forest Research: Annual Report and Accounts2004–2005 ]


During January through to May, the Parrett provides a source of eels ("Anguilla anguilla") and the young elvers, caught by hand netting - the only legal means of catching them. [ [http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/commondata/acrobat/eel_hbk_2007_v_1_03_1876804.pdf Environment Agency Eel Fishing Handbook, Byelaw 4, Section 2] ] The 2003 BBC Radio 4 play "Glass Eels" by Nell Leyshon was set on a river in the Levels, very probably the Parrett.


The 47 mile (75 km) River Parrett Trail long-distance footpath follows the Parrett from its source to the sea. Passing many landmarks and places of interest including; Burrow Hill Cider Farm, Muchelney Abbey, West Sedgemoor (a Site of Special Scientific Interest(SSSI), the Blake Museum, Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum, the site of the Battle of Sedgemoor and finally discharging into Bridgwater Bay (another SSSI).

The " [http://www.somerset.gov.uk/celebratingsomerset/visitors/pages/subs/attractions_detail.asp?EstabID=168 Langport & River Parrett Visitor Centre] " located at Langport details local life, history and wildlife.

Tidal Bore

In common with the lower reaches of the River Severn, the Parrett exhibits a tidal phenomenon known as the "bore". At certain combinations of the tides, the rising water is funnelled up the river into a wave that travels rapidly upstream against the river current. The bore is a natural example of a self-reinforcing solitary wave or soliton.

The tidal wave passes under the Town Bridge at Bridgwater approximately 1 hour 40 minutes before High Tide. Meteorological factors may vary this time by up to 5 minutes either way.

The "predicted" times for the best bores (at spring tides) for 2008, derived from information on the plaque at the Town Bridge, are as below:-

Linked waterways

*Bridgwater and Taunton Canal
*Ivelchester and Langport Navigation
*River Isle and Westport Canal
*River Tone
*River Yeo
*River Isle


External links

* [http://www.riverparrett-trail.org.uk/ The River Parrett Trail]

ee also

*Rivers of the United Kingdom
*Taunton Stop Line
*North Petherton and South Petherton (named after the river)

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