Friday, 2 December 2011

Waterways of the Forest

Sherwood Forest is crossed by many rivers, some larger than others.

In the Northern 'High Forest' the rather diminutive collection of rivers draining the Sherwood Sandstones: Rainworth Water, The River Maun, the River Meden and the Poulter; cross the Sherwood Sandstones flowing into one another to form the Idle River in the Hatfield Disctrict to the north of the 13th century Forest boundary on their way to join the River Trent.

The River Leen provides the southwestern boundary of the forest.

Rising in the 'Robin Hood Hills' near kirkby-in-Ashfield the stream winds its way through the monastic lands of Newstead Priory, south through Papplewick, along the western boundary of Bestwood Park to Bulwell.

From there it descends through Radford to Lenton and then into the River Trent near Wilford.

On the southeast side of the forest the Doverbeck river creates the boundary. Rising at Blidworth Fishpool (see the Fishpool Hoard entry for more details), it flows southeast crossing the Kings Road to York. It then flows on past Epperston to enter the Trent near Gunthopre and Caythorpe.

Some of these rivers had a number of natural sinuous courses (see the oulde course of the Trente at Shelforde entry).

As well as these natural water courses were a number of man-made or at least altered rivers within the forest.

The River Leen formed the southwestern boundary of Medieval Sherwood Forest. Here the boundary followed the natural course of the river into the Trent.

The river was also diverted to flow eastwards at Lenton. It then passed the base of castle rock to provide water and transport access to the castle via a series of quays and wharfs.

The diverted river then flowed east under the 'Leen Bridge' which carried the road to London from Nottingham across the town meadows to Hethbeth Bridge (later Trent Bridge) to the south.

It is believed that the river was diverted during the construction of the castle following the Norman Conquest of 1066.

The most likely candidate for this is William Peverel who was the constructor of Nottingham Castle starting in 1067 (see the Honour of Peverel entry for more details).

The diversion of the River Leen provided a looped meander in which Lenton Priory was founded also by William Peverel.

In Domesday Book of 1086, this diversion of the River Leen is referred to as the 'Dyke', and along with the river Trent and the road to York, it is heavily protected:

'In Nottingham the river Trent and the Dyke and the Road to York are so protected that if anyone hinders the passage of ships, or if anyone makes a dyke within 2 perches of the King's road, he has to pay a fine of £8' (Morris 1977).

Domesday Book also mentions another Dyke in Nottinghamshire, known as Bycarr's Dyke. 

It is presumed that the 'By' element of the name is a personal one, with the 'carr' element refering to the grassy, sedgy, boggy landscape which it occupied. 

These boggy lands of the 'Idle marshes' stretched across the northern part of the Idle valley that covered a large part of north Nottinghamshire. 

Bycarr's Dyke predates the Norman Conquest, and could be similar in age to the nearby Roman 'Fosse Dyke' in Lincolnshire, which links the Cathederal City of Lincoln to the Trent at Torksey. 

Bycarr's Dyke connected the River Idle at Bawtry, to the River Trent at West Stockwith. This allowed Bawtry just over the Yorkshire border to develop into a prosperous Medieval port town.

A rather strange thought today as the town sits well in land.

Bycarr's Dyke formed the northern part of the county boundary, and although it is  many miles north of the 13th century boundary of Sherwood Forest, it did form the boundary of the Forest in the 12th century, where it is mentioned as a boundary marker of the forest in an inquest of 1155/6 (see Oldest Known Boundary entry for more details).

Bycarr's Dyke is mentioned in Domesday Book as 'Bigredic':

'In Saundby a villager holds 1 garden; he pays salt, in Bigredic (Bycarr's Dike), for the King's fish'. 

This is one of the rare times that Domesday book gives us a glimpse into the everyday people of Nottinghamshire. It is not very often a lowly individual is mentioned- another is the blind map of Warsop (see Outlaws and Nottinghamshire Domesday Customs entry for more details).

It seems then that water management and canalisation of rivers formed an important part of the Medieval Landscape, for transport and trade, connecting towns, castles and rivers.

Water power was important for use in industry and agriculture across Medieval Sherwood Forest in the form of mills and in meadow systems, and it was an important part of the everyday life of the people of Sherwood Forest.

(More about industry and farming in Medieval Sherwood Forest, and the importantce of trade along the River Trent coming soon).

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