Home  / BW163


Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Severn


Records of the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Severn: Acts, bills and related papers c1837-1920, byelaws and notices nd [mid 19th century]-c1931, deeds and related papers (1843)-1936, tenancy agreements and leases 1884-1947, papers concerning legal cases 1931-1940, papers concerning mortgages and loans 1842-1936, papers concerning insurance 1888-c1939, accounts 1843-1947, clerk's general correspondence and papers 1836-1949, engineer and manager's general correspondence and papers 1913-1955, papers concerning acts, bills and schemes promoted by other bodies 1850-1968, papers concerning meetings of Commissioners and Commitees 1852-1947, records relating to employees 1912-1949, tolls and traffic records 1892-1950, plans and sections of the river (1786)-1944, improvements and maintenance records nd [1840s]-1951, including papers and plans concerning bridges, locks, weirs, dredging and related matters, plans of Severn Commission land and premises alongside the river (1843)-1947, plans of land and premises alongside the river occupied by other bodies 1918-1948, plans of crossings of river by pipes, wires and cables 1915-1947, water level records 1836-1947, papers concerning the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways 1896-1912, printed material 1867-nd c1944.



Reference code


Access Status

These records are available immediately for research

Administrative /​ Biographical history

The Severn Commission was set up as a result of the formation of the Severn Navigation Improvement Association in 1842. The Commission was authorised to take tolls in return for improvements to the River between Gladder Brook just above Stourport and the entrance to the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal on the eastern channel, and the entrance to the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal on the western channel of the river at Gloucester. As tolls could not be taken until the work was complete the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company guaranteed the £180,000 needed. William Cubitt was appointed engineer with assistance from Edward Leader Williams senior and work began in 1843. Leader Williams became engineer to the Commission in 1847. Locks and weirs were built at Lincomb, Holt and Bevere, below Worcester at Diglis and below the entrance to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Below Diglis the river was to be dredged to a depth of 6 feet. This work was completed by the late 1840s and tolls were charged from December 1847. However the depth could not be maintained and a lock was opened at Upper Lode near Tewkesbury in 1858. At Gloucester a new lock and weir were built at Llanthony on the eastern channel and at Maisemore on the western channel, both to improve river depth at the entrance to the Docks. These were completed by 1871, though the narrow lock at Maisemore would soon become obsolete as the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal closed in 1881. The Severn Railway Bridge opened in 1879 and by 1902 coal shipments from Bullo Pill had ceased. The lock at Llanthony, which had been built for these shipments became disused from 1924. On the northern parts of the river the horse-towing path between Bewdley and Coalbrookdale stopped taking tolls in 1884 and that between Coalbrookdale and Shrewsbury stopped in 1885. The path from Worcester to Bewdley was still in existence in 1906 but few horse-drawn vessels worked below Tewkesbury. Steamers ran between Gloucester and Stourport from the 1860s and the steady growth in the use of steamers and steam towage meant the horse towing paths were unused by 1900. Further improvements came in the 1890s with all the locks except Upper Lode being deepened. The river now had a depth of 7 feet from Stourport to Worcester and 10 feet from Worcester down to Gloucester. Despite the improvements and the rivers ability to take steamers of up to 200 tons, traffic did not increase and revenue fell. The Royal Commission in 1909 recommended that the river be improved to take vessels of up to 750 tons to Worcester and 600 tons to Stourport. But World War 1 came and stopped any local interest there was in the project. The Commission's Act of 1914 gave powers to control passenger and pleasure craft and from 1921 they levied tolls on such craft. By the late 1920s the locks and weirs were in a poor state. Rescue came when the traffic in oil, which had until then been small, expanded. Oil storage wharves and a large transit shed were built at Diglis. The wharves were extended in 1944. Motor barges of 280 tons and dumb barges of 330 tons were regularly trading to Worcester but by 1964 this traffic had fallen away mainly to pipelines. The river was nationalised in 1949 becoming a part of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the British Transport Commission. For further information on the Commissioners for the Improvement of the Navigation of the River Severn see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.

Associated material

[See also: BW149 and BW150 for records of the River Severn during other periods of ownership]