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Company of Proprietors of the River Trent Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the River Trent Navigation: legal, administrative and engineering records 1791-1858, gauge books 1813-1869.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

For centuries the River Trent had carried cargoes from below Wilden Ferry to Keadby where the Trent enters the River Humber with no controlling authority. From 1699, improvements started to be made to make navigation easier. In the 1780s, William Jessop was asked to survey the river to see what could be done without building locks. He recommended dredging, deepening, contracting the width and creating cuts in the river. In 1783 an Improvement Act was passed to establish a company with powers to improve the river from Wilden Ferry to Gainsborough. The Company of Proprietors of the River Trent Navigation met for the first time in the Blackamoor's Head, Nottingham on 24 June 1783 with Lord Middleton in the chair, Job Brough of Newark as clerk, and John and Thomas Wright of Nottingham as treasurers. William Jessop was engineer and, starting at Wilden Ferry, he worked down in sections making the path and improving the river. Tolls were charged as each section was completed. The Newark section of the river was under the control of the Newark Navigation Commissioners, and the cost of improvements were shared between them and the Company of Proprietors. In 1787 the works were completed to Gainsborough, below which navigation was free. William Jessop was employed as the permanent engineer and in 1789 surveyed the river at Sawley to estimate the cost of a side-cut. With the landowner's agreement, the company bought the land and built the cut and a lock at Sawley by 1793. The Trent Navigation wanted to bypass the dangerous Trent Bridge section at Nottingham and prevent the Trent and Mersey and Erewash canal companies from building a canal parallel to the upper part of the canal. To defeat the second, the Trent Navigation had to make improvements, specifically to bypass Trent Bridge. The survey was completed by William Jessop and Robert Whitworth and recommended various cuts. The Improvement Act was passed in 1794, leading to the canalisation of the River Trent between Sawley and Holme. In 1796 the cut and lock at Beeston to join the Nottingham Canal at Lenton, with a weir below the cut and a side-lock back into the river, was completed. In 1797, the cut and lock at Thrumpton (Cranfleet) opposite the Soar mouth was completed, and in 1800 the Holme cut and locks below Nottingham were finished. River trade flourished and Nottingham became an important inland port with a steam packet service to Gainsborough from 1817. Gainsborough was an interchange port for coastal shipping as well as a shipping place for Rotherham iron industry and prospered until steam and motor craft were able to continue to Hull (which by 1837 had become the third port in England). In 1830, a steam packet was running between Gainsborough and Goole. Above Wilden Ferry, the Burton Boat Company were still lessees of the Trent and in about 1787 cut a canal from the river at Burton to try and join the Trent and Mersey Canal at Shobnall. But the Trent and Mersey Canal refused the connection, until 1793 when they agreed due to the Burton Boat Company's efforts to join either the Coventry or the Ashby canals. The connection, 1 1/8 miles long, was finished in about 1795 at Shobnall. Unfortunately, the upper Trent was often short of water in dry seasons, which meant that boats had to lighten their cargoes. When Joseph Wilkes, a lead proprietor in the Burton Boat Company, died in 1805, the company closed. After that, river traffic above Wilden Ferry virtually ended and the Bond End branch canal was disused by about 1870 (although it is now restored). On the main river, between 1805 and 1825, traffic was flowing well. However, on 4 June 1839 the Midland Counties Railway opened between Nottingham and Derby, seriously affecting the upper Trent traffic. The Trent company was forced to lower tolls and raise wages to keep men from transferring to railway employment. The river was becoming hemmed in by railway-controlled waterways, with only the Erewash Canal and River Soar remaining independent. Not only were the railways directly competing for traffic but many of the railway-controlled waterways were slowly being allowed to decline, stifling the Trent traffic. By the 1870s the river was in a bad way and ideas for improvements were put forward. In 1882 the navigation started carrying a fleet of tugs and barges. Further investment was needed but the Company of Proprietors of the River Trent Navigation had a limited financial capability. Therefore in November 1883 the limited company, the Trent Navigation and Carrying Company, was formed. The old and limited companies were then amalgamated under an Act of May 1884 to form the Trent Navigation Company. For further information on the River Trent see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of the East Midlands'.

System of arrangement

The company filing system could not be ascertained for the majority of records, but where possible the original filing system has been recreated, which resulted in the records being divided into two series, one for the legal, administrative and engineering records, the other for the gauge books. Each series has generally been arranged chronologically while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence.

Associated material

[See also: BW60, BW158-161 for records of the River Trent during other periods of ownership]

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