|• location||Badby, Northamptonshire|
|• coordinates||52°13′55″N 1°12′38″W / 52.2319°N 1.2105°W|
|• elevation||155 m (509 ft)|
|Mouth||The Wash, Lincolnshire|
|52°51′09″N 0°13′34″E / 52.8524°N 0.2260°ECoordinates: 52°51′09″N 0°13′34″E / 52.8524°N 0.2260°E|
|0 m (0 ft)|
|Length||105 mi (169 km)|
|Basin size||631 sq mi (1,630 km2)|
|• average||328 cu ft/s (9.3 m3/s)|
The River Nene (/ˈnɛn/ or /ˈniːn/: see below) is a river in the east of England that rises from three sources in Northamptonshire. The river is about 105 miles (169 km) long, about 3.7 miles (6.0 km) of which forms the border between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. It is the tenth-longest river in the United Kingdom, and is navigable for 88 miles (142 km), from Northampton to The Wash.
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Etymology and pronunciation
Spelling of the river's name has altered over time; it was called the "Nenn" or "Nyn" in an 1810 engraving by draughtsmen George Cole and John Roper, while the Ordnance Survey of 1885 used what has since become standard spelling, "Nene". The origin and meaning of the River Nene's name is unknown. The earliest known examples, which date back to the 10th century AD, have been linked to Indo-European root words for snow, rain, or washing, but a direct connection is purely speculative. According to the British toponymist and medieval scholar Victor Watts, "The name is certainly pre-English, possibly pre-Celtic'. The same name appears in the Neen, the former name of the River Rea in Shropshire, which is retained in the hamlet of Neen Savage.
The pronunciation of the river's name varies by locality. In Northampton it is usually pronounced /ˈnɛn/ ("Nen"), and around Peterborough it is usually pronounced /ˈniːn/ ("Neen"). The point at which the pronunciation of the Nene changes has been moving further inland for many years; the current edition of the nautical publisher Imray's "Map Of The River Nene" suggests that it now begins at Thrapston.
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The River Nene is the tenth-longest river in the United Kingdom. From one of its sources, that near Arbury Hill, to Northampton, the river falls a total of 300 feet (91 m) in 17 miles (27 km). For the remainder of its course, the Nene falls less than 200 feet (61 m). It has a catchment area of 631 square miles (1,630 km2) and a mean flow of 328 cubic feet per second (9.3 m3/s). The final 88 miles (142 km) from Northampton to the Wash is navigable.
The river's most westerly source can be found near the village of Badby, near Daventry. On the eastern slopes of Arbury Hill, and in pools between Arbury Hill and Sharmans Hill, are two tributaries that converge at Dodford Mill to form the upper reaches of the Daventry Nene. The northern stream flows by the villages of Badby and Newnham to the confluence, whilst the southerly stream runs through Fawsley Park and past the village of Everdon before the confluence. From Dodford, the river passes through the village of Weedon where it flows under the main west coast railway line, the Grand Union Canal, and Watling Street. A little west of Weedon, the river converges with a further northerly tributary arising at Nenmoor Spring to the northwest of West Haddon. The river then flows towards Northampton, passing Flore and Nether Heyford, where it is joined by small streams on either bank. A little past Bugbrooke Mill, the Nene passes under the M1 motorway and falls over a weir towards Kislingbury.
Another tributary merges from the south at Kislingbury. The Nene's course is closely followed by the Grand Union Canal's Northampton arm at Upton Mill.
At Upton Mill, another tributary, called Wootton Brook, joins the river from the south. The River Nene now approaches Northampton town from the west, passing between the suburbs of St James (locally known as Jimmy's End), Cotton End and Far Cotton. The Nene's third northern source, the Naseby Source or Brampton Nene, converges at the Carlsberg Brewery. This tributary flows through the north of Northampton where several streams join. Three of these streams supply water for reservoirs at Pitsford, Hollowell and Ravensthorpe, north of Northampton, before joining the Brampton Nene. At Cotton End, the Nene passes under South Bridge, then through Beckett's Park and past the site of the former Northampton Power Station in the Nunn Mills area of the town, on the south bank of the river opposite Midsummer Meadow on the north banks. Northampton Sea Cadets is based in Nunn Mills, and uses the river for the training of boating skills, following the training schemes of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and the British Canoe Union (BCU). A short way downstream, a weir can divert some of the Nene's flow to supply the Nene Whitewater Centre.
The River Nene at Northampton was the location of England's first water-powered cotton spinning mill. It was installed on the site of a former corn mill, to the south-west of the town centre, in 1742.
From Northampton, the river flows along a broad valley, formed by the enormous amount of water released by the melting ice during the Ice Age, towards the east coast. The Nene now meanders through this wide, flat valley with flood plains, lakes, pools and mature gravel pits on either bank, a byproduct of the large glacial deposits in the valley. At Great Billing is Billing Aquadrome, a popular caravan and camping park with leisure facilities and a funfair, which is based around the river and various mature gravel pits. The park is popular with fishermen and water skiers alike. The river's landscape is now dominated by mature gravel pit lakes. Some gravel extraction still takes place along the valley's basin. At Cogenhoe (pronounced /ˈkʊknoʊ/ locally) the river passes through a watermill. The mill is a red-brick building built in the late nineteenth century, with a slate roof, from which all the machinery has been removed. Adjacent is a Mill House, built of coursed limestone rubble, and dated 1725. At Earls Barton the river again passes an area of mature gravel pit lakes, and lock gates numbers 9 and 10. Further on, the river passes through Doddington Lock No 11 and the nearby Hardwater Watermill. This watermill, mentioned in the Domesday Book, ground wheat into flour for almost 1000 years. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, used the mill as a hiding place after escaping from Northampton Castle in 1164 and fleeing down the Nene to be sheltered by the miller before fleeing to France. The watermill ceased grinding flour after the Second World War. The present buildings date from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and have been converted into dwellings.
The river's course turns to the north-east, passing the town of Wellingborough on its north bank and the village of Little Irchester to the south. At Wellingborough, the river passes through Victoria Mills. Founded in 1886 by the Whitworth family, they are still run by the firm today, producing fine flours for the bakery trade. In front of the mill, there remains a jetty from the days when the river was used for transportation of goods to and from the mills. A little further on, the river is joined from the north by the River Ise. On the opposite bank are the remains of the Roman town of Irchester. The river now passes under a viaduct that carries the Midland Main Line, which links London St Pancras International to Sheffield Midland station in northern England via Luton, Bedford, Kettering, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Chesterfield.
Passing Irthlingborough on its north-western bank, the Nene now flows past the demolished Nene Park, one of the former grounds of Kettering Town F.C. Further on, the river is crossed by the disused track bed of the Northampton and Peterborough Railway which was constructed in 1845. The river is now characterised by large curving meanders as it passes the villages of Little Addington, Great Addington, Woodford and Denford.
At Denford the river divides into two channels, one of which is used for navigation. The channels approach the town of Thrapston, passing under two adjacent viaducts. One carries the busy A14 trunk road; the other carries the disused railway track bed. Between the town of Thrapston and the village of Islip, the Nene is spanned by a low nine-arched bridge. Just north of Thrapston the river forms part of the 180 acres (73 ha) of Titchmarsh Nature Reserve. The reserve, designated in 1989, consists of two lakes, a woodland, river banks and areas of grass and scrub in which some ponds have been dug. The reserve is operated by Northamptonshire County Council, with the approval of the Nature Conservancy Council. At Aldwincle another tributary, called Harpers Brook, joins the Nene from the north-west. Harpers Brook flows between gravel pit lagoons before converging with the river. The river flows south of Oundle passing Barnwell Country Park and Oundle Marina under a bridge of the A605 road. At grid reference TL116976, the Romans bridged the river with Ermine Street in the first century. Between Oundle marina and Peterborough the Nene falls towards Peterborough, navigation passing through 11 locks on the way.
Having passed among the gentle hills of Northamptonshire the river enters the rural part of the City of Peterborough, passing the Nene Valley Railway and through the Nene Valley Country Park. 1⁄2 mile (800 m) upstream of the city centre is Woodston Wharf—the site of the old sea lock—originally the extent of the tidal River Nene until the Dog-in-a-Doublet lock at Whittlesey was opened in 1937. To the east of Peterborough city centre a branch of the river passes under the former Great Eastern Railway, now connected to the main East Coast main line and running through to Cambridge via Whittlesey and Ely. The branch terminates, for navigation, at Stanground Lock, a connection to the Middle Levels, the drainage system of the Fens through which access is possible to the River Great Ouse. Below Peterborough, the river forms the border between Cambridgeshire and Norfolk for about 3.7 miles (6.0 km).
Continuing downstream leads to the impressive 'Embankment' area and after the cathedral city itself, passing through Whittlesey the landscape changes to the Nene Washes in The Fens and their vast horizons. Beyond Flag Fen the river flows under the A47 bridge at Guyhirn, through the port of Wisbech, then Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, and it finally enters The Wash between two towers known as "the lighthouses".
The Nene links the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse, via the Middle Level Navigations. Much of its route has been upgraded to a wide canal with locks at regular intervals. Some sections where artificial cuts run adjacent to the course of the river are known as the "Nene Navigation".
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January 1978 floods
On 11 and 12 January, the 1978 North Sea storm surge caused extensive coastal flooding. Higher water levels were reached than during the devastating North Sea flood of 1953. Flooding affected both banks of the river at Wisbech. A 70-year-old woman was reported drowned in her flooded home in Wisbech after the Nene burst its banks forcing 1000 people to evacuate their homes. Clarkson Geriatric Day Hospital was closed for weeks as repairs were made.
Easter 1998 floods
On 8 and 9 April 1998, constant torrential rain caused flooding across large parts of the English Midlands. On Good Friday, 10 April 1998, the floods peaked and many rivers burst their banks. The Nene was badly affected, flooding low-lying parts of Northampton, Wellingborough, Earls Barton and other settlements on its banks. The town centre of Northampton lies on the northern slope of the Nene Valley and escaped the river's flooding. However, the Cotton End, Far Cotton and St James End areas of the town occupy the flood plain and have borne the brunt of severe flooding over the years, culminating in the 1998 Easter floods. In 2002, a siren warning system was installed in Northampton to warn residents in the event of further flooding, and embankments and flood walls were bolstered to protect the town. In Kislingbury village, a flood alleviation scheme was completed in 2004.
In 2007, the Government announced it would spend £6 million on flood defences at Upton Mill in the west of Northampton; wetland areas and embankments were to be constructed along the river.
In December 2013, the 2010 £12 million project to protect 10,590 residents and 1,200 businesses with an improved flood defence regime prevented another major incursion of water. The water came within inches of reaching the top of the flood walls and water poured across the roads near flood gates, bringing traffic on North End Road, Wisbech to a standstill.
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The Nene in the arts
In 2016, composer, Benjamin Till was commissioned by NMPAT (Northamptonshire Music and Performing Arts Trust) to create a major orchestral and choral work about the Nene. The composition was scored for 800 musicians and premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017, before being performed at Northampton's Derngate Theatre and Peterborough Cathedral. The piece quotes tradition folk melodies from towns and villages along the river, and explores ghost stories, myths and legends associated with the Nene.
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The river gave its name to a boat Nene of Wisbech, one of whose crew was drowned in the river in 1830, the former football team Wisbech Nene Rovers, the former Nene College of Higher Education in Northampton, now the University of Northampton, the Nene derby, and also to the Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine, Rolls-Royce's practice being to name their gas turbine designs after British rivers. The river may also be linked to the fact that Sir Henry Royce was born in Alwalton, a village which is by the river, near Peterborough. The former Nene Inn, Nene Parade, Wisbech were both named after the river. Nene Pet Supplies, Nene Quay, Wisbech are also both named after the river.
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Source: "River Nene", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, March 8th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Nene.
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- Rivers of the United Kingdom
- Association of Nene River Clubs
- Nene Valley Colour Coated Ware
- Nene Way long-distance footpath
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