Historic Timeline of Stourport-on-Severn

Stourport didn’t exist before the canal came to the area in the 1770s, but Britain’s longest river, the great River Severn was important to people living in the area for centuries before as a transport link. Fishing on the River Severn was a vital source of food, employment and trade.

1086
Mitton
Mitton was a settlement in Domesday Book, in the hundred of Cresslow and the county of Worcestershire. Domesday records it as having a population of 3.9 households in 1086, with 21 villagers, 38 smallholders, 4 (male) slaves and 4 female slaves. Mitton had forestry, 3 mills, a fishery and salt houses. In 1084, the Bishop of Worcester started to build a Cathedral and stone was brought by river from Alverley.
1086
1247
River Fish
Historic documents dating back to 1247 talk of fish traps or fish weirs as they were often described. The Severn was special because it supported numerous fish species that can only survive in rivers with no barriers and large catchments. These included sturgeon, salmon, lamprey and shad. Even in medieval times, the natural abundance of this resource was well known across the Kingdom. The first record of shad being supplied to the King Henry III was in 1257 to ensure that the monarchy had enough fish to last them through the season of Lent, when fish, rather than meat was eaten.

Today, the Unlocking the Severn Project, is bringing back migratory fish to the river.

1247
1558
Fish Weirs and Mills
In Elizabethan times, the area was still largely forest and the rivers offered an important transport link.

In 1558 Queen Elizabeth recognised the value of maintaining fish on the river when she ordered the destruction of fishing weirs below Gloucester to prevent the taking of any ‘lamprey, shad or twait’.

At this time, early maps show the nearby River Stour to be lined with water mills – wyre mills and fulling mills. The river was also used to transport goods between the great River Severn and Stourbridge – boat owners were skilful navigators, working the river when there was enough water.
1558
1600s
Transporting goods
The River Severn had been used for centuries. Flat bottomed sailing boats called trows transported goods between riverside towns, Shrewsbury, Ironbridge, Bewdley, Worcester, Tewkesbury and Gloucester, and the coastal port of Bristol. Travelling against the flow of the river was hard work, and teams of bow hauliers literally dragged the boats up-stream. The oldest house in Stourport is 41 Mitton Street, which is the only timber framed house in the town, and dates from the mid 1600s. In the 1860s it became a beer house going under the name of the Round of Beef.
1600s
1760s
Linking rivers
James Brindley, the great canal engineer, responsible for the building of so many canals across the country, saw the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal as one of the arms of his ‘Grand Cross’, linking the great rivers inland – the Severn, Mersey, Trent and Thames.
1760s
1766
Severn Shad
The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal was promoted at the same time as the Trent & Mersey Canal, mainly by Wolverhampton businessmen, and the Act giving permission for it to be built was granted on the same day, 14 May 1766. At this time, shad, a small herring like fish were plentiful in the river and were recognised as a superior commodity across the Kingdom - many books of this time referred to the Severn shad being without equal. In 1776 the shad harvest was being sent to London and, not just for royalty but the new wealthy inhabitants.
1766
Late 1760's
A perfect location
Brindley and his local man, Fenny-house Green, surveyed the land and decided that Mr Acton’s fields in the parish of Mitton were the best place to build a series of canal basins, where businesses of the day could load and unload. Stourport was a trans-shipment centre – goods were loaded and unloaded from river boats into canal boats, and vice versa. Coal, pottery, bricks, ironware, farm produce and chocolate were just a few of the cargoes that were transported along the canal network.
Late 1760's
1771
The Canal opens
The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal linked the River Severn with the Trent and Mersey Canal and as a result, after Birmingham, Stourport became the busiest inland port in the Midlands. The canal opened to Stourport in 1771 and by 1812 the five canal basins had been built.
1771
1775
Bridges
Before 1775 there was no bridge across the river here. The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Company built the first bridge, which had three stone arches and was completed in 1775 at a cost of £5,000. During the floods of 1794 two arches collapsed. A new bridge was built in 1806. This one was demolished in 1870 and replaced by the current one.
1775
1800s
Finest vessels on the Severn
Boat building and repair yards grew up all around the basins. William Bird and his wife lived in a house at Cheapside, opposite their dock. They were boat builders, block and tackle makers and wharfingers and built trows in Cheapside Basin. The trows were said to be ‘some of the finest vessels on the Severn’. When the ‘Prince Albert’ was being built, William realised that it would be too big to get out of the dock, so it was moved half built and finished in Engine Basin!
1800s
1812
Basins complete
Stourport Canal Basins are made up of five historic basins, home to nearly 100 narrow boats and yachts, as well as five canal locks and a dry dock, all located on the banks of the River Severn in the picturesque Severn Valley. Popular legend has it that James Brindley chose Stourport rather than Bewdley for his canal because the citizens of Bewdley did not want his ‘stinking ditch’ passing through their town. The reality is that Stourport made far more sense from a topographical point of view. A canal joining the River Severn at Bewdley would have needed to cross several hills. Joining the Severn at Stourport it could follow the Stour Valley and this obviously made construction much cheaper.

Image credit: English Heritage
1812
1814
Baldwins Best Butts
Thomas Baldwin was a Shropshire iron master who came to work next to the canal on Foundry Street.

He soon began to specialise in hinges, known as "Baldwin’s Best Butts". By 1814 he had bought the business and was so wealthy that he began to buy up local mills. For 5 five generations, the foundry was a major source of work in Stourport.

The factory was located next to the canal and it's products were taken away by boat and distributed around the country. The foundry had so much work that the forges burned all night.

The Baldwin family were famous in later years as Alfred and later his son, Stanley were both prime ministers.
1814
1843
River Severn improvements
Navigation on the river was treacherous! River levels varied hugely and the tide came upstream as far as Worcester, making it dangerous for river craft. In the 1840s, locks were built on the River Severn, when the Severn Commission constructed four from Diglis Lock, just below Worcester, to Bevere Lock, below Stourport. Upper Lode Lock, below Tewkesbury, was added in 1858. The river locks made navigation easier, but were catastrophic for migratory fish, stopping fish from travelling upstream.
1843
1850s
Carpets of Worth
Many places in Worcestershire were known for weaving cloth. Rolling pastureland offered grazing for sheep and the River Severn was a good river for the washing and dyeing of wools.

The area was known for a heavy weight cloth known as "Kidder Stuff". By 1749 the new flat weave Kidderminster carpet was selling well and a looped pile carpet called Brunswick was soon added.

The building of the canal gave the company owners access to new markets across the country and they quickly made vast profits.

The first carpet factories were built in Stourport, close to the rivers for washing and dyeing and close to the canal for efficient transport. Henry Worth moved his established business here in 1852 and by the 1920s they had a workforce of over 1,00 employees. The river locks made navigation easier, but were catastrophic for migratory fish, stopping fish from travelling upstream.
1850s
1860
Harnesses, shoes and gloves
The tannery owners took full advantage when the canal arrived. Men could be seen from the company wharf, off Lombard Street, pushing the hides down into the pits with their long poles. Hides were brought in by narrowboat and finished goods shipped away.

Leather for horse harnesses and shoe leather were in great demand. After a terrible fire in about 1860 a new factory was built, but its success was short lived as the railways began to replace horse transport and factory made shoes put the craftsman cobbler out of business.

During the first world war the factory turned out leather for driving belts and other engineering products until, in the 1920s, they changed to a light leather for gloves, coats, shoe uppers and bags. After another disastrous fire, in the early 1960s, the tannery closed.
1860
1860
Holbrooks Vinegar
When Mr Hicklin Bold expanded his small vinegar works, in 1798, he was able to supply his customers by canal.

The new malt vinegar works was built at Cheapside in between the Rivers Stour and Severn. It was built here because of the quality of local water, filtered by sandstone, and because the barrels of vinegar could be transported efficiently by narrowboat.

The factory expanded and changed hands several times during it’s 200 years at Stourport. In 1894 it boasted three of the largest vats in the world and employed 150 workmen.
1860
1900s
Power...
Stourport was one of the first places to be supplied with gas. Enoch Baldwin made this available to the town. In later years, a huge riverside power station was built (DATE), replaced by an even bigger building in the 1940s.
1900s
1910s
...and Pleasure
But Stourport soon became known as a place of enjoyment, as visitors from the Black Country flocked here during their works shut-down holidays. Steamers took day trippers down river to Lincomb Lock and beyond to the Holt Fleet, and rowing boats were available for hire.
1910s
1940s
New uses for old canals
As industry declined on the canal, some of the warehouses around the basin became redundant and new companies moved in.

By the 1940s, there was a saw mill in the Clock Warehouse run by the Corbett family. The company first began making fence panels in the 1960s.
1940s
1950s
Pioneers of leisure
Holt Abbott was an early pioneer of using waterways for leisure. He began to build cruisers in the basin at Stourport and at Parkes Quay. There are now only 3 of these craft on the waterways – Holt’s daughter Angela and her husband have restored Jemima, and still make visits to the basins today!
1950s
1970s
The Tontine
Many visitors to Stourport will remember the imposing Tontine Hotel in its days as a pub. The building has now been restored and the original wharfingers’ four storey houses are once again homes.
1970s
An image of Stourport Town, Stourport-on-Severn, from the air. Including The high street, river sever, tontine, Stourport Canal Basins, Treasure Island Amusements and more. Image credit Michael Whitefoot
2000's
Regeneration
Having suffered a period of neglect as the railways took over from canals and trade died down, the basin’s transformation was the result of a partnership project in the early 2000s. The historic canal basins were restored through the partnership, led by Stourport Forward and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project regenerated the historic heart of Stourport-on-Severn and its origins as a canal town. The basins remain largely intact from the golden age of the canals have been returned to their original Georgian splendour.

Image credit: Michael Whitefoot
2000's
An image of Stourport Town, Stourport-on-Severn, from the air. Including The high street, river sever, tontine, Stourport Canal Basins, Treasure Island Amusements and more. Image credit Michael Whitefoot
2006
The Stourport Dig
The original octagonal tollhouse at the Barge Lock next to the Tontine was sadly demolished in the 1950s, but an archaeological dig in 2006 discovered its foundations, several phases of garden design as well as brick built drainage tunnels underground. Artefacts including a tobacco pipe, pottery, bone, seed, iron objects and glass were found during the dig!
2006
Today
Stourport Today
Visitors to the town can see the original, imposing building known as the Tontine, built by the canal company - once a hotel for visiting merchants and living accommodation for the wharfingers. The Clock Warehouse, in the upper basin has been the home of the Yacht Club for many years. It still houses an impressively large clock, paid for by the people of the town, and sited here ‘until a better place could be found’.
Today

The canal basins are a fascinating place to wander around and explore. The abundance of water creates an air of peace and tranquillity, reflected buildings and boats offer photographers lots of great views. Visitors can relax and unwind in one of the local pubs or cafes in and around the Canal Basins. Its also a great place to watch boats travelling through the locks and the canal basins, with a great variety of river and canal boats as well as many listed Georgian houses and warehouses.