The River Severn is Britain's longest river at 220 miles (350 km). it rises at Plynlimon in Wales, and its estuary exits into the Bristol Channel near Bristol. It is notable for its bore and for having the world's first box-girder suspension bridge.
The Severn is called the Hafren in Welsh, The H of Hafren in the Welsh tongue is highly aspirated, and can sound like an S to a Latin ear. Back in the days of the Roman occupation of Britain, the Romans took the older form of this name, Habren (with the same heavy initial letter), and romanised it to Sabren, and then Sabrina, which is the Roman name of the river. This later became anglicised once more to the modern English name, Severn.
The Severn rises in Plynlimo, flows south to Llanidloes, turns sharply north-east to Newtown and into English territory near Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge and onward to Shrewsbury. There it turns south once more, before passing through Stourport, Worcester, Gloucester and out into the Severn estuary.
The river is intimately bound up with the history of England and Wales. I have an interest in the history of technology, and Europe's first industrial revolution was born at Coalbrookdale in 1638 when Basil Brooke built the first commercial iron smelting furnace, and used water from the Severn to help the process. The iron smelting in the area was so successful due to the low sulphur content of the local coal, enabling the smelting process to be done at a higher temperature creating iron with a lower carbon content, which made it less brittle.
From then, the great names of the industrial revolution came first to Coalbrookdale, and then to Ironbridge. Abraham Darby (1678-1717) and his sons, followed by other celebrity engineers including John Gwynn (1713-1786), Thomas Telford (1757-1834), Thomas Penson (1790-1859) all of whom helped build the economic and industrial strength on which the British Empire was founded and subsequently thrived.
In 1775 the first meeting was held to build a bridge of iron over the Severn. Up to that time all bridges of any significant span had been made from natural materials: wood and stone. This was to be the first bridge made from iron, and was to show man's mastery of nature. Just six years later, in 1781, the word's first iron bridge was opened to traffic. You can still cross it by foot (it was closed to traffic in 1930), and it is steep!
The great age of the canals was born here and the magnificent Hay Inclined Plane opened at Coalport, Shropshire in 1792. This amazing invention allowed laden canal boats to move from a canal at one level to another, 207 feet higher up Blists Hill, dramatically increasing the flexibility of trade routes across the UK. It was in continuous operation from its opening until 1894.
Even before this, the Severn was part of history. In 1643 Oliver Cromwell's parliamentarians were defeated at the battle of Ripple. Before that, there had been battles over baby eels. In 1553, King Henry VIII banned the fishing of elvers from the Severn. Five years later, Elizabeth I made the ban permanent. The ruling was overturned by act of Parliament in 1876.
Altogether, there are now 100 bridges over the Severn from source in Wales to the two huge suspension bridges over the estuary. Of these, 54 are road bridges, 11are railway bridges, 24 are footbridges, 7 are farm bridges, 3 are toll bridges, 2 are preserved bridges and 2 are aqueduct bridges. 40 out of the 100 are in Wales, 32 are in Shropshire, 14 in Worcestershire, 12 in Gloucestershire and two--the two big suspension bridges--are in Gwent/South Gloucestershire.
This piece written, formatted and edited in Dann's E2 offline scratchpad