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The oulde course of the Trente at Shelforde

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This former route of the river seems to have been an original course according to this map.

But was this an original single channel of the river?

These answers can be found by using landscape archaeology techniques, and through examination of the other surviving sources.

There were two branches of the trent in 1609, but what about earlier?

By the 16th centry there were two channels:

In 1592 these channels would be the cause of a dispute taken all the way to the Star Chamber of Elizabeth I. This was due to damming of the northern channel with a wier by Sir Thomas Stanhope. He even built locks to allow traffic through the more important northern course through a pound lock he constructed in 1577 between the island of Prier Houlte and Shelford. (Salisbury 1982, Revill 1971).

The southern channel at this point was used for powering mills (this dispute and locks will be discussed in a future entry- the locks are the oldest example known on the Trent).

This is backed up by evidence from the earlier Tudor period that shows the route had gone out of use for major river transport by these times:

The last perambulation of the boundary of Sherwood Forest from 1664 states:

‘and from thence it ascendeth up the River of Trent, near unto the Abbey or Mannour of Shelford. Soe that the said Abbey is without the Forrest, and from thence by the said water of Trent, where of ancient time it were wont to runne, thorough the meadows of Shelfoe Towne, on the South East part of the New Course now of Trent along, to the Mannour of Collwick, and there where the Trent was wont to run of old time, Soe that the Inclosure called Heylin is within the Forrest, and from thence by the said water of Trent, wherelsoe it antiently rann, downe unto Nottingham Bridge, alias Holl-beth Bridge, alias Hellibeth Bridge, where it began, soe endeth.’

It would appear then that there were two courses of the river by the 16th century.

The southern route of the Trent was no longer a navigable part of the river by the reign of Henry VIII, and was considered an old course at this time.

The northern channel was therefore the main navigable route by the 16th century, and would remain so from then onwards.

So did the course alter dramatically in the medieval period? Perhaps an event of flooding forced an entirely new course to the north? Or was there already a large meander to the north of the southern route?

Mapping evidence both modern and historic suggests the northern course of the river was in existence- and was perhaps the main channel through most of the Medieval period.

All the fields south of the current river channel (the northern course) were in Shelford parish, suggesting the northern river course was there when the village was formed- and was a considerably more formidable boundary than the southern course.

The exception is Burton Meadow (see map)- the shape of this field suggests it was within a previous looped Meander of the Trent heading south from the northern channel.

Burton Meadow was originally connected to the rest of Burton parish, and this meander must have been cut off at the neck - separating Burton Meadow from the other fields of Burton at some point after the parishes of Burton and Shelford were formed.

This would also suggest that the northern course was there in the early Medieval period.

The shape of this ancient meander around Burton Meadow accounts for the sudden right angle seen in the southern course of the Trent just to the north of Shelford. It was here that it originally joined the northern channel.

It would therefore seem that there were two courses of the Trent in the Medieval period at Shelford, the southern of which formed the Medieval boundary of Sherwood Forest, the northern of which formed the older parish boundaries.

Interestingly the medieval perambulations of Henry III and Edward I make no mention of two courses of the Trent.

Why is this?

It seems that where the boundary encountered more than one river channel it followed the external channel- extending forest jurisdiction over the largest area.

A similar situation occurred on the River Leen near Nottingham, where the river also had a number of courses.

The course furthest to the West was the one used as the boundary here.

The old course of the Trent at Shelford then, was not an original,single channel, but one of two courses- and was referred to as ‘old’ in the 16th and 17th centuries as such because it had by then gone out of use.

The 1609 Crown Survey Map of Sherwood Forest shows the southern boundary of Sherwood Forest as it was in the Medieval Period.

This map shows us that Sherwood Forest extended south all the way to the River Trent, and at Shelford the boundary even crossed south of the river to include all of the fields of the village north of a former channel of the river depicted on the map as ‘the oulde course of the Trent at Shelforde’.

The River Trent was the southern boundary of Sherwood Forest, and it was this former channel of the river Trent that formed the southern boundary of Sherwood Forest at this point.

The fact that Sherwood Forest came as far south as the River Trent has been largely forgotten, and the fact that there was actually a part of the forest that was south of the current river is almost completely alien to most peoples modern concept of where Sherwood Forest was and is, in the landscape.

The 1609 crown Survey of Sherwood Forest by Richard Bankes was a map and accompanying terrier produced on behalf of the newly crowned King James I (1603-1625), to check on land ownership and assarting (clearing of woodland against the Forest Law) within the Medieval Forest of Sherwood. This was for purposes of taxation (Mastoris and Groves 1998).

Studying these ancient maps not only tells us about the history of Sherwood Forest, but also some of the history of the River Trent.

It is also relevant today as many of the features can still be seen in the landscape.

Photograph: The River Trent at Shelford- from Gibbet hill facing north.

Shelford, Sherwood Forest and the River Trent Shelford, Sherwood Forest and the River Trent

Photograph: The River Trent at Shelford- from Gibbet hill facing north.

Shelford and Sherwood Forest Map

Map data ©2014 Google Imagery ©2014 Bluesky Digital

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