The River Stour rises in Cambridgeshire and flows for 47 miles to its estuary at Harwich, on the east coast, forming along its way the county border between Essex and Suffolk. The Stour featured in several of Constable’s paintings and passes through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Stour is a constant in my life. I’ve been for countless walks along it and bike rides near and over it. I drive over it and see the signs welcoming me to Suffolk. But I didn’t realise how little I knew about the Stour until I took a half-hour boat trip on it from Sudbury, with the wonderful River Stour Trust.
In just 30 minutes our guides provided a wealth of fascinating information about the river and its history. Here’s just some of the things I learnt.
I drink it
From Sudbury the Stour runs south and then east to its estuary at Harwich. Just before the estuary, it passes through sluice gates at Cattawade where 75% of the water is diverted into local reservoirs for use in the water supply. In the words of one of our guides, “give it a week and you’ll be drinking it”.
It’s not all natural
Stretches of the Stour are man-made. Around Sudbury, the river’s natural course was altered to enable larger boats to navigate it, giving sections that are technically canals.
The Stour was one of the first rivers to be improved in this way. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1706 which decreed that the river should be made navigable from Manningtree to Sudbury. The impact on trade and industry was significant…
It used to carry bricks. Many, many bricks.
Sudbury has been a major producer of bricks since Tudor times. The Royal Albert Hall and Liverpool Street Station are both constructed from Sudbury bricks – I passed through Liverpool Street Station every day for six years while commuting to the city for work, and didn’t pay any attention to the brickwork!
The river was crucial to the industry’s success; the bricks were transported downstream to the estuary and then around the coast to London. At the peak, 3 million bricks a year were sent down the river.
Sudbury still produces bricks today – primarily for artisanal and heritage projects. Their bricks can be seen in the fairly recent Eurostar extension at Kings Cross St Pancras Station – look out for beautiful brickwork arches.