How well do you know the River Nene?

In honour of World Rivers Day*, celebrated annually on the fourth Sunday of September, we thought it would be fun to look at the history and heritage of the River Nene, along with a series of facts, stats, and did you knows…

  • The Nene Valley exists due to the vast amount of water that was released by melting ice during the Ice Age. The River Nene meanders through the wide, flat valley with flood plains, lakes, pools and mature gravel pits on either bank – the latter is a result of the vast glacial deposits found in the valley.
  • The River Nene is the 10th longest river in the UK. It is approximately 100 miles (160km) in length.
  • From its source at Arbury Hill, Northamptonshire, it is joined by numerous tributaries as it heads towards Cambridgeshire.
  • The river is navigable by boats for 88 miles (142 km), from Northampton to The Wash. Between Oundle marina and Peterborough the Nene falls towards Peterborough, meaning that boats must pass through 11 locks on the way.
  • The Nene links the Grand Union Canal to the River Great Ouse via the Middle Level in the Cambridgeshire Fens. Most leisure use is between Northampton and Peterborough.
  • The pronunciation of the river’s name varies according to your locality. In Northamptonshire it is usually pronounced ‘Nen’ while in the Peterborough area it is most likely to be pronounced ‘Neen’.

Historical connections

The Battle of Northampton was fought in July 1460, near the River Nene in Northampton. It was a major battle of the War of Roses and took place not far from Delapré Abbey.

Founded in 1886 by the Whitworth family, Victoria Mills in Wellingborough continues to be run by the firm, producing flours for the bakery trade. In front of the mill is a jetty which remains from the time when the river was used to transport of goods to and from the mills.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, used Hardwater Mill at Earls Barton 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, which date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, have since been converted into residential homes.

Chester House Estate, due to open to the public this autumn following significant restoration and development as a visitor attraction, is the site of a Roman walled town with evidence from the Mesolithic, Iron Age and Medieval periods, together with a complex of traditional farm buildings dating back to the 17th century. This exciting heritage site will soon be bringing to life stories from the past of the people who lived in this riverside location.

Fotheringhay is a hugely important Yorkist and Tudor site. A large mound close to the river is all that remains of a former castle that was the birthplace of King Richard III and the place of imprisonment and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. A striking church, St Mary’s and All Saints, has a commanding position overlooking the Nene, and both are worth a visit.

John Clare, known as the ‘peasant poet’ was born in Helpston near Peterborough and died in Northampton. His life began at one end of the Nene Valley and ended at the other. Clare was passionate about the natural world and wrote in poignant detail about his experience of the landscape. His former home in Helpston is open to the public.

Sir Henry Royce, a founder of Rolls Royce, the company world famous for its luxury cars and aeroplane engines, was born in 1863 in the village of Alwalton, which sits by the river Nene, on the edge of Peterborough. He is buried in the village church, St Andrews.

The 18th century watermill at Sacrewell Farm, sits on a tributary of the River Nene. It continued to be operated as a working mill, turning grain into flour, until 1965. It reopened in 2015 after a £1.8m restoration and conservation project part funded by the Heritage Lottery. Visitors can explore the building for an insight of how it worked and the lives of the people who worked there.

*World Rivers Day highlights the many values of rivers and its aim is to increase public awareness, encouraging the improved stewardship of rivers around the globe. For more information, see worldriversday.com