Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Severn's ambient wave

The Book of English Rivers by Samuel Lewis (1855) contains brief descriptions of all the main rivers, noting down points of topographical interest: notable views, snippets of local history and literary associations. There are no extended passages of description, but the flow of place names as he tracks the course of each river has its own kind of poetry. There follows a kind of prĂ©cis of Lewis’s entry for the river Severn which gives an indication of the landscapes along the river he found particularly interesting.
Lewis traces the course of the Severn from its source, past the village of Llandinam, the Roman station of Caer-Sws and Newtown from where it is possible to see Montgomery Castle, birthplace of George Herbert. (Herbert wrote religious poetry but you can imagine him looking at the river when he wrote in ‘The Storm’: ‘If as the windes and waters here below / Do flie and flow, / My sighs and tears as busy were above; Sure they would move / And much affect thee..’ )
From there, Lewis continues, the river passes Powis Castle and becomes navigable at Welshpool, flows by Llandrinio and the Breiddin Hills and then leaves Wales for the plain of Salop. He notes the striking landscape at Loton mansion, White Abbey and then describes the course of ‘Severn’s ambient wave’ through Shrewsbury. This memorable phrase comes from a poem by William Shenstone: ‘Admired Salopia! that with venial pride / Eyes her bright form in Severn's ambient wave, / Famed for her loyal cares in perils try'd, / Her daughters lovely, and her striplings brave.’
Near Shrewsbury is Meole Brook, a trout stream where the fisherman who taught Izaak Walton fly-fishing, Thomas Barker, grew up. Memorable buildings follow: Haughmond Abbey, Attingham Hall (designed by Athenian Stuart), the Roman remains at Wroxeter, Cound Hall, Leighton Hall and Buildwas Abbey. The industrial landscape of Coalbrook Dale comes next, followed by Apley with notable views to be had from the drive of Apley Terrace. Still in Shropshire, the Severn flows through Bridgenorth and past Quatford church on an eminence above the river. To Dudmaston woods, Alveley, Higley and then the river enters a small part of Staffordshire.
Flowing on into Worcestershire, at Stourport it receives the Stour. Lewis mentions Thorngrove villa, the seat of Lucien Bonaparte during his stay in England, and Hallow where the scientist Sir Charles Bell is buried. At Worcester there are picturesque views of the Malvern hills and more noteworthy views further downriver at Severn-Stoke church. Upton is ‘described in poetry by Mr Cottle “- Many stately trees, and many cots, / And villages, o’erspread the country round…’’'
The rocky scenery of Mythe is the next notable landscape feature on the river’s course. Then, after Tewkesbury, the Severn divides temporarily in two and forms the Isle of Alney, with Gloucester on the eastern channel. Having received another river, the Froome, it makes a horse-shoe bend with great views from Newnham to Cotswolds and Forest of Dean. Finally, Lewis brings his description to the estuary: Sharpness Point, Lydney, and the meeting place of the lower Avon, flowing from Bristol.
The Severn seen from Gloucestershire, 2008


snarlerson said...

As so often, your blog brings back a flood of mainly pleasant memories. The river Severn is almost a leitmotif of my childhood. At the time of the Coronation in 1953, I lived in a flat overlooking the weir in Shrewsbury and all day and night I could hear the roar of the Water. Later we moved to a house near Haughmond and we often went via the Abbey to climb Haughmond hill with our faithful dog, Rufus. Rufus joined us when we moved to Meole Brace and where we spent many happy hours on the banks and in the Meol Brook. Like the mythical years of Edwardian England, the summers seemed to last for ever. We would take our sandwiches and set off to spend a day by the Brook. Damming the stream to build up enough water for swimming alternated with sailing small boats and dodging cow pats. At other times, the Brook was cruel, in full spate after downpours and the footbridges and causeways were under water. Today no child would be given this freedom to wander without supervision. We were not scared of drowning or of preyers on children.

We often went to Attingham too to see the Hall now owned by the National Trust but I was more impressed by the quiet Atcham parish church on the banks the Severn. The builders re-used Roman columns from Uriconium (Houseman’s “Uricon’) and I thought of it as the birthplace of the great Anglo-Norman chronicler, Orderic Vitalis. Then on downstream to the atmospheric Buildwas Abbey in the Severn Gorge which I first visited from Scout camp under Wenlock Edge. I still find it hard to believe that the nearby sylvan Coalbrookdale once looked like the inferno painted by Loutherbourg. At Bridgnorth the castle keep is at a curious angle thanks to Cromwell and there is the divide between the Higher and Lower towns which are linked by a cliff railway. Cave dwellings are also still apparent. By the time I remember it well, I had children and we enjoyed the steam trains on the Severn Valley Railway down to the pub at Hampton Loade with its delicate small ferry. Still as a child, on visits to my aunt in Worcestershire we went to see King John’s tomb above the flood plain in Worcester Cathedral and had tea with a friend at Kempsey where Simon de Montfort crossed the river two days before he fell in the massacre of Evesham. It was with my children, that I visited Gloucester then more famous for Dr Foster and the Tailor rather than Harry Potter. But the eastern window , cloisters and Edward II’s tombs were stunning. It was from the Severn here that lampreys were sent to the royal kitchen in Henry III’s time. It was not until a few years ago that I finally got to Berkeley castle to see where Edward was murdered. Now dominated by a nuclear power station; will the government care about its setting when it considers a new generation of nuclear stations? And what about the Severn barrage? Will no one see the magical Bore again?

I was impressed too that you had a link to Shenstone who is often thought of as a Worcestershire man but lived in an exclave of Shropshire.

Plinius said...

Thanks Snarlerson. I have to say your comments are much more evocative than Samuel Lewis's description in his compendium of rivers. Lewis mentions the Bore (or 'Hygre') - just as famous in the nineteenth century. I forgot to mention that he also points the reader to Drayton's description of the Severn in 'Poly-Olbion'.