Manuscripts and Special Collections


This select glossary provides definitions for words used in these Water Resources webpages, and in the catalogues describing water collections held at the University of Nottingham. Some words in this glossary also have other meanings; only the meaning which has a water-related context is given here.

Term Meaning
Aegir A tidal wave which travels up an estuary. The River Trent experiences aegirs as far upstream as Gainsborough. A similar phenomenon in the Severn Estuary is known as a 'bore'
Barge Flat-bottomed boat used to transport freight on rivers and canals
Bill of lading Receipt for goods transported by water, given by the ship's master to the owner of the goods
Borehole Narrow hole dug vertically into the ground in order to reach underground water (e.g. in a pumping station), or to investigate geological layers
Brook Small river or stream
Canal Artificial watercourse dug to aid inland navigation
Carr Fenland or boggy ground
Catchment The area of land whose rainfall drains naturally into a particular river
Catchment Board Organization set up under the Land Drainage Act of 1930 to have oversight over drainage in a particular Catchment area. Abolished 1951
Commissioners of Sewers A group of people appointed by the Crown under a Commission of Sewers to organize temporary Courts of Sewers in a particular area
Confluence The place where two rivers or streams flow into one another
Corporation A legally authorized organization, sometimes created by charter or Act of Parliament and made up of elected representatives. The usual term for a town council until the 20th century
Court of Sewers A local court organized by Commissioners of Sewers. The courts had oversight of waterworks maintenance, drainage schemes and banks in their area, were funded by taxes, and had the authority to compel local people to abide by their Orders
Culvert A channel or bricked drain used to carry a stream of water underneath or alongside another structure e.g. a road or railway
Cut Another word for canal, used especially for a short stretch of canal bypassing a meandering or shallow section of river
Dam Earthwork holding back a river or stream, creating a reservoir
Discharge Volume of water released from one area, e.g. a sewer, into another, e.g. an estuary. Discharge rate = the speed of flow of the water
Drain Natural or man-made ditch, channel or watercourse, used to carry water away from a particular place or area
Drainage The act of drying out land by diverting water into drains and rivers
Dredge To scour out river and canal beds in order to remove silt and blockages
Dyke 1) a man-made channel, drain or watercourse2) An embankment built to provide protection against the sea or other floods
Effluent Waste water left over after sewage treatment
Enclosure See Inclosure
Estuary The mouth of a river as it reaches the sea; the area of the river bed which is affected by the ebb and flow of the tide; where fresh and sea water meet
Evapotranspiration Evaporation from surfaces such as soil and bodies of water plus transpiration from plants (measured to calculate loss of water in order to predict floods or droughts)
Filtration Treatment of sewage by allowing it to seep through layers of gravel, earth or other substances
Flood Unusual or unexpected discharge of water over an area not normally inundated
Flood alleviation Engineering scheme designed to reduce the chances of a particular area being flooded e.g. by building walls or sluices
Flood bank Embankment built at the side of a river or at a seafront, high enough to contain high waters and prevent flooding
Flood plain Area of land susceptible to regular flooding from overflowing rivers or tides
Foreshore Area of land on a beach or in an estuary lying between the high and low water marks; the area covered by the tide
Gauge To measure water depth to calculate fluctuations, e.g. height of tides and floods
Gauging station Place at which gauging is carried out
Geological section Form of plan showing the horizontal layers of the earth at a particular place, e.g. as shown in a borehole
Groundwater Moisture content of soil or water stored in underground sub-strata
Haling path Another word for towpath
Hydrant Apparatus at street level used for drawing up water from a water main
Hydrology Science in which the properties of water are studied and applied in the design of schemes for the conservation and use of water and in forecasting floods
Hydrological cycle The balance of precipitation against groundwater, evaporation, losses and run-off
Hydrometry The measurement of all elements in the hydrological cycle but particularly river flow
Inclosure Process by which waste or common land was 'inclosed' or enclosed into private ownership. Many Inclosure Acts included provisions relating to drainage
Ing Dialect term from northern England for a boggy meadow prone to flooding by an adjacent river
Incorporation The act of making a particular organization into a Corporation
Internal Drainage Board Statutory body with responsibility for Ordinary Watercourses and managing water levels in particular defined areas susceptible to flooding
Inundation Another word for flood
Level A flat piece of land, e.g. 'the Level of Hatfield Chase' is the flat part of the area called Hatfield Chase
(Water) Level The height of a piece of water as measured from a specified, unchanging point e.g. the river bed
Lock Part of a canal or river in which water levels can be altered by the use of gates and sluices, thus allowing navigation in hilly areas
(Water) Main Pipe or channel carrying treated water under pressure from a storage facility to the consumer
Main River A river, stream or watercourse defined by the Government as of strategic drainage importance, and therefore subject to control and maintenance by statutory bodies such as (historically) River Authorities and (currently) the Environment Agency. See also Ordinary Watercourse
Navigation The provision and maintenance of inland waterways (rivers and canals) along which barges can travel. Navigation Company = a company providing these services in return for the payment of tolls by passing traffic
Ordinary Watercourse A river, stream or watercourse which has not been defined as a Main River. It is subject to control and maintenance (if required) by local authorities and/or Internal Drainage Boards
Outfall The mouth of a river, drain, sewer, etc., where the water flows into a larger river or the sea. Often used in relation to a man-made pipe overflow
Participants Partners or shareholders in the Hatfield Chase drainage scheme established in 1696
Precept An order from one organization to another to raise money by a rate to help fund the first organization's work
Precipitation Rainfall
Pumping station Building containing machinery (formerly steam-powered but now usually run by electricity) for pumping water out of reservoirs, watercourses or the ground, and then diverting it elsewhere. Used for many purposes including drainage, extraction of drinking water, and the removal of sewage
Reach Portion of river or canal lying between two specified points. See also Tidal Reach
Reclaim To make boggy or flooded land usable by draining away the surface water and preventing further inundations. Reclamation = the action of reclaiming land
Reservoir Geographical area (either natural or man-made using dams), or a large tank or pool, in which a volume of water is stored
River A natural running stream of water flowing into another body of water. Some larger and more important rivers are defined as Main Rivers
River Authority Organization set up under the Water Act of 1963 to have oversight over flood prevention, drainage, fisheries, water resources and pollution along defined Main Rivers in its area. Abolished 1974
River Board Organization set up under the River Boards Act of 1948 to have oversight over drainage, fisheries and pollution in a particular Catchment area. Abolished 1965
Run-off Water in the hydrological cycle which runs off the catchment as surface flow (usually as stream flow)
Scot Payment or contribution; a local tax. 'Scotted' = assessed
Settling tank Tank in which liquid is stored until particles suspended in the liquid sink to the bottom, e.g. used in sewage farms to separate liquid and solid waste (a 'septic tank' is a type of settling tank)
Sewage Refuse or waste matter carried in sewers from households and industry to sewage farms and waste treatment works
Sewage farm Farm which treats sewage by filtering and purifying it, and then fertilizing agricultural land with it through irrigation or spreading

1) Man-made channel or drain used to carry rainwater and surface water away from boggy or flooded land

2) Underground pipe carrying sewage or waste water away from buildings

Sewerage Infrastructure for dealing with sewage from collection, through treatment, to return to the environment
Shallows Parts of a river which are naturally too shallow to allow barges or other craft to navigate safely
Silt Sandy or earthy matter carried by rivers or the tide, which builds up as a sediment on river beds
Siphon or Syphon Pipe used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure
Sluice Gate or dam used to hold back water collecting on its other side, with adjustable parts which can be opened and closed to control its outflow
Soil moisture deficit The amount of moisture required to return soil to the point at which it is holding the maximum amount of water (important to know for calculating run-off rates and predicting floods)
Stage-discharge relationship Water level or stage of a river as measured by a gauging device, is combined with the cross-sectional area of the river to provide a measurement of flow
Stoning To build up protection e.g. on a river bank, by laying stones
Surface water Water that collects on the ground and does not drain away
Tidal bank Embankment built in order to hold back high tides from flooding adjoining land
Tidal reach The maximum area covered by a tide. In a tidal estuary such as the River Trent, the extent upstream that is affected by the ebb and flow of the tide
Toll Money collected from individuals and merchants using canals and rivers for travel and transportation of goods. Varying tolls were charged depending on the type of vessel and its cargo
Topography Description of the features and characteristics (principally geographical) of a particular area
Towpath Path running alongside one side of a navigable river or canal, originally used by horses drawing barges using a tow-rope. See also haling path
Tributary Small river, stream or brook which empties into a larger watercourse
Wapentake Dialect term used in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, and Leicestershire, for an administrative subdivision of a county. Corresponds to the term 'hundred' in other counties
Warp Fertilizing earthy matter or silt deposited by flooding rivers or tides across agricultural land
Warping The act of encouraging the build-up of warp by controlled deliberate flooding of land
Warrant of distress Warrant issued by a Court of Sewers authorising 'distress' - forced removal of money or goods from an individual who has failed to pay rates or fines
Water Authority Organization set up under the Water Act of 1973 to have comprehensive management of the entire water cycle, including flood prevention, drainage, fisheries, water resources, pollution, water supply and sewage. Privatized 1989
Watercourse General term for any flowing stream of water, e.g. a river, stream, brook, drain, channel, dyke or culvert
Watershed Area of demarcation between waters flowing into different rivers or catchments; the separation between two drainage areas
Weir Low dam or barrier built across a river to regulate the water flow; often built in conjunction with a cut through which barges are sent


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