Manuscripts and Special Collections

Hydrologist H.R. Potter, c.1925-2000


Harold Reeve Potter worked as Assistant Engineer for the Hydrology Department/Section of the River Trent Catchment Board/Trent River Board from 1950 to 1955, Senior Hydrology Assistant from 1955 to 1965, and subsequently as Hydrologist for the Water Resources Section of the Trent River Authority from 1965 to 1975. During this time he was awarded an MPhil in Geology from the Faculty of Science at Nottingham University in 1973. He left c.1975 shortly after the creation of the Seven Trent Water Authority, going on to carry out historical research on extreme storm events on the chalk lands of England, and on the use of historical records to enhance hydrological data, for the Institute of Hydrology at Wallingford. From November 1977 Potter was Senior Research Fellow at Trent Polytechnic's Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, researching the sediment transport in the streams of south Nottinghamshire and north Leicestershire. He was also a member of the British Standards Sub-Committee on sediment transport until 1983.

Potter's particular passion initially was the history of rivers, leading him to apply for the job at the River Trent Catchment Board, and his papers display his skills in using historical resources and also in communicating his findings to a general public. These research skills were also required for the gathering of meteorological and hydrological data on extreme weather events in order to increase understanding of flood prevention and the management of water resources. His work on building the hydrological gauging network central to the Board/Authority Hydrometric Scheme involved managing administrative and infrastructural matters.

He seems to have had principal responsibility for the Authority's experimental research, which began in 1965, into the relationship between evaporation, groundwater, rainfall and run-off, based on the monitoring of conditions at a number of standard catchment areas. The Kingston Brook catchment in Leicestershire/Nottinghamshire was revived by Potter for sediment studies by Trent Polytechnic in late 1977 with the co-operation of Severn Trent Water Authority and the Nottingham University School of Agriculture at Sutton Bonington. Potter's designs for sediment sampling equipment developed in connection with this work, were later adopted around the world.

Sediment sampler used by H.R. Potter (HRP/F/3/14/2)
Sediment sampler used by H.R. Potter (HRP/F/3/14/2) 



Potter deposited his papers with the University in two accessions in the 1990s so that they could be kept alongside the closely related files of the Hydrology/Water Resources Section (RH) of the Trent River Authority. Many of the papers in his personal collection seem to be Trent River Authority materials which Potter was able to keep as they were essential for his work and were no longer required by Severn Trent Water Authority when it took over in 1974.

Multi-level descriptions of the research papers of H.R. Potter (HRP) are available through the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. The catalogue was produced in 2011-2012 with support from The National Archives Cataloguing Grants Programme.

The bulk of the collection consists of files (HRP/F), which usually contain a combination of correspondence, data, rough notes, reports, newspaper cuttings and photographs. The majority cover the 1950s to the 1970s but many were originally River Trent Catchment Board files which were created in the 1930s, and the data collected within them can date back to earlier centuries. Topics represented include the erosion and transport of sediment, the relationship between precipitation, run-off, evaporation and ground water in a series of small experimental catchment areas, the hydrology and geology of various river basins, flooding and rainfall records, and the history of the River Trent. There are also files on specific areas of the Trent River Authority's work, including Flood Protection Schemes, and the development of the network of recording and gauging stations. No personal material is present but a small number of files containing his correspondence with particular academics provide some biographical information. Manuscript notebooks (HRP/N) contain handwritten notes, and there is also a series of collections of printed academic articles and technical reports (some by the Trent River Board/Authority) compiled by Potter to assist with his work (HRP/Pr).

A series of files containing his publications with drafts and related correspondence, have been drawn together (HRP/Po), though it is not necessarily comprehensive. It includes reports on the history of the River Leen in Nottingham, the history of the River Trent, the use of historical records to obtain hydrological information, and various papers on sedimentation and experimental catchments. Also present are draft scripts for a BBC local radio series on the history of the River Trent, written and delivered by Potter (in conversation with various experts) entitled 'The Smug and Silver Trent'.

Flyer for H.R. Potter's radio programme 'The Smug and Silver Trent', 1968 (from HRP/Po/10/3)
Flyer for H.R. Potter's radio programme 'The Smug and Silver Trent', 1968 (from HRP/Po/10/3) 


There is also a large series of rolled plans (HRP/P) which include architectural drawings and elevations of Wilford Suspension Bridge, dated 1905, a number of maps and plans marked to show areas affected by storms and flooding as far back as 1875, and a small number of packets of folded plans (HRP/Pk) which relate closely to similarly organised material in the records of the Hydrology/Water Resources Section of the Trent River Authority (RH/Pk).


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