Manuscripts and Special Collections

Water Resources Introduction

Photograph of a basket being lowered from the upstairs window of a flooded house; dated 1947; The Meadows, Nottingham

The supply, management and control of water resources was until the mid-twentieth century in the hands of a wide variety of local autonomous bodies.

Those with the longest histories were the Courts of Sewers, some dating back to the sixteenth century, which had responsibility for draining low-lying areas and preventing flooding. These functions were largely taken over by river Catchment Boards (later known as River Authorities) which were established following the 1930 Land Drainage Act. The River Trent Catchment Board was succeeded by the Trent River Board in 1951 and the Trent River Authority in 1965.

Private companies providing piped water were established in urban areas from the seventeenth century onwards. Sanitary provision was accelerated in the mid-nineteenth century when it was discovered that deadly diseases such as typhoid and cholera were transmitted through infected drinking water. By the end of the century, most water supply and sewerage facilities had been taken over by County and Borough Councils.

Another aspect of water resources which was particularly important in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the possibility they offered for transportation of goods and people. This was the golden age of the canals. Private canal and navigation companies cut canals and levied tolls on traffic using them.

Collections of documents relating to rivers, water supply and drainage therefore touch on a wide variety of historical, social and economic themes.

These webpages provide background information on the collections held at the University of Nottingham and throughout the East Midlands, most of which pre-date the establishment of the Severn Trent Water Authority in 1974. This body took over all the functions of supplying drinking water and sewerage, flood prevention, pollution control and protection of fish stocks which had formerly been exercised by the various County and Borough Councils and River Authorities.

The pages were updated in 2012 following the cataloguing of over 500 boxes of material, with support from The National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.



Next page:  Collections at Nottingham University Library


Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651