Manuscripts and Special Collections

Trent River Authority and predecessors, 1931-1974


The management of water services in England began in 1531 with the Statute of Sewers. This was followed by various Drainage Acts, culminating in the Land Drainage Act of 1930. The Land Drainage Act set up Catchment Boards in England and Wales to have oversight over Main Rivers. The Catchment Boards were funded by other authorities including Internal Drainage Boards and County Councils.

The River Trent Catchment Board was established in May 1931, with full-time officers appointed in October 1931. Its predecessor bodies included a number of drainage, navigation and warping companies or corporations, including the Hatfield Chase Corporation whose origins dated back as far back as 1626, the Trent Navigation Company, and the Brigg Court of Lincolnshire Commissioners of Sewers. These independent boards were absorbed by or amalgamated with the Trent River Catchment Board in 1941.

The River Boards Act of 1948 brought together the responsibility for drainage, fisheries and pollution under single authorities and on 1 April 1951 the Catchment Board became the Trent River Board, taking over the functions of the Trent Fishery Board which had been established by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act of 1923.

The next change of name occurred on 1 April 1965 when, following the Water Act of 1963, the Trent River Board became the Trent River Authority. The Authority was responsible for flood prevention and land drainage along the 'Main Rivers' in its area, and conserved and augmented water resources (collecting and making available hydrological data), controlled pollution and water quality, and awarded angling licences.

The Trent River Authority was organised into the following departments (most of which had operated fairly continuously since the creation of the River Trent Catchment Board): The Clerk's, Treasurer's, Engineer's, Pollution Control (or Prevention of River Pollution), and Fisheries Department. The Hydrology/Water Resources Section was a sub-section of the Engineer's Department. The main areas of activity of the authority were the management and monitoring of water resources (including hydrometric schemes, research, licences and charging), land drainage (including capital works, maintenance, etc.), fisheries (issuing of licences, prosecutions, etc.), and prevention of river pollution (monitoring water quality, sewage and effluents, research, etc.).   

  Technicians at work on a river model, 1968 (RE/DOP/H33/11)
Technicians at work on a river model, 1968 (RE/DOP/H33/11) 


The River Trent Catchment Board was initially divided into four main areas: the Northern Area (which had its own office and resident engineer at Gainsborough), the Home Area, the Southern Area and the Stafford Area. The Trent River Board and Trent River Authority continued to maintain this basic structure although there were some later changes in divisional boundaries. These included the abandonment of the Stafford Area as a separate division, and the introduction of a Keadby Division which was subsequently merged into the Northern Division.

The largest of the three land drainage divisions, the Home Division, comprised most of Nottinghamshire with the exception of the Trent Basin north of Newark, most of Leicestershire with the exception of the Mease basin in the west of the county and a large part of Derbyshire excluding the Chesterfield area and the Dove Basin in the west. The Division included most of the major towns in the East Midlands region including Nottingham, Mansfield, Worksop, Retford and Newark in Nottinghamshire, Leicester, Loughborough and Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and Derby, Matlock, Bakewell and Buxton in Derbyshire. The main watercourses included the River Trent (middle reach) and the Rivers Idle, Ryton, Derwent, Soar, Sence (Soar tributary), Erewash, Leen, Maun and Wreake. The Home Division also included the Rivers Idle and Ryton Internal Drainage District and several pumping stations including Keadby and Dirtness.

The Northern Division comprised the Trent Basin in Nottinghamshire to the north of Newark and the Trent basin in Lincolnshire to the east of the River Trent. It included the whole of the River Trent Tidal Reach, the Bottesford Beck and the River Eau, and short lengths of the Fosse Dyke and Beckingham Drain, as well as the Hatfield Chase Corporation Drainage District. The Keadby Divison, which later became part of the Northern Division, included the River Torne, North and South Soak Drains, Hatfield Waste Drain, Snow Sewer and other watercourses. The main towns within the Northern Division were Gainsborough and Scunthorpe.

The Southern Division comprised most of Staffordshire, parts of Derbyshire in the Dove Basin, the Mease Basin area of Leicestershire, and the Tame and Amber Basins in Warwickshire. The main towns in the Division were Stafford, Stoke-upon-Trent, Uttoxeter, Burton-upon-Trent and Tamworth in Staffordshire, Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Nuneaton and Birmingham, which was at that time within the county of Warwickshire. The main watercourses in the southern Division were the upper reaches of the River Trent, and the Rivers Dove, Tame, Anker, Sence (Anker tributary), Churnet, Cole, Sow, Penk, Mease, Blythe and Blithe and the Foston and Meece Brooks. The Division also included the Sow and Penk Drainage District and the Elford Internal Drainage District.

 Detail from experimental catchment map showing Trent River Board divisions, published 1964 (RG/R/14)
Detail from experimental catchment map showing Trent River Board divisions, published 1964 (RG/R/14) 


The responsibilities of the Trent River Authority were taken on by Severn Trent Water Authority  in 1974-1975, following the 1973 Water Act which created public water authorities to manage the entire water cycle.



Small groups of documents from the Trent River Authority were transferred at regular intervals during the 1960s, but in 1974-1975 it was decided to transfer to the University Library the bulk of the records relating to the Authority's activities in the Trent basin. Further large accruals have since been acquired which were catalogued in 2011 and 2012 with support from The National Archives Cataloguing Grants Programme.

Multi-level descriptions of the Trent River Authority records are available through the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, arranged according to the main departments within the Trent River Authority: Governance records, the Clerk's Department, the Treasurer's Department, the Engineer's Department and the Hydrology/Water Resources Section (part of the Engineer's Department but with its own staff and filing system). The papers of the Prevention of Pollution Control and Fisheries Departments are not present.

Records include administrative files, minutes and annual reports, engineering and technical plans, photographs, hydrological and meteorological data, printed technical reports, and legal and financial papers. The majority date from the period 1930-1975, with a small number of earlier records collected by the Trent River Authority to assist them in their work.

The records of the Clerk's Department comprise letter books, and a vast number of general files relating to all aspects of the work of the Trent River Authority and its two main predecessor bodies. Also included amongst the records of the Clerk's Department are the administrative and financial papers of a number of Internal Drainage Boards, including Bramcote Brook Independent Drainage Board (1946-51), Crowle District I.D.B. (1933), Forebridge Drainage Board (1907-42), Misson I.D.B. (1941-51), Sow and Penk I.D.B. (1924-70), and Whitewater I.D.B. (1940-63). The records of the Idle, Ryton and Bycarsdyke Court of Sewers are particularly rich, and date back to 1863. There is a series of legal documents including many copies of enclosure awards, the originals of which date from 1760.

A new collection has been formed from the governance records from the Clerk's, Engineer's and Treasurer's records, along with new material found in the accruals. These include an extensive series of Board and Committee minutes covering the years 1931-1974. Also present are Annual Reports from 1931-1934 and 1952-1974, which contain published figures on rainfall, water consumption, etc., and are very useful for getting an overview of the work of the Authority in each year.

A small series of financial records from the Treasurer's Department consists of ledgers, contract books, tender register, schedules of payments and general invoice books, 1931-66. Other financial records of the Trent River Authority and its predecessor bodies are included amongst the records of the Clerk's Department and the Engineer's Department.

The records from the Engineer's Department make up the bulk of the material from the Trent River Authority and date mainly from the 1930s to the 1970s. The papers include incoming and outgoing letters, printed materials (RE/Pr) such as technical reports on specific schemes of work, and a considerable number of plans. The plans are divided into two series - Drawing Office plans (RE/DO), and Deposited Plans (RE/DP). More miscellaneous plans are listed separately (RE/P). There is an interesting series of photographs which depict the various stages of many engineering schemes as well as depicting life for residents of areas subject to flooding before the introduction of flood protection schemes etc. (RE/DOP). A series of files and printed reports relating to the Authority's investigations into a potential reservoir site, leading to public inquiries into the suggested site at Carsington, Derbyshire, have been added from the accruals (RE/WR/RS). 



Unicorn Hotel flooded, December 1965 (RE/DOP/H29/31)]



In addition, there is a very extensive series of files (RE/F) relating to large-scale and minor engineering works projects. Most of these files date from the 1930s to the 1950s, with only a few records dating from after 1963. The records include a number of maps and plans. The series continues with administrative files relating to staffing, offices and depots; and files concerning relationships with other bodies, e.g. parliamentary bills, town planning schemes, and sewage disposal schemes devised by various local authorities. These files continue to the 1970s.

The files of the Hydrology Department/Water Resources Section (RH) came as an accrual and the bulk of them are arranged according to the Section's original filing system (RH/WR), representing the Authority's activities in recording rainfall, evaporation, groundwater and river gauging (as part of the Hydrometric Scheme), along with charging, licensing and hydrometric surveys. There are a large number of packets of plans, sections and charts  (RH/Pk) relating in particular to the establishment of a network of gauging stations across the catchment area, and assorted packets of hydrological and meteorological data (RH/D), as well as a series of correspondence/letter books (RH/C).

Hydrology gauging bridge on the river Churnet, Rocester, Staffordshire, 1961 (RE/DOP/H5/47)
Hydrology gauging bridge on the river Churnet, Rocester, Staffordshire, 1961 (RE/DOP/H5/47) 



Manufacturers' gauging equipment brochures, n.d. [c.1930s-1970s] (RH/M/6/2/2)
Manufacturers' gauging equipment brochures, n.d. [c.1930s-1970s] (RH/M/6/2/2) 


Records of other bodies amalgamated into the Authority or its predecessor bodies are held at the University. These include the Trent Fishery Board whose functions were taken over by the Trent River Board in 1951. This small, discrete series dates entirely from the Board's independent existence, and consists of minute books (1866-1937), and cash books and accounts (1880-1951). Records of the Trent Navigation Company, the Brigg Court of Lincolnshire Commissioners of Sewers, and the Hatfield Chase Corporation, which were taken over by the Trent River Catchment Board in 1940 and 1941 respectively, are described separately (HCC, Br and RtN).


Next page:  Hatfield Chase Corporation, 1538-1973


Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

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