THE WYE, THE SEVERN AND THE
The River Severn
Rivers have every reason to think themselves the most important part of
the landscape: they provide the water that enriches their valleys, they trace boundaries,
in history they lie between opposing armies, they provide an occupation for fishermen.
The river Thames is not the only one in Britain. This time I would like
to invite you to see the three rivers of the country and visit the most famous and
picturesque towns and places lying near them.
The River Wye, which rises in the fastness of the Welsh mountains and
makes its way southward to the mouth of the Severn, is one of the most beautiful rivers in
Britain, and the lower Wye Valley, from Hereford to Chepstow, is perhaps its loveliest
Hereford can make many claims on the visitor’s attention. The red
sandstone cathedral, of the late Norman period, contains many curious antiques including,
a chair used by King Stephen (1135–54), a famous library of chained books and the Mappa
Mundi of 1314, one of the earliest maps in existence.
Drifting downstream, we come next to Ross-on-Wye, a pretty town perched
on a red cliff overlooking the river. In the garden of the Merton Hotel, Admiral
Nelson wrote love letters to Lady Hamilton. Lower downstream is Monmouth, which stands at
the junction of the Wye and the Monnow. The outstanding feature of the town is the unique
and beautiful Norman gateway on the bridge spanning the Monnow.
Within easy reach of Monmouth is Tintern Abbey, a former old Cistercian
Abbey or monastery, founded in 1131 and located in peaceful countryside in the valley of
the Wye. Its ruins were the inspiration for the poem by Wordworth which bears their name.
After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in Wales, the abbey went to ruins. As it
exhibits simple Cistercian architecture, it has no large towers. It is an interesting
remark that Cistercian ruins are generally more extensive than those of other orders,
because it was their custom to build in the countryside, whilst the Benedictines, for
example, chose places that were already inhabited. Thus, after the dissolution, ruins
forming parts of towns were pulled down to be replaced by churches or houses.
In open country, however, the sites were of less value and the abbey
buildings were left to decay at the mercy only of local wad builders and farmers. Tintern
Abbey was dissolved in 1536 and the site and buildings given to Henry Somerset, Earl of
Worcester. The buildings were then systematically stripped of their roofs for lead. The
church still has rich decoration and good window tracery. Documents from the old monastery
are on display in an impressive museum.
Another picturesque sight in the area is Raglan Castle in which it is
said, the Marquis of Worcester in 1663 erected the first workable steam-engine. The
present ruins of the castle are widely visited by tourists as the castle is largely still
in tact. The shape one can see today dates back to the period 1430–1610 and has, as well
as the defensive buildings, a large amount of late Gothic ornament (coats-of-arms, etc).
Sir William Thomas is said to have begun the construction of the castle and its Norman
keep, with its fine prospect, known us the «Yellow Tower of Givent» as well as the Great
Hall, the main building behind the tower, with its splendid windows which both date back
to 1430. With walls over 3 m thick, and surrounded by a water-filled moat, the tower was a
fortress in its own right, separated from the rest of the castle by a drawbridge. Under
the late fifteenth century lords the castle became the centre of Welsh poetry and songs.
Sir William’s son, Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke largely
completed the residential quarters. The castle was captured after the siege during the
Civil War in 1646 and mined with explosives and burnt. It was used as a quarry for
building stone until the eighteenth century, but there is still enough of the castle to be
The River Severn, which also rises in the fastnesses of the Welsh
mountains, and sweeps its way southwards to the Bristol Channel, is England’s second
river. Many famous and beautiful towns have been built on the banks of the Severn.
Gloucester, nearest to the mouth, is the capital of the county of the same name. Its
splendid cathedral, which dates from the fourteenth century, dominates the city with a
lovely elegance and grace. Within the cathedral is the tomb of the unfortunate Edward II
(1307–1327) who was murdered by his wife.
Another royal tragedy took place at Tewresbury, higher up the River
Severn. In the ancient abbey church was murdered the young Lancastrian Prince of Wales, in
The Hop Pole Inn at Tewresbury won immortality by serving dinner
to Mr. Pickwick and his friends, Bob Sawyck and Ben Allen.
A few miles to the north of Tewresbury is the interesting town of
Upton-on-Severn and Worcester Cathedral, which has overlooked the River Severn since the
year 1218. The city of Worcester was granted the first Royal Charter by Richard the First
in 1189, when in the city and county at large there was a race relations problem on such a
scale as has never been seen before or since. In those says the Normans and Saxons were
two races inhabiting the same island with a fierce contempt of each other. This earlier
friction is often displayed in Robin Hood stories. In these stories the inhabitants
of the area are shown as the bad King John, whose remains rest in the Worcester Cathedral,
and the good King Richard who gave them the Charter in 1989, the city celebrated thus its
800th anniversary of the first charter.
However, the date of the first permanent occupation of the site of
Worcester is not yet clear, though it may be before the building of a defensive ditch.
This defensive site, perhaps of Iron Age date, was replaced by a Roman town, whose
defences seem to have been massively strengthened in the later Roman period, the third or
fourth centuries AD. This Roman town, whose name was probably Vertis, had an extensive
suburb to the north. This suburb seems to have been residential at first but then became,
in the third or fourth centuries, the site of an important iron-smelting factory, there on
the site of the later castle and there is some evidence of a Roman harbour.
Evidence from under the Cathedral refectory suggests strongly that
there was a sub-Roman, British, Christian community in Worcester from the fourth century
until the building of the first cathedral in AD 680. The origin of the name Worcester is
obscure but seems to be derived from a tribal name Wigoran Roman town, ceastre,
added. Weogorna ceastre in AD 730 eventually became Wirecestre.
Shortly after the Norman Conquest a castle, first of timber and then of
stone, was build, overlooking the ford. In 1189 it was Wulstan’s Norman cathedral which
stood at the centre of the already-walled city. The west end, overlooking the river, had
been rebuilt a few years earlier, and rebuilt well, so that it still stands today.
The fire of 1175, which burned out many houses, caused damage to the
cathedral. Yet within forty years the new Lady Chapel was being added at the east end, and
the transformation of the church to its present form had began. Today the cathedral is the
city’s largest institution. In the cathedral the Three Choirs Festival is held in
rotation with the cathedrals of Hereford and Gloucester every year. It is the oldest
surviving Music Festival in Europe, as well as being the only remaining fully choral
festival in a country that used to boast many of these events, which were considered to be
show-pieces of a great national heritage.
The exact origins of the Three Choirs Festival are not clear, but
references were made in the Worcester Postman of 1713 to a Thanksgiving Service in the
Cathedral to celebrate the Peace of Utrecht, and it is a possibility that this event would
have involved participants from neighbouring cathedrals of Hereford and Gloucester. By
1719 the Music Meetings of the three cathedrals had been established, and with the
exception of the two world wars in this century, they have continued to the present day.
Festivals at Worcester have seen vast changes, especially in recent years, and many of the
world’s leading musicians and composers visit this event today. However, let us continue
At Shrewsbury, which is the county town of Shropshire, the River Severn
makes a loop that almost encloses the town. Shrewsbury contains one of the oldest and
best-known of English public schools, and some black-and-white sixteenth-century houses
– notably Ireland’s Mansion and the Market House which are among the finest in
existence. From Shrewsbury delightful expeditions can be made to Ludlow and Stokesay
Castle, a superb example of a fortified house which dates from the twelfth century.
The River Dee belongs properly to Wales, but before it commits itself
to the sea it passes through Chester, one of the most historic and interesting of English
Deva was the name given to their fortress by the Romans, which
translates as divine or Goddess – and was taken from the British (Celtic)
name for the then-mighty river beside which the fortress was built. All natural rivers,
lakes or other bodies of water were held in reverence by the early inhabitants and
considered to be the dwelling places of divine beings, and the majority of British rivers
still retain their ancient names. The city walls date from the fourteenth century and
stand upon Roman and Norman foundations. It was from these walls that Charles I saw his
army defeated at Rowton Moor in 1645. A unique feature of the interior of the city is the
«Rows», a series of arcades running outside the first floors of old timbered houses now
used as shops. It looks like a toy city and attracts tourists from many areas.
By Natalya Predtechenskaya