Floods at Cotes Bridge
By Joan and Peter Shaw
There can be few residents of the Wolds villages who have not been jammed nose to tail at Cotes after heavy rain, and we all await to see how successful has been the latest scheme to control our river. However, it is clear from these letters to the Editor of the Loughborough Herald and North Leicestershire Gazette that the inconvenience of the last few decades is nothing compared to that suffered by our predecessors.
Wymeswold, September 21 1880 Sir – I am pleased to hear that some steps are about to be taken to remove the nuisance so long felt and complained of – the floods at Cotes Bridge. It has always appeared very strange that this great inconvenience to market people and others should have been allowed to remain until the year 1880 without any effort being made to obviate it. Surely either the Feoffees, the Turnpike Commissioners, a public subscription, or the three conjointly, might many years ago have prevented many a pedestrian from getting wet feet going or returning from market, and perhaps have prevented many other accidents. I remember about fifty years ago, that one of the twelve or more daily coaches running between Nottingham and London was coming off the bridge towards Cotes, when – although the coachman (an old veteran) had driven many hundred times with safety – the coach swayed in turning the corner, and fell over, killing poor Pearson, the driver, I believe, on the spot. A few years ago, when the flood was high, either Mr Packe or one of his tenants had a team going through the water, when one of the horses was taken with cramp, fell down in the flood, and was drowned. Only last Thursday, Mr Miller, of Thorpe in the Glebes, had a cart and two horses with 30cwt of coals; when – coming through the flood – from some cause the shaft horse got down in the water. The driver had the presence of mind to tip the coals up, which enabled the horse to recover his feet, and it was saved. But he had to leave the coals in the flood, and has only been able to recover part of them. These three, and possibly many other accidents and numerous bad colds, would have been prevented had the proposed alteration taken place 50 years ago, I am unable to judge how far the cleansing out of the arches will obviate or mitigate the floods. But it will be necessary to raise the roads somewhat higher than the old boat path if the remedy is to be effectual, and will require a considerable amount of earth and other material. I beg to suggest, as the toll house is shortly to be removed, that it would make two improvements, if the hill on which the toll house now stands were lowered, and the earth carted to raise the lowest part near the bridge – I remain, sir 'One who has waded through the flood'
October 1880 Sir – Last Saturday night I left the Loughborough Station about 8.30 with the intention of walking to Wymeswold, and to that end had crossed the bridge that is presumed to span the Soar. We had had no rain for nearly two days, and though the floods have an awkward habit of doing all they can to facilitate the highway authorities in their prohibition of traffic between the mill and the toll-bar, I did fancy that for that night at least I should be able to pass over dry-shod. But, sir conceive my feelings if you can – the cold chill that crept over me – as I reached the foot of the bridge, and there saw a quarter of a mile of water, with an average depth of two and a half feet, and this to be got through, and a walk of four miles beyond, before one's home could be reached or one's clothes changed. I fancy I hear some-one say, 'why not use the foot-path?', Ah! Why not? I once saw Blondin cross the fountain at the Crystal Palace on a rope, and thought it awfully foolhardy. But I question if, to him, his path was much more dangerous, or if he ran much greater risk of his life, than the man who tries to walk the foot-path that runs from the bridge to the toll-bar, when the night is dark, the floods out, and the water six inches over the 'path'. Shall I give you an idea, sir, of that path? On the roadside there is an abrupt fall of two feet, more or less; on another a rotten hedge, the earth from the roots of which is nearly all washed away by the floods, and between the said rotten hedge and the said footpath innumerable chasms, into which – should you miss your footing – you must inevitably fall and find you way, through the too tender resistance of the hedge, into the depths of the willow and muddy bed of the Soar, with the agreeable feeling of death by prolonged suffocation. And then 'the path' itself. My impression is, sir, that its makers must have worked under a like influence that prevailed in the construction of a certain tower we read of in Holy writ. The large stones, with wide breaks between them, have the appearance of having been dropped there by accident, or to have formed the contributions of various independent authors. They present no appearance of unity, or uniformity, or unanimity of purpose when viewed even in broad daylight, and are very far indeed from conveying any such ideas to your mind when your poor feet group [sic] about for them through six inches of water of a dark night. Now, sir, do you happen to know of any old women that would kindly meet together and plan the improvement of this disgraceful state of things? Evidently the male powers that be are unequal to the task, or it never would have lasted so long. For my own part I have thought, in my simplicity, that the road might be raised by brick arches, or, at any rate, if the road be left as it is, a village carpenter be engaged by the authorities to build them a hand rail wooden foot way, high enough to enable pedestrians who are so unfortunate as to live on the Wymeswold side of the Soar, to find their way without a cold bath. And if there be no local talent equal to such a task, let me have a permanent ferry – I enclose my card, and remain, sir, yours etc. 'With a bad cold'
Floods occurred frequently, but 1880 was the year to end all years. Rainfall at Loughborough reached a record 32.75 inches, the highest for ten years, and on no less than thirteen occasions the Soar burst its banks. Recent improvements to drainage of higher lands with better outfalls into the upland streams, locks and weirs which had been installed to facilitate navigation, obstructions such as the Mount Sorrel Branch Railway, and the reluctance of mill owners to adapt and operate their flood gates to the common good, combined to exacerbate the problems.
Little wonder our correspondents felt forced to put pen to paper – and amazing that they could retain their sense of humour in the wake of such difficulties. In one week of July, there were violent storms which lasted from Wednesday to Saturday, and the whole area from Barrow to Hathern was under water. At Cotes the water was 'as high as a horse's flanks', the footpath from Loughborough to Prestwold was submerged to a height of three to four feet, and an immense body of water rushed down the valley towards Burton causing the brook to overflow and destroying a newly erected bridge. The railway was inundated, flood fences were broken down, and rails and other wreckage could be seen floating on the water. l.09 inches of rain fell within 24 hours – the second time that month that rainfall had reached over an inch in a day.
Things were so serious that the Soar Valley Flood Committee commissioned Mr B .S. Brundell, MInstCE to make a report on the problem, and in Loughborough the Highways Committee was requested to inspect the bridge at Cotes to see what could be done to improve the situation. Instructions were given for the arches of the bridge to be cleaned out, and notices were served upon the occupiers of the surrounding land to clear their ditches. The owners of the osier beds were asked for their co-operation as it was considered the growth of osiers near the bridge largely contributed to the accumulation of silt and filling up of the river.
Mr Hodson, the Surveyor, said the plan was to dig out as much material from the beds as would be sufficient to embank the road about two feet above the level of the floods. This would prevent the floods reaching the road, and taking that into account, combined with the widening of the Chainwell to 65 feet, would be sufficient to meet a very large rainfall. The water would be a foot deeper than the present line, and he had no doubt that when completed there would be no floods on the lower side of the road, while the meadow land in the valley would be greatly improved.
21 February 1881 Sir – Some short time ago I saw through the medium of your valuable paper that arrangements were about to be made for raising the road and also widening the River Soar near Cotes, at what is called Cotes Bridge. I feel convinced that all your readers will agree with me that it is high time that something was done. Scarcely does a shower of rain fall before the river overflows its banks, and the lower portion of the road becomes inundated. This spot has been the scene of many a painful accident, and I think the Local Authorities cannot act too promptly in the matter. I watch eagerly the reports of the Local Board and the Highway Board meetings (the latter I excuse, as they are, I believe, waiting for action to be taken by the Local Board), and I would urge upon the Board the necessity of at once proceeding to make the alterations, and, if possible, to add to the comfort of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, as well as to the convenience of those who are compelled, in their daily pursuits, to use the road. A little incident happened the other day, when one of two men, who from outward appearance, resembled very much the men one may meet constantly on roads tramping from one town to another. On nearing the waters edge was heard to say to the other 'Well George, I have travelled through a many counties but never have I seen such floods upon the turnpike roads as I have in this county'. They proceeded along the footpath, having been told to keep near the hedge; they did so, but the one nearest the hedge missed his footing and went up to the neck in water. May I ask the person or persons whose duty it is to keep proper fences, to make a good sound fence to prevent a recurrence of such an accident? May I also ask the surveyor of the road if he will give the matter his attention; and if he or his Board have any power in the matter to insist upon a good sound fence, say posts and rails, being erected and thus protect the public and prevent what might eventuate fatally. Had not the other man had the presence of mind to take hold of his coat and assist him out, or had the unfortunate man been alone, he would have soon have been overcome by the powerful stream running at the time, washed away, and never more heard of until his body was found floating in the river. By giving this publicity, thus attracting the attention of those who are better able than myself to request a remedy for the evil, you will oblige, Yours truly 'Pro Bono Publico'
It obvious from Mr "Pro Bono Publico's" comments that the wheels of the local authority did grind exceeding slow.
- The river crossing at Cotes has always been important to travellers, and the bridge is numbered among five which were built to span the Soar between 1272 and 1327 – the others being Kegworth, Zouch, Cossington and Belgrave. In 1333 an inquisition was taken at Nottingham to decide who was responsible for the repair of the bridge between 'Loughteburgh and Cotes'; in later years it was one of several looked after by the Loughborough Bridgemasters. Nichols included a picture of the old medieval thirteen arch bridge when he compiled his history of our county, but prior to that time twelve of the arches had been consolidated into six, making a bridge of seven arches. In the mid 1900s George Green of the Loughborough Archaeological Society undertook a survey of the causeway and bridge beneath the modern road and concluded there was evidence of twenty arches, and possibly more. Much reconstruction has been carried out, the road has been widened and straightened to some extent, and early in the 20th century it was raised by the Army – in some places by many feet. Since then it has been widened still further and there is very little of the old stonework to be seen.
- The reference to the Chainwell has intrigued us. Presumably it housed some kind of chain, but whether this was still there in 1880, and what its purpose was, we have been unable to discover – theories expounded are that it could have guided a temporary ferry, that it could have been put across the river to prevent boats travelling up or down stream, or that it simply meant the 'channel'. Any further suggestions very welcome.
Sources Letters and articles from local newspapers
The Ancient Bridges of Middle and Eastern England by E. Jervoise
The Green Collection in the Loughborough Local Studies Room
Report on the Prevention of Floods in the Soar Valley by Mr B.S. Brundell MInstCE
A History of Leicestershire and Rutland by Roy Millward
Originally published in the WHO Newsletter 1996.
Copyright the author