Facts About England's Five River Stours
There are five River Stours situated in England.
There is much controversy and debate as to where the name Stour originates, with historians believing that the word could come from three different language groups.
The Celtic word sturr means strong or powerful, which would be an appropriate name for a river, and as two of England’s River Stours are situated in England’s former Celtic stronghold of the Midlands, this is a more than credible origin.
The medieval, French word stour means confusion or commotion, which could well have been attributed to that of a particularly unnavigable river. England's Norman French history goes back over a thousand years and with one of the River Stours' estuary located on the English Channel, there is also some credibility to this origin.
The German word stuhr means formidable or violent, a word which could well have been attributed to a fast, flowing river. Considering England's Saxon history, and the facts that two of the River Stours drain into the North Sea – a usual route into England by the Saxons - therefore the origin of this word also has some credibility.
Therefore, it is possible that each of England’s River Stours could each have a different etymology.
Below is a list of each of England's five River Stours, along with some information about each one.
RIVER STOUR, WARWICKSHIRE.
England’s shortest River Stour travels for just seventeen miles between it's apparant source at Traitor's Ford near Bailes in Warwickshire towards Clifford Chambers near Stratford – Upon - Avon, where it joins with the River Avon. I use the word apparant as there is some controversy as to whether this is the true source of the river, as another location for it's source has been attributed to Stour Well near Wiggington Heath in Oxfordshire.
Most rivers start life as a spring, and local communities in the past were known to build wells over springs, so this does seem to be a more credible location for the river’s source.
The river travels through several small villages, but just the one town, the historic, market town, of Shipston on Stour, once the site of the country’s largest sheep market.
The river is spanned by four bridges, a medieval, ironstone, grade II listed, six arched bridge at Barcheston, two Victorian, brick built bridges at Halford and Shipston on Stour and a bridge built in 1927 at Clifford Chambers.
Most of the rivers' tributaries are made up of a network of small streams and brookes.
RIVER STOUR, WORCESTERSHIRE.
This twenty five mile tributary of the U.K’s longest river, the River Severn, begins life at St Kenelms Pass, a valley situated between the two peaks of Walton Hill and Clent Hill, situated in the Clent Hills Country Park, nine miles south of the City of Birmingham. The river joins with the River Severn at the town of Stourport in Worcestershire.
The river travels on a north, east course through the counties of Worcestershire and Staffordshire, where it flows through the towns of Halesowen, Dudley, Stourbridge, Amblecote, Stourton, Brierley Hill and Kidderminster.
For some of it’s course the river runs parallel with both the Stourbridge and the Staffordshire and Worcester canals.
The river is spanned by many bridges and under road culverts, including the Victorian, brick built, multi arched Stambermill Railway Viaduct at Stourbridge and two Victorian, brick built bridges in the villages of Cookley and Great Cornbow.
The river has several tributaries, most of which are small, yet important drainage streams and brookes, the largest of which is the seventeen mile long River Smestow, also known as Smestow Brooke.
RIVER STOUR, KENT.
In it’s entirity the River Stour in Kent, also known as the River Great Stour, is forty seven miles long. It travels along three courses, which divides the river into the River Little Stour and the River East Stour, also known as the River Upper Stour.
The river’s source is situated in the village of Lenham in Kent and it’s confluence with the ten mile long, River East Stour, is situated in the town of Ashford.
It’s confluence with the nine mile long, River Little Stour is situated at the hamlet of Plucks Gutter.
The river's valley makes up part of the Stour Valley Walk, a fifty one mile walking path which traverses Kent's Low Weald and the Kent Downs.
The River Stour’s estuary is situated on the county of Kent’s second largest catchment basin, after the River Medway, at Pegwell Bay on the Strait of Dover situated in the North Sea.
All three rivers flow through rural countryside passing through several villages which host a myriad of old bridges, watermills and windmills and the Broad Oak Nature Reserve, Monks Wall Nature Reserve, the Royal St George’s Golf Club and the Kent towns of Ashford and Canterbury and the former Cinque Port of Sandwich.
RIVER STOUR, SUFFOLK.
This East Anglian river is England’s most famous River Stour.The forty seven mile long river, whose source is situated at West Wratting Common in the Cambridgeshire Fens, has been immortalised by artists such as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and Paul Nash, making the river one of the country’s most famous, if not by name certainly by sight.
Owing to the vast amount of Suffolk paintings by John Constable, including his most famous work The Haywain, which depicts part of the River Stour situated on the Suffolk / Essex border, the route of the Stour Valley which incorporates the Dedham Valley and the village of East Bergholt are also known as Constable Country, with the village of East Bergholt being the location of the National Trust properties of Willy Lott’s Cottage, Flatford Mill, Valley Farm and Bridge Cottage.
For centuries the river has been a major transportation route through to England’s east coast and became one of the country’s first rivers to be canalised in 1705, with it’s ten locks, now owned and operated by a private trust, still in evidence.
Today the river and it’s valley have been designated areas of outstanding natural beauty and it’s estuary, situated in the port town of Harwich in Essex which drains into the North Sea, is an RSPB Nature Reserve, which has become an important breeding ground and over wintering site for thousands of wild fowl and mammals, due to the reserve being both part tidal, mudflats and deciduous forest.
The river’s course traverses through the three counties of Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk and passes through the towns of Brandon, Harwich, Haverhill, Lavenham, Manningtree and Sudbury and has become a haven for pleasure craft due to it’s picturesque route of quaint villages and abundance of old bridges, water mills and wind mills.
The river has at least ten stream tributaries as well as the Rivers Box, Brett and Glem.
RIVER STOUR, DORSET.
Dorset’s River Stour is England's longest River Stour and begins life at Stour Head in the county of Hampshire and travels in a south, westerly direction for sixty miles before discharging into the English Channel at Christchurch in the county of Dorset.
The river runs for most of it’s course along clay, chalk and heathland, all of which are liable to flooding during the winter months. Because of this the river is bordered by wide, flood plains, much of which make up the Stour Valley Way, long distance walking path, which traverses most of the river’s picturesque route.
The river has many small tributaries as well as the larger Rivers Allen, Cale and Lydden. The river also joins with the River Avon at it’s estuary on the English Channel.
The river’s course takes it through rolling countryside and many small villages, many of whose names bare the prefix stour , all of which are graced with a myriad of water mills and old bridges, including the stone built, multi arched, Crawford Bridge. The river also passes through the three Dorset towns of Gillingham, Wimborne Minster and Sturminster Newton.
NOTE - There are no River Stours situated in England's neighbouring Celtic speaking countries of Ireland, the Isle of Man or Wales.
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Title image – The Haywain, an oil on canvas by John Constable (1776 – 1837) painted in 1821, depicting the River Stour in Suffolk.