EMIAC 84: Transport and Trade in the Trent Valley

Retford, 13th October 2012

Conference Details


Until the coming of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century the River Trent and, towards the start of the period, the canals connected with it, carried a huge volume of traffic both up and down stream. The river trade was in turn closely linked with the coaching trade through Hull and Gainsborough as well as with road transport in the region.

This conference will look at both the organisation of the trade by sea, river and canal and at the goods carried. New, and as yet unpublished, research will consider how improvements during the canal age facilitated the first phase of the Industrial revolution in the East Midlands.

In the afternoon delegates will visit the market town of Bawtry. The journey will continue to West Stockwith where the River Idle and Chesterfield Canal join the Trent and return through Misterton to see the oval walled enclosure of the church.


Organised by the Derbyshire Archaeological Society and held on Saturday 13th October 2012 in Retford.

The conference programme:

09:30 Registration with tea/coffee

10:00 Welcome and Introduction

10:05 Retford: An Introduction to its history and development

10:35 Transport by sea, river and canal in the Trent Valley

11:20 Break

11:30 The trade of the Trent Valley

12:30 EMIAC Business Meeting

12:45 Buffet lunch

14:00 Site visits by coach to Bawtry, Gringley and West Stockwith.

16:30 Tea.

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image from the EMIAC84 leaflet showing trading ships on the river
Trading ships on the river taken.

Images courtesy of the Derbyshire Archaological Society.

Conference Report

Malcolm Dolby

The medieaval new town of East Retford was founded during the reign of Henry I in 1105. It received a number of charters the first when Henry III granted the right to hold a fair. Although some believe this charter was granted in 1246, Dolby firmly believes the correct date to be 1259. The town was Incorporated during the reign of James I in 1607.

Major Cartwright set up a worsted mill in 1788 known as the Revolution Mill. It employed 600 workers. The railways came in 1849 providing links to Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln.

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Philip Riden

Philip Riden presented his as yet unpublished research into the trade from, and into, the Trent Valley.

In the first lecture entitled Stage Waggons, Barges & Narrow Boats in the East Midlands, Riden considered the transport modes: clearly in the early days the only available modes were road or river. As today, there was a clear distinction between the local carriers and the long distance carriers, the latter operating services to the North-east, East Anglia, London and occasionally to the North-west. Whilst the canals offered an alternative transport mode, their limited routes and the lack of interconnections between them limited their appeal.

In his second presentation Riden presented his results on the goods being traded through the principal port of Gainsborough. He considered not only the type and quantities but also the variation during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Perhaps surprisingly, the most important export during period was cheese.

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In the afternoon delegates visited the market town of Bawtry to see some of the remains of the old town. Looking northwards from Gringley Beacon three of Yorkshire's major power stations could be seen: Drax, Eggborough, and Ferrybridge. Nearer to home the chimney of the old brickworks was clearly visible. The journey continued to West Stockwith where the River Idle and Chesterfield Canal join the Trent.

Returning through Misterton the oval walled enclosure of the church could be seen; the route continued over the tunnel carrying the Chesterfield canal to Retford. Thanks are due to Malcolm Dolby for an excellent commentary throughout the journey.

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Additional material

None proffered.

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Images taken during the visit

a Dutch-style gable in Bawtry
A Dutch-style gable in Bawtry.
delegates on Gringley Beacon
Delegates on Gringley Beacon.
the exit lock where the Chesterfield Canal enters the River Trent
Exit lock where the Chesterfield Canal enters the River Trent.
looking over the River Trent towards West Burton Power station
Looking over the River Trent towards West Burton Power station.

Images courtesy of Terry and Jane Waterfield taken during the visit.

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