THE current rumpus around proposals to build on the flat riverside meadows in the Northwick area of Worcester provides an ideal excuse to dip once again into our copious historical files on the Severn,  the ancient waterway which is the very reason for the city’s existence.

The river has always been an integral part of local life, whether through business or pleasure, and one of the oldest images we have is of the water frozen over in Victorian times and a large number of people taking the opportunity to use it as a giant skating rink.

Which is probably an interesting comment on the era, for were such to happen today, I doubt whether that many households would be able to instantly pull a couple of pairs of ice skates from the top of the wardrobe.

Of course, the river, either frozen or not, has been a valuable leisure resource for citizens ever since two cavemen sat on hollow logs and had a paddling race down it while their mates were out hunting and gathering.

From 1914 comes a remarkable image of a group of divers performing stunts during that summer’s Worcester Regatta, all wearing rather more than Tom Daley does today. 

While from a few years later, and with the contestants similarly attired, there is the start of a long distance swim with about half the population of Worcester turning out to watch. Obviously not much on TV that afternoon.

River swimming was a popular pastime before the city had its own purpose built baths and the in-place to go  were the bathing barges, which were upstream of the city centre in the Barbourne/Northwich area.

These were set into the riverbank and provided a stable and easy, if rather rudimentary, entry point into the water. Not far away was the Barbourne Ferry, a steam powered crossing that offered a swift trip across the water to the Hallow area.

At the top end of Pitchcroft stood the old, ivy-clad tower of the 18th century water works, which was a feature of this part of the city for a couple of centuries. It was really an elevated water tank on the top of the tower.

Water from the Severn was pumped to it by a waterwheel and, from the top, then flowed by gravitation to the central reservoir in The Trinity.

The water tower supplied water until 1858, when the city’s new waterworks in Waterworks Road took over, but the tower itself remained until the 1950s The river, hopefully, will go on forever.