Before the bridges, travellers would have to travel north to Gloucester to cross the water, or use the Aust Ferry.
The Severn, the longest river in Britain, has the second largest tidal range. Probably twice a year, at the highest tides, the large volume of tide water, being funnelled between narrowing river banks forms a continual wave. This tidal bore travels miles upstream, and has become famous, attracting canoeists and surfers who try to travel its length.
The village of Sudbrook is home to a pumping station which extracts huge amounts of water from a railway tunnel running under the Severn. The tunnel was commenced in 1873 with the engineers encountering problems over a series of years. Trains would be unable to travel through this tunnel without the vital pumping machinery, draining millions of gallons of water. The source of the water is not the Severn but a water source on the Welsh bank of the river known as "The Great Spring."
|Sudbrook Pumping Station|
|Images of the old pumping station, now electrified|
During construction this Great Spring flooded the tunnel. During its reclamation, Alexander Lambert entered the tunnel in a diving suit with an air tank on his back. The first time this was done. Previously air hoses had been connected between the diver and the land, or a boat, but the distance through the tunnel was too far.
Derek Upton was employed at Llanwern steelworks. All his spare time was spent bird watching on the mud flats of the Severn. A very dangerous place with sink holes, severe currents, and rapid tidal shifts.
When he saw footprints fossilised in the rock under the liquid mud, he reported his findings to the University of Wales. Students and professors came from around the UK to see the phenomena. When the earth's water levels were much lower, our ancestors lived and hunted there amongst woodland. At low tide the remains of these trees can still be found. Further research around the coasts of Britain has revealed further examples of fossilised footprints in the mud.
Ironbridge, located on the banks of the Severn, is now, a World Heritage site. Although not in Wales, its well worth a visit with ten industrial museums mostly within walking distance of each other, along the banks of canals and the river. Unfortunately these museums, unlike those in Wales, are not free.
Coalport porcelain, ceramic wall tile, and clay pipe (the smoking, not the drainage kind) museums reveal manufacturing methods as well as examples of their wares. A Victorian village allows you to visit shops and premises of the time and purchase goods using old currency.
This variety of goods were transported from Ironbridge by boat along the Severn, 160 miles to Bristol docks for export.
Tsunami or Adverse Weather Conditions ?
In 1606 a giant wave swept along the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary. At a height of 25 feet above the normal level, the water flooded four miles inland on the Welsh side and fourteen miles into Somerset. 2,000 people died and many lost their belongings, including merchandise at Bristol docks.
The jury is out as to whether this disaster was caused by a tsunami or just a particularly high tide accompanied by weather conditions. The strange phenomena was accompanied by a windy but sunny day.
Travelling along the M4 between Newport and Cardiff you can look down on the flatlands extending to the estuary. Its easy to see that once the water broke over the coastline, there would be no barrier until the ridge which now supports the M4.
The following piece detailing the flood, is constructed from samples of text, some modern, but some dating from, and using the English of the 1600s.
“about nine of the clocke in the morning,
the Sunne being most fayrely and brightly spred.”
A clear sky at the heart of a storm.
Inhabitants prepared themselves to their affayres.
But it was to be a sad day.
overflowed his ordinary Bankes.
Sudden floods hit Somerset and the Welsh coast.
Described as the worst natural disaster to hit Britain.
Is it “God’s warning to the people of England
by the great overflowing of the waters or floods”?
this tide was exceptional
due to the sun and moon both overhead at the equator
and the moon closest to the Earth.
faster than a greyhound can run.” At speeds of 30 miles an hour
and a height of 25ft it swept 4 miles inland;
14 in areas of Somerset.
A tsunami from an Irish earthquake
stacking boulders like dominoes.
Appearing like myriads of thousands of arrows
had been shot forth all at one time.
where cellars and warehouses of merchandise were spoiled.
People of the Towne were inforced to be carried in Boates,
by and downe the said Cittie about their business.
was undermined and destroyed.
although living 4 miles from the sea and seeing its approach
she was drowned, unable to reach the stairs.
A sixty tonne ship ready to sail
was driven aground well above high tide.
it seems there was still optimism...
having taken a tree,
espying nothing but death
at last perceived a tubbe of great bigness.
It rested upon the tree and they committed themselves
and were carried safe until cast upon the drie shore.
“Many men that were rich in the morning
when they rose out of their beds,
were made poore before noone the same day.”