|• location||nr. Redgrave, Suffolk|
|• elevation||25 m (82 ft)|
|Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, UK|
|0 m (0 ft)|
|Length||58.75 mi (94.55 km)|
|Basin size||339 sq mi (880 km2)|
|• right||River Dove|
The River Waveney is a river which forms the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk, England, for much of its length within The Broads. The "ey" part of the name means "river" thus the name is tautological.
The source of the River Waveney is a ditch on the east side of the B1113 road between the villages of Redgrave, Suffolk and South Lopham, Norfolk. The ditch on the other side of the road is the source of the River Little Ouse which continues the county boundary and, via the Great Ouse, reaches the sea at King's Lynn. It is thus claimed that during periods of heavy rainfall Norfolk can be considered to be an island. The explanation of this oddity is that the valley in which the rivers rise was formed not by these rivers, but by water spilling from the periglacial lake known as Lake Fenland. This was a periglacial lake of the Devensian glacial period, fifteen or twenty thousand years ago. The ice sheet closed the natural drainage from the Vale of Pickering, the Humber and The Wash so that a lake of a complex shape formed in the Vale of Pickering, the Yorkshire Ouse valley, the lower Trent valley and the Fenland basin. This valley was its spillway into the southern North Sea basin, thence to the English Channel basin.
The river rises close to the 82-foot (25 m) contour, and flows in an easterly direction though the towns of Diss, Bungay and Beccles. From its source it forms the southern boundary of Bressingham and Roydon before it reaches Diss. At Scole it is crossed by the course of a Roman road, with the modern A140 bypass just to the east. There is a weir at Billingford and Billingford Windmill is situated a little to the north of the river. Beyond Billingford Bridge the River Dove, flowing northwards from Eye, joins on the southern bank, the Mid Suffolk Footpath crosses and the river drops below the 66-foot (20 m) contour at another weir. It turns to the north-east to reach Brockdish and Needham before passing to the south of Harleston. There are several lakes on the south bank, the largest covering 100 acres (40 ha), which were once Weybread Gravel Pits, but are now used for fishing.
Below the lakes are the remains of a Cluniac priory and the extensive drained area of Mendham Marshes. Mendham, which is the birthplace of the artist Alfred Munnings, lies on the Suffolk bank, Wortwell is in Norfolk, and Homersfield is again in Suffolk. In 1869, Homersfield Bridge, one of the first bridges to be constructed from concrete and iron was built across the river here. It was commissioned by Sir Shafto Adair, had a span of 50 feet (15 m) and predated the introduction of true reinforced concrete by several years. It is now the oldest concrete bridge in England and is a Grade II* listed structure. Road traffic was diverted onto a new bridge in 1970 and the former structure was acquired by Norfolk County Council in 1994. They passed it on to the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust, which managed its restoration in 1995, which was funded by grants from English Heritage, Blue Circle Industries and councils at county, district and local level. Opposite Homersfield, on the Norfolk side of the river lie the parishes of Alburgh, Denton and Earsham. Next on the Suffolk bank is Flixton the site of a World War II USAF bomber base and the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum. At Earsham the Otter Trust had one of its three UK centres, which opened in 1978 and closed in 2006, having successfully boosted otter numbers on the river.
At Bungay, the historic head of navigation, the Waveney forms a wide oxbow meander, carrying with it the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Within this loop lies the long-established Bungay and Waveney Valley golf course. Next, on the Norfolk bank, come Ditchingham, Broome and Ellingham before Geldeston, where an isolated pub stands next to the site of a lock, now replaced by a sluice. This is the current limit of navigation for craft larger than a rowing or paddling boat and at this point the Waveney becomes a tidal river. A short way further along is a dyke that leads to the village. On the Suffolk side are found the parishes of Mettingham. Shipmeadow and Barsham. On the Norfolk side Gillingham comes next before the river gathers waters at Beccles, as it enters the Broads. Although the old town bridge here restricts navigation to craft with an air draft of less than 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m), its quay beyond that abruptly changes the nature of the river from a gentle rural feature to a gateway to the North Sea. Beccles was a fishing port for many years and the parents of Lord Nelson were married in the church of St Michael. The river then meanders past Barnby Broad and Marshes SSSI and Burgh St Peter to Somerleyton. Here Oulton Dyke branches off the Waveney to Oulton Broad towards Lowestoft. A sea lock, known as Mutford Lock, divides fresh from seawater and links Oulton Broad with Lake Lothing and the North Sea. This lock is operated by Sentinel Enterprises Limited and will allow traffic to pass through.
At Somerleyton the Lowestoft to Norwich railway line crosses the Waveney on a swing bridge, while at St Olaves, the Haddiscoe Cut branches off left to connect the Rivers Yare and Waveney. The Cut was excavated in the 19th century to provide a direct route between Lowestoft Docks and Norwich. Finally the Waveney flows past Burgh Castle into Breydon Water at the confluence of the two rivers. The river Yare continues through Breydon Water to reach the sea at Great Yarmouth.
There was a special version of the Norfolk wherry in use on the Waveney, with boats measuring no more than 70 by 16 feet (21 by 5 m). There were also steam wherries.
Daniel Defoe enlivens this account of the Waveney's Broads course:
The River Waveney is a considerable river, and of a deep and full channel, navigable for large barges as high as Beccles; it runs for a course of about fifty miles, between the two counties of Suffolk and Norfolk, as a boundary to both; and pushing on, tho' with a gentle stream, towards the sea, no one would doubt, but, that when they see the river growing broader and deeper, and going directly towards the sea, even to the edge of the beach; that is to say, within a mile of the main ocean; no stranger, I say, but would expect to see its entrance into the sea at that place, and a noble harbour for ships at the mouth of it; when on a sudden, the land rising high by the sea-side, crosses the head of the river, like a dam, checks the whole course of it, and it returns, bending its course west, for two miles, or thereabouts; and then turning north, thro' another long course of meadows (joining to those just now mention'd) seeks out the River Yare, that it may join its water with hers, and find their way to the sea together.
In common with most of the rivers of Suffolk and Norfolk, the Waveney is relatively flat, falling around 67 feet (20 m) on the section between Hoxne Mill, near to its junction with the River Dove, and Beccles Bridge, where the river is tidal. These points are 25 miles (40 km) apart, giving an average fall of 1 in 1,970. Despite these factors, the river has powered at least 15 mills, evidence for some of which indicates that the river has been used for this purpose for over 900 years. Most milled corn for flour or animal feed, but some were used for other purposes. Of those that remain, all are in private ownership.
The mill furthest upstream was Scole Flax Mill, although it was not a watermill, being powered by steam. It was built by C.F. Costerton in 1854, in an attempt to alleviate poverty during the agricultural depressions of the 1840s, which followed the cessation of war with France. He persuaded farmers to grow flax, and provided the facilities to process it, both at the mill and at a factory in Eye run by his business partner Peter Naylor. The flax was grown for its fibres, which were used to make linen sheeting, sacking and rope, and for its seeds, from which linseed oil was obtained. Production was encouraged by presenting a cup each year to the farmer who had produced the highest yield on 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land. With the mill affected by a decline in local supplies and overseas competition, it closed in 1881, after which the machinery was removed and the buildings demolished.
The first watermill was at Hoxne. The present building was erected in 1846, and consists of a brick ground floor, with two storeys above that which are timber framed and weatherboarded, and a slate roof. It replaced a structure built in 1749, but that was not the first mill at Hoxne, since a mill is shown on Kirby's map of Suffolk, dated 1736, and two mills are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, although this probably meant that there were two sets of stones. The last two buildings were variously used for milling corn, the production of textiles, and for processing flax at different points in their history. The mill ceased to be used after it was sold in 1968, but retains its wheel and some of the machinery. Both the mill and the adjacent house are grade II listed structures.
Syleham Mill is first mentioned in connection with some monks from near Thetford, who founded a monastery in 1020. The final structure to occupy the site was built some time after 1779. Initially it had six sets of stones and two wheels, powered by a 6-foot (1.8 m) fall in the river, but in 1849, Henry Warne moved his business from Hoxne Mill to Syleham, and used the mill to power looms on which a coarse cloth made from linen and cotton called drabbet was woven. 96 people were employed there in 1855, but although manufacture of drabbet ceased in 1914, the adjacent factory continued to be used for the making of clothing. The mill and part of the factory were destroyed by fire in 1928, but the factory was rebuilt, and continued to produce men's garments until 1989, when it was closed with the loss of 100 jobs. The next mill was Luck's Mill, about which very little is known, but it was shown on Kirby's map of 1736, and was demolished in the 1880s or 1890s.
Needham Mill also had ecclesiastical connections, as it was owned by Sibson Abbey, a Cistercian abbey founded in 1150. It was sold in 1611, and appears on Kirby's map of 1736. Although known as Needham Mill, it is on the Suffolk side of the river, in the parish of Weybread. Milling continued until 1934, when the mill was sold. The ironwork and wheel were sold for scrap in 1940, and it was converted into a house in 1971. The weir and sluice were rebuilt in 1963 at a cost of £12,714. The work created a gauging station for flow measurement, and increased the capacity of the channels to reduce the risk of flooding. Weybread mill is also noted in the Domesday survey. Both Needham and Weybread were run by William Mann in 1779, and Weybread mill was run by a miller and baker called Jacob Stanton from 1785. He became bankrupt in 1794, and the sale details indicate that there were two wheels driving five pairs of stones, and a newly invented water-powered engine for cutting hay and straw. Details from its sale in 1918 indicate that one wheel was 20 feet (6.1 m) in diameter by 12 feet (3.7 m) wide, making it the biggest wheel on the Waveney, while the other was 16 feet (4.9 m) in diameter. It had five storeys, and sold for £1,250, but burnt down two years later and was not rebuilt.
Mendham had a mill in 1086, although the present building was constructed in 1807, and was extended in 1871, when a 25 hp (19 kW) grasshopper beam engine was installed to supplement the water wheel, which only had a fall of 3 feet 6 inches (1.1 m), when water levels were low. The machinery was modernised in 1905, when the number of stones was reduced from nine to four, to make way for a roller plant. The beam engine was replaced in 1923, having been driven and maintained for over 50 years by Jimmy Souter. During this time it never broke down, and Souter died once it was dismantled. It was replaced by a Lister diesel engine, and then a Ruston and Hornsby engine. Part of the building was converted into a house in 1938, and the mill continued to operate until 1949. The rights to use the water were given up in the 1950s, in exchange for the provision of mains electricity to the premises. Both the mill and the house are grade II listed. There may also have been a paper mill at Mendham, but the evidence is inconclusive.
Limbourne Mill in Wortwell is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was owned by the Benedictine Nunnery at Bungay. It appears in documents from 1334, 1356 and 1364, and in 1846 it was noted in a history of Suffolk that Limbourne would be unknown were it not for the water mill, which was called Limber Mill at the time. It continued in use until at least 1933, but was unused by 1949. Some of the original machinery survives, and the mill is grade II listed. Homersfield Mill is attested in 1086 and by documents from every century from the fourteenth onwards. The river bank by the weir collapsed in the early 1920s, and was not repaired, resulting in the mill and cottage deteriorating and being demolished in 1927.
The Environment Agency measures the water quality of the river systems in England. Each is given an overall ecological status, which may be one of five levels: high, good, moderate, poor and bad. There are several components that are used to determine this, including biological status, which looks at the quantity and varieties of invertebrates, angiosperms and fish. Chemical status, which compares the concentrations of various chemicals against known safe concentrations, is rated good or fail.
The water quality of the River Waveney system was as follows in 2019.
|Section||Ecological Status||Chemical Status||Length||Catchment||Channel|
|Tributary of Upper Waveney||Moderate||Fail||3.5 miles (5.6 km)||8.29 square miles (21.5 km2)|
|Waveney (u/s Frenze Beck)||Moderate||Fail||6.5 miles (10.5 km)||17.24 square miles (44.7 km2)|
|Frenze Beck||Moderate||Fail||7.3 miles (11.7 km)||14.51 square miles (37.6 km2)|
|Waveney (Frenze Beck to Dove)||Moderate||Fail||3.5 miles (5.6 km)||5.08 square miles (13.2 km2)|
|Tributary of Waveney||Moderate||Fail||11.0 miles (17.7 km)||18.58 square miles (48.1 km2)|
|Metfield Stream||Moderate||Fail||4.3 miles (6.9 km)||4.55 square miles (11.8 km2)||heavily modified|
|The Beck||Moderate||Fail||3.3 miles (5.3 km)||15.09 square miles (39.1 km2)|
|Waveney (R Dove - Starston Brook)||Moderate||Fail||12.0 miles (19.3 km)||17.82 square miles (46.2 km2)||heavily modified|
|Starston Brook||Moderate||Fail||5.0 miles (8.0 km)||6.74 square miles (17.5 km2)|
|Broome Beck||Moderate||Fail||8.1 miles (13.0 km)||18.38 square miles (47.6 km2)||heavily modified|
|Waveney (Starston Brook - Ellingham Mill)||Moderate||Fail||12.9 miles (20.8 km)||24.08 square miles (62.4 km2)||heavily modified|
|Waveney (Ellingham Mill - Burgh St. Peter)||Moderate||Fail||12.6 miles (20.3 km)||46.38 square miles (120.1 km2)||heavily modified|
|Bure & Waveney & Yare & Lothing||Moderate||Fail||heavily modified|
The reasons for the quality being less than good include sewage discharge affecting most of the river, physical modification of channels, and poor management of agricultural and rural land adjacent to the river system.
(Links to map resources)
|OS Grid Ref||Notes|
|Bungay||TM341898||Old head of navigation|
|Geldeston||TM393911||Current head of navigation|
|Jn with Oulton Dyke||TM500943||to Lowestoft harbour|
|Jn with Haddiscoe Cut||TM456989||to River Yare|
|Jn with Breydon Water||TG471046||Mouth|