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Stone used in the construction of Worcester Cathedral was said to have been transported from Highley by river, and much later, in 1850, stone was carried by trow as far as Bristol for use in the construction of the Clifton Bridge. Chepstow Bridge, designed by Brunel, was manufactured and its sections transported by trow from Bridgnorth . Salt from the mines in Droitwich was loaded onto the boats not in sacks but by the barrowload. Rumour had it that such loads of salt were delivered as far afield as France by sailing barge. It is also said that in the 19th century special steam engines were built to order at Ironbridge and transported via the Severn, the canal system and across the seas to Martinique specifically for threshing sugar cane. In earlier centuries the River Severn was one of the busiest commercial routes, well known not only in this country but also throughout Europe. Severn clay was used for the production of the famous chinaware at places such as Coalport .
Ironbridge, as its name implies, was known throughout the world for the massive constructions in iron carried out there by some of the worlds most famous engineers, two of whom, Richard Trevithick and John Urpeth Rastrick are commemorated on a clocktower in Bridgnorth. It is ironic that these two collaborated to build the first passenger locomotive engine in 1808, since it was the introduction of the railways and the construction of the Severn Valley Railway that marked the decline of river trade on the River Severn. The earlier advent of the canal however made Stourport world-renowned for its boatbuilding, and the riverboats built in Stourport were operated to all parts from Bewdley.
The bridges over the River Severn are of immense variety; some have been rebuilt or replaced many times over the centuries. Some were designed by world-famous bridge builders such as Brunel ( Chepstow ) or John Gwynne ( Worcester ), Thomas Telford ( Bewdley and Holt Fleet ), others are of far more modest construction. Always a fast-flowing river prone to flooding, the Severn has been responsible for washing away several of its bridges over the centuries. In fact in the floods of l872, all the Severn bridges were supposed to have been damaged.
In recent times the riverbank was undermined to such an extent that sections of the Severn Valley Railway track near Coalport were washed into the river. Measures have since been taken to prevent flooding by building up embankments. In the 1960s the Clywedog dam was constructed on the upper reaches of the river in Wales in an effort to regulate the flow, and to relieve the flooding in Shrewsbury, with gauging station just above Bewdley . However, due to changing world weather conditions, the volume of water is ever-increasing and there is still severe flooding not only in Shrewsbury but at Bewdley , which suffers badly when the water rises high enough to flood the riverside dwellings. In Worcester, too, the New Road Cricket Ground is still frequently under several feet of water. Excessively high river levels are recorded on the wall by the watergate below Worcester Cathedral, the highest in more recent times being in March 1947, but with flood levels still being recorded in the l980/90s.
The large colony of swans that inhabits the area around Worcester's South Quay take great delight in swimming on the flooded banks below the cathedral at such times. The number of swans dwindled to single figures in the 1990s, but thanks to the action of the swan rescue group in Droitwich, many swans who had been injured by flying into power cables or swallowing fishing weights or hooks were nursed back to health and released into the river below Worcester Cathedral, where their numbers have increased enormously.