River Churnet

From Wikishire
Jump to: navigation, search
A narrowboat entering the Churnet at Oak Meadow Ford lock

The River Churnet is a river of Staffordshire, which ultimately is a tributary of the River Dove.

The origins of the name "Churnet" are unknown, though it is thought to derive from the pre-English, British-language name for the river.[1]


The source of the river is located over1000 feet above sea level in the Staffordshire Moorlands, near to the Gritstone escarpment of the Roaches, and next to the A53 Leek to Buxton road. The source is very close to the east-west watershed: while the waters of the Churnet flow, through the Dove and the Trent, to the North Sea, just a few hundred yards from the source rises the Black Brook, which, by way of the Dane and Weaver, flows into the Irish Sea.

From the Roaches, the infant Churnet flows down for a few miles to the Tittesworth Reservoir, a major supplier of fresh water to the Potteries and Leek.[2] The stream leaving the dam at Tittesworth flows into the ancient market town of Leek, where it was used until quite recently in the manufacture of dyes that were used in the town's textile and silk industries.[3] South of Cheddleton, the river flows through the Churnet Valley, an area of outstanding beauty with ancient woodland, an abundance of wildlife and industrial heritage.

The Caldon Canal joins the river at Oak Meadow Ford Lock, 2 miles on from Cheddleton and river and canal are one until Consall Forge, where the canal goes its own way again. The Churnet continues through the valley, past ancient woodland and the Bolton Copper works at Froghall, then through the villages of Oakamoor and Alton. It flows past the JCB factory at Rocester and shortly afterwards the River Churnet discarges its waters into the River Dove near the hamlet of Combridge. The Dove here marks the end of Staffordshire at its border with Derbyshire.

The Churnet Valley

The course of the River from Cheddleton to Rocester runs through the Churnet Valley, which has been known as Staffordshire's Rhineland.[4] Throughout the valley there are steep gorges and banks, with an abundance of woodland and Wildlife. There are several woods owned by the National Trust and the RSPB.


The Churnet has been heavily influenced by industry along its length for nearly a thousand years and as a result became possibly the most polluted river in Britain.[5] The river was heavily used in Leek by the textile industry to make dyes. The dyeing industry was established in 1734 and it was claimed that the water from the Churnet was the finest in the land for this purpose.[6] In nearby Cheddleton the Churnet was used to power a flint mill that ground down flint for use in the pottery industry. Further downriver at Froghall and at Oakamoor the Thomas Bolton Copper works used the power of the Churnet to help manufacture the world's first transatlantic telegraph cables.[7] The processes involved in manufacturing copper wire at the sites caused high levels of pollution.

The Churnet Valley was heavily involved in the iron smelting industry and it is documented from as long ago as 1290 that iron was smelted using the river as its main source of energy.[8] The early forges were at East Wall,near to Oakamoor but a later forge is still standing at Consall, next to the locks on the Caldon Canal.

The Caldon Canal runs with the river through the Churnet Valley and along parts the river is canalised. There was intensive freight traffic on the waterway transporting limestone and ironstone from the wharves on the canal.

Today the only industrial use of the river is by the sand quarry at Oakamoor.

Since the decline of industry in Leek and the Churnet Valley, the quality of the water has improved so much that a programme of re-introducing Salmon is underway.[9]

Outside links


  1. [1] The Staffordshire Encyclopedia,retrieval date:31-01-08
  2. Severn Trent Water, Tittesworth Water facts and figures retrieval date:01-02-09
  3. Exploring The Potteries Industrial Sites, Textiles in Leek retrieval date:30-01-09
  4. Staffordshire County Council,The Staffordshire Way retrieval date:02-02-09
  5. BBC News, Salmon re-introduced to the River Churnet
  6. D G Stewart, M W Greenslade (1965). A History Of Staffordshire (1st ed.). Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-071-1. 
  7. Peak Experience,A Guide to The Peak District retrieval date:02-02-09
  8. Chester, Herbert (2002). Churnet Valley Iron, The Mills and The Mines (2nd ed.). Landmark Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-84306-011-6. 
  9. BBC News, Salmon re-introduced to the River Churnet

Coordinates: 52°56′N 1°51′W / 52.933°N 1.85°W / 52.933; -1.85