The River Soar is a major tributary of the River Trent and is the principal river of Leicestershire. The source of the river is midway between Hinckley and Lutterworth, it then flows north through Leicester where it is joined by the Grand Union Canal, and continues through the Leicestershire Soar Valley, passing Loughborough, and Kegworth until it reaches the Trent at the county boundary.
In the 18th century the Soar was made navigable, initially between Loughborough, and the Trent, and then through to Leicester. It was not until the early 19th century, that it was linked by the Grand Union Canal to the wider network to the south and to London.
According to a legend, the body of King Richard III was thrown into the Soar after his death at Bosworth Field, after he had first been interned in Leicester. This legend has since been disprovem, as King Richard's body was in 2013 recovered from the site of the old Blackfriars Abbey in Leicester and identified by University of Leicester experts. The bridge carrying the A47 across the Soar at Leicester is known as 'King Richard's Bridge'. King Richard III crossed the Soar on his way to battle at Bosworth Field in the county of Leicestershire in 1485 and after his death in that battle, his body was carried back across the river to be buried in Leicester.
The nme 'Soar' is of unknown origin. It is believed to predate the Anglo-Saxon period and thus to be form the British language or even a pre-Celtic name, perhaps meaning "Flowing One".
Course of the river
The Soar rises near Wibtoft in Warwickshire, and flows north to join the Soar Brook near Sharnford, it then continues in a north-easterly direction, passing through Croft and between Narborough and Littlethorpe, until on the outskirts of Leicester it is joined by the Sence near Enderby.
The Soar meets the Grand Union Canal at Aylestone, where it is also joined by the River Biam, and enters the City of Leicester. After passing over Freemens Weir, the river splits and recombines with the canal, creating an area of Leicester called Bede Island. The navigable arm that runs to the east has been canalised with parallel banks and is known as ‘The Mile Straight’. Beyond Blackfriars, the river splits again to form Frog Island and Abbey Park, it recombines at Belgrave, where it passes beside the National Space Centre.
Once out of the city the Soar passes Birstall and threads its way through the lakes of Watermead Country Park, until it reaches Wanlip. The river then meets the once navigable River Wreake, near Cossington Mill, with another tributary the Rothley Brook, joining the river just downstream.
The Soar continues north-east to reach Mountsorrel then passes between Quorn and Barrow-on-Soar, at which point an arm of the canal extends into Loughborough, although the river passes to the East of the town at Cotes. Downstream of Stanford on Soar the river forms the county boundary between Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Between Stanford and Normanton on Soar, the canal rejoins the river, which then continues to Zouch, passing the ‘Devils Elbow’ to reach Kegworth.
- 1634 Thomas Skipworth of Cotes obtained a grant from Charles I to make the river Soar "portable for barges and boats", though the scheme was never completed.
- 1794 The Leicester Canal was opened, making the Soar navigable for almost 40 miles. The western line was also opened, known as the Charnwood Forest Branch, though most was made up of rail tracks rather than a waterway.
- 1795 Another branch line (operated by a separate company) opened from the main line of the Leicester Canal (between Cossington and Syston) to Melton Mowbray. The line was 15 miles long and used the River Wreake for virtually the whole of its course. The line was sometimes known as the Wreake Navigation, though it is better known as the Melton Mowbray Navigation.
- 1796 While the lines to Leicester and Melton Mowbray were doing very well, trade on the Charnwood Forest Branch was very slow to pick up. The company even put on demonstrations in an attempt to encourage its use. With no real success being gained from this the company went into the coal carrying and selling business itself.
- 1797 A proposal to extend the main line of the Leicester Canal much further south was announced. A new canal, the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal, would link the river Soar with the River Nene. Money ran out before the imagination did and the line reached just 17 of the proposed 44 miles, ending at Debdale Wharf near Kibworth Beauchamp.
- 1802 The Oakham Canal opened after costing almost £70,000 to build. It was 15 miles long, with 19 broad locks. Boats could now travel onto the River Soar from Rutland.
- 1809 The main line of the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Canal was extended from its resting place near Kibworth Beauchamp to Market Harborough where once again the work came to a stop. All the same, it was now a considerable navigation, linking the south of Leicestershire to the river Trent. However, there was still no link to the Grand Junction Canal.
- 1810 By now ideas of connecting Leicester to Northampton seemed pointless. The Grand Junction Canal was running a tramway into Northampton and would surely soon convert this to a full navigation. The obvious thing to do now was to connect the Leicester navigations to the Grand Junction Canal.
- 1814 The new link between the Leicester navigations and the Grand Junction Canal opened and was named the Grand Union Canal (not to be confused with the later canal route of the same name).
- 1832 The Leicester and Swannington Railway opened from the Leicestershire coalfield to a wharf alongside the canal at West Bridge, Leicester. This allowed Leicestershire coal to be cheaply carried on southwards for sale in London.
- 1848 The owners of the River Soar Navigation were finally able to officially abandon the Charnwood Forest Branch which had stood idle since 1801.
- 1877 After 80 years, the Melton Mowbray (or Wreake) Navigation also closed, leaving Melton Mowbray with no waterway outlet to the main canal system.
- 1894 – The Grand Union and the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union canals were purchased by the Grand Junction Canal Company.
- 1931 – The whole stretch of waterway from Norton Junction through to Leicester and on to Long Eaton was merged with the Grand Junction Canal to form the Grand Union Canal.
History of the industry and development along the river
The River Soar before the late 1700 was too small and shallow to allow navigation of barges. This was partially solved by the construction of the Leicester canal which allowed the Soar to be navigable for almost about 40|miles. The expansion of the canal meant that industry could start to develop along the canal side, with the transport provided by the canal being “vital to the industry” (Grand Union Canal Company). This included buildings and industries like “wind and watermills; brewing and malting; bridges; canal and railway structures; public utilities.”
“By 1895, there were 231 listed hosiery manufacturers in the county. In Leicester, the industry employed 10% of the population in 1851, and around 7% in 1881 and 1911”. This shows the importance of hosiery to Leicester’s economy. This industry needed a consistent supply of water and needed transport links, so was located alongside the canal. Due to the excellent transport links provided by the Grand Union Canal, the Hosiery industry was able to expand rapidly.
Many of these factories however soon outgrew themselves, moving to new larger sites, which vacated space for other trades such as boot and shoe manufacture, printing or box making.
Railway competition in the nineteenth century reduced canal profits. This was the beginning of the end for many of the companies who owned the canals; several of these companies converted their canals to railways while many of the others were bought out by railway companies looking to expand their businesses.
With the decline of industry in the 1960s, the warehouses and factories which were once the core of Leicester’s economy had fallen into dereliction. The Leicester Regeneration Company has sought to redevelop the areas with luxury waterside apartments. Old warehouses have also been converted into student accommodation for De Montfort University increasing the value of the area.
On the eastern bank of the Soar in central Leicester are the premises of Donisthorpe and Company, a producer of textiles. The Donisthorpe Mill, also known as Friars' Mill, is one of the oldest mills in the East Midlands, and manufacturing activity has occurred on its site since the 1730s. The Mill was awarded listed status in 1975. A number of surrounding buildings, including a Victorian pump house, were also listed at this time. The Donisthorpe Company left the factory in 1983, which led to immediate concerns about the mill's conservation. The building stood empty for a number of years, and fell into a state of disrepair. In July 2012, a fire destroyed its roof, clocktower and most of the interior. In November 2012, Leicester City Council announced its decision to purchase and restore the Donisthorpe Mill building.
The Soar is now a hive of tourism rather than of industry. Holiday narrowboat cruises are extremely popular as it is a relaxing way to visit the country and get ‘in-touch’ with nature. The tow-paths next to the canal are used for “cycling, rambling, horse-riding and picnicking” (Leicester City Council, 2005).
The waterway is a popular location for match and occasional fishing. There are large carp, chub, bream, roach, and perch in the canal, plus dace and barbel on some stretches.
The stretch of the River Soar which passes through the centre of Leicester known as the 'Mile Straight' is home to Leicester Rowing Club a rowing and sculling club formed in 1882. The club hosts their annual Regatta on the River Soar typically held in mid-April which sees competitors from all over the United Kingdom race over a 700-metre course. The club insignia is based on the mythical Wyvern, which has historical connections to Leicester.
The club is located in a custom built boathouse, which also houses some of the boats and equipment of De Montfort University Rowing Club and University of Leicester Boat Club. The universities annual varsity boat race takes place on the River Soar in March and a large amount of their boat training for competition takes place on the Soar throughout the academic year.
A canalised section of the River Soar in Leicester runs along the outer area of De Montfort University campus, and is where the Varsity Rowing Race between De Montfort University and Leicester University is held every year, with students from the two universities and the public lining the route.
- King Leir of Britain is said to have been buried by his daughter Cordelia in an underground chamber beneath the River Soar near Leicester
- Around 1536, following the dissolution of the Church of the Grey Friars in Leicester, it was claimed that the remains of Richard III were thrown into the Soar, since he was believed to have been interred in the church. In 2013, however, it was confirmed that the skeleton discovered in a 2012 archaeological dig at the site of the abbey was that of Richard III.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
about River Soar)
- Neaverson 2001
- "Donisthorpe and Company Limited Factory Building Overlooking River Soar". http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1361410. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
- "English Heritage: limited range of three Donisthorpe buildings". http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1074058. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
- "Pump House, Friar's Mill". http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1250015. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
- 'Oldest factory 'must be preserved', Leicester Mercury, 1983
- Fire at Leicester's former Donisthorpe and Co factory, BBC News, 23 July 2012.
- Photographs of the pre-fire interior
- Alabaster, J (1960) The Effect of a Sewage Effluent on the Distribution of Oxygen and Fish in a Stream,
- River Soar - British Waterways (2006)
- Grand Union Canal Company (1932) Arteries Of Commerce: Grand Union Canal, Gloucester Printers, Gloucester
- [ http://web.archive.org/web/20061004025634/http://www.canals.btinternet.co.uk/canals/leicesterandsoar.htm Hardcastle, P (2003), Leicester and Soar Navigations]
- Murphy, K., Eaton, J (1983), Effects of Pleasure-Boat Traffic on Macrophyte Growth in Canals, Journal of Applied Ecology, 20, 713-729.
- Leicester Environmental Partnership - Nicholls, D (2004)
- Neaverson, P. (2001) An Archeological Resource Assessment Of Modern Leicestershire And Rutland (1750 onwards)
- Development Framework in Place and Two Projects on Site - Leicester Regeneration Company, (2005)