River Rother, South Yorkshire

River Rother

the river at Staveley
Country England
Main source Pilsley, Derbyshire
River mouth River Don, Rotherham
Physical characteristics
Length 26.9 miles (43.3 km)

River Rother, South Yorkshire

River Don Navigation
Junction with River Don
A6021, Central Rotherham
A630 Centenary Way
A631 Bawtry Road
Canklow regulator
A630 Rother Way
M1 motorway
Treeton Lane
Orgreave weir
Sheffield Road
Woodhouse Mill regulator
Sheffield - Lincoln Railway
Shire Brook (culverted)
A57 Handsworth Bypass
Rotherham Road, Beighton
Beighton weir
Rotherham - Chesterfield Railway
Meadowgate Regulator
Rother Valley Country Park
Short Brook
B6058 Killamarsh
Killamarsh weir
(2) Rotherham to Chesterfield Rly bridges
A616 Renishaw
(2) Railway bridges
River Doe Lea
Rotherham to Chesterfield Rly
(4) Railway bridges
Chesterfield Canal
River Drone
B6050 Old River Bridge
Railway bridges
A619 Chesterfield Road
Flood gate
Chesterfield Weir
B6543 Brimington Road
Chesterfield to Derby Rly
A632 Hady Hill
River Hipper
Calow Brook
A617 bridge
Railway bridge
Birdholme Brook
Railway bridge
Red Lead Mill Brook
(3)Railway bridges
North Wingfield weir
Railway bridge
A617 bridge
(2) Railway bridges
Pilsley spring

The River Rother, a waterway in the northern midlands of England, gives its name to the town of Rotherham and to the Rother Valley parliamentary constituency. It rises near Clay Cross in Derbyshire and flows in a generally northwards direction through the centre of Chesterfield, where it feeds the Chesterfield Canal, and on through the Rother Valley Country Park and several districts of Sheffield before joining the River Don at Rotherham in Yorkshire.

From the 1880s the water quality deteriorated rapidly, as a result of coal mining and its associated communities. The river became unable to sustain life, and by 1974, was the most polluted of the rivers within the River Don catchment. The pollutants came from coking plants, from inefficient sewage treatment plants, and from the manufacture of chemicals. Major investment in upgrading the sewage treatment works took place, and in the treatment of industrial effluent before it was discharged to the river. The closure of the main coking plants has also aided the recovery of the river, and enabled restocking with fish to begin in 1994. By 1996 there was evidence for self-sustaining fish populations, and that the river could support organised angling.

A short section of the river in Chesterfield was once navigable, and may become so again as part of a development project, while there are plans to use the course from Rother Valley Country Park to Rotherham for the Rother Link, which would connect the Chesterfield Canal to the River Don Navigation. The lower river is managed because of flood risk: three regulators can restrict its flow. Their operation normally causes flooding of washlands, rather than of centres of population, which might otherwise be inundated.


The source of the river is at Pilsley near Clay Cross in Derbyshire, from where it flows to the west for a short distance, before turning to the north. The valley is shared with the Derby to Rotherham Railway, which makes the first two of a total of 20 crossings before the river reaches the eastern edges of Danesmoor. It is joined by another stream before passing to the west of North Wingfield, after which the Red Lead Mill Brook joins from the west. Before reaching Chesterfield, Birdholme Brook joins it from the west at Birdholme, Calow Brook joins from the east at Hady, and the River Hipper joins it on the southern edge of the town.

Within Chesterfield, the river was navigable, as the Chesterfield Canal joined the river and used it to access basins on the western bank. The first basin was connected to the river near Wharf Lane footbridge, but the coming of the railway severed the link, and a new basin was constructed to the north of the Brimington Road bridge in 1890. The canal company were not authorised by their Act of Parliament to use the river, but did so despite that.[1] This stretch of the river forms part of a £300 million redevelopment project called Chesterfield Waterside, which will provide housing and amenities in an area which is currently derelict land. The project involves the creation of a short length of new canal to create an island in the centre of the site.[2] A new basin has been constructed near the site of the 1890 basin, although it has not yet been connected to the river. Outline planning permission for the whole site was granted on 15 March 2010.[3]

Below Chesterfield

Between Chesterfield and Tapton, the river flows over a large weir while the canal is protected from flooding by a flood gate.[1] The two waterways remain close as they flow northwards between New Whittington and Brimington, where the River Drone joins from the west. At Old Whittington both turn to the east, before turning north again at Staveley. Just before Renishaw, the river passes Slittingmill Farm, once the site of a slitting mill constructed by George Sitwell in the 1650s, used to split iron bars from his furnaces into thin strips for the production of nails, and the first to be constructed in the East Midlands.[4] After the River Doe Lea joins the Rother from the east, the river is crossed by a grade II listed two-arched bridge built around 1840 by the North Midland Railway, which carries a minor road to the golf course.[5]

It continues to the east of Eckington and the west of Killamarsh,[6] to arrive at the Rother Valley Country Park, where the course is largely man-made, as the park is part of a flood-defence scheme. The river was diverted to run close to the railway to the west while 1.7 million tonnes of coal from the reserves under the park were removed by open cast mining between 1976 and 1981.[7] The channel was then rebuilt once mining had ceased and the pit had been filled in.[8] The visitor centre uses a part of Bedgrave Mill, which was constructed around 1100, and is one of the first mills known to have been built on the River Don and its tributaries.[9] Continuing northwards, the river passes through the Sheffield districts of Beighton and Woodhouse, followed by the Rotherham districts of Catcliffe and Treeton, flowing on to its confluence with the River Don at Ickles, Rotherham.[10]

Some sections of the river were highly polluted, so much so that when the Rother Valley Country Park was being created around the section north of Killamarsh and east of Beighton, cleaner water was brought in from the Moss Brook to feed the park's lakes.[11] The recent closures of industry and the work of the Environment Agency has improved the quality of the river Rother. The watercourse now holds a good head of coarse fish, and angling clubs are springing up along its length.

The planned Rother Link canal will use part of the river to connect the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation to the Chesterfield Canal.

Flood defences

Canklow regulator, used to hold back the flow of the river in flood conditions

The River Rother is managed by the Environment Agency to mitigate flooding in the Catcliffe and Rotherham areas, through a series of regulators and washlands. The regulators are used to hold back the flow of the river, and the washlands consist of low-lying land adjacent to the river which flood when the flows are held back. This allows flood flows on the River Don to pass through Rotherham before the water from the Rother does so. There are three regulators, at Canklow, Woodhouse Mill and Meadowgate.[12]

Prior to 1958, flooding was a persistent problem near the lower reaches of the river, with Beighton, Catcliffe, Treeton and Woodhouse Mill particularly at risk. When the River Rother Improvement Scheme was first proposed in September 1958, analysis of flood flows revealed that peaks flows on the Rother generally reached the River Don at Rotherham after the peak flow on that river had already passed. Enlarging the channel of the Rother would have resulted in the peak flows reaching the Don earlier, effectively moving the problem of flooding downstream to Rotherham. The scheme therefore recognised the need to create and manage washlands to hold back the excess flow under these conditions.[13]


The first regulator to be installed was at Woodhouse Mill.[14] It is a vertical sluice gate, and is situated at the downstream end of the Woodhouse Mill washlands nature reserve. A railway embankment crosses the nature reserve, and flood arches allow the water to flood both sides of the tracks. There are no floodbanks between the river and the reserve, which results in it flooding soon after the gate is closed.[12] The mechanism here was manufactured by Ransomes and Rapier in 1956,[15] and the regulator was commissioned in 1959.[14] The Canklow regulator, situated close to the A630 link road from junction 33 on the M1 motorway, is also a vertical sluice gate, which when closed causes progressive flooding of seven washland areas on both sides of the M1, capable of holding 1,520,500 cubic metres (53,700,000 cu ft) of flood water.[12] It was installed in 1969 as part of a major road-building project, which saw the M1 motorway and the A630 road built across the washlands.[14]

The third regulator is at Meadowgate, within the boundaries of the Rother Valley Country Park. This provides an additional 1,100,000 cubic metres (39,000,000 cu ft) of storage capacity.[12] and its operation results in progressive flooding of the Meadowgate Lake, the Nethermoor Lake and the main lakes. Levels within the park were carefully designed to allow it to flood in this way, and there are a number of sluices and flap gates so that stored water can be released back to the river in a controlled fashion. The regulator is of a different design to the other two, as the gate is located on the bed of the river, and rotates upwards as required.[16]


The Meadowgate regulator was operated in 2000, resulting in the Meadowgate and Nethermoor lake flooding, but water levels remained around 1 foot (30 cm) below the level at which the main lakes would flood.[16]

The severe floods of 2007 were the result of some 80 million cubic metres of rainfall falling on South Yorkshire on 25 June 2007. The level of the River Rother at Rotherham reached the highest level ever recorded, at 5.71 metres (18.7 ft), and the regulators were manned 24 hours a day in order to manage the water. However, there was a power failure at Canklow regulator, and the site had to be evacuated due to the threat posed by the possible breaching of the dam at Ulley Reservoir.[12] The Meadowgate regulator was closed, and resulted in all four of the Rother Valley Country Park lakes flooding within the next 12 hours. Most of the car park and the watersports centre was also flooded, but water levels dropped over the next three days and little damage was caused.[17] Assessment following those floods has led the Environment Agency to conclude that the regulators are expensive to maintain, and that they should be removed once some of the flood banks have been remodelled to ensure that the washlands fill and empty at the correct levels in a flood cycle.[18]

Water quality

Laman Blanchard, writing in 1836, described the Rother as "a beauteous stream", and noted that chub, roach and perch were caught by fishermen who fished from its banks. It was also one of the main sources of salmon for the River Don system.[19] The river did not suffer from the worst effects of the industrial revolution until the 1880s, when the development of coal mining on several of its tributaries resulting in a rapid deterioration in water quality. The industry itself discharged minewater to the river, containing large volumes of solids, which were deposited on the river bed, smothering the vegetation. The villages which grew up around the mines often had little or no sewage treatment facilities, and hence sewage found its way into the river. The River Doe Lea, the River Drone and the Pools Brook became lifeless sewers, as did the Rother. Derbyshire County Council obtained a ruling from the Chesterfield County Court in 1905, which required local authorities to stop polluting the river, and gave them three years to construct sewage treatment works. However, the growth in population outstripped the efforts to resolve these issues, and the river continued to deteriorate.[20] One or two of its tributaries were not polluted, and the River Hipper retained stocks of brown trout and grayling.[19]

In 1974, the river was the most heavily polluted of the rivers in the River Don catchment.[21] For most of its course, it was rated "Grade F" on the Environment Agency's scale of river quality. This scale ranges from "Grade A", which indicates that the water quality is very good and the river is unpolluted, to "Grade F", which indicates that the water quality is bad, and there is little or no life to be found in the water.[22] The main sources of pollution were from coking plants, where coal was carbonised, from discharges from inefficient sewage treatment plants, and from the manufacture of chemicals.[23]

Industrial pollution

The catchment area of the river is industrial and urban, and was the location for 48 sewage treatment works, the discharges from which fed into the river. Of these, eleven were deemed to be unsatisfactory in 1974, and a program of rationalisation and improvement had reduced the number of works to 29 by 1996. Those closed included all of the unsatisfactory ones. Many of the remaining works are small, but the three major ones are located at Old Whittington, Staveley and Woodhouse Mill. Major upgrading of the Old Whittington sewage treatment works was carried out in the late 1980s and again in 1993, and has included the addition of a nitrification plant to remove ammonia from the effluent. This has resulted in a dramatic increase in water quality since 1993. Staveley works was built in 1993, and also includes a nitrification plant, while Woodhouse Mill works was commissioned in 1979, and replaced a number of poorly-performing smaller works to the south-east of Sheffield.[23]

The river was also affected by discharges from the Staveley Chemicals and the Coalite Chemicals sites. Staveley Chemicals were producing chlorine and sodium hydroxide by electrolysing brine, and the water discharged from the site contained significant quantities of mercury and ammonia. Mercury in particular is highly toxic to fish even in small concentrations, and in 1987, the works was discharging around 51 pounds (23 kg) per year into the river. The works, which was taken over by Rhône-Poulenc Chemicals, was fitted with a mercury recovery plant, and now virtually no mercury is discharged. The Coalite site was manufacturing chemicals from the liquors produced as a by-product of the adjacent coking plant, and was discharging chlorinated compounds into the river. These were treated as part of a scheme to improve the discharges from the coking plant.[24]


Water quality was also affected by four coking plants, at Orgreave, Brookhouse, Avenue and Coalite. Discharges from them significantly increased the ammonia content and the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of the river. Orgreave was discharging effluent with 146 mg/l of ammonia in 1985, which needed to be around 70 per cent lower to improve the river quality to Grade D, but the plant closed in 1991, and water quality has improved dramatically since. Discharges from Avenue coking plant were diverted into a foul sewer in 1986, to enable them to be treated at Old Whittington treatment works. The plant closed in 1992, but there were problems with phenolic oils leaching from the original storage lagoons into the river for some years after closure. Discharges from the Coalite plant reached the river through its tributary, the River Doe Lea. Again, there were significant improvements to the treatment of effluent in 1984, 1989 and 1996. Brookhouse was the smallest of the four works, but closed in the early 1980s before remedial works were implemented. The coking plants were the worst polluters of the river, and their closure resulted in water quality being significantly improved.[25]

A biological survey was carried out in 1993, near Rother Valley Country Park, and only seven types of invertebrates were found, all of which were highly tolerant to pollution. It was recognised that the straight engineered channel where the river had been re-instated after coal mining was not well suited to the support of life, and so a stone weir was constructed, to help with natural aeration of the water, and to increase the flow velocity so that the gravel below the weir was scoured clean. A bay was constructed above the weir, where fish could escape when the river was affected by flooding or pollution incidents. A trial release of fish, funded by contributions from Rhone Poulenc, Coalite Chemicals and Yorkshire Water, was made in April 1994. Half of the total of 2,500 chub and 2,500 roach were released near the new weir, and the other half at Hall Road in Staveley. It soon became clear from anglers that the fish were spreading along the river, and a further 40,000 fish were released that winter. Another survey in September 1995 revealed good growth rates in the fish, and barbel were thriving. Brown trout, thought to have come from the River Hipper or the Barlow Brook, were also found in the Rother, and since these are much less tolerant to organic pollution and low oxygen levels, were a clear indicator that conditions were improving. The following year, chub and dace were released at Old Whittington, and clear evidence that the fish were breeding in the river was found. The river had become a self-sustaining fishery again, and organised angling began for the first time in over 100 years.[26][27]

Points of interest



Wikimedia Commons has media related to River Rother.
  1. 1 2 Richardson & Lower 2006, pp. 30–32
  2. Waterways, Summer 2010, Issue 228, Inland Waterways Association
  3. "Chesterfield Waterside". Chesterfield Borough Council. Archived from the original on 13 May 2012. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  4. "Eckington". About Derbyshire,. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  5. Historic England. "Road bridge, Renishaw Park (79609)". Images of England.
  6. Ordnance Survey, 1:25000 map, Sheet 278, ISBN 978-0-319-23798-4
  7. Rotherham MBC, The Waleswood walk around Rother Valley, Doorstep Walk No 4
  8. "Rother Valley Country Park". Rotherham web. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  9. Firth 1997, Part 1:10
  10. "River Rother". Rotherham Unofficial. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  11. "History". Rother Valley Country Park. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 "Rotherham 2007 flood assessment". Environment Agency. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  13. Firth 1997, Part 1:22
  14. 1 2 3 Firth 1997, Part 1:23
  15. Manufacturers plate attached to structure
  16. 1 2 "Flood control". Rother Valley Country Park. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  17. Eye witness account by RVCP ranger
  18. "River Don Flood Risk Management Strategy (progress report)" (PDF). Environment Agency. February 2010. p. 8. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  19. 1 2 Firth 1997, Part 2:18
  20. Firth 1997, Part 2:14
  21. Firth 1997, Part 3:8
  22. Firth 1997, Part 4:1
  23. 1 2 Firth 1997, Part 4:5
  24. Firth 1997, Part 4:5–6
  25. Firth 1997, Part 4:6–7
  26. Firth 1997, Part 3:23–25
  27. "Fishing on the River Rother". www.treetonweb.co.uk. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
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