The River Ouse

River Ouse

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York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

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The River Ouse, flowing through York along with the Foss, has aided the city’s progress – and occasionally its periodic demise from unwanted and fearful ‘travellers’ such as the Black Death and the Danish invaders.

Nowadays it provides leisure amenities: fishing, canoeing and rowing, boat trips, strolls by its banks and pleasant scenery for the observer from many of its wonderful bridges, and every July the York Rivers Festival. For many the flooding potential of the Ouse holds fear; York’s centre has seen this realised many times, in spite of flood defences, bringing major disruption for roads and businesses.

The usage of the Ouse has changed dramatically over the years - Pleasure boat rides are now commonplace

The usage of the Ouse has changed dramatically over the years – Pleasure boat rides are now commonplace

The Ouse, 52 miles long, is formed from the River Ure in North Yorkshire and flows around 13 miles through York. It eventually joins the River Trent at Trent Falls as the Humber Estuary. The river drains a considerable area of Northern England including large expanses of the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors; its many tributaries include the Swale, Aire, Wharfe, and Nidd.

Roman York founded at the confluence of the Ouse and the Foss made good defence from the surrounding marshy areas. Its transportation routes advanced York as a river port; originally tidal it was reachable to sea-going ships of the period. Roman jetties, wharves and warehouses have been uncovered on both the Foss and the Ouse’s banks, indicating the early York traders’ wide use of water-borne transport.

The Vikings captured York in 866 bringing advanced shipbuilding and seafaring knowledge which together with the Ouse and Humber’s North Sea access enabled York to import and export increasing its commercial status. The city enjoyed diverse geographical trading. Although the Vikings established further trade routes for York, the constant threat of their river incursions via the Humber and the Ouse lasted until the mid-11th century.

Early Norman York had remained a vital trading port and by the 14th century became England’s second richest city. York was exporting goods such as wool and grain to Northern Europe while importing fruits from Spain. The Black Death partly introduced from trading ships on the Humber in 1349 swiftly reduced both York’s population and its wealth.

Most sea-going ships of the late 16th century could not navigate the Ouse partly due to their great size and partly due to the river’s accumulating sediment.  In 1688 York saw the city under the control of local gentry and merchants; however, its commercial dominance as a trading centre fell to the West Riding of Yorkshire – the silting up of the River Ouse played a major role in this. Naburn Lock, downstream of York, was built to aid navigation in 1757, deflecting the Ouse’s tidal powers; this brought a new wave of shipbuilding to the city.
The River Ouse was essential for the establishment of the chocolate producers such as Rowntree’s and Terry’s, bringing in raw ingredients and machinery to riverside factories. Eventually the railways’ arrival heralded in the industrial age of the 19th century though barges transported freight on the Ouse between York and Hull right up to the end of the 20th century. In 1989 the Ouse came under control of The Canal and Rivers Trust.

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