Lydney Harbour & Docks
Gloucestershire GL15 4ER
At the small west Gloucestershire town of Lydney is an unusual Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is not a prehistoric stone circle or a Roman fort but a rare example of an unspoilt 19th century harbour built to serve sailing ships.
The harbour is on the banks of the River Severn and is protected from this river’s extraordinarily high tides by huge lock gates and a deep lock giving access to an upper basin and a mile long stretch of the unrestored Lydney Canal. This lovely stretch of water is a wildlife reserve for plant, insect and bird life. A 0.9 mile (1.5km) long footpath on the western side of the canal provides a pleasant walk.
For anyone interested in industrial archaeology combined with a pleasant countryside walk, this is a great place to visit. The picnic area has stunning views over the estuary downstream overlooking the two suspension road bridges swooping across the river.
The site is in the care of the Environment Agency which has done a grand job of restoring it and providing historical information boards and novel compass point ways of identifying the views.
The banks on the side of the Severn are lined with the remains of Severn trows, beached to help prevent erosion. Commonly in use in the 19th century, the trow is a flat-bottomed boat peculiar to the Severn. Its unique design copes well with the river’s fierce currents and shallow waters.
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Lydney is on the edge of the Forest of Dean
. The spot where the River Lyd enters the Severn estuary is known as Lydney Pill. In the 17th century the Pill was near St Mary’s Church, providing a natural port for the Forest of Dean
A harbour was built to transport iron and later coal from the Forest, whilst the forest itself provided the oak for ships. The harbour was the last port on the Severn where sea-going boats could unload.
During the 1600s large wooden ships were built at Lydney. Over the centuries the port silted up and the river bank moved a mile away to its present location. A new wharf was built but large ship building was no longer a viable industry.
However, by 1750 coal mined in the Forest was being shipped out of Lydney. The town grew rapidly and the harbour remained very busy during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The thriving port was transporting coal, stone, tinplate and timber and importing china clay and salt.
Because of the poor condition of the roads, canals were used to carry goods. The canal and basin complex was built by the Severn and Wye Railway and Canal Company between 1810 and 1813 and a horse drawn tramway was laid, to move the coal and iron to the now almost disappeared Pidcock Canal wharves. A new dock on the estuary was started in 1809 and opened in 1813. The outer harbour was built and finally completed in 1821 and the tramway extended all the way down.
There were difficulties in navigating vessels into the narrow entrance of the harbour, as there was only half an hour at the top of the high tide for vessels to arrive and depart. Deep ships which needed at least 12 feet (3.66 metres) of water could only reach Lydney on Spring tides. The north pier was extended in 1825 to aid ships into the harbour.
The coming of the railways assisted with the expansion of trade and the tramway was converted at first to broad gauge in 1868 and then to standard gauge in 1872. The opening of the Severn Railway Bridge in 1879 created some competition for the harbour, along with the newly opened dock at Sharpness.
Whilst a lot of coastal vessels converted to steam by the turn of the 20th century, Lydney Harbour continued to host sailing ships right up to the 1950s.
The thriving port became a thing of the past. The harbour and river silted up and the locks became a dumping ground for wrecked cars. Fortunately in 1980 its historical significance was recognised and the site made a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The harbour itself consists of a short stone pier, an outer dock, lock and inner harbour. Immediately above the lock, a pair of gates point the other way as protection against a high tidal flood in the estuary. The swing bridge at the entrance to the canal is itself a listed historic structure.
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A few statistics
The outer entrance of Lydney Docks is 32.8 feet (10m) wide; The outer basin is 269 feet (82m) long and 72.2 feet (22m) wide. The lock is 88.6 feet (27m) long and 21.3 feet (6.5m) wide, with 13.1 feet (4m) over the inner sill; The inner basin is 757.9 feet (231m) long and 105 feet (32m) wide with depths of 9.8 feet (3m).
The deep water and 49 feet (15m) sheer drops make this site unsuitable for small children unless very closely supervised. There is a safer fenced-in viewing platform on the down-stream side.
Also do not walk on the sand bars or the wet riverbanks as rapid tides can be very dangerous.
The site is accessible by wheelchair - RADAR keys are required to open the pedestrian gates - but care should still be taken due to uneven and slippery surfaces, deep water and the unfenced quaysides.
Contact & Further Information
A rather uninteresting road through Lydney Industrial Estate leads to the Docks, harbour and picnic area. There is a car park.
Google Maps - Lydney Harbour