From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

River Ouse, York

53° 57' 25.6" N 1° 5' 0.8" W

  • History
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The River Ouse runs in North Yorkshire, England and starts life as the River Ure. Eventually it flows through the city of York until it reaches the village of Faxfleet, then it joins with the river Trent to form the Humber Estuary. It is only 52 miles long but when combined with the Ure it doubles its length to roughly 100 miles long.

The river Ouse has been used by humans since prehistory. The Romans used the river to transport trade items from York to the Humber and beyond. The Vikings used the river to capture York while the Kingdom of Northumbria was fighting a civil war in 866. They renamed it, Jorvik, the early form of York, and it became a major river port, part of the extensive Viking trading routes throughout northern Europe. In 965 the Viking were driven out of York. Again the river was to play a vital role at Stamford Bridge during 1065-66, after invasion by the Norwegians. They were defeated by King Harold II, who then went on to lose the country to the Normans a three weeks later.

York became a centre for Norman trade, the River Ouse was once again a major trade route becoming England’s richest city after London by the fourteenth century. York’s merchants exported wool, grain and cloth to Northern Europe and continued to import luxury items from overseas, such as olive oil, figs and raisins from Spain.

Larger sea-going ships could no longer navigate York’s rivers by the late sixteenth century, this was due to their size and due to the increasing build-up of sediment in the Ouse. York became cut off from all but the smaller, lighter boats which allowed Hull to take over Yorks trading importance. Because of this, York built Naburn Lock in 1757, which helped to strengthen ship building at York. A local newspaper in 1777 recorded the launching of the first boat made of sheet iron in the River Foss.

The Foss Navigation Company created a canal out of the River Foss in 1792. The canal was slow to make a profit as Hull still maintaining much of Yorkshire’s trade. The Foss was still being used for large scale transport of newsprint up until 1997. The arrival of the railways in the nineteenth century led to the decline in York’s water-borne trade. The rivers are used for tourism and leisure. The old jetties are gone and the riversides are home to pubs, restaurants, cycle routes and walks.