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River Parrett

The Name

    There is no agreement on the origin of the name Parrett, but several derivations from the Celtic languages have been suggested. It may have come from the Welsh pared, a partition, and that it was the name which the native people of Somerset gave to the river because it was at one time the dividing line between themselves and the Saxons. Another possible source is the Welsh Peraidd meaning the sweet or delicious river, although this would seem unlikely if describing our local stretch. An alternative explanation, again with possible Welsh connections, is a derivation from Pedair or Pedride from pedr meaning four and the Old Cornish Rit meaning flow, which in this case would relate to the four waterways, the Tone, Yeo, Isle and Parrett, which have all joined by the time the waters reach Burrowbridge. In its time it has also been known as Fluvius Paredoe, Peryddon, Peret, Langport River and even the Great River.

The Confluence of the Tone and Parrett

    We do know, however, that the Parrett was established as the border between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex and the Brythonic kingdom of Dumnonia in 658, following the Dumnonians' defeat at the Battle of Peonnum. This natural border remained for almost a century, when further conflicts led to the border being moved west to its current location between the modern counties of Somerset and Devon. It has also been noted that various Somerset dialect words are pronounced differently on either side of the river. In particular 'rhyne', the local word for a drainage channel, rhymes with 'green' to the east and 'fine' to the west.


    There is some evidence of ancient wharves along the river that would suggest that the Parrett was used in Roman times as a link between Ilchester and the Bristol Channel. Since medieval times, however, the Parrett has been a known waterway used to carry goods inland. Until the end of the17th century this would have been by small craft, but during the next hundred it experienced a boom period. Improvements to the river co-incided with the formation of the partnership between George Stuckey, merchant, and Thomas Bagehot, maltster.

    In 1836 the Parrett Navigation Company was formed to improve navigation on the River Parrett, Tolls were introduced to pay for the improvements by the Company, which was owned by Vincent (son of George) Stuckey and Walter (son of Thomas) Bagehot. Before this, maintenance of the banks had been the responsibility of the owners of the surrounding land.
    Until railway competition became important, after 1853, up to 60,000 tons of goods were moved  up and down the river each year. Although the neighbouring town of Langport saw the greatest benefit from this traffic, Stoke, especially it's eastern end also did well. Many boats were owned and run by local families, some of whom built new houses along the river and at Stanmoor. By 1900 the boom was over and barge traffic became rare.

As with other Bristol Channel rivers,

The Parrett has its own Bore


    At the confluence of the Tone, Burrowbridge became an important meeting place for boatmen on the Parrett, frequenting the King Alfred pub and the now closed King William, a little further upstream. The new stone bridge was opened in 1826, the original design in cast iron having been deemed too expensive. The right to charge tolls for the bridge was auctioned annually at the Langport Arms Hotel. Another village pub, originally called The George, was situated near the bank of the Parrett. It became known as the Black Smock. Emrhys Coate recounted the tale that the landlord, his grandfather would hang a black smock outside the pub, where it could be seen by boatmen on the river. This would be a signal that he needed some particular item, or that he had goods to be collected.

Taking Tolls at Burrowbridge

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