THERE'S s a bit of a rumpus going on concerning plans to turn an old boathouse in Worcester’s Diglis Basin into a new brewery and tap room. It’s claimed that “noise and odour” emanating from the business would have “a negative effect” on the area. Which shows just how far Diglis has climbed up the social ladder these days.

There was a time, in fact for most of its working life, when a bit of noise and odour around the Basin was the last thing the old boatmen would have worried about. But now with much of the land covered by smart new houses – there’s even a neighbourhood gym – life is much different.

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For about a thousand years Diglis was the “home meadow” of the church in Worcester, providing bishops with hay and grazing grounds. However it was semi-marsh, until fairly recent times subject to frequent floods, and intersected by wide and deep ditches of stagnant water, best negotiated by the use of leaping poles, as used in The Fens of East Anglia. Even in Victorian times, Diglis was popular for the shooting of marshland birds like duck and snipe.

Come the Industrial Revolution and the River Severn became a highway for the iron and coal industry of the Black Country. However, navigation was increasingly difficult because the bed of the river silted up and traffic was brought to a standstill in dry weather. In May 1827, 200 sailing vessels were held up below Upton and in 1839, 120 were aground on various shoals at Worcester. The answer was the building of a series of locks and weirs in the 1840s. These started at Diglis and went up river to Stourport to provide a minimum of 6ft water depth, enough for most river craft.

The work was done by an army of navvies and in 1844 on the lock island at Diglis (later the site of Basin workshops) a chapel was built to cater for their spiritual needs. They were certainly a tough lot and one of their favourite pastimes was boxing. In fact among them was former champion Tom Sayers. Old rivermen would later recall tales told of the epic battles that took place on the lawns in front of the worksheds while the navvies waited for their pay.

Despite the building of the locks, spring tides still affected the water levels and in the Great Storm of August, 1847, the water rose by 18-and-a-half feet in five hours. It stopped the river current, backed up the water like a tide and forced Camp Lock gates at Grimley to open themselves. Something that’s never been known since. So much for global warming.