IN ages past, when this newspaper ran a daily page, if not two, of Letters to the Editor, there were several topics guaranteed to be floor fillers: restoring the death penalty, foxhunting, adding fluoride to the drinking water, school discipline and banning smoking were a few of the favourites. Along with dredging the River Severn, about which we don’t hear so much now.

Every time there was a flood, someone would write in saying it was the fault of the river not being dredged regularly, as used to happen “in the old days”.

Then someone would reply saying this was nonsense, the floodgates would open, correspondence would pour in and the Letters’ Editor was a happy bunny.

What is in no doubt is that the Severn is an ever changing beast and at one time it was perfectly possible, given the right conditions, to walk across it at Worcester Bridge.

That was in the days before Diglis Lock was built and indeed the first superintendent at Diglis Dock, James Bradley, referred to “river walking” at the bridge in his records. This was because of the amount of silt gathering on the river bed.

The problem became more apparent in the late 1700s as the coal and iron industries in the Midlands grew and vast quantities of coal and iron goods were sent down the river on their way to all parts of the world.

Increasing silt hampered navigation at Worcester, while elsewhere bars and shoals brought traffic to a standstill in dry weather. As they did in May 1827 when 200 sailing vessels were held up below Upton upon Severn and in June 1839 when 120 were grounded on numerous shoals near Worcester.

The answer was to build a series of locks, a project which remarkably took only two years. Those at Lincomb, Stourport were completed first, in December 1843, Holt Fleet was next in June 1844 and Bevere and Diglis were finished simultaneously in 1844.

Thereafter the locks ensured a minimum of six feet of water between Stourport and Worcester and although this was not deep by many standards, it was deep enough for the river boats to maintain their lucrative traffic. Around 1894 all the locks were deepened further and at 36ft Diglis is one of the deepest in the country.

Incidentally a gentleman who used to regularly fill our Letters Page with his offerings was George Cowley. I interviewed George several times and he made no secret that his bouts of depression led to no less than five suicide attempts, all failures. In one George seriously misjudged the depth of the Severn when he jumped off Worcester Bridge and landed knee deep in the silt.

Unable to move, the police boat had to be launched to effect a rescue and a genial sergeant hauled him aboard with the greeting: “C’mon George, the Good Lord doesn’t want you today.” Sadly George died of more natural causes some years ago and a steady supply of Readers Letters died with him.