St Augustine's Reach

For other uses, see River Frome (disambiguation).
Snuff Mills
Name origin: British Celtic, meaning 'fair, fine, brisk’
Nickname: Danny
Country England
Region West Country
District South Gloucestershire, Bristol
 - left Nibley brook, Folly brook,
Fishponds brook, Coombe brook
 - right Ladden brook, Bradley brook,
Horfield brook
City Bristol
Source Dodington Park
 - location Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, England
 - elevation 515 ft (157 m)
 - coordinates N|2.344268|W|type:river_region:GB name=


Mouth Floating Harbour, Bristol
 - location Bristol, England
 - elevation 33 ft (10 m)
 - coordinates N|2.5983|W|type:river_region:GB name=


Length 20 mi (32 km), south west
 - average 60 cu ft/s (2 m3/s)
 - max 2,473 cu ft/s (70 m3/s)
 - min 2.3 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)
River system Bristol Avon
Diagrammatic map of the River Frome and tributaries in Bristol and South Gloucestershire

The River Frome /ˈfrm/, historically the River Froom, is a river in South Gloucestershire and Bristol, England. It is approximately 20 miles (32 km) long, rises in Dodington Park, South Gloucestershire, and flows in a south westerly direction through Bristol, joining the former course of the river Avon in Bristol's Floating Harbour. The mean flow at Frenchay is 60 cubic feet per second (1.7 m3/s) The name Frome is shared with several other rivers in South West England and means 'fair, fine, brisk’. The river is familiarly known in east Bristol as the Danny.

Originally the Frome joined the Avon downstream of Bristol Bridge, and formed part of the city defences, but in the thirteenth century the river was diverted through marshland belonging to St Augustine's Abbey (now Bristol Cathedral), as part of major port improvement works. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the lower reaches of the river were culverted and the river now flows under The Centre into St Augustine's Reach.

As with many urban rivers, the Frome has suffered from pollution, but several stretches run through parks and reserves that sustain a range of wildlife. The power of the water was harnessed in many watermills and the area around the river mouth was developed as shipyards by the eighteenth century. As the city of Bristol developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, flooding became a major problem, remedied by the construction of storm drains and diversions.


20 miles (32 km) long, the River Frome rises in the grounds of Dodington Park in the Cotswolds of South Gloucestershire, flows through Chipping Sodbury in a north westerly direction through Yate, and is then joined by the Nibley brook on the left at Nibley. The river turns south towards the next settlement of Frampton Cotterell, where it is met by the Ladden brook on the right bank. Continuing southwards between Yate and Winterbourne, the Frome crosses Winterbourne Down, to Damsons Bridge where the Folly Brook tributary merges on the left bank.

The Bradley brook joins on the right bank at Hambrook just before the river passes underneath the M4 motorway. After passing under the A4174 the Frome enters a more urban environment passing between Frenchay on the right and Bromley Heath and Downend on the left. Turning in a more south westerly direction the river enters Oldbury Court estate, a city park also known as Vassal's, past Snuff Mills, entering a steep valley at Stapleton, then passing Eastville park, where it feeds the former boating lake and is met by the Fishponds brook on the right.[1]

The river then flows under the M32 motorway and parallels its course for a while before disappearing into an underground culvert just above Baptist Mills. It is joined underground by Coombe brook[2] on the left and Horfield brook on the right.[3] A brief stretch in St Judes is uncovered and then the river runs underneath Broadmead to Broad weir. From there the course carries on underneath Bond Street, through Lewin's Mead and under the city centre before emerging into St Augustine's Reach near the Watershed Media Centre.


From Damsons Bridge (


Between Frenchay and Stapleton the river drops nearly 50 feet (15 m), and as a result there a number of corn and other mills were established to harness the water power. They were undershot mills with no mill ponds. Today a wheel at Snuff Mills is preserved and the mill buildings of Cleeve Mill survive as a private residence.[5]

The Frome originally flowed east of its present-day course from Stone Bridge (now underground by St John's Gate) along the line of St Stephen's Street and Baldwin Street, joining the Avon near Bristol Bridge. The narrow strip of high land between the two rivers was a naturally strategic place for the Saxon town of Brigstow, later the walled centre of the city, to develop. When Robert, 1st Earl of Gloucester, rebuilt Bristol Castle, the Frome was diverted (at present-day Broad Weir) to form the castle moat, so that the city was entirely surrounded by water.[6]

In the mid thirteenth century the harbour had become so busy that it was decided to divert the Frome into a new course through a marsh belonging to St Augustine's Abbey into a "Deep Ditch" that was dug from Stone Bridge to join the Avon at the present site of Prince Street bridge. This has been the line of the river ever since, known as St Augustine's Reach.[7]

The Floating Harbour was constructed in 1809, isolating the Avon and Frome from tides between Cumberland Basin and Totterdown Lock. The increasing use of the Frome as an open sewer combined with the loss of the scouring action of the tides meant that it was now becoming a health hazard and in 1825 it was again diverted, with locks at Stone House, channelling the main flow through Mylne's Culvert to the tidal Avon at New Cut. Up to 1858 the Frome was open along its whole length, and crossed by some 13 bridges. During the latter half of the 19th century, a culvert was built from Wade Street in St Judes to Stone Bridge, covering this stretch completely: Rupert Street and Fairfax Street run over this culverted section. St Augustine's Trench from Stone Bridge to Draw Bridge (near the end of Baldwin Street) was covered over in 1893 and finally the rest of the Trench was covered over in 1938.[8]


Shipbuilding began on the River Frome near its mouth in Bristol at least by the 17th century, with Francis Baylie building warships at Narrow Quay. Tombs' Dock was built opposite at Dean's Marsh in 1760, the builders including FW Green, and two additional docks were built by at Teast's Docks in 1790. The last shipbuilder closed in 1883.[9]


The name derives from the British Celtic, meaning 'fair, fine, brisk’.[10] It is not to be confused with other rivers in the south west of England with the same name. The historic spelling, Froom, is still sometimes used and this is how the name of the river is pronounced (as in broom). In the nineteenth and twentieth century the River Frome became known in East Bristol as the Danny. The derivation of this name is uncertain, some suggest a nickname, taken from the Blue Danube Waltz, others that is was derived from the Australian slang word dunny.[11]

Hydrology and flooding

The mean flow as measured at Frampton Cottrell is 60 cubic feet per second (1.7 m3/s), with a peak on 30 October 2000 of 788 cubic feet per second (22.3 m3/s) and a minimum on 10 August 1990 of 1.0 cubic foot per second (0.028 m3/s). The mean flow as measured at Frenchay is 60 cubic feet per second (1.7 m3/s), with a peak on 10 July 1968 of 2,474 cubic feet per second (70.1 m3/s) and a minimum on 9 August 1976 of 2.8 cubic feet per second (0.079 m3/s).[12]

The Environment Agency in 2008 classified the river as Grade A (highest grade) for chemical content, but the biology was assessed at C grade (mid). Measurements were taken over a stretch of river between Bradley Brook and Broomhill.[13]

Where it passes through Bristol the river was prone to flooding, but the Northern Stormwater Interceptor, running from Eastville Sluices to the River Avon downstream of Clifton Suspension Bridge, has since been constructed to control this. At Wade Street, St Judes, the river enters an underground culvert, emerging at what Bristolians call The Centre (formerly the 'Tramways Centre'), but only when there is a risk of flooding. The river is otherwise channelled through Mylne's Culvert into the River Avon at a point between Bathurst Basin and Gaol Ferry Bridge. Three further flood relief tunnels- Castle Ditch, Fosseway and Castle Green Tunnel - run under Castle Park in central Bristol to carry excess flows into the Floating Harbour.[14]

Major floods have included Mina Road, St Werburghs and Wellington Road in October 1882; Eastville, St Werburghs and Broadmead in 1936 and 1937; Eastville Park and nearby due to melting snow in 1947; 1968 Bristol Rovers F.C. old ground at Eastville.[15] The Broadmead area still remains at risk of flooding in severe weather conditions.[16]

In December 2011, a kayaker was killed after capsizing in the flooded river at Snuff Mills weir in Frenchay during a night-time paddle.[17][18]

Frome Valley Walkway

The Frome Valley Walkway is a public footpath, 18 miles (29 km) long, that runs almost the entire length of the river from Old Sodbury to Bristol. A guide pamphlet has been published.[19] The walkway was created by a partnership between local authorities, the Environment Agency, wildlife organisations and location action groups, including Avon Biodiversity Partnership, Avon Invasive Weeds Forum, Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol City Council, Bristol Naturalists' Society and South Gloucestershire Council. Regular events include clearing of invasive species and guided walks.[20]

Natural history

The Frome valley supports a range of wildlife and plants, passing through or near to a number of nature reserves and parks, including Goose Green fields, Chill Wood, Cleeve Valley, Oldbury Court park and Eastville Park. Notable species include grey wagtails, wild service trees, dippers and several species of bats.[21] One of the last British populations of the endangered native white-clawed crayfish in the Bristol area was found in the river, but became extinct in 2008.[22]

See also

Works cited


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