The Kentish Stour – England’s most historic river?

The River Stour that flows through Canterbury could lay claim to be England’s most historic river. Certainly in Roman and medieval times the river was a major transport route, connecting Canterbury with mainland Europe. Fordwich, on the edge of the city, was an important port. And the river played a key role in the spread of Christianity.

The earliest records of the city’s name date back to AD 150 when its ancient Roman name was Durovernia, Dorobernia or Davovernon from the British words duro (fort) and verno (swamp). This clearly demonstrates that characteristics of the land at the time from the influence of the river were so great that they were included in the city’s name. The name Stour has existed since A.D. 686, suggesting the name which the river now bears, was probably given it by the Saxons, who called at least three English rivers by that name: one in Worcestershire; a second in East Anglia and a third, the one that flows through Canterbury. The name ‘Stour’ means stirring, or moving. It supplanted the old British one of Durwhern, meaning swift river. In Latin, Stauro means strong or powerful.

As East Kent’s major watercourse, the Kentish Stour originates as the Great Stour in Lenham, north west of Ashford. The river is the second longest in Kent – the River Medway being the longest – with a total length of about 57 miles (93 km). After flowing through Canterbury the river becomes tidal and finally enters the sea at Pegwell Bay, close to the site of the landing of the first Christian mission to southern England, St Augustine, in 597 AD.

The River Stour flows through the city in many strands – at one point there are three separate branches. These branches are sometimes linked by channels effectively forming islands. The branches rejoin to the east of Canterbury, before the river reaches Fordwich.

Canterbury has grown up because of the Great Stour- many of its industries, and therefore its wealth, have depended upon it, and now by taking a stroll along the river you can see a rich mix of heritage and wildlife, right through the city’s heart. Anglers have an important part to play in preserving and enhancing this environment

Stoor or Stower?

Is Stour pronounced ‘Stower’ or ‘Stoor’? Well, it seems that depends where you come from! In fact both forms of pronunciation are used in Kent, and either way you will be correct.

History of fishing on the Stour

Not only has Canterbury been an important destination for religious pilgrims, for centuries it attracted anglers. Indeed, it is reputed that the freedom to fish the River Stour within the city dates back to an edict issued by King Canute (985 – 1035). More recently, in the 1880s, an association was formed for the preservation of the fish in the River Stour, within the City boundaries, and on certain lands without the City. The Citizens’ Fisheries Association ensured that all citizens and visitors were allowed to fish for free. A river-keeper was employed to maintain the fishery paid for by voluntary subscriptions.

Canterbury Stour at the Weavers, 1921