Frederick William Rowbotham (8 February 1909 – 10 February 1999)

Fred at home in Stonehouse in October 1996

Fred Rowbotham spent more than forty years of his working life on or near the River Severn. His profound knowledge of the river stretched from its source at 2000ft up on Plynlimon mountain in Mid Wales to the Severn Estuary beyond Avonmouth.

For many years he was the District Engineer for the Lower Severn District of the Severn River Authority where among other things he was responsible for land drainage, clearing the principal tributaries, and improvements to flood defences. He was an obvious consultee for many major projects carried out over the years. These included the 1933 Severn barrage proposals, the first Severn Road Bridge, the nuclear power stations at Berkeley and Oldbury and the demolition of the Severn Railway Bridge in the 1960s.

With all his experience of the Severn it is not surprising he became the authority on the Severn Bore and in 1964 published his book of that title, which was fully illustrated by his own accomplished photographs and drawings. An excellent speaker, Fred gave many lectures on the River Severn following his retirement. He was also a very talented organ player and his services were in great demand.

An article describing Fred’s working life was published in the April 1974 edition of Gloucestershire & Avon Life, shortly after his retirement in February 1974. Fred died two days after his 90th birthday in February 1999.

The Image Collection

Fred was a keen photographer and we are fortunate that he took more than 1300 colour slides, mostly of the river and associated waterways. He also made copies of historic photographs and took pictures of his own sketches, models and plans. They were used to illustrate his numerous lectures to local organisations.

In 1997, his slide collection was digitised using the Kodak PhotoCD process. This was achieved through the efforts of a former colleague, David Drew, who was working for the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency). Fred assisted Mr Drew with the production of a caption for each image. Topics include general river scenes, docks, boats, bridges, tidal damage and erosion, men at work, floods and much more.

Copies of the 14 PhotoCDs were kindly made available by Mr Drew together with the original captions. Unfortunately some of the slides had deteriorated with age. Wherever possible, problems like faded colours have been addressed by appropriate image processing techniques. Unfortunately, in a few cases this was not possible, but the images have been retained in the online collection where the nature of their content warrants it. Many of the captions have been expanded so that they make sense when just an individual image and caption is displayed.

The original 35mm colour slides and other material were deposited by the Environment Agency at Gloucestershire Archives in 2010 (Ref. D11903).

Ray Wilson

[Search Page]                     [Help Page]