River Soar

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River Soar
Bridge over the Soar next to the Navigation, Barrow upon Soar
Country United Kingdom
Country within the UK England
Counties Leicestershire, Warwickshire
Cities Leicester
Towns Loughborough
Physical characteristics
  location Monks Kirby, Warwickshire
  coordinates 52°28′15″N1°18′22″W / 52.470807°N 1.305981°W / 52.470807; -1.305981 [1]
  elevation132 m (433 ft)
Trent Lock, Leicestershire
52°52′23″N1°16′06″W / 52.8731°N 1.2682°W / 52.8731; -1.2682 Coordinates: 52°52′23″N1°16′06″W / 52.8731°N 1.2682°W / 52.8731; -1.2682
30 m (98 ft)
Length95 km (59 mi) [2]
Basin size1,386 km2 (535 sq mi) [2]
  location Littlethorpe [3]
  average1.36 m3/s (48 cu ft/s) [3]
  maximum37.19 m3/s (1,313 cu ft/s) [4]
  location Kegworth
  average11.73 m3/s (414 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  leftSoar Brook, Thurlaston Brook, River Biam, Rothley Brook, Black Brook
  rightWhetstone Brook, River Sence, River Wreake, Kingston Brook
Progression : Soar — TrentHumber
Leicestershire UK relief location map.jpg
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Trent Lock
Map showing the source in Warwickshire and locations along its course in Leicestershire
A canalised section of the river in Leicester River Soar in Leicester.jpg
A canalised section of the river in Leicester

The River Soar ( /sɔːr/ ) is a major tributary of the River Trent in the English East Midlands and is the principal river of Leicestershire. The source of the river is midway between Hinckley and Lutterworth. The river then flows north through Leicester, where it is joined by the Grand Union Canal. Continuing on through the Leicestershire Soar Valley, it passes Loughborough and Kegworth until it reaches the Trent at the county boundary. In the 18th century, the Soar was made navigable, initially between Loughborough and the Trent, and then through to Leicester. It was not until the early 19th century that it was linked by the Grand Union Canal to the wider network to the south and to London.



The name of the Soar is included in a family of old river-names derived from a root *ser- "to flow", alongside (among others) Saravus (Soar, a tributary of the Moselle in Belgium), Sera (la Serre, la Cère and le Séran, three rivers in France), Serantia ( Sierentz , Alsace), Serma (Schremm, Brandenburg), Sora (Cwm Sorgwm, Wales), Sorna (die Zorn, Alsace), Sara ( Saire ), Saar(e) (Brandenburg), Saros ( Sar , Spain), Sarius ( Serio , Lombardy), Sarià (Lithuania), Saravus ( Saar , Germany), Sarnivos ( Sernf , Glarus), etc. [5]

According to a suggestion due to William Somner (1701) the Soar river may formerly have been called the Leir, from Brittonic *Ligera or *Ligora, cognate with the French Loire . This theory is based on the name of Leicester (as well as Loughborough and the village of Leire) being derived from the name of the river. [6] [7]


The River Soar near Sutton Bonington, where it forms the Nottinghamshire (to the left) -- Leicestershire county border. River Soar Sutton Bonington 2011.jpg
The River Soar near Sutton Bonington, where it forms the Nottinghamshire (to the left) — Leicestershire county border.

The Soar rises near Wibtoft in Warwickshire, and flows north to join the Soar Brook near Sharnford, it then continues in a north-easterly direction, passing through Croft and between Narborough and Littlethorpe, until on the outskirts of Leicester it is joined by the Sence near Enderby. [1] Before flowing through the centre of the city it meets the Grand Union Canal at Aylestone, where it is also joined by the River Biam. After passing over Freemens Weir, the river splits and recombines with the canal, creating an area of Leicester called Bede Island. The navigable arm that runs to the east has been canalised with parallel banks and is known as ‘The Mile Straight’. Beyond Blackfriars, the river splits again to form Frog Island and Abbey Park, it recombines at Belgrave where it passes beside the National Space Centre.

Once out of the city the Soar passes Birstall and threads its way through the lakes of Watermead Country Park, until it reaches Wanlip. The river then meets the once navigable River Wreake, near Cossington Mill, with another tributary the Rothley Brook, joining the river just downstream. The Soar continues north-east to reach Mountsorrel then passes between Quorn and Barrow-on-Soar, at which point an arm of the canal extends into Loughborough, although the river passes to the East of the town at Cotes. Downstream of Stanford on Soar the river forms the county boundary between Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Between Stanford and Normanton on Soar, the canal rejoins the river, which then continues to Zouch, passing the ‘Devils Elbow’ to reach Kegworth. Downstream of Kegworth, it meets the Kingston Brook, near the village of the same name, passing Ratcliffe-on-Soar and its power station, before flowing into the Trent at Trent Lock.


Floating Pennywort infestation in the River Soar, Leicester Pennywort In River Soar.jpg
Floating Pennywort infestation in the River Soar, Leicester

The River Soar is rich in wildlife with thriving bird, fish and plant populations being popular with wildlife enthusiasts. The river was once notorious for its unusual pink colour - a result of discharges from Leicester's prosperous textile industries. However the end to textile industries near the river in Leicester and clean-up work by the Environment Agency has now restored it to its natural state.

Industry now wanting to attempt to discharge any sewage waste into the river must now obtain an agreement from the Environment Agency. Several consents have been granted to companies to use the River Soar, however the quantity and quality of the sewage is strictly controlled to a preset amount that is agreed on with the Environment Agency.

The quality of any water is determined by what is able to contaminate the river upstream, the River Soar is constantly monitored by the Environment Agency which keeps check on the level of pollution. The pollution in the water running through the Soar in the city of Leicester is low and the water is generally of good quality; however there is a significant decrease in the quality just downstream of the city, where the Wanlip sewage treatment works enters the river.

Unfortunately though new tourism industry has caused environmental problems; Barge hulls and propellers may cause “physical damage and uprooting” of plants and turbulence may increase water turbidity to the extent that light may not reach underwater plants, reducing photosynthesis. [8] Sewage works have an adverse effect on water life. [9]


A nineteenth-century pump house and a new riverside development by the Soar in central Leicester Friars Mill and new development, Leicester.jpg
A nineteenth-century pump house and a new riverside development by the Soar in central Leicester


A factory on the River Soar south of Leicester River Soar Factory.jpg
A factory on the River Soar south of Leicester

The River Soar before the late 1700 was too small and shallow to allow navigation of barges; however this was partially solved by the construction of the Leicester canal which allowed the Soar to be navigable for almost about 40 miles (64 km).

The expansion of the canal meant that industry could start to develop along the canal side, with the transport provided by the canal being “vital to the industry.” [10] This included buildings and industries like “wind and watermills; brewing and malting; bridges; canal and railway structures; public utilities.” [11]

“By 1895, there were 231 listed hosiery manufacturers in the county. In Leicester, the industry employed 10% of the population in 1851, and around 7% in 1881 and 1911.” [11] This shows the importance of hosiery to Leicester’s economy. This industry needed a consistent supply of water and needed transport links, so was located alongside the canal. Due to the excellent transport links provided by the Grand Union Canal, the Hosiery industry was able to expand rapidly.

Many of these factories however soon outgrew themselves, moving to new larger sites, which vacated space for other trades such as boot and shoe manufacture, printing or box making.

Railway competition in the nineteenth century reduced canal profits. This was the beginning of the end for many of the companies who owned the canals; several of these companies converted their canals to railways while many of the others were bought out by railway companies looking to expand their businesses.

With the decline of industry in the 1960s, the warehouses and factories which were once the core of Leicester’s economy had fallen into dereliction. Leicester City Council has made a move towards re-developing the waterfront "offering one of the most exciting waterside regeneration opportunities in the country." [12] The company is currently building luxury waterside apartments. This will enhance the areas aesthetic values. Research conducted by Newcastle University suggests that people’s desire to reside on the waterfront and enjoy recreation offered by the canal is upset by "visually unattractive features, such as run-down derelict areas and poor design". [13]

The re-development plan has included the building of the Walkers stadium, home to Leicester City F.C., along the canal in 2002, "from a barren, desolate piece of waste-ground has risen a stunning futuristic collaboration of steel and glass that dominates the skyline of Leicester." [14] Old warehouses have also been converted into student accommodation for De Montfort University increasing the value of the area.

On the eastern bank of the Soar in central Leicester are the premises of Donisthorpe and Company, a producer of textiles. The Donisthorpe Mill, also known as Friars' Mill, is one of the oldest mills in the East Midlands, and manufacturing activity has occurred on its site since the 1730s. The Mill was awarded listed status in 1975. [15] A number of surrounding buildings, including a Victorian pump house, were also listed at this time. [16] [17] The Donisthorpe Company left the factory in 1983, which led to immediate concerns about the mill's conservation. [18] The building stood empty for a number of years, and fell into a state of disrepair. In July 2012, a fire destroyed its roof, clocktower and most of the interior. [19] [20] In November 2012, Leicester City Council announced its decision to purchase and restore the Donisthorpe Mill building. [21]


Geoffrey of Monmouth, who claimed Leicester was named for an eponymous King Leir, claimed that the king was buried in an underground chamber beneath the river near Leicester. This was supposedly devoted to the god Janus.

Leir, Lerion, and Ligora(ceastre) all derive from the old Brittonic name of the River Soar, *Ligera or *Ligora.

The body of King Richard III was sometimes said to have been thrown into the river during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. From this legend, the bridge carrying the A47 across the Soar at Leicester is known as "King Richard's Bridge". However, in 2013, it was confirmed that the skeleton discovered beneath a car park in 2012 was, in fact, that of Richard III and, in March 2015, the skeleton was re-interred in Leicester Cathedral.


Soar valley between Barrow upon Soar and Mountsorrel Riversoar.JPG
Soar valley between Barrow upon Soar and Mountsorrel

The Soar is now a hive of tourism rather than of industry. Holiday narrowboat cruises are extremely popular as it is a relaxing way to visit the country and get ‘in-touch’ with nature. The tow-paths next to the canal are used for “cycling, rambling, horse-riding and picnicking” (Leicester City Council, 2005).

The waterway is a popular location for match and occasional fishing. There are large carp, chub, bream, roach, and perch in the canal, plus dace and barbel on some stretches (www.waterscape.com/River_Soar).


The stretch of the River Soar which passes through the centre of Leicester known as the 'Mile Straight' is home to De Montfort University Rowing Club, the University of Leicester Boat Club and Leicester Rowing Club a rowing and sculling club formed in 1882.

See also

Related Research Articles

Grand Union Canal Canal in England

The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the British canal system. Its main line starts in London and ends in Birmingham, stretching for 137 miles (220 km) with 166 locks. It has arms to places including Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton.

East Midlands A region of England

The East Midlands is one of nine official regions of England at the first level of ITL for statistical purposes. It consists of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland. The region has an area of 15,627 km2 (6,034 sq mi), with a population over 4.5 million in 2011. The most populous settlements in the region are Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Mansfield, Northampton and Nottingham. Other notable settlements include Boston, Chesterfield, Corby, Grantham, Hinckley, Kettering, Loughborough, Newark-on-Trent, Skegness, Wellingborough, and Worksop.

Leicestershire County of England

Leicestershire is a landlocked county in the English Midlands, being within the East Midlands. The county borders Nottinghamshire to the north, Lincolnshire to the north-east, Rutland to the east, Northamptonshire to the south-east, Warwickshire to the south-west, Staffordshire to the west, and Derbyshire to the north-west. The border with most of Warwickshire is Watling Street, the modern A5 road.

Loughborough Town in Charnwood, Leicestershire, England

Loughborough is a market town in the Charnwood borough of Leicestershire, England, the seat of Charnwood Borough Council and Loughborough University. Its 59,933 inhabitants in the 2011 census were estimated at 67,956 in 2019, as the county's second largest settlement. It is close to the Nottinghamshire border and short distances from Leicester, Nottingham, East Midlands Airport and Derby. It has the world's largest bell foundry, John Taylor Bellfounders, which made bells for the Carillon War Memorial, a landmark in the Queens Park in the town, of Great Paul for St Paul's Cathedral, and for York Minster.

Borough of Charnwood Borough in England

The Borough of Charnwood is a local government district with borough status in the north of Leicestershire, England, which has a population of 166,100 as of the 2011 census. It borders Melton to the east, Harborough to the south east, Leicester and Blaby to the south, Hinckley and Bosworth to the south west, North West Leicestershire to the west and Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire to the north. It is named after Charnwood Forest, an area which the borough contains much of.

Frisby on the Wreake Human settlement in England

Frisby on the Wreake is a village and civil parish on the River Wreake about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England. The 2011 Census recorded the parish's population as 557.

The River Wreake is a river in Leicestershire, England. It is a tributary of the River Soar. The river between Stapleford Park and Melton Mowbray is known as the River Eye and becomes the Wreake below Melton Mowbray.

The Charnwood Forest Canal, sometimes known as the "Forest Line of the Leicester Navigation", was opened between Thringstone and Nanpantan, with a further connection to Barrow Hill, near Worthington, in 1794

A canal ring is the name given to a series of canals that make a complete loop.

Thrussington Human settlement in England

Thrussington is a village and civil parish in the Charnwood district of Leicestershire, England. The population of the civil parish at the 2011 census was 587. It is on the River Wreake, near to Rearsby, Ratcliffe on the Wreake, Hoby and Brooksby, and not far from the path of the Fosse Way.

Oakham Canal

The Oakham Canal ran from Oakham, Rutland to Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire in the East Midlands of England. It opened in 1802, but it was never a financial success, and it suffered from the lack of an adequate water supply. It closed after 45 years, when it was bought by the Midland Railway to allow the Syston and Peterborough Railway to be built, partly along its course. Most of it is infilled, although much of its route can still be seen in the landscape, and there are short sections which still hold water.

Frog Island, Leicester

Frog Island is an inner city area of Leicester, England, so named because it lies between the River Soar and the Soar Navigation. Frog Island is adjacent to the Woodgate area to the north, and Northgates to the South. The population of the island was at the 2011 census in the Abbey ward of Leicester City Council.

Melton Mowbray Navigation

The Melton Mowbray Navigation was formed when the River Wreake in Leicestershire, England, was made navigable upstream from its junction with the River Soar and the Leicester Navigation near Syston to Melton Mowbray, opening in 1797. Largely river navigation, there were numerous lock cuts, to accommodate the 12 broad locks built along its length, many of which were built at sites where it was necessary to maintain the water levels for an adjacent mill.

The River Eye is a river in north-eastern Leicestershire that becomes the Wreake.

A607 road

The A607 is an A road in England that starts in Belgrave, Leicester and heads northeastwards through Leicestershire and the town of Grantham, Lincolnshire, terminating at Bracebridge Heath, a village on the outskirts of Lincoln. It is a primary route from Thurmaston to the A1 junction at Grantham.


  1. 1 2 "Soar from Source to Soar Brook". Catchment Data Explorer. Environment Agency. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
  2. 1 2 "WFD Surface Water Classification Status and Objectives 2012 csv files". Environment-agency.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 24 February 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  3. 1 2 "28082 - Soar at Littlethorpe". The National River Flow Archive. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  4. "Hi Flows UK - AMAX for Littlethorpe". Environment-agency.gov.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  5. "Vorgermanisch/Vorindogermanisch" in: Jankuhn (ed.), Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde 32, Walter de Gruyter, 1968, p. 607; also in the Sanskrit river names Sarayu, Sarasvati , etc.
  6. Stevenson, W. H. "A note on the derivation of the name 'Leicester'" in The Archaeological Journal, Vol. 75, pp. 30 f. Royal Archaeological Institute (London), 1918. John Dudley, "Etymology of the Name of Leicester", The Gentleman's Magazine 184, 1848, 580582, citing Wilford, Asiatick Researches vol. ii. No. 2 (1812), p. 45: "The learned Somner says that the river which runs by it [Leicester] was formerly called Leir by the same contraction [from Legora], and it is probably the river Liar of the anonymous geographer. Mr. Somner, if I be not mistaken, places the original own of Ligora near the source of the Lear, now the Soar".
  7. Gelling et al. (eds.), The names of towns and cities in Britain, B. T. Batsford, 1970, p. 122.
  8. Murphy, K. J.; Eaton, J. W. (December 1983). "Effects of Pleasure-Boat Traffic on Macrophyte Growth in Canals". The Journal of Applied Ecology. 20 (3): 713–729. doi:10.2307/2403122.
  9. Alabaster, J. S. (November 1959). "The Effect of a Sewage Effluent on the Distribution of Dissolved Oxygen and Fish in a Stream". The Journal of Animal Ecology. 28 (2): 283–291. doi:10.2307/2083.
  10. Arteries Of Commerce: Grand Union Canal. Gloucester: Grand Union Canal Company. 1932.
  11. 1 2 Neaverson, Peter (2001). "An Archaeological Resource Assessment of Modern Leicestershire and Rutland (1750 onwards)" (PDF). East Midlands Archaeological Research Framework. University of Leicester.
  12. "Development Framework in place and two projects on site". Leicester Regeneration Company . 2005. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008.
  13. Fisher, David Robert (1999). "Waterside Properties". Technical Restoration Handbook. Inland Waterways Association.
  14. "Walkers Stadium Overview: History of the Build". Leicester City Official Site. Archived from the original on 12 January 2007.
  15. Historic England. "Donisthorpe and Company Limited Factory Building Overlooking River Soar (1361410)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  16. Historic England. "Donisthorpe and Company Limited Range of three Buildings (1074058)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  17. Historic England. "Pump House, Friar's Mill (1250015)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  18. "Oldest factory 'must be preserved'". Leicester Mercury. 17 August 1983.
  19. "Fire at Leicester's former Donisthorpe and Co factory". BBC News. 23 July 2012.
  20. Photographs of the pre-fire interior
  21. "Future of historic building safeguarded". Leicester City Council. 16 November 2012.