The name of the River Tame is thought to be derived from an ancient word meaning ‘dark’ or ‘slowly flowing’.
The whole of the River Tame is now classed as ‘non-navigable’. That means it is not wide or deep enough to allow ships to use it. However, in the past it would have been an important transport and trading route for smaller boats.
The Tomsaete (‘dwellers of the Tame valley’) were an Anglo-Saxon tribe who lived in the Tame Valley from around 500 AD during the time of the Kingdom of Mercia. They originated in what is now modern-day Germany and travelled across the North Sea, up the Humber estuary and then into the valleys of the Trent and Tame.
The River Tame is 95 km (about 59 miles) long, from its source near Oldbury to where it joins the River Trent at Alrewas. Victorian maps show the source even further west towards Wolverhampton’s Stow Heath colliery (now East Park).
The River has 13 main tributaries: The River Anker, Bourne Brook, The River Bourne, The River Blythe, Crane Brook, Norton Brook, Footherley Brook, Little Hay Brook, Plants Brook, Hockley Brook, River Rea, the Willenhall or Wolverhampton Arm and the Oldbury Arm. Other smaller rivers and streams also feed into these tributaries.
Including all its tributaries, the length of the whole river system is about 285 km (about 177 miles).
The catchment area of the Tame is about 1500 square kilometres (around 579 square miles)
The River Tame flows past nearly 2 million people on its journey from its source to the confluence (where it meets) with the River Trent.
Three major sewage works outflow into the Lower Tame – Coleshill, Tamworth and Minworth Sewage Treatment Works, which is the largest in Europe.
Where the rivers Tame and Trent meet, the Tame is bigger than the Trent, which would appear to be one of its tributaries. However, as the Trent is a longer river than the Tame, the combined river is called the Trent.
Water from the River Tame travels down the Rivers Trent and Humber ending up in the North Sea.
The packhorse bridge at Water Orton was built in 1520 with money given by Bishop John Vesey (Bishop of Exeter) who was born in Sutton Coldfield.
Before the industrial revolution, the River Tame meandered slowly through broad landscapes of wildlife-rich marshes, reeds and pastures. The area was known for its breeding wildfowl and large over-wintering populations of migrating birds and waders.
The artist Joseph Mallord William Turner painted a watercolour of Tamworth Castle from across the River Tame and sketched Tamworth and the River Tame Bridges from near Fazeley in the 1830s.
It’s said that trout caught in the River Tame at Hams Hall were served at Queen Victoria’s Coronation dinner in 1838, where there were 100 special guests.
Around 42% of the Tame flows through built-up areas, which makes it the most urbanised river basin in the United Kingdom. The course of the river has been changed over the centuries, its meandering course was straightened and where it flows through built-up areas it’s mainly channelled through culverts or canals.
During the centuries after the industrial revolution, the Tame became one of Britain’s dirtiest rivers. Coal, iron and steel industries together with raw sewage heavily polluted the river and by 1945 nothing could live in it.
The Tame is much cleaner again now, because of the closures of these traditional industries, new environmental laws and the series of purification lakes at Lea Marston, which are the only ones of this type in the UK.
In the 20th century, there were three power stations on the River Tame at Hams Hall, together producing 1000 megawatts (or 1 Gigawatt) at the height of production, enough energy to power over 600,000 homes. The last one was demolished in 1993.
Gravel was extracted along much of the River Tame between the 1950s and 1990s. The lakes at Kingsbury Water Park and the RSPB reserve at Middleton Lakes were created from the holes left after the gravel was dug out.