The name 'Chew' is believed to originate in France, with the 'ew' part of the name most likely derived from the French word 'eau', meaning water. The word 'Chewer' has been known to denote a narrow passage, whilst 'Chew' can also mean winding water, an accurate description of the river.
Another theory suggests that the name is derived from the Welsh 'cyw', which means 'the young of an animal or chicken'. Its full Welsh title 'Afon Cyw' would loosely translate as 'the river of the chickens'.
The Chew Valley area is scattered with sites of antiquity such as the stone circles at Stanton Drew, the Wansdyke in the Compton Dando and Publow region and numerous sites of Roman occupation including those at Keynsham and Chew Stoke.
The creation of Chew Valley Lake in the 1950s, in addition to increased abstraction, has largely regulated the flow of the river. Historical accounts suggest that the river was once much deeper, wider and more powerful than the river of today, driven by untamed Mendip run-off water. Todays reduced flow has caused silting in some parts of the river, especially upstream of weirs and sluices.
The river used to be navigable at numerous points from Chew Magna to Keynsham, with horse-drawn barges carrying coal from Chewton Keynsham to Bristol, a journey that reputedly took 5 hours, suggesting that at least one bank of the river was likely to be without trees.
The energy of the River Chew has been greatly harnessed throughout the centuries, powering many water mills along its 17 mile course and playing a major part in the Bristol brass industry.
Raw materials were often transported by river between mills. Nowadays, the sound of the battery hammers has been replaced by birdsong and the distant hum of traffic, while river transport is non-existent except for the occasional canoeist.
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