|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||January 2002||Issue 18|
by Derek JamesIt is now some thirty years since my relationship with the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation -or more precisely with the Heybridge Lock - became close. In fact, a good deal closer than I would have chosen.
A fairly young teacher in a Newham secondary school, I was spending the week at the Authority's outdoor pursuit centre, the barge yacht Mamgu, moored in the River Blackwater at Heybridge Basin, with a colleague and twenty, fourteen year olds.
Fourteen-year-old boys being what they are, I thought that I deserved - or at least needed - a pint or two in The Old Ship at the end of a particularly trying day. Although a fair-minded man, I considered it better not to mention this to my colleague in case he thought he needed one too, which would create an insoluble problem about supervision. So I slipped out quietly "for a few minutes", while he entertained, and was entertained by, the hooligans/students.
Had I stuck to my intention -however reprehensible - all would have been well. But alas! I was too sensitive to the wonders of nature. The night was amazingly clear with so many stars shining brightly, that I decided to have a short stroll away from the lights of the buildings to gaze upon them before going for a drink.
Walking along looking up at the sky, I momentarily had the strangest feeling: a bit like the moment before falling asleep or what I imagined it might feel like to be drugged. I barely had time to wonder what was happening to me when I hit the water. I realised I was at the bottom of the chamber for the lock gate, which in those days was not protected by any sort of railings.
The water level was low: the top of the chamber seemed about fifteen feet above me. It was nearly pitch black at the bottom and I didn't realize there was a ladder at the other end. I started to call out "Help", which sounded melodramatic so I changed this to " Hello". No answer. This must have gone on for some 20-30 minutes. I began to calculate my chances of treading water until the tide came in and I could walk out at the top.
Fortunately my confidence in being able to do this was not put to the test as a torch was shone down upon me and a voice asked what I was doing down there and whether I wanted to come out. He directed the torch on to a ladder at the opposite end of the chamber, and I climbed out easily and thanked him as nonchantly as I could manage. He said that he had come out of the pub and had heard a hollow "Helloooo" but couldn't tell where it was coming from for a while.
I returned a little sheepishly to the Mamgu and had to get the boys to hose me down - to their great delight of course (I think it best not to record what my colleague said, in case your newsletter has a family readership. Suffice to say the gist of it was: "It serves you right"). I was further humiliated to find that my bargain trousers had shrunk about three inches and my bargain suede shoes were completely ruined. Worst of all, by the time I was cleaned up and changed the pub was shut so I never did get that pint. There must be a moral in the story somewhere.
I went on later to fall down another near empty lock on a canoe race in the dark but since that was a different canal it is not to the present purpose. *
I trust that the railings since place around the lock chamber will always be kept in good repair. Otherwise, who knows how many absent -minded teachers could end up at the bottom of it?
* (Editor's note: shows consistency of character)
John MarriageTesco stores were fined £30,000 and ordered to pay over £7,500 in costs after pleading guilty to causing poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter the River Chelmer at Chelmsford in Essex. The court heard that during cleaning initiatives over the last few years, 197 Tesco trolleys had been recovered from the River Chelmer and River Can in the town centre The trolleys had put rivers users - including Sea Scouts, canoe club, Agency weed-cutting vessels and wildfowl - at serious risk.
"For several years Tesco resisted implementing all practicable measures to discourage customers from taking their trolleys to various car parks and footpaths where vandals dump them in to the rivers" said Environment Protection Manager Pat Ripon. "It was not until this summer the "coin in the slot locks", but I think the minor inconvenience is something most people are prepared to accept for the overall good."
Reproduced from the October 2001 Issue Environment Action journal of the Environment Agency.
Marks and Spencers store in High Street and New London Road, who have frontage to the River Can have also recently installed "coin in the slot locks".
A Talk by Derek PunchardNearly sixty members and friends packed the hall at Brickhouse Farm to hear Derek Punchard, Chairman of Maldon's Archaeological and Historical, talk about the history of the mill from earliest times to the present day.
It is a very ancient site and there is probably still a lot to be revealed about how the river at Beeleigh was used by our Romans and Saxon forebears and even before. A mill existed in 1066, presumably the same one that is mentioned in the Doomsday Survey some years later. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VI in 1536 the ownership of the mill passed into the hands of Sir John Gate who was by all accounts sold large parts of the buildings and land. However, it was still flourishing 100years later when deeds, dated 1683, held in the Essex Records Office, refer to two fulling mills and two corn mills under one roof at Beeleigh. At this time Maldon was involved in cloth making but it was not an important centre like the other Essex towns of Coggeshall and Braintree.
John Strutt bought the mill in 1753. from his uncle, another John Strutt who was a direct descendent of the Strutt family from Terling Place. Although he purchased the mill, John Strutt was much more interested in living the life of a gentleman and being the M.P.for Maldon from 1774-1790. John Crozier Snr. was apprenticed to John Strutt and bought the mill from him in 1777. He died in 1796 and is buried in All Saints Church, Maldon. His son, also John Crosier, was another who did not fancy the life of a miller. Instead he preferred a life of socialising and travelling, many details of which he recorded in a diary. He is buried in Woodham Walter churchyard.
When the construction of a canal from to Chelmsford was proposed the Strutt family, prominent Essex millers were strongly opposed to it, as were the merchants of Maldon who considered that the port of Maldon's handling charges would be denied them. In addition there would be the competition from the low tolls that were envisaged. Subsequently when the canal was eventually built, supported incidentally by the resourceful Lord Petre of Ingatestone Hall, it started at Heybridge Basin and skirted around the Maldon boundary. (The present Lord Petre, his descendent, is president of the Chelmer Canal Trust).
In 1793 the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, in order to gain control of the mill pound on the river Chelmer and thereby ensure that the canal would not be drained by excessive milling operations, bought Beeleigh Mill from John Crozier for £7150; this was probably an inflated price because many land owners were able to capitalized on the compulsory purchase situation created by an act of parliament - a theory substantiated by the fact that it was sold some two years later for £5000! When it was later bought and rebuilt in 1795 by John Dunkin and his partner Stammers it was 72ft high with five storeys, ten stones and two water wheels. Arthur Young in his celebrated " General View of Agriculture in Essex" (1807) described it as " a beautifully built mill with many barges anchored around it". The barges came up and down on the tide, connecting to ocean going ships tied up at the Hythe in Maldon, and thence to London. and beyond.
Prior to the construction of the navigation in 1792, John Westcombe excavated a cut from his Langford Mill to the River Chelmer opposite Beeleigh Mill. His canal was some two feet higher than the Chelmer and Blackwater and after detailed negotiations between the two groups the Langford Cut was deepened and amalgamated with the Chelmer and Blackwater at Beeleigh. The Cut was never actually connected to the estuary; the vestige of its route to the tideway can be seen as a depression on Maldon Golf Course.
Steam came to the mill in 1845 in the form of a Wentworth beam engine with an Elephant boiler; the compound two-cylinder engine provided power for five more stones in addition to the twelve on the water wheels. The engine was manufactured in Wandsworth to a French design. The 12 HP beam engine and boiler are in excellent condition, a credit to Victorian engineering. They represent an industrial archaeologist's dream and will form part of fascinating visitor attraction for many years to come. Recent on site excavations showed that the water level at the mill has dropped 6inches in 106 years.
Disaster struck one night in 1875 when the water mill was complete destroyed by fire. The fire was seen as far away as Colchester .One can imagine the ferocity of the flames from a burning twelve storey wooden building- some conflagration! The local countryside was lit up for miles around as and an "admirably behaved" great crowd (according to eye witness reports) watched Maldon fire service fight a hopeless case. The cause was attributed to instantaneous combustion, a phenomenon that had seen the demise of other local mills -gases from the millings, and the heat generated, ignite spontaneously. The Essex and Suffolk Equitable insured the building but it was not rebuilt, the low returns from agriculture and the importation of Canadian hard wheat could have contributed to this decision.
Recent history has involved the purchase of the site by the Essex and Suffolk Water Company who have leased it to Essex County Council. The plan is to capitalize on its educational and heritage tourist potential. Various local organizations are engaged in promoting and conserving its artefacts. Openings to the public are limited at present, mainly because the site is shared with a colony of rare bats! Once these have been persuaded to move into alternative quarters then work can begin in earnest in making the historical mill site one of the most attractive to visit and fascinating to visit in East Anglia.
This is a shortened version of Derek's talk. The booklet, "The History of Beeleigh Mill" published by Maldon Archaeological Group and available in local bookshops will give the fuller picture
Dudley CourtmanThe annual rally goes from strength to strength. This year we had the luxury and convenience of the new premises of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company at our disposal at the head of the navigation. To advertise our presence we invested in a huge banner which was attached to the buildings facing Wharf Road. Beneath the banner in the shop units below we were able to locate our exhibition and bric a brac stalls. Thus installed we were no longer at the mercy of any sudden cold, rain or wind.
The boats were marshalled by our harbourmaster, Ron Abbott, ready for the procession at 3pm. There were some really long narrow boats this year, Serendipity and Isabella, in the enforced absence of the Susan, led the procession. Boaters and visitors were then able to mill around the exhibitions and stalls in a hunt for bargains and the hidden treasure that one always hopes to find at such events. The Ipswich Branch of the IWA and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company offered many tempting items and business was brisk. The Trust's collection of photographs was greatly admired and several new members were signed up.
The Blackwater Rose offered trips throughout from Coates Quay to the lock and back. En route they were well placed to take part in the special photographic canal competition - a treasure hunt on water. (Various objects, places, scenes were photographed; the photos were cut and selected segments were chosen as clues). The winner, Peter Condon, gained a vintage bottle of bubbly courtesy of the Waterfront; he confessed to receiving a little assistance:
"About the photo quiz, I must admit that I had a little assistance from my fellow passengers as I passed round the pages and asked them to shout out when they spotted a clue. The problem was if you missed one you couldn't turn the boat round and have another go. I don't mind sharing the drink if they identify themselves. Thanks for a very pleasant day". So be quick and take Peter up on his generous offer.
During the evening a barbecue was held on Coates Quay and the smell of grilling steaks was soon wafting around the old warehouse. Fortunately most of the cooking was completed before the first rain of the day put in an unwelcome appearance. By this time our acclaimed Country and Western duo had arrived and had set themselves up cosily in a corner of the barn. As per last year, Richard and Rupert gave a bravura performance of both folk and popular songs accompanied by electric guitar and piano; they were so engrossed and blinded by the lighting they were oblivious to the impromptu snuffling visits paid to their ankles by two of the ship dogs.
The Raffle was blessed with some handsome prizes generously provided by Waterfront Place. For the winner it was like a birthday wish come true; Louise Marriage succeeded in blowing out eleven candles; the band played in her honour, and she won first prize in the raffle! (Guess where Will, Wendy, Alan, Louise and Rebecca went for lunch on Sunday!). The entertainment was a fitting end to a very enjoyable day.
Gradually the Trust is developing the full potential of the site and is learning a little more on " How to do it better next time. Thanks are due to our small faithful band of workers, Ron and Judith Abbott and William Marriage. Without their efforts we would be sunk. This year the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, the Inland Waterways Association, Waterfront Place, Chelmsford Borough Council, Chelmsford Silver Band and "The Tawny" generously supported them.
John MarriageIt is not often that one experiences a sense of satisfaction when one realises that a familiar sight has disappeared. Nevertheless, that was how I felt the other day when I looked up the River Chelmer from Springfield Road Bridge and noticed that Bonds Bridge had gone. My pleasure was derived from the fact that it had been the subject of a substantial campaign by me to secure its removal on behalf of the Chelmsford Canoe Club and other river users over many years.
Bonds Bridge was originally built to provide access over the river to a private car park owned by Bonds - the former departmental store taken over by Debenhams - and became redundant when a later structure was built, slightly upstream. In later years no one admitted ownership and it was fenced off from use.
It was an ugly, rust coloured concrete structure, but my principal objection was its low headroom, less than 2 feet above the normal waterline, with a skeleton of girder and pipes slung on its underside with rusty nails projecting - a veritable death trap for the unwary paddler passing underneath. I have personal memories of nearly being pulled out of my canoe on several occasions when, on ducking, to pass under it, my paddle caught on one of the underwater obstructions causing me to be nearly dragged into the water. Over the years I witnessed several canoeists suffering the same accident with several actually capsizing and requiring rescue.
In my younger days I offered to blow it up myself, using skills learnt during my National Service with the Royal Engineers - though in reality I would probably also blown myself up and half the windows in the High Street! However, a sustained and more peaceful campaign (including taking Councillors upstream under the bridge) eventually persuaded the Council they desirability of its removal.
The removal of the bridge was apparently a requirement of the planning consent allowing the construction of Edwards the new restaurant which now operate the adjoining land.
Sadly, Chelmsford has suffered from the erection of many low bridges in the past. The headroom under Springfield Road Bridge is only a little greater than that at Bonds Bridge and is something of an obstruction to paddlers. Fortunately, it has none of the appendages of the latter but nevertheless it should be jacked up should the opportunity occur.
If Chelmsford is to achieve its ambition of becoming the Bruges of Essex, with boats being able to penetrate upstream, at least as far as Central Park, once the linking canal between Springfield Cut and the River Chelmer is built, it should also take steps to steadily raise the various footbridges disastrously built by the Meadows developers as less that a proper navigation height and mistakenly permitted by the Council through a misreading of the submitted plans. The service road to Marks and Spencer is a similar and more formidable obstruction which will also need attention. Only by carrying out these various bridge works can the town achieve the full potential of its waterside location.
John MarriageThe construction of Chelmsford's first marina is now underway near the head of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation at Springfield Basin, close to the centre of town. The new Marina will provide secure moorings for some 12 boats and is associated with the construction of some 106 new homes on the site of the former scrap iron dump just upstream of Springfield Lock. Boats from there will have access to the 13 mile canal between Chelmsford and Heybridge Basin on the Blackwater estuary.
The marina will have private access from Springfield Cut and a requirement of the development is the construction of new landing stages above and below Springfield Lock thereby improving access to the lock, together with an easing of the gradient below the lock hill, making easier portaging around the lock for light craft.
The same building company also carried out the development at Coates Quay and the former public wharf at Springfield Basin, erecting new flats and shop units, two of which are scheduled to open as a waterside inn to be called "The Navigator"
At present there are no safe moorings on the upper reaches of the navigation and it is expected that the new facility will provide more regular activity here, even if it is largely confined to a few craft making the short trip to the prestigious "Waterside" restaurant or the proposed new public house, both situated at the head of the canal.
Future developments at Chelmsford include the construction of a new channel linking Springfield Cut with the River Chelmer, thereby extending navigation a further mile or so into the heart of the town and the construction of several further small marinas, when further redevelopment of currently derelict waterside land takes place.
John MarriageThe Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council - a government sponsored quango - have recently published their 2001 review of waterway restoration and developments in which they take stock of progress made since their 1998 report.
They report a dynamic scene across the board on most restoration schemes and they have produced revised assessment of the various projects.
In the report they assess the various projects in four categories. Advanced, Substantial, Progress, Intermediate, Early Stage. Each project has been considered for it's heritage and wildlife importance and potential for urban and rural regeneration.
The Advanced category relates to projects which are now either complete of substantially complete.
Included within the above category in the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and they report as follows "Welcome EA led initiative to extend existing navigation into town centre". Hopefully this report will galvanise the Borough Council into action as the trail seems to have gone cold recently despite some prodding by the Chelmer Canal Trust.
On neighbouring waterways it is pleasing that the River Stour Trust's work has zoomed up the schedules from an almost ran position into the Substantial Progress list, where IWAAC point out that most preliminary work has been completed or is in hand. This is in recognition for the work the RST have already done, the preparation of a Feasibility Study and work on hand at Stratford. In this they have overtaken that of the restoration on the neighbouring Gipping, which has been re-categorised as Intermediate - where there is considerable preliminary work outstanding. This seems a fair assessment as, although several lock chambers on the Gipping have been repaired, via sterling work by voluntary working parties, no gates have yet been installed and sadly, at the present time there is no right of navigation, and some levels have been permanently lowered.
In their report, the Council makes the following approving comments about the Stour - Council is pleased to note significant progress made with underpinning studies with EA support. National ranking reflects value of historic structures and landscape importance. Elevation of the work of restoration on the River Stour to national status is particularly gratifying to the River Stour Trust who have long emphasised its heritage value as one of the oldest river navigations and its connection with the landscape paintings of John Constable.
Dudley CourtmanThe last few years when we have held our September Boat Rally at Springfield the question of whether the lock will be up to the task is always raised. Although relatively new, restored by the Chelmsford Branch of the Inland Waterways Association in 1993, the lower gates have started to leak badly enough to dewater the lock. This causes them to dry out and for deterioration to set in; similarly with the bricks in the lock chamber itself. Consequently when one uses the lock there is always the fear of being effectively "locked in or out".
This year the Trust asked the Bramston Sub-Aqua Club from Witham if they would demonstrate their skills at the rally. They responded with great enthusiasm and offered to inspect the cill of the lock at the same time.
The lock chamber was then filled, the location of the leak noted and the cause investigated from the downstream side. It was apparent that much water was escaping at the mitre joint on which both gates are supposed to form a seal. (It was noted that the gates appeared to be too large and could not butt together fairly which meant that either one gate would align with cill the other wouldn't, and vice-versa. Neither would the gates lift in the normal way as the lock filled because they jammed together causing one gate "to spring". Both gates positions were tried up against the cill but the amount of leakage was the more of less the same.
The whole operation took some two hours to complete. The performance of the divers was impressive; especially their dive into the gushing highly pressured leaks to find the gaps with their fingers! Valuable information on the extent and location of the leak was conveyed to Eddie who collected it for the record. He intimated that remedial action would involve dewatering the lock through the positioning of a cofferdam below the bridge.
This very exercise was a classic example of partnership and friendly co-operation between willing volunteers and the Canal Company. It is most reassuring that there are such helpful local clubs who are happy to share their knowledge and skills for the benefit of all canal users. Very many thanks and congratulations to Bramston Sub Aqua Club
Mark and I first moved into Barnes Mill and Barnes Mill House at the end of January 1999, blissfully unaware of what lay in front of us.
It is a very romantic notion to live by a river (let alone on it!) and it wasn't difficult for us to fall in love with the Mill, its history and its surroundings. Neither of us are what you call naïve. I come from a family of farmers and both of us have individually lived by water most of our lives. But we've never been responsible for a stretch of water or have been affected by water flow as we are now.
Our first 15 months here saw us 'acclimatise' to living away from our families and out of London. We got used to learning to pander to an old house and to a large garden. We played on the water and we have all unintentionally fallen in. We even learnt a little about a river's wildlife, about fishing and the passion of fishermen. In the first few months we needed to adjust the water flow gently a couple of times and relied heavily on the previous owner and on Alan, our grounds man and saviour, to be shown what to do and when.
Basically, the Mill is very fortunate to have and control sluice gates on the River Chelmer side of our property (these help to ensure that water flow away from Chelmsford is maintained), a 'shut' to help overflow from the millrace into The Chelmer and two sets of house gates within the house. One of these can be adjusted but essentially remains constantly open. This gives the house its 'mill character' as we live with the sound of rushing water! The second set of gates remains closed unless we have high water and need to keep the millrace down. If these gates do not work efficiently, our home would flood very quickly and the spread of water could not be contained, potentially affecting homes and businesses close to us. During high rainfall, we have a couple of hours to open all of our gates once the automatic gates in the centre of Chelmsford gush open.
Our first experience of potential flooding came in May 2000. Unexpectedly, we were surrounded by raging water that engulfed our garden and almost completely covered the water meadows to the right of the Mill. Mark was away, so I was on my own apart from Alan's much needed help. It was frightening to experience the roar of the water through the house and see only water across the meadows. It was also an eye-opener to see the mess left behind once the water receded. You name it and it has passed along the river here. TV's, countless trainers, dishwashers, washing machines, Chelmsford litter bins, road signs, tyres, engines and plenty of disposable cups and bottles. Not forgetting fallen trees, large roots and telegraph poles!
But we had seen nothing yet.
After that first flood we realised that the Mill was, in fact, vulnerable to flooding. As rainfall hadn't caused that level of water flow for many years, the millponds had changed their shape and water flow through the property was hindered because of silt build up. The Environment Agency were extremely helpful and co-funded the lowering of the front mill pond to create extra depth thereby allowing water flow to be speeded up through the property. We also realised how vital it was to keep the sluice gates, shut and house gates free of debris. Easy flow through our property helps to allow water flow to spread across the water meadows efficiently without creating a 'back-up' of water too close to the Army and Navy roundabout (and thereby central Chelmsford) about three quarters of a mile from here.
As the enormous digger moved away from the millpond in November 2000 it started to pour with rain and a day later we were again a house amidst water. That Christmas we opened presents with the house gates in the hall open. Those gates were to remain open for most of the coming four months to cope with the high water levels.
Even though our home did not flood during last winter, we were surrounded by water and it was a constant battle to make sure that the gates were free of debris at all times (during the night one of us often got up every two hours just to see how things were). As the winter wore on into spring the threat of flooding did not recede as the water meadows became more and more waterlogged. This resulted in instant flooding with less than a day's rainfall and the flooded areas becoming more and more widespread.
Actually, we were lucky. We were able to control water around our home. As we all know there were many who could do nothing to stop water flowing into their homes quickly ruining not only their houses but destroying many prized possessions. This was when residents realised, many for the first time that their homes were situated on or very close to a floodplain. It is beneficial to remember here that homes flooded, even with the water meadows 'working at full capacity.'
We were extremely relieved when the rains finally seemed to stop for a summer break. Then we tackled improving water flow, reducing trees that were now standing on subsiding banks, propping up those banks and planting trees and shrubs that would withstand high water levels and a soaking. We also had to make substantial repairs to all of the thick oak gates, sluice gates and boarding around the water's edge. The Environment Agency also helped to improve silting along the riverbank close to Sandford Mill and agricultural ditches that had lain untouched for many years were cleared.
In July we were again relieved to see that the Borough and County Council had, once again, refused planning permission for development of part of the Chelmer Valley floodplain - this time for an irrigation reservoir at Manor Farm, Great Baddow.
You should imagine our dismay when an article in the Essex Chronicle towards the end of August stated that the County Council were 'minded' to overturn their decision and permit the reservoir. Thankfully, past and present Borough councillors advised us of how to show our disapproval. Quickly, we learnt who to write to and when the relevant meetings were. We learnt how the cogs of local government turned and were, quite frankly, totally disappointed in the responses we received from Essex County Council who had seemed to lose all sense of reasoning. We met and talked to others who couldn't believe the plans were perhaps going to be accepted.
One thing we have realised over the last three years is that you really cannot beat nature. Water has to spread when it floods; it needs to find somewhere to go. Chelmsford has the capacity to minimise flood damage with its existing water meadows. These must not be developed and must be maintained. We have this valued commodity now (unlike Little Waltham, parts of Braintree and Coggeshall) and should treasure it and guard it consistently. We should realise that continued development along the river will cause increased water run-off creating more pressure on the water meadows. And, that the water table changes when development results in more concrete being forced into the ground around rivers. October's floods, after a relatively dry summer, happened after less than a day's rainfall - showing that the water meadows are still saturated after last year. We still had high water levels here - even with the all of the improvements around us and the cottages flooded last year still had water only a few feet away from their doors.
The resevoir proposal is now with Go-East, the regional office for this area who, in essence acts as a mediator. We are waiting to see if the plans will be approved or passed to the Environment Secretary for a public enquiry.
Many fingers remain firmly crossed as this approval could set a very dangerous precedent and give us more sleepless nights at the Mill.
John and Roberta Heginbotham from Highwood
Caroline Ward from Chelmsford
Jane Thompson and Ken McKenzie from Black Notley
June Meads and Stephen Mynard from Chelmsford
Mr&Mrs Robert Barron from Chelmsford
Mr A Bohaman from Chelmsford
Margaret and David Cameron from Highwood
Maureen Hardy from Danbury
Kevin John from Wickford
Mr S.Tween and family from Linford
Arnold Wilson from Hertford
Mrs J. Andrews from Springfield
Mr S R Clarke from Writtle
Some useful phone numbers:Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231