|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||July 2002||Issue 20|
It all started off one weekend whilst out shopping at Lakeside shopping centre. Whilst perusing the magazine shelves at W.H.Smith (the lower shelves, not the top ones!!!), I noticed there were three different magazines, each dedicated to canals in the UK, one had a list of hire boats companies, renting out narrowboats (or were they longboats, what was the difference?). The last (and only) time I had been on a narrow boat holiday was some 30 years ago, with my parents and cousins when I was around 15 years old. Leigh (my wife) and I had talked about taking a short break away the following weekend, I wondered how a short boating holiday may suit us. I bought the magazine. Looking through it at home over the weekend we agreed that 4 days on a narrowboat would be different, so on Monday morning from work….. I mean after work!!. I phoned around a few of the hire boat companies advertised in the magazine. Blackwater Boats, based at Chelmsford, had a 27ft narrowboat available, £210 for 4 days. This was around half the price of another narrowboat hire, so I gave them my credit card number in return for a confirmed booking.
The Chelmer and Blackwater Canal (sorry, Navigation)!…. never heard of it. Having lived in Essex just about all my life, I knew Chelmsford, I knew the river Chelm, or was it Chelmer, ran through the town. I knew the river Blackwater, Maldon, Osea Island, St Lawrence bay and Bradwell, but not the C&BN. I had no idea there was a canal or canal boats in Essex. I thought you had to travel to Birmingham to find a canal and narrowboat!.
Having received booking confirmation, rental information and location map / directions to Sandford Mill from Blackwater boats, we duly arrived on Friday morning at 11:00am to be greeted by Ron Abbott. Ron spent around an hour with us, explaining boat and lock handling, before we set off down stream towards Maldon. The first mile or so, under / alongside the A12 was noisy, but we managed the 1st lock without any damage to boat or lock, the beers and wine in the fridge were getting cooler, the kettle was boiling….we had stocked up at Asda, only a few minutes from Sandford lock, with sufficient provisions for 4 days (although anyone would have thought we had enough for a week)….. we were getting confident, the scenery was beautiful, now so quite and picturesque…. Unbelievable. We just could not believe we were still in Essex, only 20 miles from London, just half an hour drive from our home (Chafford Hundred, near Lakeside). We moored up for the night in the middle of nowhere. We watched large fish swim alongside the boat in almost crystal clear water, saw bats fly over us at dusk, listened to the absolute silence of the night, with just the odd rustle of tree leaves in the wind. A completely different world to what we were used to.
The most relaxing, restful, stress free holiday we had ever experienced (apart from the 20 seconds when, downstream of a lock, waiting to enter, we could not hold onto the boat as the lock paddles were opened and the water flow caught the bow of the boat causing it to crash heavily against the canal side…. Don’t tell Ron!!!!…. But with no damage occurred this showed the strength and advantage of a steel boat, and the weakness of a bottle of wine on the galley worktop). Lesson 1; always ensure the rope has a couple of turns around the adjacent bollard and the wine bottle is secure in the fridge door.
In our 4 days we never made Heybridge Basin, only getting as far as Beeleigh falls. Neither did we manage to get to Springfield basin in Chelmsford. Neither of us wanted to leave the boat on Monday afternoon and we were a little late handing back the boat. That was October 4th 1999.
That’s how it all started, we were hooked on canal boating, and decided to get afloat ourselves. We looked at some of the secondhand fibreglass boats for sale along the canal, but we really liked the looks and practicalities of a narrowboat. The narrowboat we hired from Blackwater Boats was 27ft, we liked it very much, and did seriously contemplate buying a similar boat, but we had thoughts of living on board for up to two weeks at a time, and felt something with a bigger kitchen / galley and bathroom would be more comfortable. We bought many canal magazines, and started looking at new narrowboat 'sailaways'.
A 'sailaway' boat is a completed hull and deck, fully watertight with front and back doors, all windows and working engine. Within 3 weeks we had toured England and Wales visiting boat builders, we looked at other canals and moorings, another 6 weeks later (December 17th) we had our own brand new 35 feet long narrowboat, Isabella, moored on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation at Sandford Mill lock, only a stones throw from Blackwater Boats. The boat interior was completely empty, except for the floor and foam insulation to the interior sides and roof!!!!.
We completed the fit-out of the boat ourselves, she was around 95% complete when we had a 10 day vacation on her in August 2000. She is now 99% complete (does anybody own a 100% completed boat, with no work outstanding?) and is moored at Hoe Mill Lock on the C&BN. But the fit-out is another story. We are delighted with her (or is she now an it!!) and we can often be seen cruising along the canal at the weekends, and look forward to the next (our 3rd) Springfield Rally.
Not only did we acquire a narrowboat, but also a web site. You can read more about our narrowboat fit-out, and a little about the C&BN canal at www.nb.isabella.btinternet.co.uk. where you can also find links to Blackwater Boats web site plus Chelmer Trust, C&BN company and a few other selected narrowboat web sites.
Laurie told us that the Gilson family has lived on the East Coast for generations and had descended from Dutch fisherman who arrived here 300 to 400 years ago to settle in the ports of Sheerness, Southwold, Whitstable and Leigh. The Gilsons' have worked hard over the years and now run the largest fishing fleet in the south east of England.
Laurie’s rescuing abilities were legendary, having helped out many distressed mariners over the years. One day his skills were put to the test: the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture phoned for his assistance. There was a sea lion in the Thames opposite the Festival Hall. Could he come and catch it? When Laurie arrived with his lorry, nets and two dinghies there was no one around except a waiting launch. The action was taking place some way upstream and he would be towed there. On reaching the scene it was evident that the local longshoremen had cashed in on the act. They were charging a large crowd half- a -crown a trip to “ Come and see the sea lion!” Because of the numerous boats milling around it was impossible to see exactly what was going on and some order had to be established by using loud- hailers. The crowd were very displeased, especially those who had just been parted from their money. They “booed” loudly.
Poor Fritz, the sea lion, as Laurie christened him, was in a bad way; he had jumped ship from Billy Smart’s publicity show on the water and had been swimming around in circles for hours. He was tired, hungry, and ill tempered at being offered only bread to eat by the spectators and at being scarred by the propellers of the over curious boats.
Laurie and his brother went to work. Having cleared a large circle around the animal they paid out their mullet nets, one holding station in one dinghy whilst the other rowed the filamentous net in a large arc around their prey. By this time the TV news cameras had arrived and the crowd numbers had doubled. Fritz, sensing his moment of destiny, came to the surface and edged towards the corks at the top of the net, then, with one almighty leap for freedom, he became airborne – a 6ft jump! - and landed in open water. How the crowd loved it! Laurie was untroubled, for he knew all about the hurdling techniques of mullet and salmon, and patiently encircled Fritz again placating him continually with the contents of a two stone box of herring obtained from nearby Billingsgate. At the moment of Fritz’s second giant leap Laurie was ready for him and raised the net out of the water to form a hurdle of Beech’s Brook proportions. They had him! The next task was to get Fritz on board and to extricate him from the enormous tangle of fine net. Not an easy job with a half a ton of angry sea lion, thrashing around the slippery boards of small boat with enormous fangs! It kept five men very busy and it was over two hours before Fritz could be succumbed and taken back to the circus.
The story had a happy ending for Laurie. As a mark of his gratitude (not to mention all the free publicity!) Billy Smart booked a coach to take the whole Gilson family from Southend to his circus at Earls Court where the celebrated, Max Bygraves, presented them with a cheque for £200, which as Laurie recalled was an awful lot of money in 1952. Laurie subsequently renamed his two dinghies Fritz I and Fritz II.
Whether Laurie’s Fritz was related to the sea lion, which made a similar bid for freedom, by swimming down the Chelmer and Blackwater canal in the 1970’s remains to be proved. The two have much in common and the Chelmer sea lion’s credentials are still being investigated. The full story should emerge soon although it’s not certain yet that it will be in time for the next edition of Coates Cuttings. If not we shall have to rely on Laurie to entertain us again with more of his fishy stories – those members who came to the AGM can vouch for the fact that there are many more of those!
Edited by Dudley Courtman and John Marriage.
Published by the Chelmer Canal Trust 72pages, £6 (p&p99p)
What the reviewers have said: From “Waterways World” July 2002:
“..this is a fine example of what canal societies can do to record the history of their own waterways as well as to promote it to a more national public. The editors have gathered together tales from a variety of local sources and illustrated them with appropriate photographs and drawings…
From the various authors we learn about how Chelmsford developed as a result of the navigation, we meet some of the personalities of the waterway such as the former chairman of the navigation company, Colonel John Cramphorn and some of the lock keepers and maintenance gang, we see the boats both commercial and leisure that have plied the navigation and we hear individual stories and reminiscences, sometimes sad, sometimes amusing.
A worthy…publication that could be emulated by other local organisations.”
From our “Poet in Residence”, Don McCort
“Here is a very readable story that gently flows through two centuries of people and places showing how the river in its valley has touched the lives of those who worked and played on it. Though the construction of the canal was essentially an economic endeavour which left an important economic legacy, it is the legacy of wonder, beauty and tranquillity that has touched the hearts and imagination of the users we meet in these pages.”
From Martin Hatfield our Canadian contributor to “The Tales”
25th May 2002
People are particularly touchy about our heritage this week because we have a controversy in town about a historic ferryboat, the last of its type, which does not fit into any category listed by the bureaucrats: its due to be broken up tomorrow! ………….
Thanks again and best wish to all in the Chelmer Canal Trust.
I’ll keep in touch
There you have it. Plaudits all round! So please order your copy of “The Tales” from the secretary. Remember that apart from being a good read it’s “all grist to the Trust’s mill” (a phrase whose literal meaning will be featured in our next newsletter)
Around 40 of us boarded Victoria at Paper Mill Lock around 6:45pm on Saturday 8th June. The staff had previously been kind enough to allow us to take on board a decorated cake, flowers, a few photos of their wedding for display and few helium '50th anniversary' party balloons. On board were friends and family (including great grandson), many of whom had travelled quite some distance for the occasion.
We cruised down to Rickets lock and back, through Paper Mill, Rushes and Hoe Mill locks, arriving back at 11:00pm as planned. It was great, everyone enjoyed themselves and the crew and staff were fantastic. The buffet we ordered was delicious, and plentiful. 3 minibuses picked up guests at the end of the cruise, enabling all to enjoy the splendours of the onboard bar. A very memorable occasion.
I would recommend Victoria to anyone having an upcoming special occasion, with up to 48 guests (for a brochure call C&BN leisure on 01245 225520).
Ed. What are your thoughts??
Many boat owners were hoping that the stretch of the River Blackwater, north of the canal between Beeleigh and Langford, would be navigable by now allowing boats to moor up alongside the Langford Museum of Power. However the fisherman who use this stretch have not been to happy about the dredging and boating implications on the natural habitat. The nearby Langford cut is now back under investigation, with the Water Company looking to relocate the large sewage pipe which crosses it. It is hoped that this could be relocated sometime next year!
We are not going to have a “bit of a do” in Springfield Basin this year but just have a BBQ at Sandford Lock. It will be on Saturday 7th and for those who are still around or cannot make the Saturday evening, another BBQ Sunday lunchtime.
It will be the same format with bring your own food, the hot stuff provided.
Why not cruise up to Sandford on the Saturday and make a week-end of it. (There will be no toilet facilities so anyone without availability would need to rely on those with). As we hope to have non boating members as well there will be an undercover area just in case the elements are not too favourable.
We also have had the offer of some entertainment and that will be confirmed shortly.
So why not come and join in. Come and meet other members (with or without a boat). See you over the weekend of 7/8th September at Sandford Lock.
Blackwater Rose will also be operating for those who wish to take a trip.
Dudley Courtman reports.
The town’s planning brief was explained by Roy Chandler, Senior Planning Officer, Chelmsford Borough Council, who was able to illustrate that imaginative planning can make a difference, albeit, in some cases, having to compensate for the legacy of less imaginative times. The Chelmsford Flood Relief Works of the 1950’s has a lot to answer for, although it seemed like a good idea at the time! The provision of pleasant river views, quiet walks and rides, attractive buildings and riverbanks, has been and is being addressed with the result that Chelmsford is an attractive town. This is a worthy achievement when one considers the constraints imposed by traffic volume, car parking, servicing the needs of commerce and the retail industry, and providing new public buildings and housing. In the past the town had firmly turned its back on the river. Today it is capitalising on its presence by providing along its length, walkways, open green spaces and patios, landscaped gardens, shops, and outdoor cafes.
The planner’s vision is to encourage boats to enter the heart of Chelmsford by raising certain bridges and by making a link to the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation at Springfield. These works, and the provision of new access ramps, landing stages, and launching facilities could help turn the town into the “Bruges of Essex.”
Tricia Gupta, from Countryside Properties, described how two unpromising pieces of derelict land in Chatham and Greenwich (near to the Dome) had been developed to provide affordable housing. A high-energy conservation standard had been used in the building materials and in the construction methods. It wasn’t clear what the message was for Chelmsford but one assumes that similar works are envisaged in the town on brownfield or similar sites.
Roger Tabor, Chairman of the British Naturalist Trust, spoke about the benefits of water meadows. They help to prevent flooding and they are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Both of these valuable assets are put at risk by building, ploughing, and intensive farming operations. He stressed that the water meadow is a natural treasure which is fast disappearing (this is certainly the case with the Chelmer Valley below Chelmsford). Water mills along a valley provide large platform steps, which contain a flood basin above them thus affording a natural flood control mechanism. Unfortunately the town of Chelmsford creates an unnatural obstacle in the order of things and unnatural preventative measures had to be taken. Hence the Flood Relief Scheme of the 1950’s.
Doug Beard of the Inland Waterways Association spoke about the considerable progress made in restoring waterways nationally and how such schemes could relate to Chelmsford through linking the canal to the Chelmer in the town- it was the local branch of the IWA that in 1993 restored Springfield Lock and cleaned out Springfield Cut and Basin. (The Trust helped in the latter stages). He suggested an ambitious project for the future might be to extend Chelmsford’s River Can westwards and to join it with the River Stort at Bishops Stortford thereby linking Chelmsford to the national canal network.
It’s my view that, in order to maximise the potential of Chelmsford’s rivers, it would be necessary to continue with the thinking as set out in the Borough Council’s recently published imaginative strategic plan, “Chelmer Waterside”; also to protect the existing water meadows from ploughing, reservoir construction and building development; and to restore, where possible, those that have already succumbed. There is certainly a lot that can be done to improve the status quo locally before eyes are raised westwards towards Bishop Stortford!
Following our 4 day vacation on Blackwater Boats Ruddy Duck in October 1999 and having then toured England and Wales looking at narrowboat shell fabricators / builders, we finally placed an order for a 35ft sailaway narrowboat with Liverpool Boats in November 1999. The time between ordering our narrowboat and final delivery seemed an age, even though it was only 8 weeks. During this time we arranged transport, crane-in and mooring. At first this seemed quite an awe inspiring worrying task – getting everything arranged simultaneously - but in reality just a few phone calls sorted the problems, even though everything was arranged and at the last minute deferred by 4 days because the boat shell was not complete.
The all steel narrowboat shell we had ordered was complete with a Beta 28hp diesel engine, 8 gold anodised windows, front and back doors, interior floor, foam sprayed interior walls and roof and one coat of exterior primer paint. We travelled back up to Liverpool to inspect the boat shortly before completion. Finally narrowboat Isabella was craned in at Paper Mill Lock on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation on December 17th 1999. Our plan was to motor her up to our mooring at Sandford Mill but because the canal was in flood we could not get through Little Baddow Lock and moored the boat at Little Baddow Mill until the following weekend when we completed her journey with no problems on the Saturday.
I remember stepping on board the next day (Sunday) for the 'first days work', with tool box, work bench, sandwiches and coffee etc. The interior was empty, nothing inside at all, it reminded me of a 24ft long by 7ft wide tunnel. Our intent was to complete the fit-out ourselves. We had never done anything remotely like this before, the only other boat I had owned previously was a 12ft sailing dinghy some 30 years ago.
Layout, Fittings and Fixtures. First task was to clad the underside of the roof, with pine tongue and groove cladding, purchased from B&Q, running lengthways from front to back. With the aid of a very invaluable mitre saw (£10 from B&Q) precision square saw cuts were made very quickly and installation of the cladding was very quickly undertaken with no problems, working over the Christmas holidays. Next came the top side cladding, around the window frames, down to the gunnels. This was again tongue and groove, running horizontally front to back but to a different profile (Jewsons). By now Leigh was discovering skills she had no idea she had, and was cutting, gluing and pinning the cladding on her own. The cladding was fixed using glue with panel pins through the upper tongue, so that the pins cannot be seen.
Thought needs to be given to where light fittings etc are to be fitted at a quite early stage, as some wiring cables to wall and ceiling lights has to be run in conduit behind the cladding. Soon after the bottom sides were clad, first with MDF board then with vertical pine 'heritage style' pine cladding (Wicks). By the end of January, working weekends, the boat was almost completely lined out. Next came the partitioning panels, which separated the bedroom from the bathroom and the kitchen from the lounge. MDF boards were used again, and then clad in pine tongue and groove.
The kitchen units were purchased from MFI, the back of the carcases either cut back and modified to suit the angled sides of the boat, or, in some cases discarded and new frames made from pine with tongue and groove cladding. Stainless steel round bowl sink was purchased from Ikea, Stoves gas cooker and hob (with flame failure device) from a caravan shop. A Shoreline 12v low drain electric fridge with small freezer compartment was installed under the worktops. Normal chrome kitchen mixer taps were installed (B&Q)
Bathroom theme is pine walls (tongue and groove) with white and chrome tiles and fixings, a caravan type 24 inch square white plastic shower tray was installed and a caravan type white plastic corner sink inlaid into a purpose built corner vanity cabinet (again made from matching tongue and groove cladding). Standard 'home type' chrome shower mixer tap and individual hot and cold chrome sink taps (B&Q) are installed. A toughened glass 4 fold 'bath type' shower screen (Argos) is installed around the open two sides of the shower, although only 4 feet high it is better than a full length shower curtain (which remains, but only 18 inch long, down to the top of the shower screen).
Both shower cubical and kitchen worktops were tiled on MDF board. First the MDF was sealed with PVA adhesive / sealant, then Cork tile adhesive was used to secure the tiles. Grouting was done with silicon sealant. The cork tile adhesive and silicon adhesive gives a more flexible adhesion and allows a little movement of the tiles when set, thus reducing the chances of loose tiles when the boat hit the side of a lock etc....... not that we ever hit the side of a lock!!!!!!. It has worked so far with no problems at all. After two years we have had no loose tiles.
Isabella has a permanent 4ft wide double bed, the simple softwood / pine frame was constructed with storage space and copper calorifier (hot water tank) underneath with mattress from MFI. Bedroom wall unit frames were constructed from pine tongue and groove cladding utilised matching MFI kitchen doors.
The lounge area has a 6ft-6in 'L' shaped seating arrangement (with underside storage) around a collapsible table, which converts to a double bed. We had the 4 cushions (2 seats plus 2 backs) locally upholstered in our choice of dralon type material. The opposite corner has a built in pine corner TV / video / CD cabinet.
Fit Out continues in next issue…
There was a fantastic response to all the publicity for River Clean-Up Day organised by Chelmsford Borough Council, when over170 volunteers turned up! All contributed to the £10,000 worth of volunteer labour that was part of the voluntary sector’s agreement with the grant-making agencies – each volunteer who turned up was worth £50, and in some cases more. The net result was over £9000 worth of volunteer labour.
Many different groups came along: among them were Chelmsford Canoe Club, the Sea Cadets, McDonald’s, some young offenders, Chelmsford County High School, the Central Council for the Preservation of Rural England, members and officers of Chelmsford Borough Council, the Inland Waterways Association, and the Environment Agency.
Apart from the pennywort and general rubbish nearly 100 shopping trolleys were pulled out. Because so many people turned up on the day the two skips provided were not enough and three more had to be obtained!
The Environment Agency will continue its hand- picking work on the pennywort during this year in Chelmsford’s Central Park. So far the results have been most encouraging. Meanwhile the attention of the voluntary groups will be turned towards clearing the weed between the flood relief weir and Barnes Lock. (An account on the Trust’s involvement in the succeeding working party is featured elsewhere in this newsletter.)
It was stimulating to join in a community project with other like -minded groups together with the professionals. At the end of the day one could see that we had made a big difference! Obviously the problem of dumping rubbish in the rivers is a social one which wont be solved quickly. However, the fact people are prepared to take positive action to improve things sends a clear message to the perpetrators that pollution of the rivers is unacceptable. Gradually, a change in attitude will be achieved.
Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:
31st December for the January edition
30th March for the April edition
30th June for the July edition.
30th September for the October edition
Please note that if articles for inclusion are not received by the dates listed above they will be held over for the next publication.
The Chelmer Canal Trust may not agree with opinions expressed in this newsletter. Nothing printed may be construed as policy or an official announcement unless stated otherwise and accepted no liability for any matter in the newsletter
Some useful phone numbers:Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231