Chelmer Canal Trust, formerly the Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

Home Forthcoming Events Past Newsletters Work Parties History Susan Map Trails and walks Links page Contact Us Join Us!

Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter January 2003 Issue 21
Registered Charity No 1086112.


HEYBRIDGE BASIN 1922


In This Issue

Notice Board
A Canal Towpath and Locks Survey
The White House Farm Canal
STORIES OF A CHELMER MILLER
Lord Petre
AGM - Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company Limited
"The Basin and the Basiners"
Out to Lunch (or tales of the September Boat Rally)
The River Users' Group
From "The Times" Friday 29th November 2002
Summary of findings -Towpath Surveys
Trips to Remember. - Alan Smith
Rolling Calendar




Notice Board

Chelmsford Jubilee Grant Scheme.

A grant of £13000 has been awarded to the Trust for providing information boards at the Canal Feeder Ditch at Springfield, adjacent to the multi-storey car park in Wharf Road, Chelmsford; also for boards at Springfield and Barnes Locks; for providing steps and a connecting landing stage at Sandford Lock; and steps for walkers at Bumford's bridge

Paper Mill Lock Tea Rooms

The Trust has provided historical photographs for the Company's new tearooms at Paper Mill - a photo montage detailing the Trust's activities will be added later.

Appointment of New Trustee

Member, Ian Petchey from Chafford Hundred ,has been appointed to the Board of Directors and has become a trustee . We all extend to him a warm welcome

Planning Applications

The Trust has supported a planning application to develop a marina for boats at the former Chelmsford Waterworks site at Sandford. It is thought that it would be a good use of the existing water storage resevoirs and should encourage more use of the waterway. The Trust objected to two applications: one to construct a hotel and offices on the flood plain, upstream of and adjacent to, The Fox and Raven; and another to permanently moor office barges at Springfield Basin.

Information Boards

New information boards are ready to erect at Sandford and Hoe Mill locks. These will be unveiled in the spring by our President in presence of local councillors, senior council officers, directors of the Navigation and Blackwater Boats, and other guests.

Langford Cut

There has been a lack of progress on this with Essex and Suffolk Water.The proposal to divert the large pipe which dams the Cut is dependent upon the new recycling scheme.Until this is opperating efficiently it will be impossible to cut the "live" pipe and divert it.Once this is achieved the Environment Agency will be able to tackle restoration works on the 200 year old cut.


A Canal Towpath and Locks Survey - Summer 2002

Trust members volunteered to survey the condition of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation towpath, banks and locks for Chelmsford's River Users' Group who would use the information to secure funding for canal improvements. Towpath surveyors chose their own day to walk a short section of the towpath, with family and friends, and inspected the quality of banks, towpath, clapper gates, bridges, and any associated buildings. They noted the numbers of recreational users and any other concerns that might arise.
Lock gate surveyors took a boat through the locks (or observed one's passage) and noted the state of the winding gear, leaks and damage on gates, presence of lock ladders, mooring posts, safety rails, and landing stages.
The outcome was a big success with the whole length of the navigation being comprehensively covered. This enabled a very detailed report to be compiled, which will prove of great value in setting priorities for the future.
The Trust believes that the navigation should be made more "user friendly" and that boating of all sorts should be encouraged, for it could be a case of "use it" or "lose it". It has been apparent for some time that more needs to be done to make the locks safer for novices with the provision of ladders, steps, landing stages, mooring posts and safety rails. The survey shows where these are currently located and where additions could be made. Some winding gear and clapper gates also need to be replaced or repaired. The survey also shows where the worst leaks are occurring on the lock gates; this should help to support the replacement programme which the Navigation Company is carrying out.
Vandalism and litter pollution are present but are not pre- eminent. The worst pollutant is the American pennywort, which is rapidly becoming a hazard to navigation, as well as expensive and difficult to control.
In general at the moment the canal and its towpath are in a reasonable state and are used regularly by many people for a variety of outdoor pursuits.
The River Users' Group enthusiastically welcomed the report. Very many thanks to our band of surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Ron Abbott, Leigh & Ian Petchey, John Marriage, Pam &Len Jannaway, Derek James, Jock & Maeve Kay, Tim &Vicky Gallagher and Peter Back.

View the results here



The White House Farm Canal by John E. Marriage

A small inland waterway built 470 years ago, and lying unused and derelict for many years, was restored in the 1970's and brought back into use, albeit for a new purpose, by the former Essex River Authority, now part of the Environment Agency.

It is the White House Farm Canal which runs inland for a short distance from the Blackwater estuary, and is referred to in that now classic book dealing with East Coast shipping; "Once Upon a Tide" by Hervey Benham, who mentions a report stating that: " In 1832 Mr J. Marriage of Mundon was about opening a Canal from the channel opposite Northey Island to the former mentioned place to supersede the present circuitous route in which goods are brought to Maldon. The canal is about a mile and a quarter in length, and a lighter of 15 tons has been built for it".

The old canal is shown on Ordnance Survey maps as running from the southern side of the Blackwater estuary opposite Northey Island, not far from the ancient causeway leading to the Island. It runs inland in a southerly direction and terminates at a farm called White House Farm. Prior to the works by the River Authority much of the lower end was dry although its course could be traced as a shallow outline through the marshy meadows. In its upper reaches it resembled a small stream flowing between fields but its straight course and even bends betrayed its artificial origin.

Until the River Authority carried out their works the remains of the entrance lock into the Blackwater still remained; they were apparently modelled on the sea lock at Heybridge Basin which is the entrance to the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation situated about a mile away on the opposite side of the estuary. Although much smaller than the former, it had the same banked sides and brick walls facing the salt water. When I first saw it the lock chamber had been infilled with earth and faced on the outer side by concrete blocks.

It is not difficult to understand the reason why the canal was originally constructed. Maldon in 1852 was a thriving and well-used port and the natural centre for the whole area for both trade and social needs. White House Farm is set on higher land well inland from the estuary, and, unlike many of the farms in the area, had no convenient creek which could be used for the transportation of goods, at that time overwhelmingly carried by Thames barges and lighters.

Farmers would need to take their produce to, and obtain supplies from, Maldon. The overland route was tortuous and over low-lying ground which to this day is liable to flood. For the latter reason it was probably impassable for much of the year to the heavy, cumbersome wagons then in use. A more direct route from the farm to Maldon would be to use the river Blackwater, if a means could he devised, of getting there from the farm, preferably using a means that would avoid extra loading and unloading. A canal was thus the obvious answer - and one, would have come readily to mind as in 1830 the neighbouring Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation, was in its peak use with cargoes of all kinds being carried to and from Heybridge Basin along the navigation to the villages and towns along the route to Chelmsford.

A further advantage of using water transport was that it could be used for most of the year.

It is not known how long this little waterway was operated but it is likely that it remained in use for many years and terminated only when transportation requirements changed, either as a result of changes in farming in the area, or through improvements to road access to the farm. Until that time, no doubt the lighter, or lighters, moved up and down with bulk goods of all kinds. Local folklore has it that the lighter was abandoned and sunk somewhere along the waterway.

The River Authority brought over a mile of the old channel back into use, this time as a high level water course to drain the high land lying to the north of the marshland flanking the estuary. Mud and silt was excavated from the channel and the height of the original embankments was increased. At the same time the old lock site was excavated and a new sluice inserted to control the flow of water from the canal. The excavations revealed that the floor of the lock was constructed of soft red bricks (no doubt locally made) on a raft of timber sections with chalk beneath and between the timbers. The walls of the chamber were of the same brick and about 14 inches thick. The width of the chamber was 20 feet and its length about 42 feet. When the works were carried out the lock gates had long since disappeared but the cill, a massive 8-inch square baulk of pine, was still in position and in relatively good condition. It is, however, unfortunately not clear whether there was ever an upper pair of gates, or whether the lock acted merely as a pair of tidal doors opening only when the incoming tide made a level with the fresh water in the canal. It is also unfortunate that in inserting the new sluice the lock was destroyed and no accurate records were made or photographs taken of this unique industrial historic monument.

A mystery still remains about the fate of the old lighter, no trace being found during the excavation, although it is possible that it is somewhere in the section not dug out or in the remains of the old terminal basin next to the farm buildings. One must assume though, that the dimensions of the lock provide a clue of its size. In width, it could not have exceeded 20 feet and since it is not known for certain whether there was ever an upper pair of gates, its length is uncertain.

One may, however, speculate whether, in fact, Chelmer canal barges may have been used from time to time on this little waterway, as many would have existed during that era and with the dimensions of 16 feet by 60 feet long and a draft of only 2 feet they could have readily navigated the waterway. Certainly their remains have been found in nearby creeks.




STORIES OF A CHELMER MILLER

Henry Marriage, a senior member of the famous Essex milling family, has spent his life milling on the Chelmer and knows all about the vagaries of the River Chelmer and how to get it to work his behalf. He kindly has supplied a few personal reminiscences of his lifetime's work.

The first thing is to list the mills owned or run by the Marriage's on the Chelmer river. The three I give here are of course not on the navigation. Croxton's at Little Waltham was a small grist mill. A large 14ft wheel drove five pairs of stones. Milling farmer's grist or meal for sale from the mill stocks, it was run by one man, Charlie Freeman, who I recall very well. He lived on the spot, in the mill cottage.

His predecessor was called Keeble. The story goes that ages ago there were serious floods preventing his wife getting home by the usual lane - so she went back to Broomfield Mill which was fordable and then re-crossed the river to Croxton's. Keeble, her husband, was not pleased and said: "You shouldn't have done that - that's a very bad luck to cross the same water twice"!

Croxton's is very tall with a steeply pitched roof -wooden built, as a result it "moved" when it felt like it! This meant that the joints "gave" which caused the bin contents to run into the river. Charlie Freeman said that he had "to load her carefully" or lose his stock.

Immediately downstream of Croxton's is a public ford joining two lanes. It has a "trick" turn in it midstream. The horses puling the hay wagons had to be carefully driven round its bend to get to the opposite bank or risk getting out of their depths.

My father sold the mill in 1942 for a minute sum because it was no longer viable and in bad repair. It was bought by Bob Driver, the scrap merchant. Today it is very posh as offices with rows of cars parked outside. As a boy I remember that when my father drove there in his old car we had difficulty turning around.

Just, downstream, perhaps a mile away, is Broomfield Mill. My old relatives were pioneers of steam when they bought a second-hand steam engine in 1836 for £145! This enabled them, for the first time, to continue milling when water levels were low. In 1852 the engine was replaced by a Wentworth, which drove no less than ten pairs of stones in conjunction with the water wheel. The mill was demolished after World War I. The house remains and is the home of Peter Marriage.

Bishops Hall Mill stands a mile or so further downstream. The mill is so named because it belonged to the Bishop of London until the Dissolution. In 1795 Joseph Marriage, and then other s, worked it until 1914. There is a stone at Moulsham Mill inscribed with the words: "John Strutt, Miller, Millwright, built this mill, Bishops Hall, 1716". "This mill" presumably refers to Moulsham Mill but it would seem that Strutt regarded Bishops Hall as his address. The latter had an engine fitted mid -19th century and in 1891 ran eight pairs of stones. The whole site was then taken over by Hoffman's, the house becoming the chairman's dining room.

These three mills are upstream of Moulsham Mill and the navigation but their influence, and that of Springfield Mill, on the flow of the Chelmer through Chelmsford must have been considerable.

Barnes Mill also had a Marriage as the incumbent miller but he was not our branch of the family.

Another thing that comes to mind is that each water mill usually had a windmill associated with it. Croxton's, yes, up the hill at Ayletts; at Broomfield, Digbys, on the hill above the river; at Moulsham, a windmill closely adjacent, in this case at river level so it couldn't have caught much wind. I have no knowledge of one at Bishops Hall Mill

Now we will have to persuade Henry to overcome his reluctance to tell us some of his stories of Moulsham Mill where he once was the resident miller.




Lord Petre

The Trust offers its congratulations to our President, Lord Petre, on his appointment as Lord Lieutenant of Essex in succession to Lord Braybrooke. He took up his post on 1st November

. In addition to being President of the Trust he is also associated with a number of other voluntary groups in Essex, mainly the Ingatestone and Brentwood area, including the Ingatestone and Fryerning Angling Club. Lord Petre has a long-standing interest in water activities and once rowed for Trinity College; it was, of course, one of his ancestors who promoted the Chelmer Navigation Act.

He was previously a Deputy Lieutenant for Essex, an appointment he has held since 1991


AGM - Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company Limited - John Marriage

The delayed annual general meeting of the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Limited was held on October 1st 2002 at their operational headquarters at Paper Mill Lock, North Hill, Little Baddow, Chelmsford.

The Chairman of the Company, A. M. St. J. Cramphorn reported a difficult year which had largely arisen from the severe winter flooding in 2000/01, when considerable erosion and silting took place. The worst was below Hoe Mill Lock where a 150-foot length of the northern bank was eroded, almost back to the gravel pits beyond, as well as substantial shoaling opposite. There was also serious silting and erosion at Cuton Lock and Stonhams Lock. In addition the Long Pond at Beeleigh was blocked by silt from the River Blackwater. However, through navigation has been restored. Consequently, the costs of operating and maintaining the Navigation were in excess of earnings.

To overcome the current financial problems both Little Baddow Mill House and The Old Ship public house at Heybridge Basin had been sold (the latter with a lease back arrangement), also steps were being taken to reduce staffing levels. The Company had also decided to form a non- profit making trust to receive the ownership of the locks and weirs so that they can apply for grants to repair, maintain and renew them as necessary; existing directors of the company have been appointed trustees. As a result of these changes the Chairman said that he looked to the future with confidence

Little Baddow Mill House
Little Baddow Mill House



"The Basin and the Basiners"

A talk by Denys Harrison on Tuesday 15th October at Langford and Ulting Village Hall (as reported by Dudley Courtman)

Denys Harrison came to Heybridge Basin, like so many others at the end of World War II, attracted by the sea and boats. Here was a quiet corner of Essex where he could get afloat, enjoy the tidal flows of the estuary and relax ashore in friendly pubs which time had passed by. For him it was a heady experience, more seductive than he could have imagined, for he succumbed to the charms of one of the local natural beauties and stayed for good.

He married into one of the celebrated Basin families, the Clarks, who were a major force in the life of the village, with a skilled hand in everything. So, almost overnight, Denys became "a Basiner", whereas it took other "incomers" years to earn the respect required.

Living on the lock hill in part of the former pub, The Chelmer Brig, he was well placed over the ensuing years to watch the comings and goings of ships and mariners; and see how the locals coped with the hardships of earning a living in such a remote spot. His adopted "extended" family told him about their ups and downs and those of their forebears: how they fished, shot wild fowl, built boats and houses, broke up ships, looked after yachts, ran pubs, loaded and unloaded cargoes, played, prayed, learned, made merry, and coped with extended freeze-ups, violent storms and floods.

Recently Denys realised that the forces of modern economic change were taking their toll on village life: local jobs were being lost as industries closed or were relocated elsewhere. The timber ships and eel boats stopped coming from Scandinavia. Eventually, the seafarers, longshoremen and "old salts" left the scene to be replaced by "incomers" in new houses to whom the culture and spirit of the Basin had to be somehow passed on. So Denys set about writing the Basin's story ( The Story of a Waterside Community 1796-2002 ): from Borrow Marsh with the building of the canal in 1793, to the arrival of the ships, the building of the first houses and shops, the lock house, the Chelmer Brig, the Jolly Sailor, the chapel and the reading room. He tells of the real hardship of the times through the eyes and words of the "Basiners": an invaluable piece of Essex social history. He is a natural storyteller with a love of his subject(s) and his affection for them all shines through.


Mona Clarke and Darby Stebbens outside The Jolly Sailor 1977

What emerges is a kaleidoscope of characters that became legends in their own lifetime. Elderly spinster, "Aunt" Dinah, lived on Rat Island opposite the lock, where she was occasionally flushed out of bed by the extra high tides; she sought comfort in generous tots of gin and was renowned for her preparatory incantation: "Through the lips, Round the gums, Look out belly, Here it comes". "Dilbury" Clarke was at times the foreman of the timber gang, a marine engineer, a river pilot, and a barge skipper. "Tulip" Clarke, nicknamed after his canal horse, walked daily along the towpath to Chelmsford and back, spending some nights in the bothy at Paper Mills, Little Baddow. Before he became the lock keeper in1972, "Trooper", George Clarke, looked after the live eels, which came by boat from Holland and America. Mona, another Clarke, the youngest of ten children, was born and bred in The Jolly Sailor, eventually taking over from her mother, "Grannie" Jane Clark, who, aged 92 years, was the oldest licensee in England. There was always a homely atmosphere at Mona's pub where everyone was accepted and welcomed.

There are many other "Basiners", all with something special to add to the richness of village life. "The Basiners" have always had to be flexible, having had to learn to respond to sudden changes in employment, weather, freak tides, foreign ships with, sometimes, unruly crews. Now they have to respond to the changes of modern times. Consequently they have taken the "incomers" under their wing and have begun involving them in the Basin's ways: the regatta, charity events, socials, coffee mornings, bric-a- brac sales for the church, a herring eating competition and singsongs in the pub. Thus the heart and soul of the place is kept healthy and strong.

Denys' story takes us as far as 2002, but beyond, on the horizon, one can spot the good ship Heybridge Basin, formerly crewed by "Tish", "Tulip", "Dilbury", "Colonel Custard", "Cocker", "Twinny", "Gabby", "Maxim", "Starchy", "Snap Eye", Mona, and George et al, sailing a steady course under the command of a new crew, who are navigating with an old chart, one so meticulously and lovingly prepared by Denys Harrison: The Story of a Waterside Community 1796-2002.


Eel boat unloading in the Basin



Out to Lunch (or tales of the September Boat Rally)

Reported by Judith Abbott

There was sun, fun, and dancing into the night on the banks of the River Chelmer in September.

Gathered at Sandford Lock, were members of the Chelmer Canal Trust, their friends and guests. This was the "alternative" Boat Rally which is usually held in Springfield Basin. Boats travelled up from Paper Mill Lock to enjoy an evening by the river. The evening kicked off with a sizzling BBQ, followed by entertainment from Terry Peters who travelled up in his narrow boat called Mr Badger. He and a colleague entertain as the singing duo "Out to Lunch". The music went on throughout the evening with music from the 60's 70's and 80's. This prompted a bit of foot tapping a lot of dancing never seen before along a canal towpath! Blackwater Boats erected a marquee and awning just in case of inclement weather but it stayed dry.

During the evening a raffle was held to help boost Chelmer Canal Trust funds. We also had a BBQ on the Sunday for boats that could not make it up to the Saturday event. Everyone enjoyed themselves and Terry, who provided the entertainment free of charge, volunteered the duo for next year.

On Sunday, the trip boat "Blackwater Rose" took passengers for trips along the River Chelmer; for most it was a first, having never been on the river before.

So why not join us this year at our next boating rally and go "Out to Lunch" on the banks of the Chelmer and Blackwater.


Blackwater Rose at Bundocks Bridge



Report of the meeting of The River Users' Group, Chelmsford Civic Centre, 25th Nov 2002

The River Clean Up Day, Sat 12th April 2003

Arrangements were made for the next year's event on the Wharf Road Car Park. It might be the last time that this venue can be used as the site is scheduled for redevelopment. Bearing in mind the lessons learned from this year, when over 170 volunteers turned up, it was decided to better co-ordinate the timing and provision of skips, dust carts and disposal vehicles. The possibility of allocating set tasks to specific groups was to be considered as well as providing a large plan so that everyone knows where to go. Some areas were cleaned more than once this year!

Graffiti

This has appeared on the lock at Springfield and under the concrete bridges carrying the A12 over the river. Chelmsford Borough Council, in conjunctioin with Essex Highways Dept., will be employing a special task force to remove it.

Proposed Works in the CBN Conservation Area for 2003 and onwards.

Various projects have been listed in a programme of works. Funding has been found for some of these and is still being sought for others. The main parties involved are the Navigation Company, Essex County Council, Chelmsford and Maldon Councils and the Environment Agency.

Funds have been committed by the above and will be supplemented by grants from charitable sources: English Heritage, Essex Environment Trust, Inland Waterways Association, Chelmer Canal Trust, The Lottery Heritage Initiative, and The Countryside Agency, with possible additional funding from Lloyds /TSB, The Waterways Trust and the European Tourism Fund. In addition there will be substantial element of "costed" volunteer labour.

The main projects in the programme are lock gate, weir, bridge and winding gear replacement. Immediate concerns are the locks at Springfield, Barnes, Sandford and Hoe Mill. There are plans for an interpretation centre at Springfield Basin, improved access to the Industrial Heritage Centre at Sandford, a purpose built dock for the barge Susan, new landing stages and moorings in Chelmsford, information boards, and dredging and improved access at Bishops Mill, Chelmsford

The Chelmer Canal Trust reported that it would be soon be ready to supply the two new information boards for Hoe Mill and Sandford locks and that a towpath and lock survey of the navigation had been completed

American Pennywort

The American pennywort is a large foreign invasive waterweed that has established itself along the whole length of the navigation.

Peter Spurrier of Essex County Council has been carrying out regular surveys on behalf of the River Users' Group over the last three years. His latest, very detailed, report was presented to the meeting. Some of its salient points were as follows: handpicking definitely slows the growth progress of the weed. In Chelmsford where intensive handpicking had been tried the weed has been greatly reduced (the Environment Agency who carried out the work said that it takes a team five working days a year to keep it under control).

The places where mechanical removal has been carried out have also shown reduced growth.

This was noticeable last year particularly, but this year, when less time was spent on mechanical removal, the growth has accelerated considerably. The stretch between Beeleigh Weir and Heybridge Basin is worse than ever before.

Chris Adams of the Environment Agency confirmed that handpicking was effective but that other methods may have to be used on low muddy places where the weed had a good root foundation. He said the Agency at the Axminster Marshes had had to resort to the complete removal of all bankside soil and vegetation and had had to replant the banks. He reported that the herbicide, Diquat, is an effective herbicide but that from July this year it has been banned from sale - it was not clear whether existing stocks could still be used. He thought that some controlled use might be agreed by the regulatory bodies (Diquat is currently used on roadside verges).

Jonathan Newman, director of the Centre for Aquatic Plant Management at Rothamsted, informed the meeting by letter that measures were to be taken at Government level to bring in national controls on the sale of pennywort. He confirmed that mechanical removal is effective but that it disturbs the bank side vegetation. Experiments are proceeding with use of alternative herbicides to Diquat and he considers that a combination of mechanical removal combined with the use of chemicals is probably the best way forward for a river as badly infested as the Chelmer.

American Crayfish!

(as reported by the Environment Agency in their November Newsletter)

"A colony of scarce native crayfish has been relocated to secure accommodation after its freshwater habitat was invaded by deadly North American cousins. In the first operation of its kind, 100 or so native crayfish were rescued by Agency staff and volunteers from the threatened small stillwater near Loughborough in August. They were acting on a tip-off from a member of the public who had spotted signal crayfish, a disease-carrying alien species, in a nearby stream. The alert came after the Agency published a guide and code to help people distinguish the vulnerable native - or white clawed - species from the predatory invader. The rescued crayfish are now being monitored for signs of disease in secure outdoor tanks at the Agency's Trentside base while an alternative freshwater site is prepared to receive them. So far they have received a clean bill of health."




From "The Times" Friday 29th November 2002

The President of Royal Society agrees with us that not enough attention is being paid to the dangers of the freshwater (American) pennywort

"Exotic plants commonly sold in garden centres pose a much greater threat to Britain's natural environment than any genetically modified crop, the head of Britain's most prestigious scientific institution (Lord May of Oxford, the President of the Royal Society) said yesterday…Invasive species alien to Britain were causing great ecological damage. Plants sold through garden centres were escaping into the wild, where they clogged rivers and ponds and ruined natural habitats………harmful species included Japanese knotweed, rhododendron, floating pennywort, parrot's feather, water ferns and water hyacinths. These were super weeds unlike the hybrids formed when conventional or GM crops cross-pollinated with wild relations…..While environmental groups such as Plantlife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds showed great concern about this threat (invasive weeds) to native wildlife, other lobbyists had overlooked the issue, he said………"




Summary of findings -Towpath Surveys

Chelmsford to Sandford Lock - 4 miles

Surveyors: Tim and Vicky Gallagher
General: a pleasant walk for the most part. Met various cyclists and walkers
Possible siting of seats: Coates Quay, Barnes Lock.
Suggested improvements: discourage litter left by anglers, cut back trees, nettles and thistles in places

Sandford Lock to Paper Mill Lock -4 miles

Surveyors: Jock and Maeve Kay
General: towpath generally well maintained with lots of wild flowers. Attractive new tea rooms at Paper Mill.
Possible siting of seats: none suggested although one provided at Paper Mill
Suggested improvements: Sandford Lock bridge needs repointing, lots of patches of pennywort to be cleared, damage to willow saplings and litter dropping to be discouraged (six large plastic bags collected of litter, mainly at Little Baddow at Cuton locks), towpath needs repair at Boreham road bridge (high step) and at marshy area above Paper Mill

Paper Mill to Hoe Mill -3 miles

Surveyor: Peter Back
General: towpath and waterway generally well maintained. Attractive new tearooms and toilets at Paper Mill a welcome addition. Encountered several walkers, anglers cyclists and numerous canoeists
Possible siting of seats: approximately about 200yards downstream of Paper Mill facing northwest to Culverts Farm. One at Rushes Lock could be exposed to vandalism.
Suggested improvements: repair gulley on towpath about 200yds downstream of Paper Mill lock, pennywort needs to be removed, downstream north wall on Rushes Lock needs repair, improve boggy area just above Rushes Lock, and deter fires and litter in vicinity of lock.

Hoe Mill to Beeleigh -2 miles

Surveyors: Derek James, Steve Mynard and June Meads
General: towpath and waterway generally well maintained especially in vicinity of Hoe Mill Lock.
Possible siting of seats: Seat already provided adjacent to Hoe Mill lock. One could be sited below the road bridge adjacent to towpath.
Suggested improvements: repair eroded towpath above Sugar Bakers Cottages, Ulting. Remove patches of pennywort; provide moorings/landings in vicinity of Ricketts (a difficult lock to use)

Beeleigh to Heybridge Basin -3 miles

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Pam and Len Jannaway
General: towpath and waterway generally neglected especially from Heybridge to the Basin. Used by joggers, walkers and anglers.
Possible siting of seats: a good site would be on flat area east of Beeleigh weir although could be exposed to vandalism. One already provided at Heybridge Basin adjacent to Daisy Meadow car park.
Suggested improvements: unblock canal of pennywort which in places is impassable, request Tesco's to remove their trolleys from canal opposite their stores (some are fouling boats under the main road bridge, provide moorings for canal visitors at Heybridge Basin, discourage litter dropping and dog excrement, repair or replace clapper gates.

Lock surveys

Springfield Lock

Surveyors: John Marriage, Ron Abbott
General: overall condition satisfactory.
Suggested improvements: unjam paddles, refit leaking lower gates, provide additional landing stages, mooring posts, locking mechanism on winding gear, lock ladder, safety rails, steps

Barnes Lock

Surveyors: John Marriage, Ron Abbott
General: requires fairly urgent maintenance
Suggested improvements provide landing stages upstream, repairs to staging downstream (plus steps), mooring posts, ladder, safety rails (footbridge available), repairs to upper gates, dredging of meanders and levelling of bankside area

Sandford Lock

Surveyors: Jock and Maeve Kay, Ron Abbott.
General: requires attention
Suggested improvements: repairs to winding gear, hand rails and platforms, provide lock ladder, mooring posts, steps and landing stage downstream/ upstream, consider geared winding mechanism and visible lock safety instructions.

Cuton Lock

Surveyors: Jock and Maeve Kay.
General: in need of attention
Suggested improvements; repair lower gates, beams and winding gear, provide landing stages and mooring posts up and downstream, and lock ladder.

Little Baddow Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: good conditions
Suggested improvements: provide landing stage upstream, repair broken winding gear on both upstream and downstream gates

Paper Mill Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: good conditions
Suggested improvements; provide landing above gates for busy times.

Rushes Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: good conditions
Suggested improvements: lock ladder needed

Hoe Mill Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: requires attention
Suggested improvements: replacement upper gates, provision of safety rails and lock ladder.

Ricketts Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: lock good but access and use unsatisfactory
Suggested improvements: provide lock ladder and safety rails (although there is a bridge), mooring space downstream with posts and steps (remove overhanging vegetation), mooring posts around and upstream of lock, repair winding gear to upper gates; consider provision of upstream landing stage

Beeleigh Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads, Leigh and Ian Petchey
General: lock and gates good, access quite difficult.
Suggested improvements; provide landing stages and mooring posts downstream, dredging between lock and weir.

Heybridge Basin Lock

Surveyors: Steve Mynard, June Meads
General: lock and gates very good.
Suggested improvements: none but see Towpath Survey



Trips to Remember. - Alan Smith

Having just returned from a most enjoyable cruise on Blackwater Boats' "Little Stint" (September 2002). I was reminded of my first visit to this delightful waterway thirty years ago. Apart from attending the IWA Rally on the River Chelmer (upstream of Springfield Basin) and a visit to Heybridge Basin (both in 1973), also a couple of fleeting visits to Springfield Basin while on business in Chelmsford, I had not visited the navigation since. Ever since the hire boat business was established in 1991, I had hankered after a cruise, hoping that the waterway had not changed significantly.

My first visit was on 4th April 1972 when a friend and I set out to walk the towpath. Having found Springfield Basin (it was not visible then), we were surprised to find barges being unloaded at the timber yard. We knew next to nothing about the navigation as, being isolated from the network, there seemed to be little information available.

Once beyond the (then) Chelmsford Bypass viaduct, we were impressed by the unspoiled countryside all the way to Heybridge. I was going to say unbroken peace, but towards Barnes Mill a loaded barge passed us and I well remember the incredible noise of the Harbourmaster engine and the fact that the crew had no accommodation whatsoever! I believe I am right in saying that the steel barges built for the timber traffic were the first and only powered craft on the canal, apart, of course from the seagoing craft at the Heybridge end. The extensive moorings at Hoe Mill and Paper Mill would not then have existed. Unfortunately, my last photo of the day was Bundocks Bridge as a camera fault meant I lost the remainder of the film. At least I recorded the loaded barge!

At Beeleigh Lock an empty barge caught up with us, with the same crew as had passed us earlier. We accepted their offer of a lift but they abandoned the trip before the yacht moorings at Heybridge as the wind had become so strong they were not prepared to risk being blown against one of these expensive craft. The crew told us they thought the timber traffic would cease shortly but no-one seems to know exactly when that took place.

Cruising the waterway is always very different from walking it and my wife and I discovered several deficiencies which I have brought to the attention of the navigation company. No doubt you are well aware of them! I was however, very pleased to note that the navigation has not changed, apart from the A12 intrusion and some development around Maldon/Heybridge. Springfield Basin is another issue and I can only say how forlorn it looked - ours was the only boat there. I remember the entrance lock becoming derelict when commercial traffic ceased and although restored , its condition is not good. When the adjoining flats are all occupied, and the mooring basin filled with boats, perhaps some new life with be breathed into the area.

I would recommend this unique waterway to anybody, despite one major drawback which hasn't changed in thirty years - the lack of waterside pubs!


Rolling Calendar:

Saturday 12th April 2003 The “Waterways Clean Up Day” in Chelmsford. All members will be invited to attend this working day to keep the river and canal clean. 170 volunteers last year.
Can we make it 200 in 2003

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.

New Members


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
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company - 01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376-57209


Previous Next
Home Forthcoming Events Past Newsletters Work Parties History Susan Map Trails and walks Links page Contact Us Join Us!