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|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||August 2003||Issue 23|
The occasion was blessed with a passable day after a sustained windy and rainy period -not quite sunny but acceptably overcast.
Our president reminded us of the delights of the canal and of our wish to encourage people to visit and appreciate a remaining piece of relatively unspoilt countryside. Even at Sandford, so close to A12 and urban Chelmsford, one can still feel caught up in the time warp that is so special to canals.
The new information board has been sited discreetly beside the black wooden shed that is a survivor from George King's days, the one time lock keeper who probably built it. One could always be guaranteed a cheery welcome from him, and its nice to think that in his absence helpful information is still available. With the siting of the new notice walkers and boaters will be able to locate exactly where they are on the navigation. We might be accused of spoiling the adventure aspects for some young hikers on their Duke of Edinburgh's Award now deprived of finding themselves in unknown territory! Perhaps we are making things too easy for them? It is a little ironic that during World War II the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company's name was removed from a notice on the shed so that unwelcome visitors could not use it to guess their whereabouts!
Sandford Lock is the home of Blackwater Boats, the canal boat hire company. Ron Abbott, the General Manager, kindly invited all the officials and guests aboard the company's trip boat, the Blackwater Rose, for refreshments, followed by a short trip upstream to Barnes Mill. John Marriage was able to indicate various points of historical and topical interest en route: the dock for the barge Susan, the Sandford Mill education centre, Bundocks bridge, the Baddow Meads water meadows, the cricket bat willows, the first growths of water weed (not much pennywort, thank goodness) and the stately Barnes Mill.
An early turn about before the mill was made in order to avoid shallows and a mud bank which had appeared since the winter floods. The environmental interpretation was significantly enhanced by the generous provision of “Bucks Fizz” and sumptuous sandwiches- sufficient to sustain the crew for several days in the event of an unscheduled shipwreck
|Very many thanks are due to Judith, and her husband Ron, for hosting such a splendidly memorable and enjoyable afternoon.
Dudley Courtman Chairman of The Chelmer Canal Trust
|They are also running "Coronation Cruises". Departing Sandford Lock by arrangement, for parties of 6 to 10 people per trip (daylight hours only). Prices start at £10 per person for 2 hours. Cheese and biscuits and liquid refreshments available.|
In England and Wales fewer than 50 cases are recorded each year of which only around 10 are associated with recreational use of water. Most cases recover uneventfully and many recover without specific treatment, death following infection is rare.
The microbiologist at the local hospital is the best source of advice
Currently the Club have planning permission and plans prepared and have received quotations which lead them to the opinion that the new premises will cost something in the region of £400,000 pounds. The British Canoe Union have intimated that they would contribute up to 50% of this amount. With only £40,000 in the coffers for rebuilding, the Club has now launched an urgent appeal for funds.
Members have been invited to undertake fund-raising schemes and local firms are to be invited to contribute.
Club membership is open to all and is currently the largest in Eastern England, though smaller than those in west London and the Midlands. Although its presence in Chelmsford is not always obvious it is well known throughout the country with members regularly competing in many national and international events. In the past members have represented Britain in the various Olympic Games.
In addition to attending the various forms of racing, members also take part in slalom activities whilst many members enjoy cruising, water polo and surfing. It has a large youth membership and, as far as possible in the present premises, provides facilities for disabled paddlers.
Offers of help in organising fund raising activities would be welcomed. Contact is Pete Moule.
I was born in April 1934 at number 1 Navigation Road, the end house of a terrace of old weather-boarded cottages, long since disappeared. I lived there until the age of four or five.
We were surrounded by the firm of Brown's, timber merchants. On the Springfield Road side were the offices and some storage areas. Behind, I believe, were the stables for the barge horses. Across the road was the lorry depot, and extending along Navigation Road to the east was the main timber yard.
My earliest recollections are almost entirely of Brown's and their various activities. As a toddler I used to sit at our front window and watch the comings and goings of the green lorries at the depot, of great interest to a child at that time when there was much less traffic.
Every Friday, a weekly treat, we walked along Navigation Road to the shop on the corner of Queen's Road to buy Lyons cup cakes. Even today they are among my favourites, although they no longer make the strawberry or butterscotch varieties. Of course we went to the shop most days and a big thrill was to see the huge crane which ran parallel to the road in operation.
This crane was mounted on a gantry composed of two overhead rails twenty or thirty feet high (an estimate). Spanning these rails was a large crossbeam on wheels at each end, which travelled along the rails. The rails were about 20 yards apart (another guess). The crane itself was mounted on the cross beam, again on wheels, and could traverse from one side of the beam to the other. So the crane driver went up the fixed ladder to enter the crane and could then travel along parallel to the road and from side to side.
He could thus pick up a tree trunk from the huge lorry and then stack it wherever in the "English Timber" yard it was required. At some later date he could retrieve the log for debarking and sawing. Most of the logs remained in the stack for many years; the old saying for hard wood to mature ready for use was "seven years in log and seven in plank".
The timber yard was guarded by a high, close boarded timber fence so that although you could see the crane you could not see what was happening in the yard except for what you could glimpse through the gateway. There were lorries loading and unloading, men carrying planks and pushing barrows, and the noise of the saws. The mystery and excitement must have impressed itself on a small boy's mind as the fascination has stayed with me.
There was another link with the canal as I had an uncle who also lived in Navigation Road and he worked for the Gas Board whose offices were round the corner in Wharf Road.
I left the Grammar School in September 1952 and had a few months to wait before starting my National Service in April 1953. During this time I was taking Civil Service exams and awaiting results. Therefore I needed a temporary job and, rather than fill in forms at County Hall, the usual arrangements, I fancied working in Brown's timber yard. My uncle, Bill Woods was yard foreman, and, as he and I were good friends, I asked him if he could get me a job: this was duly arranged.
My main impressions were of the noise, the dust, the smell and the cold. The saws were in open timber sheds with roofs but no sides, presumably to dispel the dust. The noise was considerable with the large vertical and horizontal band saws, in addition to the circular saws, screeching away. No earmuffs in those days!
The band saws were used to reduce trees to planks and worked mostly on English hardwoods - oak, beech, ash etc; these trees arrived by lorry and were off-loaded by the big crane. There were large stacks of them and in those days they spent a long while in the yard before the timber was properly seasoned; this was long before the days of pressure curing. The logs were de-barked with huge axes before being put through the band saws but occasionally nails would be encountered and once even a gate bar had completely grown inside a tree: this caused considerable damage, noise and swearing. There were past tales of cutting through a live hornets' nest, which cleared the sawmill in double quick time!
I remember that some timber had a beautiful scent when cut. I wish I could say I remember the names but I can't.
I do not know if that winter was particularly cold but my abiding memory is of being frozen as the sawyer pushed away and wearing gloves as I received the wood as it came through the saw.
The softwood arrived by barge along the canal and I am fairly sure that by this time the barges were motorised. The wood, already in planks, came by ship from Scandinavia into the Blackwater and was transferred from the ship to the river barges at Heybridge Basin. (How was it transferred from mid-channel to the Basin? I do not know). On arrival at Brown's yard at Chelmsford it would be unloaded by hand and stacked in open sheds alongside the canal. It was transported by long barrows which had a pair of wheels about the diameter of a lorry wheel in the middle of the barrow. For unloading the timber and carrying it the men wore special thick shoulder pads, tied with string under the armpits.
I remember several of the characters in the timber yard. I was put on a circular saw with Jock who was regarded as the best sawyer, which he was, but also a bit of a rogue. Why he was called Jock I don't know as he was Essex bred and born. He wore a large, very tall battered old hat rather like the preachers in the American Wild West. He had a profitable sideline making television tables from the firm's best oak. TV's were just becoming affordable for ordinary people. Only Jock knew where he had hidden this wood and it would be cut precisely into lengths, which fitted into his lunch haversack. I was sworn to secrecy as Jock would produce this timber when no one was about and touch his finger to his nose.
Jock was also the only person who could operate the old gas engine which powered the sawmill when the electricity supply failed, which it did several times that winter. Whether the electricity came from the mains or their own generators I do not know.
The gas engine was a terrifying machine as, until it warmed up, it made a fantastic noise and vibrated madly. As I was Jock's mate I had to go with him to the engine shed to get it started. He did various things to it to get it primed up but it usually refused to start on the button and all the time Jock would be swearing at it violently, adding to my trepidation. Then the men would be called from the yard and would have to push the massive flywheel round by hand. To my memory this was about 8 feet diameter with thick curved spokes. After a few turns and more swearing it would burst into life. Once going it was fine and Jock would encourage it and talk to it kindly and lovingly as if it was his sweetheart.
I think Brown's must have been a very go-ahead firm in their time with their massive crane and their huge engine. The managing director and his son were quite strict and would appear in the yard from time to time very smartly dressed. It was still the day of master and man and due difference was observed. However, it must be said that there was great loyalty among the men, most of whom spent their whole working life there. It obviously suited them as they could have earned more in the local factories.
Looking back they were very kind to the grammar school boy who came to work with them for a few months and looked after me very well. I particularly remember a giant of a chap call Dick who was a farm boy who arrived on a motorbike. He was very placid and could lift and carry enormous weights of timber but was quiet and good humoured.
One further thing I remember from Navigation Road was when a fire broke out in the horse stables, which were close to our house. The horses were led to safety and the wooden houses escaped. My own recollection is vague but my sister, who is four years older, told me about it later in life.
The resident swans are modest in numbers by comparison: only a few pairs inhabit the waterway. Those spotted, with four cygnets each, nested on the upper Chelmer at Chelmsford and above Hoe Mill near Ulting church. Last year both pairs had six plus cygnets and one wonders why there are fewer this time.
According to Environment Agency's recent monitoring exercises on local rivers the number of eels and elvers in the Chelmer and Blackwater rivers is showing a worrying unexplained decrease.
The eels live in our ponds and rivers and when mature they migrate in the autumn to breed in mid Atlantic in the area of the Sargasso Sea (evidently none has yet been caught making this Atlantic journey). In the spring elvers return, usually in their thousands: it has been common to see a black, steady, wriggling stream making its way up Beeleigh Weir in May: not this year though it seems.
As the Suffolk rivers do not appear to be similarly affected one wonders whether the cause is locally based. Their non-appearance could be linked to the high levels of toxin found in local otter spraints as reported in our last edition.
The canal banks are soon showing off the tall yellow iris, or flag, the white comfrey, the tall dark green cylindrical bulrush, (once prized for basket-making), the blue nightshade or bitter sweet; then the purple loosestrife, willow herb and Himalayan balsam, the cream meadowsweet, and the yellow and white floating water-lilies.
As for insects, frenzied gnats there are a plenty (re- read our spring poem), and many blue damsel- flies and dragonflies. (You have to wait for them to settle to tell them apart - the damsel flies carry their wings over their heads while the dragonfly puts its out at right angles!)
Terry Peters, owner of narrow boat, Mister Badger, regularly sees kingfishers gold finches and woodpeckers in the vicinity of Hoe Mill, and last year watched a barn owl hunting over the water meadows nearby.
Ian Petchey, Isabella, narrow boat owner, in some quiet moments spent near Rushes Lock, spied several bullfinches, and has also frequently seen kingfishers between Paper Mill and Beeleigh - “they fly from their perch as we approach and land about 100metres upstream before repeating the performance”. Last year at Beeleigh Lock he saw a mink run along on the lock wall. This year three people with dogs seen hunting mink at Rushes.
Roger and Diane Edwards from Chelmsford Canoe Club recently paddled their canoes from Beeleigh Weir down through Maldon. It was low tide and among many feeding birds they were amazed to see several little egrets. These small white herons, mainly of Mediterranean origin, are summer vagrants that have ventured north to the British Isles, maybe in response to global warming. Member, Myriam Eborall, a Maldon resident, confirmed that they these birds were present last year. She also remarked on the small numbers of terns this year!
|The Scarce Chaser has a golden brown body and a black diamond back line along its abdomen. This dragonfly has not been seen in this area for 40 years. It flies between the end of May and mid July near to rivers and open water. Residents of Oak Avenue, Heybridge, were treated to the sight of the dragonfly, especially noticeable because of its distinctive diamond pattern. Let's hope that diamond- patterned dragonflies are forever!|
Walks take place as follows:-
|Sat 9 Aug||Grand Union, Leicester - starts Foxton inclined plane (3&7 m)|
|Sun 7 Sept||Thames & Severn Canal, Cotswolds, starts Cricklade (6 miles)|
|Sun 7 Sept||River Thames, starts Reading (10 miles)|
|Sun 7 Sep||Lancaster Canal Cumbria starts Crooklands nr Kendal (8 m)|
|Sat 27 Sep||Droitwich Barge Canal, , starts Salwarpe nr Droitwich (4m)|
|Sun 5 Oct||Union Canal, Scotland, starts Winchburgh nr Edinburgh (8m)|
|Sun 5 Oct||Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, starts Gloucester docks (6m)|
|Sun 26 Oct    ||Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal, Radcliffe nr Bury (8m)|
|Tbc||Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, Wales|
If you wish to receive an application leaflet telephone 01926 626124
For more information visit www.thewaterwaystrust.co.uk
There will be over 600 visiting boats and 200 exhibitors including new and & used boats, clothing, boats for hire and craft fair…. Probably the best inland waterways show in the UK.
For more information visit www.waterways.org.uk
Not immediately obvious is the fact that the basin at Union Wharf has been extended considerably to almost three times its original size. This is no longer an option for Springfield basin proper because the new buildings are too close to the water's edge, but there will no doubt be interest in building more new marinas in the wake of Chelmsford's attractive Marina One.
Of course it is not just boaters who enjoy waterways and the surfacing of the towpaths in this area is notable for the way it combines a good all weather surface, with a gravel-like appearance in keeping with a rural location. Perhaps the designers of “that cycleway” at Maldon could pick up a few tips here.
A couple of the boats in the basin are static. You can tell because they are too big to fit through the entrance channel, however their appropriate design ensures that they do not look out of place. A self-drive dayboat, rather similar in design to Springfield's Blackwater Rose operates out of the basin, and is fully booked throughout the summer season.
A few miles away, you can find the Foxton Locks Country Park. Here the canal drops by more than the equivalent height of all the locks of the Chelmer combined in a single flight. Visitors in cars are diverted to a pay and display car park, containing a huge information board detailing the delights in store with a map showing the locations of key points of interest like the locks, the museum and the site of the inclined plane. This is just as well because the car park is a “healthy walk” away from the top lock of the flight. The pub and shops are at the bottom!
|The partially restored site of the inclined plane gives a tantalising hint of an even more glorious past. Most of the machinery was sold for scrap when it fell out of use, however just enough remains to give an idea of the amazing scale of what once was here. Nothing in Essex can compete with Foxton's sheer engineering audacity, but what has been done here to encourage visitors in a sensitive way, does demonstrate that we in Essex could still make much more of our waterway heritage, without spoiling it's essential character.|
|Note: Foxton's inclined plane, opened in 1900, but closed in 1911 with the machinery sold for scrap in 1928. Boats entered wheeled tanks of water - 'caissons' measuring 80' x 15' - which were then transported sideways on rails between the two levels of the canal - a 75 feet (22m) difference. It has recently been announced that the lift is to be re-build, with completion planned for 2010. The two Photos above are circa 1900. Directions; From the M1 junction 20 take the A4304 towards Market Harborough and follow the brown tourist signs to "Foxton Locks" (Ed)
This years national sponsored walk along Britain's inland waterways 'Walk on Water' starts at Foxton inclined plane on Saturday 9th August. Choice of 3 or 7 mile walk. See page 18 for further details
The Directors' Report for the financial year ending on March 31st 2003 was distributed at the meeting and noted: the Report had been formally approved by the trustees at their meeting of 25th June 2003.
Dudley Courtman presented the “Chairman's Statement 2002-3”: this had been previously circulated to the membership, and comments were invited. Paul Archer, our Treasurer, presented the accounts for the financial year which revealed accumulated funds of nearly £6000. He paid tribute to Robin Jones who had “drawn up” the accounts and to the assistance of Richard Allen of Barclays Bank, who had “independently examined” them. The accounts were approved by the meeting nem. con.
There were no nominations received for new directorships.
Three Directors resigned as required by the Trust's Memorandum and Articles of Association: John Marriage, William Marriage and Ian Petchey: they were re-elected by the meeting nem. con.
There being no other business, and no items raised for discussion, the meeting was closed at 8-30pm.
Copies of the “Directors' Report” and “the Income and Expenditure Accounts” for the last financial year will be sent to all members in due course.
Chelmsford, essentially a market town, emerged from World War II as a centre for industry and commerce. It has since shed its industrial image and changed itself into an attractive provincial city of the highest class. Such a transformation has been achieved through Chelmsford Borough Council creating a planning vision and doggedly adhering to it.
Chelmsford has managed to achieve high approval ratings amongst its residents by developing its planning vision in partnership with the local community; local needs and concerns have helped to shape decision making.
It was significant that Roy during his talk was able to refer to all the main community partners, and that he knew the names and viewpoints of many of those in the room at Langford village hall.
Roy showed us how the courses of Chelmsford's rivers have provided an environmental foundation for all planning briefs. Whereas in the past planners turned their backs on rivers, regarding them, to a degree, as dangerous menaces, in today's more enlightened times they have been used as a unifying natural skeleton.
The early concretisation of riverbanks in the town in the late 1950's, when the flood prevention channels were built, has been recognised as a missed opportunity and every effort has been made to improve things.
Roy showed us several slides depicting the “ before and after” syndrome. Depressing, drab, back gardens, soulless concrete banks, and ugly industrial units, have been transformed into attractive green walks and waterways, with river-side flats, apartments and restaurants: all overlooking reflective water space. In Chelmsford there are ample facilities for dining, relaxing, shopping, walking, canoeing and fishing. A network of landscaped walkways and cycling paths link open spaces, shopping and recreational areas. Throughout the town you can enjoy the calming influence of greenery and waterways.
It was a very detailed picture that Roy painted; he seemed to know, and care about, every little corner of the town and how it might be further improved. His personal interest in waterways shone through his perceptions, and in the future we can expect the town to be made more attractive for recreational boats and boaters. Comparisons have been made with Bruges, Cambridge and Venice. And why not? Raising a few bridges and connecting the River Chelmer to the canal via a new cut next to the new Essex Records Office could easily achieve this change. Already we have a floating restaurant, an attractive waterfront area at Springfield Basin, a new marina next to Springfield Lock, and further marinas in prospect.
The town's planning brief's has generated its own dynamic, Roy told us that many people who had lived through the changes had been inspired with imaginative development ideas themselves. One is reminded of one of Winston Churchill's observations: “First we create the buildings (environment) then after the buildings create us”.
For the future he sees a more efficient use of the present private and public outdoor parking places and loading bays to provide space for apartments, shop units and covered parking
Roy's audience raised various questions: how can one reconcile the effects of reducing parking places with visiting the town? Or combat the traffic congestion on the Army and Navy roundabout? Or justify the pedestrian crossing at Parkway to link the main town with Moulsham? Or reconcile the dangers of adjacent cycle and pedestrian paths? Coming to terms with the use of the car is going to be one of great planning challenges ahead not solely in Chelmsford but nationally.
Roy shared with us all, in his uniquely friendly way, the town's planning achievements and what remains to be done. By clearly charting a way forward for the next ten years, by acknowledging the difficulties, and by involving the community in the decision-making, he gave us just cause for considerable optimism.
There has been an interesting natural development on the Long Pond. One of our native plants is fighting back against the pennywort! The large rafts of the American pennywort are being taken over by British watercress. The native plant is colonising the pennywort beds at a considerable rate, completely smothering them. “The pennywort has made its bed and the watercress is getting into it!” What this means in the long term only time will tell but one can assume that the pennywort, once starved of light, will die out - the plant's preferment of good sunlight is shown by its distribution pattern along the navigation: there is little in the shady areas. Maybe we shall finish up with a watercress problem instead?
The last edition of “Environment”, the Environment Agency's national newsletter, carried an article on the scourge of flytipping and how the Agency have teamed up with local councils and the police to combat it.
On one day in “Operation Cleansweep” in Birmingham, officers from all three organisations stopped and interrogated all trucks and pickups carrying rubbish. Over fifty per cent were found to be illegal! In Leeds the public are being encouraged to report flytippers.
With regard to Ricketts and Beeleigh the Trust is talking to the landowners, Maldon District Council and the Environment Agency about the problem.
|Members can help by reporting any vehicles seen flytipping in the Conservation Area although it probably occurs at night.|
Please note that if articles for inclusion are not received by the dates listed above they will be held over for the next publication.
Nick Ridgway and Julie Agland from Little Baddow
The Chelmer Canal Trust welcomes you.
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 572095