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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter November 2003 Issue 24
Registered Charity No 1086112.


Darby Stebbens is in the boat on the left; his father on the right.
Read their story inside.

In This Issue

The Royal Garden Party - Dudley Courtman
A Novel Event at Paper Mill - Nick Ridgway
Where Now for the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company? - William Marriage
Notice Board
Volunteer Work Parties - Ian Petchey
Darby Stebbens of Heybridge Basin - Dudley Courtman
Chelmsford in the 1920's - John Marriage
Scents - Scents
Nature Notes
Trips on Blackwater Rose - Ron Abbott
Lock Paddle Winding Gear Mechanisms in Museum - Ian Petchey
Portage route at Hoe Mill Lock - John Marriage
Langford Recycling Plant - John Marriage
Boat rollers - Kings Head Meadow - John Marriage
CCT Calendar, phone numbers etc

We welcome members' photos, articles & contributions to Coates' Cuttings. Please e-mail them to Mike Lewis before 31st December for the January 2004 issue or post them to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS.

The Royal Garden Party
'The Trust, the Duke, and the Parasol'

On what must have been one of the hottest days of the summer the Trust's chairman, Dudley Courtman, with his wife, Pamela, attended a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. He describes how the day unfolded.

Once we had accepted the invitation to attend The Royal Garden Party the Lord Chamberlain's office sent us precise instructions on arrival times, procedures, travel arrangements, dress requirements, and a polite reminder of the possible need to pay the London congestion charge.

First, we had to make a decision on how best to arrive at the Palace dressed appropriately and in an unruffled state. In the nature of such things there was not unanimity in the Courtman household on how best this could be achieved. After much debate involving the whole family a decision was made, we were booked into a hotel in Mayfair, only a short taxi ride away from the Palace, thus ensuring that such an important day would be as stress free as would be possible to make it. As you can imagine this was not what I had originally suggested!

And so, with some apprehension, on the afternoon of Wednesday the 15h July , we duly alighted from our taxi in Constitution Hill to join the long and extremely polite queues stretching away down the railings outside the Garden Entrance. Everyone mingled patiently before the gates opened at 3pm. Already, having had to run the gauntlet of trains and taxi cabs on the way to our hotel, we were very aware how hot the day had become. At first we were shaded by the rows of huge plane trees which lined the road, but, as the queue moved forward and we emerged into the sunlight, the full impact of London's heat wave became apparent. What protection was there from the fierce burning sun? In some ways the ladies with their large brimmed hats and light summer dresses were better placed in this regard. The substantially suited men were more at the mercy of the scorching rays. For Pamela it seemed the ideal moment to unfurl her parasol. ( its actual 'bringing'had been a very last minute decision on leaving home, it having been pressed upon her by a thoughtful friend). We felt a little self-conscious as the delicate, conspicuous, pink parasol was 'raised aloft'as it was the only one to be seen and we couldn't help but wonder whether the Lord Chamberlain would approve!

Keeping closely together under the protection of the parasol we crossed the gravelled Palace forecourt, through the inner yard, then through hallways to reach the steps at the top of the West Terrace. A vast expanse of lawns gave way to a large lake amid parkland; a 480ft long tea tent was sited to the left, and to the right the more formal Royal and Diplomatic tea tents; bands played stirring tunes and the Beefeaters paraded up and down in their thick scarlet uniforms- how they must have suffered! The lawns gradually filled from all corners and the sun shone relentlessly.

United by our parasol we carefully descended the steps to the lawn below. There we were met by someone, who we took to be another guest, and to whom we chatted casually about the day (he appeared to be very well informed.) We told him how it was that we came to be invited: our description of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and the Trust's involvement must have made some impression because he suddenly took out a notebook, introduced himself as a Gentleman at Arms to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, and asked if we would be happy to be presented!

The 'arranging'of this was a discreet and civilised affair. One would never have guessed that among such a throng of people (some eight thousand guests) that the details of our presentation were being worked out. It appeared that the Queen and the Duke, when they joined the party at 4pm, would be guided along two rather informal 'presentation'lines amongst the guests. Those to be presented, ourselves included, were spaced at roughly 20metre intervals along the Duke's line to await his arrival. Any passing guests who inadvertently lingered too long in the gaps in this ill-defined line were politely moved on. Our position towards the end of the line meant a long wait and long exposure to the hot sun.

Amid such a throng of peoples the parasol was the perfect marker for the ever attentive Gentlemen at Arms, the Duke's Equerry, and also his Private Secretary. All came in turn to introduce themselves and to explain the precise details of how our meeting with the Duke would take place. Despite a relaxed air of informality one sensed the efficiency of well ordered practice. All requests were made with kid glove diplomacy and charm; never for one minute during our long wait did we feel neglected by any of the 'Duke's men.' On numerous occasions we were told that all was going to plan and the it would not be long before we would be free to enjoy the iced -coffee which was being served and which was the perfect antidote to a roasting in the sun.

Just as we were beginning to wonder for how much longer we would be able to withstand the strain of our long wait in the hot sun, the Duke came towards us. Pamela, fearful that the parasol might not fit in with protocol, asked the Equerry if she should lower it: 'No, I'm sure that he won't mind at all', came the response. It was as if the Duke had been listening to the conversation. He approached, we shook hands, and we 'bowed and bobbed'as etiquette demands. The Duke, as affable as one always imagined him to be, reached for Pam's hand and pulled the parasol to an angle which would shield his eyes from the sun's rays saying 'That's better!'. We chatted a little in a friendly and relaxed way about the canal and the Trust's involvement with it. He seemed particularly interested in the amount of boating activity and that you could reach the sea at Heybridge Basin. He warned us that you had to be careful in such coastal waters not to get stuck on 'the putty'; it sounded as if he spoke from bitter experience! Then after a few minutes he was gone - the Royal tea tent beckoned.

The anticipation and excitement of the afternoon had carried us along but the long wait in the sun had taken its toll. We somewhat wearily went in search of the recommended antidote -the iced coffee. Another orderly queue and wait but not so long this time! We could also lower our standard - the parasol - as now we had the protection of the refreshment tent. Our turn to be served arrived and we were, very apologetically, told that the iced coffee had run out, all 10,000 glasses of it! Still buoyed up by the euphoria of the day we were able to show unconcerned detachment and to settle for tea and cakes under the trees beside the lake.

In a restaurant overlooking the Thames later that evening we reflected upon our memorable afternoon and wondered whether the parasol could now carry the title 'By Royal Appointment to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh'.

Dudley Courtman

A Novel Event at Paper Mill

On July 6, a Dragon Boat race meeting was held on the Navigation for the first time. A Dragon Boat resembles a very large canoe, with a crew of twenty paddlers. A helmsman at the stern controls the boat with a steering oar, while there is usually a drummer at the bow to keep the paddlers in time.

The event, held at Paper Mill Lock to support the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust, was exceptionally well organised. Many hundreds of spectators, well-wishers and supporters were present, their road vehicles being accommodated in a field off Hatfield Road with no parking on the road itself being entertained. There was intense activity along this part of the Navigation for most of the day, with many spectators using the towpath on the south bank as a viewing area. The races and local vessel movements seemed to cause each other little in the way of disruption; likewise there seemed to be little disturbance to residents and wildlife in the area. Casual reports suggest that the Anthony Nolan Trust has raised a large amount of cash from the event from those present, as well as gaining valuable publicity for its cause.

Nick Ridgway

Where Now for the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company?

An update on the situation by William Marriage.

William is a Director of the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Limited and a trustee of the Chelmer Canal Trust.

Troubled times have come to the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Since August this year, the Company has been in administration. For those involved it has been a time of sleepless nights, and feelings of horror that this historic company should now be staring into the abyss. All is not yet lost however and the administrators have kept the Company going while working to raise enough money to pay the debts and formulate a rescue plan.

Assuming they succeed, the next problem is how to ensure that a similar situation does not arise in the future.

This is easier said than done. For a long time the Company has been fighting a losing battle against the rising costs of maintenance which have consistently exceeded the traditional sources of income. It is in many ways quite remarkable that the Company has been able to continue for as long as it has, considering that most other inland navigation companies have either fallen by the wayside, or been absorbed into the mighty British Waterways.

We have something special in the Chelmer and Blackwater and it is now inescapably time to take radical action to secure it's future for the next 100 years.

Our inland waterways are regarded as a national asset, but they all rely to some extent on volunteer help, public funding and charitable support. The Chelmer and Blackwater has suffered huge losses of potential funding because grant giving bodies are often reluctant to give to commercial companies. So it seems that now is the time for the Company to take a step back and make way for a not for profit trust, which would be able to access a wider range of public and charitable funding and secure the future of our favourite waterway. Preliminary discussions are being arranged with organisations such as the Chelmer Canal Trust, The IWA, British Waterways, Chelmsford and Maldon Councils and the Environment Agency with a view to finding the most suitable way forward. With discussions at a very early stage, the most viable option seems to be for the Company to grant a long lease of the waterway to a new charitable trust. This trust would have a board of trustees representing each of the organisations with a stake in the future of the navigation. Interesting times lie ahead as there are principles to be agreed and countless details to thrash out over the next few months, but we hope and believe that the outcome can be positive for everyone involved.

High and Dry

An unusual view of Sandford Lock cut, just after the construction of a temporary dam. Blackwater Rose and a few other craft are left hanging from their mooring ropes!

Notice Board

Honorary Treasurer

Paul Archer, our honorary treasurer, will be retiring from Barclays Bank in Chelmsford at the end of October. As he will no longer be visiting Chelmsford on a regular basis, and will be busy exploring new opportunities, he thinks it would be better for him to resign as our treasurer and will do so at the next AGM in July.

We shall be hoping to find a replacement from amongst our members. So if any of you have had any experience in this field and would be willing to fill the gap then please let us know. The job involves receiving and banking the Trust's income (most of the subscriptions are paid by Standing Order) drawing the cheques for the various items of expenditure, and the recording them all in a cash book maintained for the purpose. Usually the annual accounts are drawn up and examined independently. One would need to attend the bi-monthly board meetings at The Bell, Woodham Walter, and ideally become a trustee. Please contact Dudley Courtman to discuss further details 01621 892231.

Membership Renewals

This year only three subscriptions have not been renewed which is a record and speaks volumes for the trust and support of the membership. We will be encouraging more members to make bankers standing order declaration as we are convinced that most non renewals are the result of competing pressures and 'not getting around to it'.

Gift Aid helps the Trust's finances.

During the financial year ending 31 March 2003, the contribution of Gift Aid to the trust's finances amounted to '562. This year so far, it has already added a further '340.

You probably know that your contributions to any registered charity can be boosted by 28% if you are lucky enough to pay tax at the standard rate (or higher), as long as you make a Gift Aid declaration at some point in time. (Once made, a Gift Aid declaration covers all your future payments to the charity concerned.)

New brochure

We are in the process of updating our brochure with new wording and photographs. Originally we had a lot printed as it was much cheaper and tried to ensure that it would withstand any foreseeable changes. Changing our name and constitution escaped our imagination!

Blackwater Rose

Some of our members helped with crewing on Blackwater Boats river trips from Sandford Lock during the summer. In appreciation of their help Ron Abbott made a generous donation to our funds. We hope for more chances to help in 2004.

Information Boards

This year boards have been erected at Hoe Mill and Sandford Lock. There are boards being prepared to be placed at the 'Feeder Ditch' in Chelmsford, at Barnes Lock, and at Springfield Lock. Plans are well advanced for these and grant monies have been obtained. It is anticipated that they will be formally sited in the spring.

Landing Stages and Steps

Landing stages and steps have been erected for boats and canoes at Hoe Mill and Ricketts Locks.
Landing stage at Rickets
Landing stage at Rickets

Landing stages have also been placed upstream of Hoe Mill and Stonehams locks. These will be of great benefit to all river users. An official opening ceremony is being contemplated.

Our offer to erect steps and landing stages downstream of Sandford Lock has now been accepted by the Navigation Company and an order for the work will shortly be placed with our contractor.

The steps that we want to place on the north side of Bundocks Bridge at Sandford from the road to the tow path are still awaiting a decision from Chelmsford Borough Council's Highways Department.

Tow Path Clean Ups

Most of the tow path has been thoroughly cleared of litter during the year, largely by volunteer teams from Ford Motor Company. Some 60 black bags have been filled and disposed of.

We have been greatly assisted by Eileen Lawless from Chelmsford Borough Council's Environmental Health Department, and by Maldon District Council. Our trustee, Ian Petchey, was the organising force behind the Ford Company's contribution and deserves our grateful thanks.

Diary Dates

Opening of Springfield Marina

Saturday April 17th (to be confirmed) Unveiling of information board, boat rally, and opening of towpath lifting bridge between marina and canal at Springfield Lock

Picnic, Boat Rally and Barbecue

Sunday July 18th at Rushes Lock

Weed Clean Ups

The first Saturday of every month. On Saturday, December 6th .and January 3rd, the meeting place will be at Sandford Mill.Lock, at 9.30 am. The session will last until 1.30 pm, but you can do a shorter time if you wish. For subsequent dates, details from Dudley Courtman (01621-892231) or Ian Petchey (01375650014)

Volunteer Work Parties - 1st Saturday of the month

The Trust has decided to organise regular monthly Pennywort weed clearance work parties along the canal on the 1st Saturday of each month. Plus organise separate canal side clean up work parties in conjunction with Ford Motor Company 'help in the community' programme. Between August 20th and November 1st a total of 5 work parties were organised.

Volunteer Pennywort Weed Clearing Work Parties

The first work party event took place at Beeleigh Lock on 20th August. Around 60 sq metres were removed from just upstream of Beeleigh Lock. From the lessons learned from this event we decided that the Pennywort weed clearance should really start further upstream where the Pennywort weed starts to grow in large quantities. The weed may be worse down stream, but unless we clean from upstream downwards, any areas cleared of weed will simply be replaced by weed flowing down with the current. The Environmental Agency keeps the canal free from Pennywort weed down to Sandford lock, and they expressed a wish for us to start from Sandford. So we decided to start downstream side of Sandford Lock.

On Saturday 20th September around 50 volunteers turned up at Sandford Mill Lock. We decided that the best place for weed removal was underneath the A12 bridge, where a large concrete area could be used. Around 10 volunteers were 'on the water', in small boats. Newham Outdoor Pursuits Centre kindly lent us some of their canoes, which were very useful for freeing the pennywort weed from the banks and transferring it downstream to the A12 bridge. 4 hours later, and the pile of pennywort weed amassed under the bridge had grown to around 5 feet high, 12 feet wide by around 40 feet long. The quantity removed was quite staggering. Many thanks to all volunteers who supported the event, and worked so hard to make it successful.

We decided to make it a regular monthly event. The first Saturday in every month. The next one was only two weeks later (4th October). Volunteers carried on the work, this time down stream of the A12 bridge, until just beyond Grace's foot bridge. In total around half a mile of the canal downstream of Sandford was cleared of pennywort weed over the two work party days.

Saturday 1st November saw another 17 volunteers. Further progress was made and we are now only a couple of hundred yards away from Cuton Lock, having cleared around one mile total. By December we should have all the large clumps raked out along this stretch. By January we will (hopefully) be hand picking very small clumps. It is interesting to note that the many tons of pennywort weed raked from the canal onto the tow path edge over previous weeks shrivel up and die away to nothing.

Ford Help in the Community Programme Work Parties

In addition to weed clearance work parties, through August to October there have been three Canalside clean up work parties. These have been organised by the Chelmer Canal Trust in conjunction with Ford Motor Company, through their Help in the Community programme. All of Ford's salaried employees are encouraged to do some volunteer work in the local community, and the Trust is now on the approved Ford Motor Company Help in the Community list, which hopefully will result in many more canalside clean up work parties being organised in the future.

The first work party took place on Wednesday 20th August. Ten volunteers from Ford Motor Company plus a few other volunteers met up at Beeleigh Weir and spent the afternoon clearing up along the canal. The group filled over a dozen refuse bags with rubbish, plus removed six Tesco shopping trolleys, and 4 old bikes, from the Long Pond in vicinity of Tesco. Around 60 sq metres of pennywort was also removed from the Beeleigh Lock Cut. There was good press coverage (two local newspapers attended) and a university student from Norwich who is carrying out a special study on the pennywort weed travelled down and took some weed samples. It was from this first work party group, and the lessons learned from it, that prompted us to start the separate regular Pennywort weed clearance work parties on the 1st Saturday of each month.

The second clean up work party was on Monday 22nd Sept. Another eight (8) volunteers from Ford Motor Company met up at Heybridge Basin at 9:00am. They collected 12 large refuse bags full of rubbish from along both sides of the canal, then in the afternoon collected another two bags full of rubbish from Paper Mill where they also raked out a few clumps of Pennywort weed along a 1/2 mile stretch downstream of Paper Mill Lock. It is worth pointing out how relatively clean the Paper Mill area was, considering how popular the area has become. Well done C&BN and the Tearoom staff at Paper Mill who are obviously keeping the area very respectable.

The third clean up work party was on Friday 17th October. Another 14 volunteers from Ford Motor Company met up at Springfield Basin at 8:30am. Around 40 bags of rubbish were collected from in and around Springfield Basin, together with shopping trolley, chair, skateboard and lots of timber and weed. The rubbish was piled high at the side of the canal and collected by Chelmsford Council. At around 10:30am around half a dozen of the volunteers went to Springfield Churchyard to clean Richard Coates' Tomb

(it was Richard Coates who had day-to-day control over the building of the canal some 210 years ago). The tomb was cleaned, weeds removed and the metal railings around the tomb repainted black and gold.

In the afternoon around half a dozen of the volunteers travelled to Hoe Mill Lock where a new picnic table (provided by the Trust) was set and secured on a concrete patio slab base. A further 8 bags of rubbish were collected from along the towpath.

Many large corporate organisations now encourage their employees to do a couple of days work per year in their local communities. Maybe your employer has a similar programme. If so, why not see if the Chelmer Canal Trust can be added to their community help list. Ideal size is around 6 to 18 volunteers for a day or half a day's work. Good team building exercise. Contact Ian Petchey (07968 801166 - evening and weekends) or Dudley Courtman (01621 892231) for further details.

Ian Petchey

More weed picking

The enthusiasm of our new members, Miriam Lewis and David Denyer has been stimulated by the Trust's work to such an extent that they have started their own 'weed pulling' campaign. They recently spent two hours on the canal bank, dragging pennywort from the water near their home in Heybridge. As Miriam puts it, 'I have set us the task of clearing our own body weight of weed each weekend. On balance, we figure it is more effective than the Atkins Diet!'
Congratulations to Miriam and David. We hope they can keep it up.

Darby Stebbens of Heybridge Basin

Ivan David Stebbens was born and bred in Heybridge Basin on the Essex marshes. He is known locally as 'Darby'or 'Darb'to intimates. He is one of the last of the Basin's sons who lived by their wits on (and off) the foreshore, taking any job that came along to make an honest living. He knows the names and owners of all the pre-war yachts and what happened to them. He was a skilled sailor who won the 'First Over the Line Cup'in the Blackwater Annual Sailing Barge Race and was feted at the Thames Sailing Barge Annual Dinner. He has a fund of interesting stories, many of which involve the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, and is always ready to tell them to whomever may be passing by The Anchorage, his family home for generations. Dudley Courtman happened to be one of the passers-by

I was born on Lock Hill, Heybridge Basin, on New Year's Day 1929. My father was the river pilot and was often away. Just before I was born my mother decided that she would stay with her mother in-law who was the landlady of 'The Old Ship'so she could be sure to have some company and help.

Darby in later life.
I have lived in the village all my life. As a boy I used to walk the mile, with the other Basin children, along the canal tow path to school in Heybridge. At the end of the day my cousin Dick and I would race to the Wave Bridge to hitch a lift home on the canal barges returning from Chelmsford; they would nearly always arrive around half past three. 'Tulip'Clarke and Albert Woodcraft, my uncle, worked for Brown's all their lives. They would bring the barge in close to the walkway under the bridge and help us aboard. 'Now you be careful, boy', they would say, 'We don't want you falling in'. In the early days they used to go all the way to Chelmsford with a loaded barge and bring an empty one back - in later years they used to change over with the Chelmsford men at Paper Mill.

When I left school I helped Cecil, my dad, look after and skipper gentlemen's yachts. There were always plenty of boats to maintain, the Basin was a favourite place for wintering yachts and many well known local people kept their boats there, Dr HenryDr Henry brought Dudley Courtman, and his twin brother, into the world at Chelmsford Hospital - a long time ago!, the gynaecologist from Chelmsford, had the Ophelia; and Dr. Matthews, who would sometimes sail to the Baltic for lecture tours, had the Lucretia. I still have some of the old bills that my father sent them for work he had done on their yachts.
Father, like his father before him, was a Trinity House river pilot. He learned about the river sailing barges around the coast before becoming a skipper himself. When my grandfather was asked to become licensee of The Old Ship he gave up his pilot's licence and my dad took it over. Father was river pilot for the next 45 years and I worked with him for 25 of them.
I remember the day in 1942 when the lock keeper, Jack Ellis, who lived in this house, The Anchorage, was drowned one night in the lockThe story of this tragic death is told in the Trust's recently published book: Tales of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation available from our office at '6.. He slipped on ice and hit his head on the railings. They couldn't search in the dark but in the morning my father was the first to find him and helped to get his body out. It was an awful thing which upset everyone for ages. Jack was my uncle and I still have the cards which were printed for his funeral.

After Uncle Jack died, Francis Stunt, the Company's chief, called to see my father. Although my dad was river pilot at the time he was asked to take over as lock keeper as well, as he was the only local man who had enough experience. To be close to the job we all went to live in Lock House and I looked after the lock when my dad was away doing his pilot's job. There were always things to do looking after the gates. Even during the war the Canal Company still carried out their annual inspections and I had to paint up the lock.
One day during the war three Scottish drifters came down to the Basin to be prepared as mine-sweepers. I operated the locks when my father took them away - they all had to lock out on one tide to be towed to Brightlingsea, so you couldn't waste time. Depending on the draught of the boat and height of tide, you only had time for four or five lockings. Around that time one or two sailing barges came into the Basin carrying timber from London. There was a Captain Morgan with the sailing barge Gladys, and my brother Cecil, who was mate on the Memory. The timber was off-loaded onto the canal barges and was towed by horse to Chelmsford by 'Tulip'ClarkeThere were so many Clarkes in the Basin that they had to have specific names- 'Tulip'was named after his horse. Others were 'Trooper', 'Dilberry'and 'Tinker' and 'Skinny'Woodcraft. The horses were stabled next to the Jolly Sailor, and The Old Ship. They would journey up one day and come back the next. Timber was scarce in wartime and Scottish fir was used, which was a lot heavier to handle than Baltic timber.

The other barge skippers who called at the Basin were the Keebles, the Springetts, and Pup Simmons, all from Maldon, and Jack Petitt from Pin Mill, sailing such barges as the Mayflower, Ethel Ada, Maud, Aldwick, and Gladys. One cargo was bomb rubble from London to be unloaded at the Hythe Quay, Maldon, for the building of the runway at Birch for the American bombers. I remember seeing fourteen barges tied up at once. As well as rubble some carried grain and others bricks. Some had moorings just 'off the lock'opposite the Basin.
The 28th Company Royal Army Service Corps was stationed in the Basin during the war. They had three or four motorised wooden barges to carry their machinery, together with a 'Tid'tug, a bit like the old steam tug Brent which you can still see at the Hythe in Maldon. There were also a dozen or more Thames lighters tied up all along the sea wall as far as Mill Beach ready for D-Day. They must have been in one heck of hurry to get away because on the day they left they just threw all their mooring chains overboard and left them on the shore. What they used to tie up with when they arrived I'll never know.

There was a lot of military activity around the Basin with soldiers and sailors billeted at The Towers in Heybridge and in the Manor House on Osea Island. Certain boats in the Basin were commandeered for military services: the yacht Francis II, for example, was turned into a river patrol boat and was moored off Osea.
One night Lord Haw HawLord Haw-Haw was the name given to William Joyce, a German sympathiser, who regularly broadcast propaganda during the war. He joined the Nazi movement in England in 1939 and fled to Germany as war broke out. His intimate knowledge of Essex was rather disconcerting although he made a mistake with the location of the submarine base because it was on Osea Island in the First World War! told us on the radio that German planes were going to bomb the submarine base at Heybridge Basin. The attack happened several nights later: six people were killed and several houses received direct hits. It was at that time that we heard that Jan Bottomer, a Dutch skipper who used to come to the Basin with his boat, had been sent to a German POW camp for belonging to the Resistance; it was said that he helped escaping British airmen.
There were frequent air raids as German planes flew up the river thinking it was the Thames. At night our family went and slept on our boat, Gracie, moored on the saltings, so that we would not have the house fall down on us if we were bombed. One night a land mineThese mines were dropped by parachute and were therefore silent until they hit the ground! landed right next to the house on Northey Island making quite a thump, but there wasn't much damage because it went into the soft mud. When I was at Mill beach one day I saw a Hurricane crash near the Doctor's buoy off Osea.
When the war ended in 1945 the Maldon and Burnham Standard sent a photographer to the Basin to get a picture of the changes taking place. My father and I were asked to carry out some work on the decks of our boats so that it looked as if things were returning to normal. In the photo (front cover) you can see me in a trilby hat on board Helene and dad on Gracie. Also in the picture are two canal lighters, Agnes and Seven Sisters and various cut down sailing barges, Olive Branch, Unity, Rose, and Beryl.
The story of Darby's life and work in and around the basin will be continued in the next issue of Coates' Cuttings.
Dudley Courtman

Chelmsford in the 1920's

Reported by John Marriage

I have recently been in correspondence with Anthony Dunkley, an ex pat living in New Zealand for some 40 years and who is researching his Chelmsford roots. He has been in touch with me through e-mail and has sent me a copy of an extract from the Essex Chronicle, dated August 14th 1925, concerning his great grandfather, Charles Wells, who spent all his working life of 55 years with Brown and Sons, the timber merchants (now Travis Perkins) in Navigation Road, with 45 as their yard foreman, taking over the position from his father.

The report gives a fascinating insight into life at the turn of the 20th century, not only of the town but also something of the background of the earlier ownership of Travis Perkins' premises. Apparently, Mr Wells' grandfather worked for Richard Coates, founder of an import business in 1797 at the head of the Basin. Indeed, he may well have been one of Coates's Suffolk labourers, who came with him from Ipswich to build the canal in the 1790s , staying with him for the rest of his life, unlike many of the other labourers who settled in Heybridge Basin. In doing so he started a Wells family connection with the timber business which lasted for over 120 years, Truly, this must be a record and totally unrepeatable in today's working climate.

The report in the Essex Chronicle is as follows :-


On Wednesday next, Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Wells of Hill Road, Chelmsford, celebrate the 60th anniversary of their marriage, which took place at St Mary's Church (now the Cathedral), Chelmsford, on August 19th, 1865, Archdeacon C.A. St. John Mildmay, rector, officiating. Both Mr. Wells, who is 82, and his wife, three years his senior, are in the enjoyment of remarkably good health, and at a family gathering on Saturday last in anticipation of next week's happy event, they were able to meet all their seven surviving children, six daughters and a son, who had not been able to meet all together for 34 years. Mr. And Mrs. Wells had eight children, but one daughter died. Five of the surviving daughters are married; only one of them, Mrs. R .T. Munson, living in Chelmsford. The son, Mr. Chas. L. Wells lives at Romford. There are twenty-four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. One grandson was killed in the war, and another is in China.

The family of Mr. Wells have had a unique association with Messrs. Brown and Son's timber yard at Chelmsford. His grandfather worked at the yard from it's foundation by Messrs. George and Richard Coates, for a good many years, and his father worked there during the whole time the yard was under the proprietorship of Mr. George Clift. Then Mr. Jas. Brown Timber warehouses at Springfield Basintook over the yard in partnership with his son, Mr. James S. Brown, who afterwards played a prominent part in the civic life of Chelmsford as Alderman and Mayor. Mr. Charles Wells followed hi father at the yard, and when he retired in 1917 he had fifty-five years continuous service there to his credit, about forty-five of which he was the yard foreman. Mr. Wells was presented by the firm with a cheque for one hundred guineas at the hands of the late Mr. Herbert Gripper, the then chairman of the Company. Treasured possessions are the framed photograph of Mr. And Mrs. Wells, presented by the fellow workmen at Messrs. Brown's when Mr. Wells had completed fifty years service with the firm in 1912; and a silver tea service, the teapot of which is inscribed: 'Presented to Mr. Charles Wells by the family of the late Alderman J. S. Brown, as a mark of respect and esteem upon the completion of 50 years continuous service, 5th Feb., 1912.'Mr. Wells is a native of Chelmsford, and Mrs. Wells, who was Miss Mary Ann King, was born at Galleywood.

'I have seen some wonderful changes in Chelmsford'remarked Mr. Wells to an ESSEX CHRONICLE representative. 'All around this part (Hill Road and Queen's Road) used to be fields, where gypsies lived in caravans. I can recollect the Corn Exchange being built, and the shops which stood on the site before that. The Conduit then stood where the Judge Tindal statue now is, and in order to cleanse the High Street, water was run from the Conduit down both sides of the street, and a man with a long-handled scoop threw the water over the street, halfway at a time. On market days cattle used to be stood in High Street, and sheep and pigs in Tindal Square. We had a great day when Chelmsford was incorporated, and the late Alderman Frederic Chancellor was elected the first Mayor. It was a toss-up between Ald. Chancellor and Ald. James S. Brown. The latter gentleman made history when he invited the Town Council to travel from Chelmsford to the North Sea by water. The party were taken by barge to Heybridge by means of the Navigation (in the construction of which Mr. Well's grandfather was engaged), and from thence they were taken in a tug to Harwich , without setting foot on shore the whole distance.'

'Men had to work much harder fifty years ago than they do now, and got about a third of the wages,'said Mr. Wells 'I have had to work hard and long for 18s (90 pence) a week.' Mrs. Wells had a word or two to say about girls of today. 'Whatever would they say if they had to wear the high tight collars and sweep-the-floor skirts that I had to wear? Their present low blouses and jumpers and short skirts must be much more pleasant to wear, and what a tremendous lot of stitching and sewing they must save themselves!'

Mrs. Wells thinks that 'to keep busy'is a great secret of good health.

'Live moderately, and neither eat nor drink to excess'said Mr. Wells, in reply to a query on how to grow old and healthy, 'and if you have a spare shilling, take care of it, don't throw it away.'

This advice and comments by Mr. and Mrs. Wells seem just as valid today as they did 78 years ago, though obviously wages have totally changed!

Nature Notes

'The Lark Ascending'?

The water meadows of the River Chelmer have long been renowned for the summer songs of their many skylarks. How they can sing so inspiringly and fly so effortlessly at the same time is one on nature's wonders. Unfortunately the beautiful song is heard less these days as skylark numbers have decreased because of modern agricultural practice and the ploughing of their natural habitat - larks nest on the ground in grassy meadows. According to a recent report in a Paris newspaper another possible reason for their decline has been revealed. French hunters have been trapping alouettes (larks) by the bagful and selling them to prestigious restaurants: their tongues are considered a great delicacy. Apparently the French authorities are not so much disturbed by the birds' fate but by the unsportsmanlike way of catching them- the birds are lured into les chasseurs' (hunters)' nets by playing the larks' song on a cassette player!

Swan Sightings

A family of swans head for the estuary near the Tesco storeThroughout the summer between Heybridge and Paper Mill there have been sightings of our resident pairs, three in all. Up to ten cygnets were counted: by October those at Hoe Mill some had been left by their parents to fend for themselves.

The wild swan winter visitors from Siberia and the far north have not yet returned to their usual quarters, the meadows above Ricketts Weir. It will be interesting to note the date of their arrival and whether they are accompanied by any whoopers this year. The meadow has its usual group of a dozen geese and it may be their presence that attracts the swans.

Little Owl

A little owl, our smallest, was spotted perched on a telegraph pole in Langford at dusk on 8th October. They have been around the area for a long time and nest in the same hole in a tree for many years.

Common Terns

These were seen fishing near Ulting Church in July which raises the question of whether the elvers (one of their favourite sources of food) have eventually returned to the river.


The kingfisher (or kingfishers, as you can never be sure that you are seeing the same bird as it flies off in front of you) has been much in evidence in the Hoe Mill area. It would be interesting to hear of sightings at other locations. Please let us know. Even if you miss their flash of iridescent blue green their straight direct low flight is unmistakable. The presence of kingfishers is a good indicator of clean water so that now the new water recycling plant has started discharging into the river just below Ulting Church we shall have to see if they are affected in any way.

Grey Wagtails

Grey wagtails can be seen in the vicinity of most of the weirs on the Chelmer. They usually nest in holes in old brickwork and feed on the water insects hiding in the weed on the weir face. After the recent repairs at Cuton, Ricketts and Stonhams it is possible that some pairs will have to look for new homes.


For several years, Dabchicks (Little Grebes) have been almost completely missing from the canal. In the last month or two, they seem to have returned in fairly large numbers at the top end of the canal.

Mink Watch

Reports have been received of a mink colony on the south bank of the Long Pond close to Heybridge Basin. It is thought that they are living in burrows and are living off the local water birds and fish.


We have a report that there is at least one stoats' nest in the north bank below Paper Mill Lock.

Some autumn plants and insects

Autumn means that there are now some very tall stands of common rush, Norfolk reed, and reed mace along the river's banks, some over two metres high. The thick clumps of bulrushes which grow well out into the river in thick clumps are now turning brown and breaking in half as they weaken. The brilliant green of the many pennywort beds contrasts with the more sombre colours of the native plants. There a few remnants of the summer flowers: the mauves and blues of Himalayan balsam, purple loosestrife, water mint and bitter sweet.. The wispy white beards of the marsh willow herb are interspersed with the white splashes of the convolvulus trumpets which use it for support.

Pond skaters choose the calmest of days and smoothest of water surfaces to collect together in groups of about a dozen and make sporadic bursts forward of a foot or so across the smooth surface. These tiny insects walk on the meniscus of the water and always move quickly as if they are expecting to get attacked at any minute!

Nature and technology in harmony
A group of cormorants perch on a
pylon near Cuton Lock

Trips on Blackwater Rose

If we could not report that we have had a good season this year, with the help of such good summer weather, there would be something very wrong. So it is pleasing to reflect on the summer months as being successful, despite some of the difficulties that we had to manage, which resulted in some changes to our original plans.

Our intention at the beginning of the season was to continue with our usual trips from Springfield Basin in Chelmsford but other factors, such as weed and unpredictable water levels above Barnes Mill Lock made passage to Springfield Basin uncertain. Then it was announced that repairs to Springfield Lock gates were to be undertaken. All of these factors made our life difficult enough so we decided to abandon plan 'A', trips from the basin, at least until work on the gates was completed, and to perhaps organise a special weekend of trips instead from Springfield Basin over the August Bank Holiday, Sunday and Monday.

However, the Navigation Company had other ideas and soon there were unofficial rumours circulating, of work to be carried out at Barnes Lock which would also prevent passage up to Springfield because the work involved closing the lock for a few weeks to replace the top pair of gates. When would they do this? Yes you've guessed, during August through to September of course. So out of the porthole window went plan 'B'. Not to be defeated we had to hatch plan 'C'; trips from Sandford Lock to Barnes and Cuton on the first Sunday of the month, from May to July, then every Sunday during July and August.

After all the planning, organisation and tactical manoeuvres the trips themselves were relatively uneventful but none the less enjoyable, helped greatly by the fine warm days and total devotion of a few Chelmer Canal Trust volunteers, happy to give up their own time and risk possible sunburn.

The final outcome to our trip boat season was more successful than we had originally anticipated and more importantly raised some funds for the Chelmer Canal Trust in recognition of their members' help as crew. And next year? We would like to repeat the trips from Sandford Lock during the summer months but keep your fingers crossed!

Ron Abbott

Lock Paddle Winding Gear Mechanisms in Museum

The above photo is of an exhibit within the Foxton Locks / inclined plane museum. It looks identical to Winding Mechanisms installed (and still in use) on the Chelmer . I wonder how old the 'original' (as opposed to the 'modern' 1920s blue painted) paddle winding gear mechanisms along the Chelmer date back to. Are they truly 'original' or were they introduced during the 1800's. The one in the photo was from Watford Lock, replaced around 1940.

I understand that the long term plan is to replace the lock winding gears, with easier to use geared mechanisms. Seems a shame in a way. I wonder if new ones would be more reliable / involve less maintenance. Over the past 4 years the only mechanisms I can recall being broken are the 1920's geared ones. Against that the older ones are much more difficult to turn / operate.

Any views / opinions?

Ian Petchey

Portage Route established at Hoe Mill Lock

With the help of a grant from the Essex Environment Trust, the Chelmer Canal Trust have now created a portage route enabling canoeists to avoid the dangerous road crossing immediately below Hoe Mill Lock. This road crossing has been a source of danger for many years. The problem has steadily worsened because of the increasing number of fast moving cars using this route to travel between Woodham Walter and Hatfield Peverel.

The route takes the form of two linked landing stages so that paddlers can portage from immediately above the lock and down into the adjacent millpond and then under the second road bridge spanning the waterway

How to get there:-

Proceeding downstream. Lift the canoe out at the landing stage immediately next to the lock on the towpath (right) side. Carry the canoe towards the road bridge until wooden steps are reached on the right. Go down these to a second stage in the mill pond. Paddle under the road bridge to rejoin the main channel below the lock

The new landing stage, seen from beside the lock.
Proceeding upstream. Bear to the left immediately below the lock approach and under the road bridge on the left. The new landing stage is in the mill pond on the right just upstream of the bridge. Take the steps up to the towpath and carry the canoe to just above the lock and re embark at the new upstream stage.

John Marriage

Langford Recycling Plant

On behalf of the Trust, I recently attended the opening of the Essex & Suffolk Water's new recycling plant at Langford

The new plant, which adjoins the existing waterworks, is apparently a state of the art system to recycle waste water from Chelmsford and has as its object to increase water availability for use as a public water supply.

Until the construction of the new plant, wastewater from Chelmsford sewage works was discharged into the tidal Blackwater and so lost as a water resource.

Instead, it now proceeds through a complicated system, comprising various chambers. It removes the various nutrients (including phosphates, nitrates and ammonia) from the wastewater and disinfects it through UV disinfection to comply with strict consents before discharging it into the river near Rushes Lock, where it augments the existing water flow. It then flows naturally down to the Company's intake at Langford where water is abstracted for treatment in the main water treatment works ready for use in the public supply. Limited amounts of wastewater, however, will still enter the Blackwater estuary.

The resulting sludge is taken off site for agricultural use.

The plant was declared open by Professor Sir Frederick Holliday, Chairman of Essex & Suffolk's parent company, the Northumbrian Water Group plc. Among the guests were the Leader and Chairman of the Maldon District Council

John Marriage

A fuller description of the operation of the new recycling plant will appear in our next issue.

Boat Rollers - Kings Head Meadow

Recently a meeting was held at Chelmsford Borough Planning Offices to discuss the condition of the Boat Roller Path around the Kings Head Meadow Sluices at Chelmsford on the River Chelmer.

The path and rollers were originally built by the then Essex Rivers Authority at the request of the IWA/Chelmsford Canoe Club, and paid for by Chelmsford Borough Council. They were installed concurrently with the 1960's flood prevention scheme through the town centre, to provide a safe portage route around the dangerous Kings Head Meadow Sluices allowing craft to pass from the river into the canal. Over a period of some years the condition of these rollers has deteriorated as the Environment Agency had failed to properly maintain them and to dredge and clear the approach channel.

As a result of their increasing dereliction, canoeists and boaters were being forced to portage their craft either adjacent to the weir or make a long detour. Becoming concerned about the situation, in May of this year, on behalf of the Trust, I wrote to both the Council and the Environment Agency drawing attention to their condition.

Following repeated reminders a meeting was eventually held in early October at the Council offices, when representatives of the Sea Cadets, Chelmsford Canoe Club and the Trust met an officer from the Environment Agency.

It was agreed that the Agency would completely renovate the rollers and dredge and clear the approach channel. In addition, they are to make them more suitable for the passage of the larger and heavier craft operated by the Sea Cadets by inserting additional rollers between those existing. Some means of deflecting windblown rubbish from entering the upper approach channel is to be installed, together with a sign upstream announcing the existence of the portage route plus an anchorage point at the downstream side to assist the passage of the Cadet's larger craft. The existing boat slip below the rollers is also to be renovated.

The Trust offered to build a landing stage about 100 yards downstream, if funds from the Chelmsford Jubilee Fund are available, providing its siting is acceptable to the Council's Leisure Service Department. Clearance for this is being sought by Roy Chandler

A selection of photographs taken over a period of some years was shown with canoes of varying types using the rollers. It was quite clear that the EA representative. was amazed at their popularity, especially when being told that over 100 canoes had passed along the route the previous Sunday as part of the annual Chelmer Canoe Race

John Marriage

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:

30th December for the January edition
30th March for the April edition

Please send any contributions to Mike Lewis or post to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS
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:
Leslie and Kathy Hookins from Chelmsford
Barbara Glass from Heybridge Basin
Sydney Broham from Canvey Island
Muriel Copeland and Anthony Wilson from Kelvedon Hatch
Stephen and Claire Larkin from Ulting
Miriam Lewis and David Denyer from Heybridge
John and Peggy Warner from Rayleigh
Peter and Mary Rolphe from Shaftesbury

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

No articles may be copied or reprinted without the author's consent. 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 no liability can be accepted for any matter in the newsletter

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