|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||August 2004||Issue 27|
Chelmer Canal Trust, as part of its on-going campaign to encourage more boats to use the navigation and thereby ensure its long-term survival, organised the event in conjunction with constructors of the marina, Higgins Homes, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company and The Inland Waterways Association.
The information board was designed by Chelmer Canal Trust members and sponsored by Chelmsford Borough Council. As it was the Chelmsford Branch of The Inland Waterways Association that had refurbished the derelict lock, the cut and its feeder ditch in 1993 after it had suffered many years of neglect, it was a fitting tribute to their voluntary work that one of the original instigators of the restoration project, Doug Beard, was able to attend and unveil the board. The information board gives details of the local history of the lock site, the navigation, and its potential for present day recreational facilities.
For those interested in the moorings in the marina, they will be managed by the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company to whom enquiries should be directed.
The rain became more persistent and the prospects for the Trust's annual barbecue were most unpromising. However British outdoor types tend to take what comes in regard to weather so it was no surprise on arriving at Rushes lock at 12 o'clock to find a small posse of boats already gathered there.
A bank party assembled the barbecue under the favourite ash tree and waited for conditions to improve. Eventually hunger pains dictated that the barbecue be lit and wine bottles opened. As if in approval of such defiance of the elements the rain stopped. Bodies appeared from all sides. Had they been hiding somewhere ready for this moment? More realistically they were wakened from their snoozes by the sudden quietness of no rain drops falling on the cabin roof!
And when the sun eventually arrived so did more and more boaters- twenty four altogether- and the spare “barbie” had to be fired up.
A very special English summer river scene quickly materialised from nowhere: groups chatting, corks popping , laughter, the blue haze of burning charcoal in the air, gentle stoking activity, the smell of grilling steak, picnic hampers and rugs on the grass, lock beams used as tables and chairs, and in the background the murmuring of the water rushing down the weir. The boaters were enjoying themselves.
They were joined from to time by passers-by: walkers, anglers, canoeists, and the passengers and crew of the “Victoria”, all of whom found the time to contribute in some way to the general merriment. The embodiment of the river's richness was thus defined- a marvellous natural asset to be enjoyed by everyone. Long may it continue that way! Will we see you next year?
The formal business included the approval of last year's minutes and the Directors' Report for the last financial year which ended on the 31st March 2004.
Dudley Courtman presented the chairman's report on the activities during the year. The report was noted by the meeting and questions were taken concerning the progress made on connecting the Museum of Power at Langford to the navigation at Beeleigh, and the current stage of the weed clearance programme.
Dudley reported that, despite efforts made during the year to start negotiations again on the dredging of the lower river Blackwater, it seemed that the feelings of the anglers who leased the river for fishing, had hardened; and the original interest in the idea expressed by officers of the Museum of Power seemed to have waned. It was confirmed that the Trust would continue its efforts to achieve a successful outcome to this project.
With regard to the state of weed clearance the main concerns were continued infestation of the Long Pond below Wave Bridge and the worrying prospects now that the summer growth stage had started. It was acknowledged that this was the worst part of the navigation still afflicted by major clumps of pennywort and that these were in the course of being tackled mechanically by the Navigation Company. Dudley was also able to confirm that a contractor had recently been appointed by the River Users' Group to handpick the canal from Sandford to Heybridge Basin, including the lower Blackwater at Beeleigh, and that plans were being drawn up to do more hand picks when extra funds became available. He confirmed that the Trust's Saturday volunteer groups would cease until the effects of these latest measures became clear.
Paul Archer presented his treasurer's report and accounts for the year which were accepted by the meeting. It was noted that Richard Allen of Barclays Bank, Chelmsford had once again independently examined the accounts.
The directors in office during the period of the financial year were: PArcher, D A Courtman, R E Jones, J E Marriage (dec'd 17-12-03), W F Marriage and I Petchey.
No nominations were received from the membership for directorships. Directors, Paul Archer and Ian Petchey retired from office in accordance with the Trust's Articles of Association and offered themselves for re-election. Terry Peters was appointed as a director by the board at their meeting of May 26th 2004 and offered himself for election as required by the Trust's Articles.
Messrs. Paul Archer, Ian Petchey and Terry Peters were elected unopposed.
The Chairman reported that several members had expressed an interest in serving on the executive committee. This was welcome news and they would be invited to the next meetings.
The business of the AGM was formally closed by our President.
A Certificate of Corporate Membership of the Essex Wildlife Trust was formally presented to the Chelmer Canal Trust by Phil Luke, the EWT's District Corporate Officer..
She was aware of the rather impenetrable language that tends to surround topics on the countryside these days and tried to put us at our ease by explaining the meaning of “biodiversity”. Basically it means “all plants and all animals”. The word has long been used in scientific circles but began to appear more in the public domain after the Rio Earth Summit 1992. The UK was one of the signatories to the agreement to take active measures to stop the alarming rate of loss of whole species of plants and animals taking place throughout the world. The UK undertook to play its part by finding out what was happening to our native plants and animals and what measures could be taken to improve things. Resources permitting, an action plan would be drawn up by appropriate bodies. It was soon realised that these would have to operate at various levels within a national, regional and local framework.
The picture was further complicated by the inclusion of a vast array of interest groups because nature conservation crosses many boundaries and involves virtually everyone! So a place had to be found for those who influence eventual outcomes: planners, businessmen, educators, financiers, farmers, government agencies, local authorities, conservation organisations and species habitat groups.
Thus a formidable partnership was established which is able to deliver impressive results: ancient woodland is protected, water quality improved, farming friendly practices introduced, along with grazing marsh and heath management schemes. All require the partners to work together towards a clear and agreed aim. In this way habitats are created for dormice, rare bats and the brown hare, voles and otters, butterflies, insects, the oxlip sea bog fennel, and rare birds.
What has been created is an active learning environment for all partners, each able to make an important contribution. Thus conservation decisions can be based upon sound science. Also the local community can volunteer in meaningful ways and help carry projects through. The Essex Biodiversity Partnership, apart from helping to create a greatly improved environment for everyone's benefit, improves quality of life by sensitising people to their surroundings.
Claire's task is to coordinate all this diverse activity and to encourage more. She is currently is trying to find out more about the dolphin and porpoise populations around the Essex coastline and would be pleased to hear of any of your personal sightings (survey sheet available on this and the protection of brown hares) You can contact her at the Essex Biodiversity Partnership, John Elliott Visitor Centre, Abbots Hall Farm, Great Wigborough, Colchester, CO5 7RZ; 01621-862981.
Claire gave us a very optimistic, clear and inspirational talk and we are indebted to her.
Thorough research found the Sandford lock mooring on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and we visited it one May day when the cuckoos were calling and the sap in the cricket willows rising. Tarka was re-launched at Paper Mill and has been on the canal ever since.
We have struggled over the years with flood, troublesome lock mechanisms, vandalism, silting up and, of course, weed of all varieties. We have always found a firm and stalwart support in Ron Abbott and are sad to see the demise of his fleet of narrow boats but hope that he stays on the canal. There is camaraderie, sometimes born of sheer panic and desperation, amongst boat owners on the Navigation and our little craft has been privileged to offer many a fellow river sailor a tow. Tom is not known for his punctuality but after a delay of two hours last year I walked the towpath to find him at Little Baddow lock, complete with jury rigged launch in tow and taking afternoon tea. The man has style!
Long may navigation continue on the Navigation!
This article is a direct copy of an entry in the log-book of the 12th Chelmsford Sea Scouts Troop, written a few days after the epic trip that it describes. John Woods, its author, is still writing and some of his more recent work has appeared in past issues of Coates Cuttings. But it is fascinating to read how canoeing on the Chelmer canal was actually experienced fifty years ago. The main performers 'Dud and Don' are our chairman and his brother. We don't know who the two girls were; if they happen to read this, we would be delighted to hear from them.
Some time ago the Chelmsford Boating Club made a challenge to our Group, the GNTC, the Navy Cadets and anyone else who felt inclined to try to break their Chelmsford to Heybridge canoe time record. This record was for a one man canoe 2 hours 35 minutes, for a two man canoe 3 hours 13 minutes, starting from the second lock. There are 10 locks from the second approximately one mile apart, the last being 3 miles from Beeeleigh making a total distance of 12 miles with 9 locks to be surpassed. Don and Dud agreed to represent the group and the challenge was accepted. So on the Sunday morning, 23rd September 1951, in a heavy shower of rain, a small group assembled. There was Don and Dud, two girls from the GNTC, who were also attempting the record, John and Dave, who decided to walk to Heybridge, and the timekeeper from the Boating Club, who went by bike. The girls started off first followed about 15 minutes later by Dave and John and they in turn were followed by the twins about 10 minutes later. Dave and myself had reached the fourth lock in fairly quick time having taken all the known short-cuts and walking at a quick pace. While I was removing my jersey at the lock gate, Don and Dud arrived at high speed in the canoe whipped it out of the lock and in the other side in a time not exceeding 30 seconds. After this display Dave and I gave up the job of trying to keep pace with the canoes and continued our way at a steady pace. The next time we saw anyone was at Heybridge. Don and Dud had an uneventful but strenuous journey. They did have a few slight differences of opinion with some fishermen but couldn't stop to argue. They caught up with the girls near the seventh lock (Paper Mills), had a brief race with them and arrived at the lock first. That was the last they saw of the girls until Heybridge.
Well the twins made the journey in 3 hours 10 minutes 40 secs, which was very good going in the bad weather and without previous experience. They broke the doubles record by about 2 minutes, the journey being made in one of the Club's canoes. The girls did the trip in about 4 hours, this being the first trip recorded by girls, so they too have a record of their own. They then came home by car while the four scouts (Dave and I arrived - time 4hours 15 minutes) were left to take the boats back. All four of us were tired and the journey back was;- Dud and Dave 5 hours, arriving 8.45 pm; Don and John 6 hours, arriving 9.45 pm. Don and I had the pleasure of paddling the last three locks in darkness.
For the benefit of those who have never tried canoeing long distances at speed, I would point out that it is extremely hard work and on behalf of the troop I congratulate the twins on a very good show which has upheld the honour of the troop.
Seeing the footnote in Coates Cuttings (February 2004) that Dudley Courtman sailed out of Maldon aboard the gaff-cutter “Ripple” in 1950 sent me into a memory phase and I recollected the saga of “Tadgel's Nectar”. I, too, was aboard the “Ripple” as she slipped her mooring on that memorable occasion. I remember the oiliness of the river, the dark green morning tide, as we chugged out easterly to make landfall at a distant place. We might have been bound for Hamburg or Hull. It mattered little where we would arrive, it was all magic and exhilarating. For a small boy this was an adventure! Tadgel (Sadd) and “Daddy” (Hedgecock) both played their part in sustaining the thrill of that sea journey.
Once we were clear of the town Tadgel lined us up on deck - we barefooted and in shorts and, at his command, mug in hand. Greenhorns to ocean voyages must partake of the Blackwater “Nectar”. A bucket was lowered overboard and soon each youthful hand had a mug of that oily green water which the bow of the “Ripple” was efficiently dividing. “Drink to Neptune” commanded Tadgel, and Daddy looked serious! Who was first I cannot recall and how much we drank is also unremembered, yet in a way unimportant. The adrenalin ran the excitement that I remember.
Towards the end of the great conflict, the gang, who were offspring from the new Springfield 'Allied' estate, decided to go 'down the fields'. This simple term meant the hundred or so acres of pasture southeast of the estate.
Since its completion in the late 1930s the estate had become the home of a hotchpotch of families. Essex families were mixed with “incomers” from work deprived areas such as Tyneside, Scotland, the Welsh valley towns, and even Brummies from midland industries suffering depression. The 'Allied', one of several similar estates encircling the old market town of Chelmsford provided new labour for the expanding factories of the district. The diverse selection of people gathered in the 'Roads, Avenues and Crescents' created a volatility and vibrancy which one remembers as exciting and exhilarating! As a consequence there was a reaction in the social interplay of the young braves of these estates and they formed gangs!
At our end of the avenue we were no exception. Our gang had four members, namely, Michael, Geoff, Charlie, and Terry who was the youngest but perhaps the wisest! Terry, lately back from distant Durham, where he had been privately evacuated to relatives, had spent much of the war years playing on moors and around old mine shafts. He had spent time playing on the banks of the lovely river Wear whose meandering flow passed close to his great-aunt's cottage. Therefore he had already acquired some field-craft! Michael and Terry formed the significant alliance within the gang to decide gang policy and strategy. This pair ruled on how the gang apportioned its time and energy when meeting together, usually at Charlie's gate. Their avenue in those far off days backed onto open farmland, and a favourite diversion of the gang was to go and wedge themselves in the May Tree which grew in the fringe ground at the bottom of Hill Road.
Sometimes the chosen destination would be the new road bridge over the canal. At the bridge the gang could amuse themselves in a number of ways. Michael had recently discovered that the underside of the bridge had a hollow resonance. Naturally all of the gang liked to demonstrate this phenomenon, some of the examples being rather rude! Along the canal bank fishermen of all ages were always to be found tending their rods, some appeared to be nodding with suppressed excitement! Perhaps they were night workers and were fishing for their breakfast. The gang was fearless and failed to appreciate the demands of these other sportsmen to 'clear off'. When the gang was bored with helping the anglers or creating crude echoes, flat stones could be skipped across the calm water, each boy contesting loudly how many skips he could achieve. Strangely the fishermen objected to this activity too! Often the direction of the gang's interest was determined by an outside agency, namely by Michael's younger brother Brian. He was only eight, he grizzled and whined and was not popular with the gang who often would decide to climb the May Tree just to be rid of him as he had not yet the courage to ascend this symbol of gang membership.
Of course even if the executive arm of the gang had decided on the bridge and canal as its destination it was never that easy to carry the plan to its fruition. On route to the canal were other sites to divert an inventive group such the May Tree Gang. Halfway across the meadow was the bomb hole. About and around this ragged hole hung the stench of cordite and pieces of shrapnel were embedded all around it. In winter the hole filled with water which then froze, offering another dimension to the gang's excitement - ice skating! Charlie once excelled himself by producing a real pair of shiny skates, although only the right hand one had leather straps; its matching left had to make do with brown string! For this level of ownership Charlie was nearly promoted onto the ruling council of the gang!
On one particular day, free of Brian, the gang loped across the fields towards the bridge, fresh and eager. It was good fishing weather. The air was clear, the sky was blue and soft clouds promised a fine day. It was early May and the musky smells of hedgerow and riverbank were detectable in the light breeze. Each of the gang had brought a length of string stowed in whatever pocket was serviceable in their play shorts. Here we might digress to explain the culture of the period as illustrated by what could be found in Geoff's one remaining intact pocket. There was the string of course, also some chewing gum, three nails, a penknife, a cigarette card showing Len Hutton the famous cricketer, and a crumpled picture of Lana Turner taken from Picture Post magazine! With the string the gang intended to play a newly developed game of enticement. Its object was to catch crayfish.
Crayfish are a type of freshwater lobsters and use strong claws to catch their prey. However the gang had recently discovered that the “cray” could be confused into taking a lure and holding it long enough for themselves to be landed! The game can be compared to teasing a kitten with a piece of wool. Any independent observer of the gang would soon conclude that for once at least there was no competitive edge to this game. For each of the gang was totally absorbed in his own activity. Firstly each of the boys had to find a suitable stone to tie the string to for the lure. The stone had to be between two and four inches long and must have a niche or nose that would prevent the string slipping. Next crayfish must be located in clear shallow water. Favourite places to throw the lure were along the towpath or under the bridge, but often it was necessary to wade into the shallows to find some “crays” and set the lure.
And so commenced the game. With varying degrees of success this day achieved its object and a good number of “cray” were deposited on the canal bank. However for the more squeamish of our readers it should be noted that most of them crawled back into their watery domain long before the gang began to break up to go home. Charlie suddenly remembered his mother had insisted he must take his mackintosh, she would now scold him! Then Geoff, with a shorter attention span than his friends, began to fret, it was well known that his primary interest in life was not fishing or gangs but puppetry and theatre! He wanted to go home and dangle two strings above his puppet theatre in the shed at the bottom of his garden. So the gang began to drift away. Terry and Michael were the last to leave the bridge. At this point, almost predictably, Brian appeared on the scene still whining! A hastily convened meeting of the ruling elite could reach but one conclusion, it was time to climb the May Tree!!
From Terry Peters.On Sunday 13 June, we spotted a Little Egret feeding in the horses' meadow just above Ulting church. The following Saturday, a pair of Egrets were perched on the sluice at Beeleigh. I also regularly see Little Owls on sunny days perched on the fence posts of the cattle pasture just above Ricketts Lock. At this time of year especially, the whole navigation is awash with wildlife. When we stay over on our barge, we often watch a Kingfisher hunting from the footbridge above the moorings at Hoe Mill.
We always welcome reports from readers about interesting wild life sightings.
|Tuesday October 19th||Langford Village Hall; talk on "The Flowering Plants along the Navigation" by Phil Luke from the Essex Wildlife Trust. 7.30 pm for 8 pm.|
The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company is to stay in administration for at least a further period of 12 months, ending 21 May 2005. When the company was originally placed in administration in August 2003, five conditions were set that required resolution before the company could revert to trading normally. One of these conditions has yet to be met.
During the period from 21 August (when the company went into administration), until 20th February 2004 (i.e. six months later), the company had receipts of £540,000 including £200,000 relating to the sale of Treasure Island (near Paper Mill Lock).
During the same period, expenditure was £249,000 and, in addition, the administrators have submitted their bill for services of £189,000 for the period ending April 2004, resulting in an overall surplus of around £100,000.
In 1993, the company was granted permission to develop part of an area of land that it owned at Heybridge Basin. The permission was for a mixed development scheme comprising offices and commercial and residential studios. The permission was renewed once but expired before the company went into administration. The administrators have commissioned the preparation of a revised scheme, which is currently under discussion with Maldon District Council.
Following on the Trust's monthly Saturday work parties - the last one in June cleared the lock cut at Ricketts - we have, courtesy of funds provided by the Hanson Trust, the Essex Environment Trust and the Environment Agency, started on the second phase of the removal programme.
The first phase was carried out by the Environment Agency's Emergency Workforce, who concentrated their efforts on the section from Heybridge (upstream of the Wave Bridge) as far as the intake for the Langford Water Works above Beeleigh (including the river Blackwater from Beeleigh weir to the Museum of Power). They removed all large clumps mechanically and followed this up by handpicking.
The second phase has just been completed by S H Goss Ltd who have handpicked the river from Sandford to Heybridge Basin including the lower Blackwater. The whole waterway has now been hand picked and it is anticipated that three or four more pickings will be needed in order to get the weed under reasonable control.
At present we* have spent our budget and extra funds are required to continue the work. An application for funding has been made to the Essex Rural Renaissance Fund so that work can continue in September.
We have reached a critical phase in our efforts when it is rather galling to see the remaining bits of weed multiplying at an alarming rate in the summer months. For the disinterested observer it would appear that all is well as it is difficult to see the weed in many places on the river whereas last year it was rampant and everywhere! The aficionados know that although the river looks clean, it is not, and many small clumps of weed are still lurking in the captive marginal vegetation ready to break out again. At Heybridge Basin below Hall Bridge the situation is still rather critical and the weed there is still being removed mechanically by the Navigation Company.
The Trust was hoping to draw up a new clearance plan based upon volunteers working in liaison with the Navigation Company where sections of river could be dedicated to certain groups for monitoring and clearance on a regular basis. Unfortunately we haven't reached this stage yet as there is too much of the weed still in the river for this to work. A survey of the distribution of the weed will take place during August, after which it should become clear where efforts should be concentrated.
At the last meeting of Chelmer Canal Trust trustees it was resolved to continue working parties on the first Saturday of each month, starting in October when the bank-side vegetation has died down and the weed hasn't! The thinking is that we have a well proven team which can be strengthened by others, there is time to search for suitable stable boats (flat bottomed dorys are ideal) and other equipment (strimmers), and time to publicise dates and venues well in advance. The winter and spring are the best times to catch pennywort as long as the river levels stay reasonable.
Once the survey is completed we will be able to move forward and publicise the plan and ask for more supporters. Our campaign will be strengthened by the publication and distribution of our information leaflet and warning notice on the pennywort threat.
* The “we” in this context is the River Users' Partnership which is managing the pennywort clearance project.
The Chelmer Canal Trust would like to acknowledge with thanks the generous donation of £100 from the Maldon Branch of the Essex Wildlife Trust in recognition of "your sterling work in combating the pennywort on the canal … this has been a tremendous effort ... and must have greatly improved the future prospects for the canal's wildlife..."
During the previous two days, nearly two inches of rain had fallen. The river level was between 18 and 24 inches higher than normal and the flow rate was exceptional. We assembled at Sandford and six of us launched (with some difficulty) three open Canadian canoes borrowed from the Fairplay Outdoor Education Centre. (Throughout the Pennywort campaign, they have been very obliging in lending us their canoes for weed picking; of course the removal of the weed helps them as well.) We set off at high speed on the rushing current towards Cuton Lock. The seventh member of the party preferred to walk the towpath. There was no sign of any Pennywort. We were not really surprised - probably any loose weed had been swept away by the current while any that was clinging to the banks would have been submerged. Landing at Cuton, we could see that the landing stages below the lock were completely submerged and virtually inaccessible. So we launched into the weir stream, which swept us off at even higher speed than before. Half-way to Stonehams, we realised that we were not going to find any weed, so we decided to turn back. As always, Dudley Courtman had come prepared with a range of refreshments - tea, coffee and biscuits - to fortify us for the return journey.
It was hard work making headway against the current, at times we were hardly moving. Eventually we made it back to Cuton Lock and portaged up from the weir stream again. Our walking companion re-joined us at this point and told us that the towpath was flooded closer to Stonehams Lock. From Cuton back to Sandford was still hard work but not as bad as further downstream, so we returned to our starting point in good spirits.
The only remaining problem was that my car got stuck in the mud when I tried to drive out on to the road!