|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||March 2006||Issue 32|
In addition to the usual chores associated with Committee work, members of the Chelmer Canal Trust Management Committee have, in January and February, been meeting on a more regular basis to devise a three year Strategic Plan aimed at ensuring that the Committee has clear aims and objectives in terms of the way it serves the Trust.
The devising of this Strategic Plan, hopefully followed by a plan of actions which need to be taken, has enabled much discussion to take place about the nature of the Trust, its role and its relationship with other bodies. This is particularly appropriate at a time when Essex Waterways Limited, has taken on the management of the Navigation. The Strategic Plan allows the committee to have a clear vision of the role the Chelmer Canal Trust has as far as input into the maintenance and upkeep of the Navigation is concerned, and ensures that the Trust manages its finances, and applies for funding, in ways which support the declared aims of the Canal Trust.
Members who want more information about the Strategic Plan can contact any of the trustees. As soon as it is finalised the Plan will be available for viewing on the Trust's website. Members' comments and feedback will, of course, be very welcome.
The Navigation Company's directors still meet on a regular basis. They still might be needed, to help on matters of ownership, or to make changes to the bye-laws, for example. Had the Company gone into liquidation then the ownership of the canal banks would have reverted to the original riparian owners, pre1793 Act of Parliament - a legal nightmare would have ensued, and the waterway would have been turned into a drainage ditch by the Environment Agency.
The Inland Waterways Association is to be congratulated on their bold initiative in taking over the maintenance of the canal. As a charity they will be able to secure funding from sources which were denied to the Navigation Company, although it must be acknowledged that the latter had much local support. This support will continue under the IWA because the waterway is greatly valued as an irreplaceable environmental and recreational asset.
Nothing has basically changed in all of this with regard to the position of the Chelmer Canal Trust. We supported the old Company as much as we felt able. Our limitations were: our available resources, the constraints imposed by our charitable status, and whether our proposals were justified by our Trust objects. One could describe the way in which we worked with the Company as one of “creative tension”. For the most part our proposals were well received and, when they were not, there was mutual respect and understanding for the opposite view. Our relationship with the new owners, the IWA, will be similar except that as we are both charities there should be a large overlap in aims and objectives, which should generate less “tension” and more “creativity”!
The Trustees will continue to operate as they always have, as a watchdog and as a sponsor of new ideas. They will try to safeguard members' interests by ensuring, as far as they are able, that the waterway is “cared for” in a safe and imaginative way so that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone for years to come.
The Susan Trust was formed with the specific intention of protecting this historically important vessel for the future, as a functioning boat able to travel the waterway for which she was built. It was felt that her chances of survival would be improved if she was owned by an organisation dedicated to the cause, and not likely to be distracted by other pressures. This is why the borough council has donated Susan to the newly formed Susan Trust, together with £25,000 to support her future upkeep.
The Susan Trust is a partnership of The Chelmer Lighter Preservation Trust, The Inland Waterways Association, The Chelmer Canal Trust and Chelmsford Borough Council. The target is to go on to raise a total of £250,000 to ensure the long term protection of this unique vessel.
Among the guests was Murray Prior, of Prior's Boatyard, who.actually built Susan in the 1950s at Burnham on Crouch. For a historic vessel, Susan is relatively young, but she is the last of a very long line of east coast lighters which pre-date the Chelmer and Blackwater navigation. While Susan was built for the navigation, it is also just as true that the navigation was built for boats like her. These were wide beamed but with a shallow draft for bringing in heavy loads across the mudflats of the Blackwater on the tide. These were the craft which plied between ships anchored off Osea and the port of Maldon before the arrival of the navigation. It made sense therefore, that they should continue to Chelmsford, and the channels and locks of the Chelmer and Blackwater were made wide and shallow to suit. So Susan is inextricably linked with the history of both the Chelmer, and the east coast. We must ensure that future generations can also enjoy the sight of the last of these vessels in action. We wish the Susan Trust every success.
Along and around the Chelmer and Blackwater”Dudley Courtman reviews the “Walks” booklet recently published by Essex County Council: a postcard for placing an order is enclosed with this edition of Coates' Cuttings.
The Chelmer Canal Trust's proposed series of circular walks around the Navigation was rather overshadowed by the discovery, once we had made a start on it, that Essex County Council were in the process of doing the same thing. Moreover, the format that they were proposing to use was very similar to the one that we had envisaged. We wanted to get away from the customary detailed route where you are told more about which directions to take than anything else. For us the important thing was to focus on the quality of the local landscape and the places of interest. To achieve this you need a map showing the location of local features, with an easily identifiable marked route accompanied by some information on places or features you might see or visit on the walk. “Navigation Walks Along and around the Chelmer and Blackwater” met all of these criteria.
The idea of our walks was that they would appeal to the casual and family walkers and would be circular, short in nature, and would include parts of the towpath - a two hour stroll in the countryside. The seven “Navigation Walks” tend to cater for more committed walkers, although there is no reason why you shouldn't walk parts of them, or do the two short ones. A very useful help card is enclosed with the “Walks” showing their distance, the type of terrain, parking possibilities and refreshment locations.
The “Walks” booklet, in A5 format, comprises some fifty pages and has a water proof cover. It will fit into a pocket and the marked routes should be easy to follow. It might have been better if the maps and the information relating to them were adjacent to one another in the booklet and so avoid page turning but you can always read up on the walk before setting out!
The various photographs of the landscape are numerous and stunning - they engender the feeling of “If this is what is on my doorstep I must take a look - and quickly”. Many of the chosen footpaths are little used and take you into the heart of the Essex countryside. Complete isolation, peace and quiet is guaranteed - “away from it all”. You can roam alone amongst all those evocative local places: “Bassetts, Twitty Fee, Ravens, Hoe Mill, Beeleigh Abbey, World's End cottage…”
The booklet gives an excellent potted history of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation which is complemented by “Wendy's Walk”, a route along the whole length of the canal, providing a chance to read our information boards at the locks en route. On all of the routes there is something of local interest, whether it is intriguing local stories and legends like the sad drowning of Alice Grace Mildmay and her subsequent haunting of Sandon Brook, the Devil stealing the bell from Danbury church, or the pickled knight discovered there in 1779.
Throughout the seasons there is a host of plants and flowers to enjoy. On the ridges you will find ling heather in the open glades, rowan, lily of the valley, yellow archangel, greater butterfly orchid, blue bell and wood anemone. On the navigation you will see yellow iris, king cups, comfrey, marjoram and water mint, as well as many birds like moorhen, duck, dabchick, swans, swifts, swallows and martins. Sometimes you will spy terns fishing for baby eels and, if you are lucky, a kingfisher. On Beeleigh's salt marshes oyster catchers, red shank, dunlin, curlew and shelducks, make their home.
You can even enjoy visiting the Essex countryside vicariously through the pages of “Navigation Walks”, but the pleasure will be multiplied a hundred times by going to explore the real thing.
“Victoria” has been in use more regularly than in earlier years through the winter period.
Watch out for a new arrival on the Navigation; “Kachina”, a narrow-boat moored at Paper Mill Lock.
The winter months are the natural time for boat inspection and repairs, and there is a unique detail of Paper Mill Lock that deserves wider use. Cut into the chamber brickwork are four slots, each lined with steel. Two beams can be slid into these so that, when the lock is empty, “Victoria” can be suspended for hull inspection and repainting. This device obviates the need for two visits by a heavy crane to accomplish this task. Although other boat users have been declined the use of this facility in the past it is to be hoped that this will change in the future, perhaps by prior arrangement and in exchange for a fee for brief periods during the winter months.
All users of the waterway have an implied duty to act considerately towards others, and boat owners can make a significant contribution to the peace and harmony to be enjoyed by following a few simple courtesies:
By “Yellow Ensign”
So here comes an explanation !!!!!!
The word Kachina has its origins among the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern USA, and has a particular significance to the Indians of the Hopi Nation of Arizona. The Hopi live by a complex set of beliefs, one of which is the Kachina cult. The basic concept is that all things in the world have two forms, the visible object and a spirit counterpart, a dualism that balances mass and energy. Kachina are the spirit essence of everything in the real world. When the clouds form over the dessert lands of the Hopi they believe them to be the good spirits of their ancestors who are bringing them the rains for the crops. The Hopi do not worship Kachina but look upon them as good friends and partners who are interested in their welfare.
I like the philosophy that we all need good friends and partners and that is why we called our boat Kachina.
Sandy and Leila Evans
On August 8th. 1891 the Essex Field Club undertook an excursion from Maldon to Chelmsford, attended by about 80 people. The trip was made on a horse-drawn barge, the 'William Davis', helmsman being a Mr. Lewis Hansell. A full account of this trip and much about the history and topography of the Chelmer and Blackwater is to be found in the Essex Naturalist for 1891 (Vol. 5) pages 247 to 254. During the trip the plants and various bugs - snails and insects were recorded and a list appended - in total a list of 82 flowering plants were seen on the trip including species found in the canal, bankside and nearby meadows, notably only two types of tree were recorded Alder and White Willow. What is perhaps extraordinary about this list is that 115 years later virtually all these species are known to still occur in and around the C&B. There are probably few sites in Essex or indeed southern England where this could be said to be true. Agricultural intensification has robbed us of probably 98% of our flower-rich meadows (flood and hay meadows) and many river systems (such as the Lee and Roding) have been subjected to intermittent but frequent pollution incidents and flood alleviation schemes in the urban stretches which have severely degraded the habitat for wildlife.
The Chelmer and Blackwater from Chelmsford still runs through a predominantly rural landscape and although this still brings its problems such as agricultural chemical run-off, at least the problem is recognised and some adjacent land-holders through the FWAG Chelmer and Blackwater Project have left marginal land as buffer zones which helps to prevent spray drift and the leaching of nitrates into the river system, as ever there is much greater scope for participation in the scheme. There have been flood alleviation schemes notably in Chelmsford but these are not that extensive.
So what makes the C&B special from a wildlife point of view? Firstly there is a good diversity of habitat – the slow flowing canal itself, which has a fairly constant flow of water only occasionally going into spate, numerous small tributaries and adjacent ditches sometimes reed filled, sometimes with overgrown hedgerows and bramble patches. There is quite a diversity of adjacent land uses including cricket bat willow plantations, garden turf cultivation, arable fields with a variety of crops growing, former gravel pits (notably at Boreham and Ulting) now used for recreational fishing, small wooded areas, developing scrub areas, grassland (unfortunately with very little quality meadow liable to flooding left) a tree population with at least a handful of very notable ancient trees in the immediate catchment area. Last but not least the historic built landscape of the canal has also greatly enhanced the area for wildlife particularly the old mill sites – even where the original mill has been demolished (Hoe Mill and Paper Mill for example) the old mill ponds and races still remain, good habitat for aquatic wildlife and the sometimes 200 years old built structures such as the lock pounds and bridges (and even the later concrete bridges) can provide habitat for interesting mosses and lichens. The concentration of these habitats at places such as Hoe Mill where you have virtually all the above in a relatively small area, create what are effectively biodiversity ‘hotspots’ with a tremendous range of wildlife.
There unfortunately has been no major survey culminating in a published record of the wildlife of the canal, I would suggest that such a survey is needed. However numbers of individual surveys have been undertaken and it is possible to get some idea of the wildlife. Perhaps the most important indicator group of habitat type and quality are the dragonflies and damselflies. A total of at least 18 species are known from the C&B, currently one of the highest totals in Essex amongst those recorded are the White-legged Damselfly a species often found where meadows abut river systems, the Hairy Dragonfly seen recently at Little Baddow and downstream from Papermill Lock briefly thought to have been extinct in Essex it was re-recorded about 20 years ago at a coastal site and the Scarce Chaser an exciting recent find at Langford and a species which had not been recorded in Essex for over a hundred years!!. Other popular groups recorded are the mammals and birds. Of the mammals, the most important records are Otter and Water Vole; the former has made a comeback, the latter is sadly under pressure but both are Biodiversity Action Plan species and the environment could be enhanced for both species. In addition a good range of other species are known from the C&B area including Hare, Rabbit, Brown Rat, Weasel, Mole, Badger, Harvest Mouse, Fox, and various bat species including Daubenton’s, the two common Pipistrelles, Brown Long-eared, Natterers and Noctule. The C&B is probably optimum habitat for many bat species but once again a full survey is needed. Of the birds the more usual species seen on and around the C&B include Moorhen, Mute Swan, Mallard, Little Grebe, Heron, Kingfisher, Tufted Duck, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge plus many more including all the common garden species to be seen in the handful of bankside gardens. Sedge warblers and whitethroats are two warblers that inhabit the banks of the river in summer. Lapwing can be seen on adjacent farmland in winter and may possibly breed.
Winter visitors include Redwing and Fieldfare and sometime nearby fields are graced with the presence of flocks of Golden Plover. Snipe are also frequent winter visitors needing wet ground, I suspect that there are sites along the river which are undisturbed enough to permit this species to breed if they have already not done so. Kestrels are regulars, the Hobby is an occasional welcome sight in summer presumably feeding on the numerous dragonflies and hirundines. Some of the more unusual birds seen are Stonechats wintering near Stoneham’s Lock and Little Egret the latter now a not uncommon sight near the C&B at Boreham, an unimaginable record 10 years ago. Water Rail I have seen once also at Boreham some years ago.
The water-filled pits at Hoe Mill are once again a great attraction for aquatic birds. I have a list of birds from the C&B of over 60 species (I suspect that the real total is double this and probably more). As already mentioned many of the higher plants recorded a 100 years ago are still present – I suspect though with much reduced populations. As far as I am aware there are only fragments of ancient undisturbed meadow left (if any) – seasonally flooded meadows, inundated in late winter and early spring and providing an early crop of grass would presumably have been the norm two hundred years ago and would have stretched the length of the river. These are now largely gone but the fragments left have an interesting flora which deserves recording. Boreham Mead adjacent to Little Baddow Lock is one such example – it was apparently a designated SSSI but ploughed up in the mid 1990s and cropped for at least one year. Interestingly much of its ancient flora survived, presumably as a buried seed bank and you can still see Meadow Saxifrage, Lady’s Smock, Ragged Robin, Meadow Sweet, Meadow Barley and Pepper Saxifrage here an assemblage that would have been familiar to country people 200 years ago but today virtually lost to the county. One very special plant here is Dropwort a rare relative of Meadow Sweet I found 3 plants in the meadow in 2005 and this may be the last natural site for this plant in Essex. Meadow Rue ( a native Thalictrum) is another meadow plant hanging on by its ‘fingertips’ it appears to have gone from its special roadside verge site near Boreham bridge (at least I have never found it here) but I did find a new site for it about 300 yards away on the banks of the Chelmer. The aquatic plants are of great interest and are again a group that has been put under pressure in the modern countryside. The C&B has a rich diversity of this group – Common Reed, Great Water Dock, Marsh Woundwort, Arrowhead, Purple Loosestrife, Kingcup, Yellow Flag and Reedmace but the fully aquatics give us some rare species in Essex amongst the pondweeds (Potamogeton) found in the Chelmer are Long-stalked, Shining and Perfoliate.
Two special invertebrate records from the C&B are the native Crayfish and the Musk beetle. The former has been recorded recently and is threatened all over its range. I believe it is susceptible to a disease carried by the imported American Signal Crayfish which has established itself in many UK lakes and rivers and seems to be about to do for the aquatic environment what the Grey Squirrel has done for the terrestrial. The Musk beetle is very special it is a large and spectacular member of the longhorn family it can have a body length of 30 mm with long whip-like antennae and is a lovely metallic blue-green in colour. It was recorded over a hundred years ago on pollard willows- a favourite habitat of the larvae and should still be found here.
The ancient pollard willows favoured by the Musk Beetle are rather few now (more pollards could quite easily be created) but there is one tree I have discovered which can only be described as a leviathan its smallest trunk girth is about 22 feet and it bulges into a massive bolling a huge and spectacular mass of vegetable matter. There are also a couple of good pollard English Oaks near Ulting (girths c.20 ft. and 17 ft. respectively).
Perhaps the last word should go to a minute alga recently recorded in the canal only known by its scientific name Hildenbrandia rivularis it is a red alga and hence related to the red seaweeds and is the first known record in East Anglia….perhaps an indicator of the present quality of the habitat.
Problem areas on the canal include nutrient enrichment from agricultural run-off; the well known Water Pennywort; silting up ( dredging will need to be done on a selective and managed basis); management of the riparian habitat ( there is currently much Nettle and Anthriscus on the bank margins). Mink may need to be controlled in the future; there is currently relatively little pollution from either boats or discharge from sources such as sewage works or farms (particularly now there is so little farming of livestock along the Chelmer).
Recreational users include ramblers, joggers, runners, canoeists, boaters, dog-walkers, mountain-bikers, bird-watchers, fishermen (and women), families and just visitors looking for a pleasant afternoon out. Away from the popular sites like Papermill Lock where public car-parking is generally available (people will not walk more than a hundred yards from their vehicles, much of the car parking along the canal is ad hoc and rudimentary and this must inhibit visitor access) the tow-path does not suffer too much erosion but pressure on some areas can arise in summer which will obviously impact on the wildlife.
It is to be hoped that under the ownership of the IWA, the Chelmer and Blackwater does not end up like the Stort – polluted by oil and with a seemingly ever increasing amount of boat traffic causing persistent water turbidity ( deleterious to the plants growing there).
And before I forget, the Golden Eagle, a female, was kept by a Mr. Samuel Garratt of Hoe Mill c.1890 ( see Essex Naturalist Vol.4 1890 p.124 – Golden Eagle laying at Woodham Walter a note by E.A.Fitch)
As I have suggested a full up-to-date survey and inventory of the wildlife along the Chelmer and Blackwater needs to be undertaken. In particular the higher plants, mosses, lichens and fungi need recording. Birds and mammals would need to be assessed. Invertebrate groups such as the beetles, bees and wasps, flies and dragonflies need recording. Special attention should be paid to the aquatic plants and animals. Some thought should be given to recording the special wildlife of the tidal part of the river beyond Beeleigh. An assessment of its (already high) conservation status would need to be made.
I have long felt that the Chelmer and Blackwater would make an exceptional linear country park.
The Essex Field Club are running 3 recording meetings along the Chelmer and Blackwater later this year all meeting at Papermill Lock :-
Many of the water mills along the canal have disappeared; only Barnes at Springfield remains intact. Over the years, Sandford, Little Baddow, Paper Mill, Hoe, Beeleigh and Heybridge mills, have either burned down or have been demolished. It is only now that we mourn the loss of their rich architectural and historic heritage. They must have been some of the first large buildings to appear on the Essex landscape, certainly the first factories. That they were made of wood and were constructed on the unstable ground of water meadows, and were able to withstand the river’s winter floods, is a wonder of the ingenuity and skill of their builders.
Patricia Ryan’s book on the history of Woodham Walter (“A Village History of Woodham Walter”) tells us some interesting facts about the origins of Hoe Mill, Ulting. (The mill, not the lock, is in the parish of Woodham Walter). The mill dates from well before the Doomsday Book, 1086. (It is probably safe to say that all of the mills on the canal were of a similar age). At that time the lord of the manor owned the mill and a large part of the surrounding land. He used his ownership to control his tenants by making them grind their corn in his mill. If they did it at home in a quern, or took it somewhere else, they were severely penalised.
Hoe Mill was sited at the western end of the island formed where the river Chelmer split into two. The first mill was named after this island. We know this because the Saxon word for “island” is “holme”; hence “Holme” Mill, it changed to Hoe Mill later.
In 1795 Robert Marriage bought the mill. The Marriage name is synonymous with milling in Essex and it is no surprise to find their name cropping up at Hoe Mill. His two sons, Robert and James, worked the mill for many years. A survey at the time records two water wheels and three mill stones. In 1795 Robert neglected to repair the flood gates and had to pay for replacements. It is interesting that the costs for this were shared by the Navigation Company; this could have been part of a deal over access, as the construction of the canal started at Heybridge Basin in 1793, and it would have reached Hoe Mill by 1795.
The water courses in the neighbourhood of the mill were altered over the years, first when in 1795 the canal was built; then some years later it was necessary to construct a leat from the stream to the east of the mill in order to improve the water supply—the channel for this can still be seen in some places adjoining the road from the Hoe Mill towards Manor Farm.
After the Marriage tenure the mill was rented out to a variety of people. One of the most notable was Hugh Constable, a grandson of the famous painter who rented it for twenty–four years.
In 1924 the water company bought the site, blocked off the mill race and altered the channels as part of their flood control scheme.
The process, once the sugar beet roots were drawn and rasped, consisted of crushing the beet to a pulp in the mill, putting the pulp into bags, subjecting it to a pressure of 100 tons, boiling the expressed liquor to the consistency of molasses, then clarifying it. There were benefits to local farmers from the sugar beet pulp taken from the press. It had much the appearance of oil cakes and retained a feeding quality for cattle. It was widely used by local dairy farmers.
Various influential businessmen, probably with interests in the West Indies, or shares in Tate & Lyles in Silvertown, combined to resist the Marriage brothers' initiative, and after two years it failed through lack of capital.
No trace of the building remains on the quiet bank of the canal, only local names commemorate its memory, such as “Sugar Bakers Hole” a favourite for the angler. A close inspection of both banks at the point where Ulting Lane is closest to the canal reveals raised banks, suggesting the existence of former buildings. Also in the grazing meadow on the south bank there are several very old boundary posts (see photo) which might suggest that the Navigation Company were keen to delineate their property when the sugar mill was being built.
Sugar Bakers Cottages were built just downstream of the factory site. The present dwellings are not the original cottages, as they bear the date of their construction, 1870, and the initials ECBP, of E.C. Brook Peachel, who bought the Ulting Estate in 1857. According to local knowledge the original cottages were first called Hall Cottages, and formed part of the Ulting Hall estate - they probably took over the “sugar” name when the original mill cottages were demolished when the sugar mill venture failed.
The Marriage family have an important place in Essex sugar making history, and it was unfortunate for them that they couldn't achieve their worthy aim: maybe they were just a little ahead of their time because it wasn't long before sugar beet became a regular crop on the river valley sides. Today, in the late autumn, huge piles of beet can be seen on the roadside ready to be taken to the Felsted refinery. It could be that in the future there will be even more of piles if the beet extract, ethanol, replaces petrol. I'm sure that is something of which the Marriage brothers would have wholeheartedly approved.
The ships entry and account books for the port are a rich treasure trove of information. They tell us the names of the ships that entered the Basin, their cargoes, tonnage, and names of consignees, unloading times, and shipping costs.
In the latter years of the 19th century the cargoes arriving at the port of Heybridge Basin were mainly coals, coke, deals, pig iron, loam, chalk and fish. The main users of the canal were Brown & Sons of Navigation Road, Chelmsford; E H Bentall & Co, located about a mile up the canal at Heybridge; Wells & Perry, timber merchants at Springfield Basin in Chelmsford; Garratt's, the local millers,W&H Marriage, the Chelmsford millers; and William King, coal merchants of Little Baddow.
Cargoes were off-loaded in the Basin from the coastal boats onto canal lighters, and were carried along the 14 miles of canal by horse drawn barges. Tolls were charged according to the cargo's tonnage and character; one shilling and three old pennies a ton for timber (6.25p in today's money); one shilling (5p) for coals, tiles, gravel; and nine old pence (3.75p) for granite chippings for use on the roads by Chelmsford Council. Shorter trips from Maldon's railway sidings to Bentall's factory at Heybridge, or from there to the Basin, ranged from 3p to 5p a ton; it also cost 5p to pass through the sea lock. Coals unloaded from trucks into canal barges at the railway siding and taken to William King's yard at Little Baddow cost 5p a ton. Fish was a regular import at the Basin, with several boats calling to supply the local fishmongers: Frost, Ward, Pearce, Rice and Lazzell, some of whom owned their own boats. Around that time, 1884, an average of twenty boats a month docked at the Basin. It must have been a pretty busy place.
Over the years, as road and rail links improved, the small businesses stopped using the canal and the navigation was used only by a few large companies.
Bentalls of Heybridge, mostly imported pig iron from the north east of England, which they used for making ploughshares and other agricultural machinery. They built a large factory and workers' houses on both banks of the canal at Heybridge and had much use for sand, gravel, timber coal and chalk. No doubt they turned the chalk into lime which could be used to make the cement for their concrete buildings - they were one of the first to make use of concrete as a building material in the country.
W&H Marriage & Sons owned several water mills in Chelmsford. They converted, Moulsham mill to steam power in the late 19th century thereby insuring themselves against the vagaries of the weather and unpredictable water flows. It was ideal for them because coal could be delivered by canal barge from Heybridge Basin right to the mill's door, even though the navigation proper didn't quite reach that far - for the last 400 metres the course of the river Chelmer had to be used.
In 1909 coking coal was transported along the canal to the new Chelmsford Gas Works which had been built beside the canal at Springfield Basin. Barrels of tar were exported down the canal to Heybridge on the return trip. The local councils used the canal to carry granite chippings for road mending; one assumes that that this cargo had made its way from the ports of Devon and Cornwall, probably carried by Thames sailing barges.
May & Butcher was a company in Heybrige Basin started by two enterprising locals who imported surplus First World War materials including large ships. Their contribution to the prosperity of the Navigation Company's finances was minimal as they could only be charged port landing and locking dues. Canal carriage tolls did not apply, although they must have added a lot to the economy of the village in employment terms.
Browns of Chelmsford (now Travis Perkins), were sited at the head of the canal at Springfield Basin, and originally used the canal to carry coal for general sale and for heating their furnaces. Over the years they changed to importing only timber. They used small coastal boats and sailing barges at first, then changed to the larger steam-powered vessels which had to be off loaded at sea opposite Osea Island. It was Brown's timber trade that proved to be the saviour of the canal because as the other users gradually dropped away they continued to import timber right up to the 1970's. In the 1950's they changed from using horse drawn barges to motor driven ones - the barge Susan, moored at Sandford, is the sole survivor. Then in the 1960's they introduced steel barges driven by Harbourmaster outboard engines- one of these units also still survives. Containerisation of timber and improved road and port links eventually made using the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation uneconomical and the timber trade between the Basin and Chelmsford ceased.
While most other canals in the country, in the face of modern economic changes dwindled away to redundancy and obscurity, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company was able to keep afloat mainly by the efforts of Brown and Sons of Chelmsford who used it extensively right up until 1972.
With the end of the timber trade the Navigation Company needed an alternative income source, so they turned to recreation and leisure activities. A luxury motor barge, the Victoria, was commissioned. Instead of timber, tourists were transported along the canal; this income, together with the fees charged for new leisure craft moorings, enabled the Company to survive to the present day - a remarkable achievement for a company founded in 1793. Their story is all there, told by the Basin's ship entry books. The cargoes of fish, coal, pig iron, coke, sand, gravel chalk and granite chippings have now been replaced by boaters, canoeists, walkers, anglers and yachtsmen.
The whole project is being coordinated by Peter Spurrier from Essex County Council's Landscape Department. He is doing a very thorough job, constantly monitoring the problem sites, engaging and supervising contractors, and helping to raise grants. The Trust has worked very closely with him throughout. He recently secured a grant from the Essex Development and Regeneration Agency which has been spent on a handpicking programme from Hoe Mill to Heybridge Basin -the Trust, and Essex Waterways Ltd, having previously cleared most of the large clumps.
The best case scenario for the future is one where the whole of the navigation can be patrolled by a few boats. But we have to appreciate that we have yet to achieve this. Constant vigilance and appropriate action during this summer will be a deciding factor.
|Saturday 1st April 2006||
Annual River Clearance
We plan to extend Chelmsford Borough Council's litter pick down the length of the navigation. Our main efforts will be focused at Heybridge. Meet at 10-0am at the Tesco car park. Or you might prefer to join the main Chelmsford group on the Wharf Road car park at 9am
|Friday 21st April 2006 at 7-30pm.||
An Open River Users Meeting
will be held at Langford Village Hall. The new canal owners will outline their plans for managing the navigation and will listen to your concerns.
|May (date to be confirmed)||
to Langford Waterworks
Arrangements will be posted on our website and sent to members
|June (date to be confirmed)||
to J S Wright & Sons Ltd
A very popular event last time. Come and see what happens to all those Chelmer willows on their way to becoming cricket bats. Details will be posted on website and sent to members.
|15th and 16th July 2006||
Raft Race and Boat Rally
The Raft Race will take place on the Sunday. The weekend boat rally is still awaiting confirmation.
|From the end of July to beginning of Sept||
Chelmer Canal Trust
The Trust’s valuable collection of canal photos will be on display at the new Little Baddow History Centre (in Chapel Lane, off Holybread Lane).
A barbecue to be held at either at Rushes Lock or Hoe Mill. To be confirmed
|May, June and August||See information about Essex Field Club outdoor meetings on Page 17.|
Check out our Working Parties page on our website for regular updates.