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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter February 2007 Issue 35
Registered Charity No 1086112.

An impressively strong flow of water, seen recently over the Paper Mill Weir

An impressively strong flow of water, seen recently over the Paper Mill Weir


In This Issue

The Waterways Trust
Essex Waterways Ltd
Boatwatch
Publicity Officer
10 years of news.
The Former Course of the River Blackwater
They've got weed in Leicester too.
Fallen trees
"The Spirit of the River" Revisited
Canoe Access Agreements
Chelmsford's Flooding Risk- you saw it here first!
One of the county's most endangered species found.
Meeting of Elms Farm Park Conservation Group
"Donald Cousin and myself" (at Barnes lock 1928)
HMS (River) "Chelmer"
Fly-fishing behind Woolworth's with "Blondie"
Constable's Jumping Horse
Events Diary Page





The Waterways Trust

“The task of The Waterways Trust is to bring about the widest possible awareness and enjoyment of Britain's inland waterways. The Trust has a UK-wide remit to preserve, protect and promote waterways for public benefit, to encourage restoration for navigation and economic benefit, to provide facilities for recreation and to educate the public about the inland waterways.

The Waterways Trust is playing a vital role in the current revival taking place on Britain's canals and rivers. Its fundraising programmes are bringing new funds into waterway regeneration and building a new and wider constituency of supporters for the waterways. The Trust's three museums - The National Waterways Museum, Gloucester; The Boat Museum ,Ellesmere Port; and The Canal Museum, Stoke Bruerne - along with The Waterways Archive provide centres of learning where the general public and enthusiasts can experience the magic of waterways.

In its first few years The Waterways Trust has demonstrated a great capacity to get things done. It has played a major role in developing the partnerships to bring about what has been called the "waterways renaissance". " * www.virtualwaterways.co.uk

The Waterways Trust held its AGM at the House of Commons on the afternoon of Thursday November 24th - they obviously have friends in high places! Those attending were representatives from members of parliament, canal and historical trusts, the Inland Waterways Association, various museums, British Waterways, DEFRA, and the British Canoe Union - David Suchet of “Poirot” fame also lent his support...

The assembly was welcomed by Andrew Miller, an MP with a great interest in waterways and who probably used his influence in securing the choice of venue. The main presentation was by Roger Hanbury, the chief executive of the Waterways Trust; whose main theme was the important contribution made to the work of the Trust by partnerships within the public, private and voluntary sectors. These partnerships were underpinned by various principle themes: education and learning ( involving schools and colleges), opening up the waterways collections, campaigning for free entry to museums, further development on the visual waterways archive of photographs, the natural environment, heritage conservation, regeneration and restoration. (the current restoration of the Cotswold Canals in particular). In many ways these worthy objectives mirrored those of the waterway trusts present, including the Chelmer Canal Trust. It could be said that the Waterways Trust forms a sort of umbrella organisation at national level for all of these.

What can be achieved nationally can greatly assist the efforts of local trusts. The work of the Waterways Trust can serve as a model to guide development at local level. The Trust's annual review, “People Love the Water”, gives numerous examples of good practice undertaken nationwide in pursuit of the Trust's main objectives. This work could well serve to kindle similar projects at local level - although the key support that all trusts would welcome is money! The Waterways Trust, in order to do its work, is a major applicant in the fund raising game and would seem to be a recipient of funds rather than a dispenser of them. But that should not prevent a grant application to them from the Chelmer Canal Trust.

In some ways one wonders why the Waterways Trust, established in 1999 - the Chelmer Canal Trust is older! - was set up in the first place, especially as it could be argued that the Inland Waterways Association, founded in 1945, already possessed the same remit and had major experience in developing the inland waterways network in the public interest. To form a new charitable trust to carry out work similar to the IWA might be seen as a replication of effort especially as the latter's infra-structure was already well developed. By way of recognition of this fact the IWA was invited to serve as a trustee on the new board.

In my view the weakness of the Waterways Trust is that it is largely dependent on government funding, mainly via British Waterways, and has to spend much time in obtaining resources which puts in competition with the many small trusts which it is trying to help. That said, one can see that a national charitable body for waterways has an important role to play. Its achievements to date have been impressive and it has managed to find many influential “partners”. Its latest campaign is to lobby the government to permit free entry to all museums in the belief that greater use would generate considerable economic, educational and social benefit especially in the realm of tourism. All the organisations present at the AGM were urged to send personal letters to their MP's, making this point: an initiative to be supported.

Dudley Courtman




Essex Waterways Ltd.

{ We thank the IWA Chelmsford Branch for letting us copy this article from their most recent newsletter. }

Essex Waterways Ltd is the subsidiary company wholly owned by The Inland Waterways Association, which was formed to operate and maintain the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation for public benefit. It has had a successful first year during which it has completed its planned major projects with the repair of Sandford Lock, Little Baddow Mill sluices, the toilet block at Heybridge Basin and installed new toilet disposal facilities also at Heybridge Basin.

These and other projects have been made possible with partnership assistance from Essex Environment Trust, Essex County Council, Chelmsford Borough Council, Maldon District Council, Essex and Suffolk Water, Essex Heritage Trust, Chelmer Canal Trust and of course The Inland Waterways Association.

The only major project planned for the first year which has not as yet been undertaken is the installation of new bottom gates and repairs at Cuton Lock. The start date for these works has had to slip due to the current lack of funding assistance. When EWL took on the Navigation it made it quite clear that it would be reliant upon help from its partners for these major projects and finding these sources of grant aid is the current main challenge.

We are however investigating several possibilities and hope that the Cuton repairs can take place in the spring.

We have throughout the year been assisted by many work parties with Chelmer Canal Trust arranging frequent weed busting sessions, whilst visiting Waterway Recovery Groups from Essex, Ipswich, London and the Bit in the Middle have all been involved in weekend work parties. These have been joined by our own local volunteers and boaters and as a result many useful maintenance and improvement works have been carried out and those participating have also had an enjoyable event. A big thank you to all of you.



Boat Watch

The Navigation sees traffic even on Boxing Day. “Camelot” was spotted away from its Sandford berth that day heading for Paper Mill, presumably as an antidote to the dreadful onslaught of seasonal fayre and television programmes. “Camelot” headed home after this little outing, Paper Mill being about its limit for a return trip during daylight at this time of year.

In January, “Hobbit” and “Miss Goosander” were spotted both underway from Paper Mill towards Heybridge reportedly for lifting out, followed by periodic insurance examination of their hulls. Working a boat at this time of year tests the physical resolve of the boater, with both boats supporting a clamp-on arrangement for a large umbrella as an example of the conditions to be endured at the tiller. The following day levels were up by around half a metre due to seasonal rainfall, meaning that navigation through locks was impossible until levels had fallen. Several canoeists took advantage of the high levels and flows to achieve downstream speeds much in excess of the speed limit stated in the Byelaws, and many wader birds were spotted attempting upstream travel against the current, making negative headway in the process!

Another carbon monoxide incident took place at the end of September at Springfield Basin. One of the boaters of a group of boats staying overnight in the basin realised that the occupants of another boat had not got up. After several attempts to wake them, an occupant managed to open the door and complained of being unwell before collapsing. After paramedic treatment, the occupants were taken to a local hospital and then transferred to another hospital for further specialist treatment. The actual cause of the poisoning, believed to be carbon monoxide, is not clear. Although a gas fridge was thought to be in use, it is not clear what other heaters or other equipment might have been running or whether ventilation had been blocked.

If nothing else, the incident has underlined the need for boaters to be constantly vigilant in checking the ventilation of their appliances in order to avoid becoming a victim. The ventilation grilles fitted to older narrow boats are often damaged or blocked. Even when compulsory ventilation standards are applied, some boaters block or seal them off to prevent draughts or to keep the boat warmer. Please don't do this. Your life may depend upon the ventilation they are intended to provide.

When you fit a carbon monoxide alarm, check with the supplier as to its efficiency and durability in the often damp and cold environment of a boat, as it would not be appropriate to rely on a detector that might not work. However, the overriding advice is to avoid carbon monoxide by keeping all fuel-burning appliances and their flues or exhausts routinely and competently maintained, and turned off at night when possible. Don't think, “it can't happen to me”, because for the occupants of two boats on this navigation in the past year it already has.

And to miss the 2007 boating season would be both tragic and unneccessary…

by "Yellow Ensign"



Publicity Officer

The Trust badly needs a publicity officer who could send our news to the local papers and other relevant outlets. In most cases reports and photographs would be supplied, as would the minutes of our trustee meetings. Ideally the publicity officer would need to have an email address We have established a useful network of contacts with the press and local councils which can be used. The time commiment should be minimal but the benefits would be major. If anyone feels able to help please phone Dudley Courtman (01621-892231) for a chat.


10 years of news.

It was only after the last issue of Coates Cuttings had gone out and I was updating the archive of back issues on our website that I noticed that we have been publishing this newsletter for just over ten years and failed to mark the anniversary in the appropriate edition! How could we have missed it? It's always interesting to take a look back and reflect when significant anniversaries are reached. The first issue was back in September 1996, called C&BN Friends. (It didn't change it's name to Coates' Cuttings until issue 5.) In those days, it was a simple double sided sheet of A4 with no photographs. The top stories of the day included a brief description of how our organisation was born, a Who's Who of the committee, and a letter to the editor from one Dudley Courtman. Could this have been one and the same, who has gone on to be one of the most prolific contributors? Issues 2, 3 and 4 contained reports of our activities to mark the Bi-Centenary of the completion of the navigation in 1797. From today's perspective it is notable that there is not a single mention of the dreaded American Pennywort. Problems of weed on the navigation are only reported in the January 1998 issue. It is not clear how much of the problem weed at the time was the pennywort, and how much was indigenous. The same issue marked the start of our interest in Langford Cut, and the launch of our very first website, complete with its impossible-to-remember address. Issue 7, in December of the same year, reported on our working party clearing the coping stones around Little Baddow Lock, to improve the safety of people on the bank. Our very first working party! The next issue reported the disastrous loss of the 200 year old weir at Rickets in heavy floods, which caused the closure of that section of the navigation for several months while it was rebuilt. On a lighter note, our 10th newsletter contained the first of many poems inspired by the navigation, by our poet Don McCourt and others. As the number of photographs increased, as our printing techniques improved, there were amusing blackmail photos of various members in costume for the Chelmsford 800 celebrations, or penetrating the uncharted reaches of the lower Blackwater. Issue 15 in January 2001 now seems to have been packed with significance. There was our obituary to Colonel John Frederick Cramphorn who played a major role in ensuring that the Chelmer and Blackwater survived it's many 20th century challenges. There was our own change of name, new logo and charitable status, and in the events diary, a new working party entry reading “Tackling The Pennywort” Subsequent issues document the start of building, and later the celebrations to open “Marina One” in Chelmsford, the publication of our book “Tales of the Chelmer and Blackwater”, more obituaries for Bill Spall, the former general manager of the navigation and John Marriage, a notable local historian and lifelong advocate for the pleasures of messing about in boats on the Chelmer. The troubles of the Navigation Company are reported on, and their solution by the creation of Essex Waterways limited. In addition to reports of the news from the navigation, there have been articles about a host of subjects including the navigation's history, wildlife and notable people. A short article like this could not hope to do justice to 10 years of writing by all the contributors, but all is not lost as all the back issues can be read on our website. So next time you are feeling nostalgic, or maybe just curious, why not take a look. (www.chelmercanaltrust.co.uk ) click on “Past Newsletters”.

William Marriage

Coates' Cuttings front page from June 1999Do you remember the way Coates' cuttings used to look?


The Former Course of the River Blackwater

The multiplicity of water courses in the area of Langford, Beeleigh and Heybridge make a very confusing picture. especially for anyone trying to decipher which parts were used in the construction of the canal. In my last article on this subject I described "How the River Blackwater Lost its Bed and its Name”. I now have had a chance to read the late Peter Came's definitive dissertation on the subject and some of my suppositions do not hold up. Although the main point made: that the present course of the River Blackwater as shown on today's maps is not the original and is in fact the former course of the Langford mill stream is substantiated. The theory that the former course of the River Blackwater as shown in the map between points A and B is not now supported by new evidence.

The evidence from Peter's study supports the idea that the original River Blackwater flowed from Langford mill to Heybridge mill.

The original plan of the navigation by Charles Wedge and John Rennie deposited in the House of Commons in 1793 shows the Blackwater flowing south to opposite Maldon golf course before turning eastwards (past present-day Tesco) to meet the estuary at Heybridge Mill. The Chapman and Andre map gives a false impression of the Blackwater running directly eastwards after leaving Langford. I guess that we tend to take the cartographers view as the final word but in this case it is more of a rough sketch than an accurately surveyed plan as provided by Wedge and Rennie, the builders of the canal. (Supporting evidence is provided by the map for a proposed navigation between Chelmsford and Maldon by Thomas Yeoman of 1765 which also shows the Blackwater's southerly course on leaving Langford.)

A close look at the Ordnance Survey map of 1897 clearly shows the courses of the Langford mill stream (now called the River Blackwater) and the Langford Cut which was constructed by John Westcombe , the Langford mill owner, in 1997. The Cut joined the estuary opposite Beeleigh Mill where some old stagings can still be seen in the mud as well as the Cut's deep depression across the present day golf course. When the Chelmer & Blackwater's builders met those engaged in work on Langford Cut, some sort of deal had to be worked out and the Cut was made deeper to match the Canal's depth on the understanding that John Westcombe's boats could use the facilities of the new navigation. Original River Blackwater is clearly shown to the east wriggling its way from Langford Wharf to the island opposite the golf course (it is shown as continuing south across the golf course suggesting that we may still not have the whole story!).

The next time that you make a visit to Beeleigh you can take a copy of this article with you. Using it and by having a look at the site map beside the weir you should be able to make more sense of how the complicated system of rivers evolved ?

Dudley Courtman



Standing in “the dip” in the Maldon golf course


They've got weed in Leicester too - ask Adrian Lane!

Our Weedbusters were joined on their October weed-clearing session by Adrian Lane, Leicester City Council's senior riverside ranger. Adrian had come along to look at how we manage the clearance of American Pennywort on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. His reason for coming was that they have a similar problem to ours. In Leicester, pennywort has spread along the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal.

Press cuttings and photos that Adrian brought with him told a familiar tale. It is believed that the pennywort got into the river, having been bought at a garden centre and subsequently discarded. In the last few years the weed has taken hold and now presents a problem to many, including boaters using the canal and river through Leicester, to anglers and to people walking their dogs - they have had a dog die after being trapped in the weed and they are worried that a child, thinking the weed is solid ground, will suffer a similar fate. Volunteers are working valiantly to remove weed but it is growing faster than they can remove it. The weed is infesting areas of the river and canal further and further downstream. Adrian is quoted as saying that he thinks they will still be fighting the weed in 10 years time. Does this ring bells for us in Essex?

Pennywort under a bridge in Leicester
Pennywort under a bridge in Leicester

There are, though, differences between the Leicester experience and ours on the Navigation. Possibly because the river is much bigger than the Navigation, and possibly because the weed was able to take a greater hold on the river before work started to remove it, the extent and size of the rafts of weed in Leicester are several times bigger than anything we have seen in Essex. Significantly the responsibility for removing the weed is that of the City Council and British Waterways. Large rafts of weed are mechanically removed. Volunteers are supported both by City Council staff and by adequate equipment and boats, making the task much easier and more manageable.

As we chatted between hauling rafts of weed from the Navigation in October, the advice Adrian reported giving to his volunteers was only too familiar: try not to leave any small cuttings which will grow into huge rafts next year; haul the weed far enough away from the water that it will dry out and die rather than grow on the damp bank or get washed back in by floodwater; take care not to put yourself at personal risk.

Adrian is aware that pennywort is a problem in a number of areas of the UK and is keen to see more research done on effective techniques for controlling and managing the weed. He wants to see the issue taken on as one where a nation-wide interest and nation-wide strategies are employed - here in Essex we will be pleased to back such initiatives.

Neil Frost



Fallen Trees

Some heavy winds during the later part of January resulted in a number of trees being blown down into and alongside the Chelmer and Blackwater.
This picture shows one that is resting on the footbridge across the Sandford Mill weir channel.

(This bridge provides a pedestrian link between Great Baddow and Chelmer Village.)

Mike Lewis



"The Spirit of the River" Revisited

Dudley Courtman



I was reminded by member Phil Luke that our own “Spirit of the River” was the theme of Matthew Arnold's poem, “The Scholar Gypsy”. You will recall, as I reported in the June edition of Coates Cuttings, that our “Spirit” was last seen at Hoe Mill:

“There was no car waiting for him. I watched from a distance as he, completely self contained, calmly slung his bags, together with his boat, on his back and went in search of an agreeable resting place in the wilderness for the night”

Such free spirits have always been with us. Phil has sent us this extract from “The Scholar Gipsy”:

“..... And, above Godstow Bridge, when hay-times here
In June, and many a scythe in sunshine flames,
Men who through those wide fields of breezy grass
Where black -winged swallows haunt the glittering Thames,
To bathe in the abandoned lasher pass,
Have often passed thee near
Sitting upon the river bank o'ergrown;
Marked thine outlandish garb, thy figure spare,
Thy dark vague eyes, and soft abstracted air-
But, when they came from bathing, thou wast gone!
At some lone homestead in the Cumner hills,
Where at her open door the housewife darns,
Thou hast been seen, or hanging on a gate
To watch the threshers in the mossy barns.
Children, who early range these slopes and late
For cresses from the rills,
Have known thee eyeing, all an April day
The springing pastures and the feeding kine;
And marked thee, when the stars come out and shine,
Through the long dewy grass move slow away.

In autumn, on the skirts of Bagley Wood -
Where most the gypsies by the turf- edged way
Pitch their smoked tents, and every bush you see
With scarlet patches tagged and shreds of grey,
Above the forest - ground called Thessaly -
The blackbird, picking food,
Sees thee, nor stops his meal, nor fears at all;
So often has he known thee past him stray,
Rapt, twirling in thy hand a withered spray,
And waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.
And once, in winter, on the causeway chill
Where home through flooded fields foot travellers go,
Have I not passed thee on the wooden bridge,
Wrapped in thy cloak a nod battling with the snow,
Thy face tow'rd Hinksey and its wintry ridge?
And thou hast climbed the hill,
And gained the white brow of the Cumner range;
Turned once to watch, while thick the snowflakes fall,
The line of festal light in Christ Church hall -
Then sought thy straw in some sequested grange.



Canoe Access Agreements

In October, the Environment Agency issued the report; 'Putting pilot voluntary canoe access agreements in place'. The work was carried out by the University of Brighton but commissioned by the Environment Agency. The British Canoe Union has raised concerns over the piece of work and the manner in which it was undertaken, and highlighted the lack of public access to rivers in England and Wales, unlike Scotland where there is a right for un-powered craft to use virtually all rivers. The British Canoe Union has approached IWA on the wider issue of access to water as something that ought to be lobbied for politically. IWA has agreed to support the British Canoe Union's campaign as it seeks greater opportunities for access to waterways and for their wider use.



Chelmsford's Flooding Risk- you saw it here first!

“If there is a message to be learned from these observations it could be that, with the onset of global warming and the disturbed weather patterns associated with it, there will be more rain than in the past. When it falls by the bucketful, and the automatic flood gates stick, that will be the time to reinstate the duck-boards in Springfield Road and refurbish our neglected board walks along the Essex lanes.”

We were well ahead of events with our warning about the prospect of serious flooding for Chelmsford. On the same day as we published our article in Coates Cuttings the Essex Chronicle carried the headline: “£32m needed or we're sunk”. This is the sum of money that the Environment Agency wants to improve Chelmsford's flood defences - it seems obvious when you look at the volume of flood water dammed against the stone bridge, and that was in 1958! Parts of the town could be sunk below flood waters threatening existing housing and commercial property, plus tens of million pounds worth of developments planned for the county town over the next fifteen years. A seven year flood prevention scheme is envisaged with new embankments and flood storage lagoons. The predictions are based on the occurrence of a major flood at least once every 100years

This sudden awakening to a possible catastrophe has been caused by the publication of the Environment Agency's new flooding map. It now is accepted the flood risk is now higher than once in 100 years and that the new works would provide no absolute guarantee against future flooding.

As we indicated Chelmsford's existing flood protection scheme relies on getting as much water through the town as fast as possible and this is dependent upon the automatic flood gates working properly. It now seems that extra ones will be needed to the great detriment to all those souls living and working below them. The old flood plains of the Chelmer and Blackwater should be quickly being restored to their former use as flood meadows and the further development for agriculture and reservoirs stopped.

Dudley Courtman



One of the county's most endangered species found.

Native Crayfish, one of the counties most endangered species has been located in Essex. During survey work on a stretch of the River Chelmer we found eighteen White-clawed crayfish, our native crayfish.

This is very exciting as it is the only site in Essex where we know they are still present. We were concerned that native crayfish had been lost from Essex; at least we now know of this site and hopefully the ongoing survey work will confirm others.

The survey work is part of a project led by the Environment Agency Fisheries team with support from the Essex Biodiversity Project members including Essex & Suffolk Water.

The aim is to safeguard the population by improving the habitat in this stretch of river for these remaining populations by placing mesh baskets filled with rocks. These act as places for the crayfish to hide during the day. We will continue monitoring the population and checking for the presence of signal crayfish.

White-clawed crayfish are Britain's only native crayfish. They have suffered a massive decline since the 1980's and have disappeared from many parts of Britain, especially lowland areas like Essex.

If anyone has information on crayfish (of any species) in the upper River Chelmer we would be interested to hear from you.

Mark Iley, Biodiversity Project Officer



Meeting of Elms Farm Park Conservation Group

We received this report in November last year, which explains why some of the content appears slightly out of date !

Roughly a year ago we gathered in Plantation Hall (off Colchester Road Heybridge) to discuss the future management of Elms Farm Park (at Heybridge opposite Tesco). As a result, a Friends group was formed to represent local people and to work in partnership with Maldon District Council on deciding the way forward for the site.

The Friends group has become known as the Elms Farm Park Conservation Group. This name and the constitution we agreed, reflect our main aim of trying to keep the Park as natural as possible by putting the needs of all the wildlife at the forefront of management decisions. The committee has recently finalised a Management Plan which sets out this aim in more detail. If you would like a copy of the plan please email spam protected or telephone 01621 875836.

Some vacancies have now arisen on the Committee and we are looking for new members. Maybe you have some useful skills to contribute such as IT, design, marketing, public speaking or financial management. Or maybe you have an interest in the natural environment or just enjoy being outdoors. Either way you will be welcomed and the EFPCG Committee would be delighted to meet you.

We are holding our next meeting on Thursday 7th December at Plantation Hall, starting at 7.30pm. As it will be getting near to Christmas and EFPCG will be a year old, we have decided to do things slightly differently. As well as the usual committee business ( draft agenda attached ) we have invited a guest speaker to give a presentation on the archaeology of the area starting at 8pm. During the early 1990's the Elms Farm area of Heybridge was the scene of one of the largest archaeological excavations this country has seen. Jackie Longman, Conservation Officer at Maldon District Council will explain the importance of this excavation and share some of the exciting finds with you.

Elms Farm Park Conservation Group would like to invite you and your family and friends to come along to the meeting, the talk or both. Everyone is welcome and some seasonal refreshments will be available from 7pm.

Linda Harris
Chair of Elms Farm Park Conservation Group



"Donald Cousin and myself"

(at Barnes lock 1928)

(I recently replied to a letter published in the magazine "Essex Life" in which a Hilda Whitworth from Danbury was asking for help in identifying old photos of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. - Dudley Courtman)

Evidently she had inherited some old photos from her mother and was intrigued by the appearance of a certain lady in some 60 of them. "Donald Cousin and myself" was the note written on the back of one of the photos kindly sent to us by Hilda. The "myself" lady in question is shown sitting on the lock beam at Barnes in 1928 with a certain Donald Cousin - also a mystery figure. There are some clues to the identity of the mysterious lady: on another photo is written "Nancy Kay Cousin and myself" (funny that she wasn't sure who she was and had to remind herself with "myself"!). It would seem that "myself" worked at Bonds in Chelmsford, she belonged to a tennis club, and liked to holiday at Felixstowe, Bradwell on Sea and the Norfolk Broads. If anyone has any ideas of the identity of "myself" and/or the origins of Donald Cousin, then I would be pleased to pass on the good news to Hilda.
I am sure that you will enjoy the old picture taken of Barnes lock; all of these are becoming collectors' treasures and this one will be added to out archive.

Much to my surprise (and delight!) I was awarded a bottle of champagne from "Essex Life" for my efforts but I am not sure that we can rise to that for replies from Coates Cuttings' readers!

Dudley Courtman



HMS (River) "Chelmer"

It seems strange that a slow meandering Essex river should have a ship of the realm named after it. Yet there have been at least two such ships. The first HMS Chelmer was a “E” River Class Destroyer built by Thorneycroft in 1904. She was 225ft overall, with a beam of 24ft and 550tons. During the First World War she served in the Dardanelles as part of the Gallipoli campaign. She had a complement of 70 men and was armed with four 12 pounder guns and two torpedoes. Her engines delivered 7,600 horse-power to her twin propellers enabling a top speed of 26 knots.

She survived the war and was eventually broken up in 1920. HMS Blackwater (another evocative name!) was a less fortunate sister ship. Built in 1903, it sank after a collision with another vessel in 1909.

The second HMS Chelmer, built in 1943 at Brown and Parsons, was a River Class Frigate. She was much larger, 306 feet and 1445 tons, had a complement of 130 men, and was more heavily armed. The name of one of her battery of weapons was a little reminiscent of the Chelmer countryside: an ATW hedgehog! She spent most of her working life on escort duties to merchant shipping in the North Atlantic.

The good folk of Witham, Silver End, Rivenhall, Hatfield Peverel, Terling, Faulkbourne and White Notley contributed their savings during Warship Week, March7-14th 1942 towards her construction and presented her with cast metal, adoption plaque, 30-60cm now in Witham Town Hall.

Dudley Courtman



Fly-fishing behind Woolworth's with "Blondie"

As the Second World War drew to an end, and peace and prosperity beckoned, a redundant wartime Bailey bridge was thrown across the river Can next to the then Chelmsford's Odeon cinema. Thus the glories of the Kings Head meadow were revealed to all young boys. Encapsulated on this island was a football pitch, a tiny car park and a vast meadow, all surrounded by rivers and streams and even a weir. In those days Football and fishing were a boy's major preoccupation as they required limited resources and provided lots of fun. Our own adventures were greatly enriched by the continued presence of an adult playmate who was known as “Blondie”. Why he was thus named we knew not as he was certainly not blond: just longish, brown hair which constantly fell over his eyes, especially when he was making one his spectacular saves as “goalie” in our football matches. For some reason we thought he was Welsh, at least he sounded different from us and might have hailed from anywhere. He worked at Crompton's factory in the town. He was a boy through and through. Rather than care for his ragged children and other family responsibilities he preferred the company of boys and “playing out”. He always wore the same clothes whether he was goal keeping or fishing, though he sometimes he took off his jacket to mark a post for a goal. The Kings Head Meadow was his terrain. There he was always to be found, rod in hand, moving from river pool to fast stream, to broad bank to lure the lurking fish, pausing from time to time to draw quickly on his rolled Woodbine. Morning, noon and night - so it seemed -you would find him there and he always had a fishy story to tell.

Blondie introduced us to the wonders of fly fishing- perhaps he did have Welsh roots - or as close as us boys would ever get to it with our home made tackle of metal reels and ex tank radio aerial rods. At that time behind the Woolworth's store in High Street there ran a swift stream which had been cut to link the waters of the Chelmer and Can; it was no more than 200yds long and provided extra water to power Moulsham mill. For the most part, buildings backed on to it and it was inaccessible, but there was a bridge which connected Springfield Road with the Kings Head meadow. It was on this bridge that Blondie showed us how to catch dace. We never knew of their existence but downstream, next to the back door of Banham's the butchers, they swam beneath the branches of the ever present buddleia bushes. There they waited for the insects to settle on the water's surface - a sudden swirl and they would be gone. Our weights and floats were no use here- such tackle would suspend any bait too deeply and it would be ignored. You had to float a quivering mayfly, or in our case a wriggling grasshopper, down towards them. Our tiny size 16 hooks were ideal; these were attached to length of cat gut which was, as usual, greased with Vaseline to stop it from sinking. All was carefully cast afloat inch by inch down to the unsuspecting prey. What a jolt and thrill when the bait was struck and the fish twisted and fought for freedom.

We did of course have as much fun in stalking the grasshoppers!

Blondie, rising to his self imposed crown as King of the Kids took the well- being of his subjects seriously. After fly fishing he introduced us to his version of “Sticky Dog” but that will be another story.

Dudley Courtman



Constable's Jumping Horse
(Hold tight with your “knockers and handlebars”!)

Readers will remember Brian Osman's contention that Constable's jumping horses not only jumped fences on the Stour Navigation ( no towpath as on the Chelmer Blackwater) but they did so with the their towing apparatus still attached ( “the whipple tree”). His assertion was questioned by one of our members with a life long experience in these matters.

Brian issued a challenge to anyone “to have a go” as he is convinced that it can be done. His recent visit to the Tate where he closely inspected the original painting makes him more certain that he is right. He writes:

“Thanks for mentioning the challenge. So far I've had only one possible taker. The picture, Constable's Jumping Horse”, was on display at the recent exhibition at the Tate where it was easier to see than at the Royal Academy. What seemed to be a red cushion in front of the boy is in fact one red side support of a handlebar. This is also visible in the “White Horse”. Presumably it was for the lads' “knockers” as they were known, to hold on. I am convinced that horses could be jumped with the whipple tree still attached. It could either be hooked up to a loop at the end of the back strap or the rope be paid out judiciously by the figure half hidden by the tree in Constable's picture. Perhaps the challenger will sort this out!!!”

There you have it. If you want to respond to the challenge make sure that you can hold on with your knockers, use the handlebar and keep in touch with your friend hiding behind a tree.




General Events

We have received the following details of the next “Chelmsford River Clean up - Just Bin it Campaign 2007”
Saturday 31st MarchChelmsford Borough Council is once again organising this event and this year it will take place on Saturday 31st March.

As in previous years, it will start at 9.00 a.m. at the Wharf Road car park, which again will be free for volunteers. There will be light refreshments at the Sea Cadets Headquarters.

We would welcome any support your group can offer. Please telephone me on 01245 606377 if you wish to discuss arrangements for the day in more detail.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely, Jackie Lane, NEAT Officer, Chelmsford BC.



April 19th: 8pm.“Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation - Past and Present” A talk by Dudley Courtman at Langford and Ulting Village Hall.
July 12th: 8pm.Chelmsford Canal Trust Annual General Meeting at Langford and Ulting Village Hall. Followed by a talk about “The Roman settlements of the River Blackwater” by Jacquie Longman.
July 21st and 22ndA Boat Rally and Canal Trust Exhibition will take place Springfield Basin, Chelmsford. (The Chelmsford Raft Races will also take place on July 22.)
A weekend in August
(date to be announced).
At Hoe Mill. Live entertainment, exhibition, barbecue, fum antivities, displays and boat rally!

A winter scene at Paper Mill.
In the background, Victoria is being made ready for the cruising season

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New members ?
Sadly, no new members have joined the CCT since our last issue.
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Some useful phone numbers:

Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company;-
Hugh Turner- 01245 222025
Colin Edmond- 01621 853506
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boat Trips- 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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