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|The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter||November 2007||Issue 37|
We began life as the “Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation” and were the brain child of Richard Porter, a director of the Company. He and his colleagues gathered together a group of canal supporters to form the “Friends”. The thinking was that such a voluntary group might be able to attract funds to assist the Company's burdensome maintenance programme.
“The Friends” were officially constituted on the 7th June 1996. Lord Petre, whose great, great, great, grandfather had been amongst the first major shareholders, agreed to become our president and confirmed his enthusiasm at the launch by singing “Messing about on the river” from “Wind in the Willows”! Various fund raising and social events followed, one of which was the staging of a major boat rally and celebration to mark the day in 1797 when the first horse drawn barges arrived at Chelmsford. Highlights of the event were the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to honour Richard Coates, the Springfield resident engineer, who effectively built the canal. To mark the occasion a typical barge cargo of bricks, timber, coal and chalk were unloaded on Coates Quay from the lighter Susan into a period horse and cart.
Although the event was a great success it began to become apparent during its organisation that the different roles of Company officers and those of our committee, could create conflicts of interest as it wasn't clear who was supposed to take certain decisions. In extreme cases, caused by the “Friends” and the Company having similar names, confusion arose on who was in fact running the navigation.
The “Friends” and the Company had different objects; whilst one wanted to assist people to use the navigation for recreation, the other wanted to run it on commercial lines. Consequently the “Friends” won no friends among the Company directors when they recommended the installation of lock ladders and safety rails when locks were under repair. In time the Company had to carry out these improvements but, understandably, they didn't want to be told what to do by the “Friends”.
To clarify the role of the “Friends” their name was changed to the Chelmer Canal Trust, and we became a charity and a company limited by guarantee. Essentially this change did not affect our main aims which were to support the Company; to care for the navigation's natural and historical environments, and to promote its recreational and educational benefits. However it did highlight the issue that as a charity we couldn't, according to charity law, pass on to the Company any charitable funds which we might attract. The Charity Commissioners, in approving our registration, made it clear that in no way were we to do this. We have therefore promoted only those things which could be seen to be in the public interest: information boards, landing stages, steps, picnic areas and, later, the clearance of invasive weed. Our work in these areas has been impressive and is continuing.
In the summer of 2003 the Company got into financial difficulty and was forced to go into administration. There followed a long period of uncertainty on the navigation's future whilst the administrator tried to sort things out. Most of this time was spent trying to realise what assets the Company possessed which could be used to pay off debts. At the end of the official administration period the Company was able to make an agreement with the Inland Waterways Association whereby the Company would retain the ownership of the navigation, thus preserving its legality and its 200 year heritage, and the IWA would take over its day to day management using what income sources that remained. At the present time Essex Waterways Limited, a trading arm of the IWA, is now responsible for the upkeep and management of the navigation.
This dramatic development changed our relations with the Company and transferred our support to the new management, Essex Waterways Limited. This might appear to change our position fundamentally but in reality nothing really changed for us: we were still supporters of the waterway and would work for its survival. All we had to do was to work with the new management; this was made easier by them being a charity like ourselves. The only question remaining was whether there were any important differences between us?
On many issues we would sing from the same hymn sheet and it is easy to be persuaded into thinking that we should combine resources. However our previous experience with the Company suggests caution; it is inescapable that the new trading company must be run for profit and this could sometimes create difficulties for us. The Chelmer Canal Trust has always acted as a watchdog for the navigation and the whole of its conservation area in the public interest. We want not only boaters to enjoy the navigation but also the walkers, conservationists, educationalists, naturalists, canoeists, picnickers, anglers and tourists. These various interest groups have different needs which require careful handling to reconcile one with another. A body is needed that represents all of these interests and speaks with an independent voice to help them; but, most importantly, to ensure that too much emphasis is not placed on one aspect so that it spoils the whole - we must also guard against overuse of a delicate and precious resource.
The Chelmer Canal Trust has a hard core of over 150 members who are committed to this vision. There is a very important job still be done and you may rest assured that, despite retiring from the front line, that I will still be working hard from behind the scenes to help you all carry it out.
Among the matters that were discussed:
The placement of a floating boom above the flood control weir adjacent to Essex Record Office: a floating barrier would trap river debris and errant boats whilst allowing other material to pass beneath it. The maintenance of the portage site and boat rollers on the north bank was reported upon and measures were put in hand to make improve things.
|Red lines denote the 2 potential locations for the boom.|
The feeder ditch to Springfield Basin was experiencing unsatisfactory flows; Chelmsford BC undertook to de-silt this; the Environment Agency would install a new grill to the intake opposite the Meadows.
Navigation maintenance: Essex Waterways reported that their future plans involved a staged repair and replacement of locks; new moorings were being provided below the lock bridge at Sandford; and new facilities for boaters -electricity and pump out points - were to be made available at Springfield Basin
Pennywort control: volunteers, led by Chelmer Canal Trust, were still making a significant contribution to manual removal and control; a strategic plan had been set up in which three work boats with outboard motors would be provided for designated groups along the waterway. Most of the navigation was clear except for areas below Hoe Mill lock which were currently being worked on. Ford Motor Company had provided volunteers to clear the Long Pond and the Beeleigh area.
National Parks Open Day: this year's event had proved to a success in Central Park. It was thought to be an ideal place for local groups and societies to advertise themselves to a wider audience and an early choice of a date for next year would be advantageous.
Illegal fishing: it was reported that fish were being removed from the navigation illegally, presumably for home consumption. All river bailiffs to be made aware of this.
Conservation: excessive weed growth in the Chelmer above Victoria Road weir was to be investigated by the Environment Agency and Chelmsford BC, especially in regard to the Bishops Hall mill pond.
Chelmsford BC's Core Strategy Plan: it was reported that the new cut proposal linking Springfield Basin to the river Chelmer had not been included in this and representations were being made at the current consultation meetings to reverse this. The need to raise bridge heights in the town to permit the passage of boats could act as a deterrent factor.
Chelmsford's Flood Relief Plan: it was recommended that river users should make themselves aware of what is proposed with a view to making representations.
Supermarket Trolleys it was reported that supermarket trolleys were still being thrown in the river at Chelmsford and Maldon and this matter was to be called to the store's attention (EWL were to address the problem at Maldon).
Iron Works Meadow at Maldon: this board walk amongst the reed beds west of Tesco's car park at Fullbridge was provided by them as a condition of their planning consent for the new store. It has not been regularly maintained and is in dangerous state, especially for wheelchair access. Maldon DC to look into this.
We are writing to gratefully acknowledge your renewal subscription and thank you for continuing your support for nature conservation in Essex. Enclosed are your corporate membership cards for the coming year and we hope that you and your staff will find time to use them to visit the many beautiful places, which are in our care. Also enclosed is a new certificate for your next year of membership, which simply drops into the existing frame on a few spring-clips. If your frame needs replacement, please let us know.
The latest Trust reserve is Wrabness, on the River Stour, affording great views over the estuary. Its 52 acre Nature Reserve has a fascinating history, a former mine depot established in 1921 by the Ministry of Defence, closed in 1963, and a site of numerous planning applications (including an application for a prison in 1968 and 1989), until it was saved from development in 1992. There is a hive of wildlife at Wrabness for all to enjoy, including owls, yellowhammers, whitethroats, turtle dove, song thrush, nightingales and bull finches. There are many wild plants such as corn mint, hairy buttercup, sea aster and ox-eye daisy. The site also offers wonderful grassland and a whole host of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies. There is a hard-core path around the Reserve making it accessible for pushchairs or those with disabilities.
Planning and executing the major works at our reserves is generously supported by English Nature, the WWF-UK, the Environment agency and the Heritage Lottery Fund amongst others and these enable us to raise the conservation standard at most of our reserves up to that already achieved at the best. But these major projects tend to hide the fact that the principle conservation work of the Trust goes on day by day, and is mostly undertaken by a large number of volunteers. Each of these people needs supervision, tools, insurance, support and training from the Trust, and we use your subscription to cover these costs.
We value your continued membership and it is not an exaggeration to say that we cannot manage without you. Thanks.
Michele Farrant, Corporate Manager
As luck would have it we had the perfect task for them on the Long Pond at Heybridge- despite all our hard work the weed had got out of hand there again with large rafts threatening to block the canal. For the most part of its length the Long Pond has fairly friendly banks which make it easier to for the rafts to be pulled ashore. The problem posed by the inaccessible places was solved by the attendance of Colin Edmond, the canal manager, using his Raider work boat.
The twelve very keen volunteers met at Heybridge's Tesco store, from where they set to work with such gusto, that after barely two hours the job was done! They all retired for a well earned lunch at the Jolly Sailor at the Basin.
The afternoon's activities presented a small challenge: what to do next? We decided to move to Beeleigh (although we did temporarily lose one of two volunteers en route who were eventually saved by their sat. navs!) Once there, we cleared the pool in front of the weir and then moved upstream to the over head pipe just before the waterworks intake. Waiting for us, was a large raft of cress and pennywort in mid stream which had defied previous efforts of the weed busters to remove. The reason for this quickly became apparent - there was a dead tree in the middle of it! Ford engineers are not easily defeated. Ropes were attached to cromes which were expertly thrown to hook it. The combined efforts of the whole team would have stood them in good stead in any tug-of-war competition. The large tree was soon beached. Such was the focus and concentration that no one noticed that it was now pouring with rain. It seemed like a good point to suspend operations, all feeling the satisfaction of a job very well done.
October's group took up their colleague's baton and continued where they had left off. We met this time at Beeleigh where we were joined by Trust member, Clive Perry, in his canoe, and Colin, again in the Raider. Most of the group enjoyed a gentle introduction - a boat trip up the river to Ricketts lock on a lovely autumnal sunny morning. The day's plan was to tackle a huge pennywort raft in the Ricketts weir stream, and various patches on both banks below the lock, most of which were, either hiding amongst the reeds, or hiding behind tall blackberry bushes. It is in circumstances like these that the use of a boat and canoes is essential.
The raft growing in the weir stream proved to be spectacularly large. Once detached from the bank it completely blocked the river. It was thick, dense and weighed a ton. It had to be towed downstream to a suitable take out point - Ford team member, Neil, saved the day by wading and pulling it along behind him! Its removal was hard work. Tiredness soon set in so it was decided to break for lunch and send for reinforcements.
After another enjoyable visit to the Jolly Sailor, removal operations were resumed in the afternoon and the large raft was soon polished off, to be followed by very effective similar work downstream.
The Ford teams' contribution to pennywort removal was very impressive: enthusiasm - prepared to go the extra yard in “wellies” and pay the price! - conscientious and cheerful. Their efforts advanced the weed clearance programme by several months. More importantly, everyone enjoyed it. Very many thanks, all of you.
Each year we are guaranteed a striking display of flowering plants along the navigation. In recent years their presence has been masked by the many bank side rafts of the invasive pennywort. Now that this is being controlled the native plants are beginning to reassert themselves.
Stands of the purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, can now be admired in many places. They are a striking picture in the summer sun.
It is a handsome plant growing from two to six feet high. At its highest points it ends in tapering spikes of beautiful rose-purple flowers. Whereas this plant has established a balance in competing for bank space with the other native plants we have been told by one of our Canadian members from Vancouver that it is regarded there in the same way as we regard floating pennywort here -an invasive species. The Canadian story is similar to our pennywort one: originally purple loosestrife was introduced as an ornamental pond plant and it escaped into adjacent rivers and lakes overwhelming the native plants. Although a majestic sight you don't want too much of it
Blanket weed, Enteromorpha- “the boater's nightmare” on our river - is not a flowering plant but an alga very similar to the green seaweed that is found on the mudflats of the Blackwater estuary. As canal boaters know it produces green filamentous tubes over one metre long, which if you are unlucky, become wrapped around your propeller. It is a little known fact that if left alone it tends to reach equilibrium with other plants as they release substances into the water which prevent algal growth. The worst affected areas of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation are the long lock cuts which, because they are frequently dredged and bank sides cut, provide an ideal habitat: there is no diverse balance of other plants so no substances are released to stop blanket weed growing vigorously- the addition of nitrate run off levels from adjacent fields exacerbates the problem (when the navigation was boarded by natural water meadows this did not happen).
Canadian waterweed, Elodea Canadensis, also likes slow moving shallow waters. It is a submerged brown weed frequently associated with the blanket weed. As well as growing in the lock cuts it can be found on many other places on the navigation. This is another plant that was introduced, but it seems to have settled down to a steady state although it has taken nearly two hundred years to do it! In 1847 it was causing such a hindrance to navigation nationally that a government minister was appointed to organise its removal.
Watercress, Rorippa amphibia, grows along the banks abundantly in large clumps similar in size and location to the pennywort which uses the cress as a naturally occurring nursery and spreads out from its margins. Both plants seem to sustain one another and, united, they spread into deeper water causing serious problems to navigation, fishing, the native flora and fauna, and general recreation (it was such a scenario on the Long Pond five years ago, and the threat to public safety, that led the Chelmer Canal Trust to mount its pennywort removal campaign).
The large patches of pennywort and cress effectively stop the growth of the usual native plants. It is only now after our removal campaign that arrowhead, Sagittaria sagittfolia is beginning to show its sharp and tall pointed arrowheads protruding a foot or more above the water's surface carrying small three petalled white flowers - a good sign that the river is returning to normal health.
The navigation is home to himalayan balsam, Impatiens grandulifera, another invasive species from North America which was introduced in the nineteenth century and can now be found throughout the British river system. It is an attractive tall plant with rose purple flowers- in some parts of the country it is known as “policeman's helmet” after the colour and shape of its flowers; in other places it is called “jumping jack” because when the fruits ripen they burst spectacularly and scatter seeds along the bank and in the water. It can be seen growing vigorously on the south bank of the navigation about 200metres upstream of Rushes lock. A few years ago it was just a small clump but it is fast expanding along the bank. As it is an annual it can be controlled by breaking off the flower heads. So when you are on your next towpath walk linger awhile and snap a few flower heads off- every little helps!
The valleys of the Chelmer and Blackwater rivers have provided a home for humans over thousands of years. The rivers, fertile plains and adjacent woods would have supplied the essential ingredients for life. There have been many settlers from Neolithic times to the present day but unfortunately most have vanished without trace. One of the reasons for this is the lack of any local building stone, and early buildings would have been constructed with wood, wattle and thatch which would overtime decay.
Therefore the discovery in 1996 of the remains of part of a large early settlement on the banks of the river Blackwater in Heybridge generated great excitement amongst archaeologists and the local residents. That the area was an attractive site for our ancestors is not surprising because the nearby Blackwater estuary was close by for fishing, salt making and trading.
Bovis Homes had just started building on their Elms Farm site when they found, about 30cms below the topsoil, the remains of Iron Age huts, wells, hearths and tracks combined with and superimposed by a later Roman settlement. The subsequent “Dig” was to last for two years and was carried out by Essex archaeologists assisted by bands of local volunteers. In all some 20 tons of artefacts were unearthed of which some 6 tons was kept for exhibition, recording and further study.
The first Iron Age round huts identified dated from 50BC. A gradual transition was made over the following centuries to assimilate Roman buildings when they arrived in 413AD. The Romans found on their arrival a large prosperous Iron Age settlement and the discovery of the remains of many amphore suggest that they joined the residents peacefully possibly easing their way with gifts of their famous wines. They would have been able to please the locals by introducing them to the benefits of trading with the Roman Empire: decorated bowls and urns, olive oil lamps, sauces and spices and carpentry tools. Evidence for this was gleaned from the contents of rubbish pits and wells. A system of metalled roads was introduced and the Saxon round houses were gradually replaced by Roman rectangular ones. The remains of hearths showed that most cooking was done out of doors. Kilns were used for pot and glass making. A close examination of the oak lined well showed the marks of skilled carpentry, including dovetail joints. The inside of the well contained many fascinating objects: the remains of spindle wheels and loom weights, the remains of insect and plants, and animal dung. Scientific analysis of these materials has revealed much evidence about how people lived in those days.
Religious beliefs were strongly held as shown by the uncovering of the remains of a temple; some places were littered with broken pottery suggesting that it could have been a ritual offering following a celebratory feast- one hesitates to suggest that the breakages could have been caused by an over indulgence of a special vintage! A religious feast is a more likely explanation as our ancestors were very much aware of the capriciousness of nature and would want to get the gods on their side. The gaming counters found amongst the remains of a child's burial were presumably to help the youngster occupy him/herself in the after life.
Farming was the major occupation. The houses were surrounded by small holdings amongst which were found skeletons of cattle, hearth type crop dryers and the querns of grinding stones - the millstone grit used in their manufacture could have come from Derbyshire but it is more likely to have been brought by boat from the lowlands of the Rhine. All the evidence indicates a well ordered existence right up to arrival of the Saxon's in 500AD; things began to disintegrate then leading eventually to the site being abandoned- the Saxons seemed to prefer living on Maldon's nearby hill as the earthwork of the Saxon burgh shows. No doubt this site was more defensible against marauding Vikings.
The Elm Farm site in Heybridge remained relatively undisturbed for centuries has now it has been taken over by the a new band of settlers, the owners of Bovis homes. The findings of the Heybridge dig have brought the past back to life with the help of scrupulous detective work and creative imagination. We are now able to appreciate the humanity of our forefathers and how close we are to them
Details of the excavation have been published: hidden heybridge available from Essex County Council, English Heritage, and Maldon District Council.
The River Chelmer is clearly shown to the bottom of the sketch map in juxtaposition with the fields, buildings and roads (such as they were) of the time. The 'Road from Baddow Green', today known as North Hill, is shown in a more-or-less straight alignment from Little Baddow to a weir approximately where Paper Mill Lock is now. The crossing in 1723 is noted as a footbridge. So, one might reasonably deduce that the current road alignment, where it runs parallel to the river before turning to cross Paper Mill Bridge is a development arising from the time of conversion of the river to a navigation. Such engineered adjustments as were necessary to make the river navigable cannot be determined directly from the map.
The road north from Paper Mill towards Mowden Hall Lane, sometimes known as Hatfield Road today, was known as 'Paper Mill Lane' in 1723. Adjacent fields to the west are labelled, 'Culverts' (not part of the Mowden Hall estate), 'Mill Field', 'Little Mill Field', 'Bushey Pasture' and 'Hither Bushett'. To the east are 'Paper Mill Field', 'Fish Pond Field' and 'Orchard Field'. Lands immediately to the north of the river east of Paper Mill are labelled 'Mr. Sowels Land', 'Mr. Ewers Land', and 'Mr. Crumps Land' (no apostrophes); Mr. Crump also had a barn about 25 perches (about 125m) from the river about ½ mile (800m) downstream from Paper Mill, and many of the fields in this area were owned by Kings Farm, and not attributed to Mowden Hall. Many of the marked field boundaries survive to this day.
The land to the south of the river, east of Paper Mill, is marked as 'Huscats Common Meadow', with two small parcels enclosed by it and adjacent to the river being labelled 'Bish[op] of London' and 'A piece of Common Mead[ow] called 'Hiscats Meadow' being in Little Baddow' of 7 acres, 3 roods and 30 perches (32,122m2). 'Here is a hedge', declares the map, prominently!
The spit of land between the Navigation and the millstream at Paper Mill is labelled 'Mill Bank Piece with the Paper Mill Yards', an area of 3 roods and 22 perches (3,591m2); today, the Navigation office and some sheds occupy this land and access to it is currently restricted to boaters and to those having business at the office. The other side of the millstream, where the boats are moored, is 'Paper Mill Wood', an area of 3 perches (3,035m2).
Since 1723 the number of structures in this part of the world has increased. Apart from the navigation office, sheds and the stables (now the Tea Room): 'Treasure Island' and 'Lock house' are self-evidently more modern dwellings.
The house known today as 'Rainbirds' is not marked on the 1723 map, though the building dates from the sixteenth century when it appeared as a farmhouse. According to a local gentleman who lived there over 50 years ago, the ghost of a young soldier who also lived there and who died in combat during the 1939-45 War appeared at the end of his bed on the exact night of the soldier's demise.
'Chelmer Cottage' pre-dates the 1723 map and is easily visible from both the river and the towpath to the south side of the Navigation just above Paper Mill. A Listed Building, the ground floor has particularly low headroom, imposing constraints upon the movements of today's taller visitor.
'Belstead Cottage' was originally three cottages, two dating from about 1580 and the third from about 1680. They were converted to a single dwelling in the late 1960s. The public footpath along the private road passing it remains the shortest pedestrian route from Paper Mill to Boreham.
'Smugglers' Barn' was originally a storage barn in 1842, which was later converted to a house. It appeared on a published postcard in the late 1950s; an enlarged copy of the card went on display in the Local History Centre during 2006. All maps up to 1924 show its land access as coming across the two fields once marked as Mr. Sowel's Land and Mr. Ewer's Land from the bend at the corner of Hatfield Road/Paper Mill Lane. Apart from gaps in hedges still used by agricultural vehicles, no other trace of this route remains on the surface though the pattern of vegetation in these fields in the spring hints at it. 'World's End Cottage' appeared about 1936. The principal structure is roofed, unusually, with cedar shingles.
The tiny shack set back from the river in bushes downstream of Paper Mill is of indeterminate date, appearing to have been built with anything the builder could lay hands on. The location is marked on some maps as 'Multum in Parvo' (loosely translated from the Latin as much ado about nothing, and incidentally the motto of the County of Rutland). An elderly gentleman used it latterly as a fishing retreat and pipistrelle bats, a legally protected species, have occupied it since. It has no public land access, power, water or drainage and, like its landing stage, is derelict. A toppled fir tree currently threatens it.
Today's 'Mowden Manor' dates from 1877, as displayed in the brickwork of the gable end of one of the roof pitches to the east of the main building. The building on the 1723 map was destroyed by fire in the second half of the eighteenth century. It was originally moated on three sides; the moat is marked on modern OS maps and its profile can be seen from the air. The 'Paper Mill' itself is no longer there. On the 1881 Ordnance Survey [OS] map it is noted as a “Corn Mill”, and the road crossing at that time continued being by a ford and a footbridge, as in 1723. The 1898 OS map refers to a “Paper Mill”, and “Huskett's Mills” (similar sounding though differently spelled to Huscats in 1723; one must allow for literacy improvements and the standardisation of spelling since those times).
By 1924 there was certainly a bridge, as 'Paper Mill Bridge' is clearly marked upon that year's OS map. Today's bridge is a fairly young structure, built of cast concrete on steel trough girders, and appears from below to be in good condition, currently needing minor attention to pier fenders where the larger boat may have grazed them. It has the lowest headroom of any structure over the Navigation. The locally-signed 7.5T weight restriction on road vehicles crossing it is frequently ignored by the drivers of those that park on it at peak leisure times, thereby using up a portion of the carrying capacity and presenting a long-term threat, perhaps, to the activities of users of the waterway.
The two large iron pipes that pass over the navigation downstream of Hoe Mill Lock are a continuation of those that run below the surface in Huscats Common Meadow. They carry the county's treated sewage flow away from Brook End works near Sandford. Some of the flow is recycled at the recently-built works at Langford and introduced to the Navigation near Ulting Church, from where it is abstracted at Langford and pumped to Hanningfield for conversion into drinking water.
In carrying out your own reconnaissance of the area please keep to public roads, towpaths and designated footpaths, and please respect the privacy of boaters and residents.
I hope these notes evoke further accounts of some of the features and personalities of the area that will be of interest to readers of Coates' Cuttings.
Sunday awoke to another grey day, although, luckily during the whole weekend we only saw a few spots of the wet stuff. The Bar arrived early to set up, shortly followed by Sherie's Hotdog stall. David and Margaret Wilkinson were crafting traditional fender making. Andy & Diane Tween set up their Homemade Preserves stand soon selling most of the stock. Ron & Judith Abbott were busy with boat trips to the public visitors on the Blackwater Rose. The Chelmer Canal Trust stand manned by Neil Frost signed up some new members and enlightened visitors as to the aims of the Trust. Meanwhile the Trust chairman, Dudley Courtman, had arranged for a kayak demonstration in the lock, enlisting many of the regular kayakers on the river. Superb guitarist and singer Mick West (sponsored by Elliot Cox) kicked off the live music at 1pm while Carol and I went bucket rattling with another batch of superb raffle prizes! Thanks to Roy Wilsher for organising the Duck Race, this like last year proved a lot of fun. The winner was a "syndicate" of Hoe boaters claiming the kitty, plus a £50 voucher from Shoes Direct (thanks to Tim & Diane Lodge for their generosity).Lastly a big thank you to all of you who came and made the weekend a huge success. Thanks again to Mick Osborne, who worked non-stop through the weekend and into Monday, clearing the site. Thank you to all the sponsors and everyone for their generosity. Over the course of the weekend we raised £400.00 to help the Chelmer Canal Trust in their work.
Terry & Carol Peters (NB Mister Badger)
The highlights of the show were the spectacular sideways launch of a touring double. After the one metre drop the canoe hit the water with an enormous splash engulfing the paddlers who somehow managed to stay upright - just! A photo call was demanded and they weren't so lucky at a second attempt! Two young local paddlers seal-launched their play boats (made for playing rather than going places) from the lock side, but not sideways! Although a capsize would not have mattered as they showed their expert skills at rescues and Eskimo rolling.
The onlookers were very impressed by all the skills on display. Although they might not have fancied the wet bits themselves they could identify with the potential of the open Canadian canoe and hopefully, now they know how to paddle in straight line, stop and turn around would be encouraged to have a go themselves.
Very many thanks to Mike, James, Sid, Jim and Clive for sharing your enthusiasm and skills with us and especially for your good humour - and trial and error launching!
The trustees are well aware of the delicacy of their task and are working together enthusiastically and conscientiously towards their objective. It is anticipated that the result of the first grant application to kick start the restoration will be known by Christmas and work will then be able to start.
Essex Waterways are continuing to catch up on the backlog of repairs and maintenance work on the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation, despite operating on a limited budget. Recently major work costing some £55,000 has been carried out at Cuton Lock, aided by a £25,000 grant from Essex County Council, and with help from Chelmsford Borough Council, from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme and other sources. The work involved new bottom gates, brickwork repairs and bank protection below the lock to stop erosion. The sluices at Little Baddow Mill have been repaired, the footbridge at Barnes Mill has been re-decked, and Essex County Council has carried out bridge repairs at Little Baddow and Paper Mill. At Heybridge a new Elsan disposal point and pump-out facility has been provided and major repairs have been undertaken to the outer sliding caisson gate to the Sea Lock, which enables the lock to be lengthened to accommodate more boats at a locking. Meanwhile the pennywort campaign continues unabated. “
Cuton Lock now has new bottom gates and repaired brickwork. On 16th June the pedestrian railings had yet to be installed on the bottom gates, and two pieces of metal bracing were also needed to stabilise the horizontal members to the verticals. Nevertheless, the lock was completely serviceable on that date. Several boats were away from their regular moorings while Cuton was being repaired, notably “Tarka”, normally seen at Sandford, spending a lot of time below Paper Mill during this period.
An oft-repeated message from one of the Sandford boaters is, “It's just so quiet - we rarely see anyone else come up this far.” Fortunately, Cuton Lock came back into use just in time for the Sandford Solstice event in June. Several boats normally to be found at other locations managed to attend, bringing the total on the Saturday to 26 powered craft, including “Olive” the steamer, plus one rowing boat at the event. It attracted considerable interest and Blackwater Boats' trip vessel “Blackwater Rose” saw significant custom, as did the now-infamous Sandford Duck Race!
Over 20 boats travelled to Chelmsford for the boat rally there on 21st and 22nd July. Reportedly, some Sandford-based boats got there first, blasting navigable holes in the persistent broad-leafed weed, followed about an hour later by “Mister Badger” and “Isabella”; these two worked up on the Friday afternoon, and others followed. It wasn't easy going: owing to the level alterations that had been put in on the River Chelmer as a precaution against the threat of flooding in the area, levels in Springfield Basin were exceptionally low, the feeder ditch being unable to keep up with demand. Some boats had to be abandoned 'on-the-bottom' on the Sunday afternoon, their operators returning a couple of days later after levels had recovered. Surely it is time to address the problems of water supply here so as to encourage the greater use of the Chelmsford end?
During one of the wettest Junes on record, river levels rarely strayed much from their 'normal' levels. On occasions, the charter barge “Victoria” has made three forays per day from its base at Paper Mill on several weekend days, indicating unprecedented demand. Weekend utilisation of the two hire boats “Hobbit” and “Miss Goosander” has also been high. Rumour has it that Hobbit will change hands later in the year.
The mechanism on the towpath-side upper gates at Rushes Lock has gone out of order, following the disappearance of its cast-iron cover earlier in the year. Being one of the two busiest locks on the line it is to be hoped that an early repair is on the cards.
A number of visitors arrived at the Hoe Mill hoe down by water again this year, bringing the total moored overnight to a staggering fifty-seven! This very popular event can now be considered both an annual occurrence and an important promotion and publicity vehicle for the Trust. The organising team are considering a number of changes for the event next year, among them being that of increasing the capacity of the event for those who choose to arrive by road. At all times a navigable channel was maintained through the lock, an important consideration for non-participants, particularly the hire vessels.
There have been a number of new arrivals on the Navigation, including a cruiser and a new narrow boat at Hoe Mill, new cruisers at Paper Mill (one of which is a miniature version of “Puffin” based at Hoe Mill), and in particular two new broad-beamed barges. Meeting them on the blind bend halfway between Paper Mill and Rushes can cause a little bit of panic! One of these is “Mary Seacole”, and the other is “Graceful King”; the second one is reputedly an anagram relating to its size, and it is good to know that someone, somewhere, has a sense of humour.
They have now moved their boat to the River Nene and we wish them many happy hours of boating on that river. They have made a major contribution to the life on our canal in many different ways and their dedication, good humour and enthusiasm will be sorely missed - and Terry's singing! So many grateful thanks from all of us.
Jonathan and Susan Morris from Little Baddow