The bi-centenary of the opening of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation froln Heybridge Basin to Chelmsord was celebrated with great enthusiasm at Springfield Basin over the Spring Bank Holiday.
The main event was the procession of some 30 boats, led by the Chelmer Barge "Susan" into the Basin, thereby recreating as far as possible the original grand opening when barges "proceeded in grand procession with flying colours into the Basin" with coal for the town. On this occasion, however all the boats were pleasure craft of various shapes and sizes. Many were trailboats which had entered the navigation via a slipway at Paper Mill and near Moulsharn Mill.
The number of boats present considerably exceeded those in 1797 and was probably the greatest number of craft ever to have entered the Basin on one occasion. There was some anxious moments concerning water supply as the whole pound to Springfield Lock is fed by one small feeder, in the event it performed well. A tribute to the work of the original 'navvies'.
On board "Susan" was the Mayor of Chelmsford, together with various dignitaries, including Lord Petre, a descendent of one of the original promoters of the Canal and President of the Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, who with the IWA were the joint organisers of the event. Also on board was a sample cargo of coal, corn, flour, bricks, timber representing most of the loads once carried along the waterway.
Attractive new developments are taking place around Springfield Basin representing previous derelict structures and a new public wharf has just been completed, providing for the first time valuable pleasure craft moorings right in the centre of the town. Here, the Mayor of Chelmsford Cllr Bill Horslen unveiled a commemorative plaque to the Engineer, Richard Coates, who was responsible for navigation construction. Earlier, a service dedicated to hirn had taken place at Springfield Church.
Elsewhere there was an exhibition showing the history of the navigation, a Raft and Duck Race, together with boat trips along both the adjacent river and the canal. At sunset the event culminated by a procession of illuminated boats.
"I must thank you for the lovely afternoon of May 25th - I was pleased and proud to have been invited and it was a great delight to see the canal so bright and busy and ALIVE. The day was the beginning of a dream coming true at last, and I long to see the whole basin alive and thriving again. I am also pleased that it has been possible to achieve a Coates Memorial".
Many Thanks again, Yours sincerely, Con Johnson.
Editor: Con Johnson is now a member of the 'Friends' and we look forward to her future involvement and valued support.
During the planning meetings with the IWA, it became clear that we should have some sort of exhibition over the course of the weekend. The ideal location seemed to be the listed warehouse. Christened Roy's Shed" by the developers. Roy Chandler, (town planner) would not let them knock it down!
They actually made a fantastic effort to ensure that the building was renovated in time for the celebrations, with power and water laid on! We kept a nervous vigil over the preceding weeks wondering exactly what would emerge from the sea of mud and half bricks which made up the location for the proposed event. We need not have worried. The splendid paved wharf appeared surrounding a beautifully restored warehouse in which we were able to stage our exhibition. People browsed through the history of the navigation, the renovation of Springfield lock and basin and the plans for the future. Contributors included the Inland Waterways Association, Chelmsford Borough Council, and the Friends. Travis Perkins also loaned a rare aerial photograph of the basin from the 1930's. We wanted to show a 10 minute video version of the talk by Roy Chandler (IWA activist) on the basin restoration, but as more and more ideas emerged for what could be included, it some how grew. We now have a 48 minute documentary about the navigation! The exhibition has now gone, but the black warehouse remains. It's future use is un-decided, but we are hopeful that it will play as key a role in the future of the basin as it has in the past.
Editor: Do any readers have (printable) suggestions for The Shed".
Many types of boat were represented including Wilderness and Caracruisers, everyone made a big effort to add colour to the scene with flags and balloons. All boats at the rally, including the trail boats treated us to an illuminated boat procession which is a stunning display of light and a form of boat ballet for which a cup was also presented. Because of the excellence in all competitions which the boat crews have perfected over the years, the judges had a very hard time selecting the cup winners. A great deal of fun was had by all. Thank you to all the boats who came for adding the colour and spectacle to the festival.
For further information and/or registering your boat or just wishing to come along on the 6/7th September, everyone welcome but please let us know as we need to know the numbers, send a stamped addressed envelope to:
Boxted Road, Colchester,
Essex. C04 5HF.
A registration form. along with some details will be sent by return of post.
A barbecue is being organised, so bring all your own eating and drinking equipment, and something to sit on especially if you are not coming in a boat. There will also be. So don't forget to contact me and let her know you wish to join in the fun.
Facilities will be restricted so please be aware of the following: