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COATE'S CUTTINGS

FRIENDS OF THE CHELMER & BACKWATER NAVIGATION NEWSLETTER ISSUE 9, June 1999

In This Issue

Boating Festival
Caps on C&BN
Environmental Survey
New Boathouse for Canoe Club
New Ricketts Weir
Langford Cut
Chelmer and Blackwater AGM
Short Cuts
Events Diary

Boating Festival at Paper Mill June 27th

The Friends have orgainsed a "Go Boating" day at Paper Mill with trade and craft stalls, floating events, boat trips and refreshments, from 11am - 5pm. This event is supported by the Chelmer and Blackwwater Navigation Company.

There will also be a B-B-Q at the lock on the Saturday evening prior to the event. Please bring you ouw food and drink. (And a chair to sit on).

For more details ring Chris Coppin 01376 521199

CAPS ON THE CHELMER & BLACKWATER NAVIGATION

John Marriage

Restoration to the various navigation structures on the waterway are now proceeding and the Navigation Company are expressing their determination to keep the canal open for the benefit of users during the most popular cruising months ie. between mid May to mid September. Major works are therefore scheduled to take place in the spring before mid May in 1999 and 2000 and in the autumn, between September and the end of November, subject to the appropriate water levels and there being no unforeseen circumstances.

Sadly, this year, work at Little Baddow Lock will occur during June and, if there is slippage, could cause disruption, particularly to motor boats based at Sandford Lock. However, repairs to Ricketts, Hoe Mill and Sandford will not start until mid September. Major repairs by the Essex County Council, also as part of CAPs, to the listed Beeleigh Bridge near Maldon, is scheduled to be completed by the middle of June, thereby allowing cruising down to Heybridge Basin.

Environmental Survey of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation - Sunday 24th April 1999

Dudley Courtman

The plan was for some of our members to walk on the same day, selected sections of the navigation from Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin and then to meet up to discuss their findings. Such an approach would give a snapshot of what the waterway was like on one particular Sunday morning in April.

The study was divided into different categories like the state of the banks, bridges, paths and gates, the wildlife picture, the recreational usage, and suggestions for the future. Five base maps and observation sheets were prepared each covering stretches of about 3-4 miles, enough for a leisurely morning's stroll. This method enabled all observations to be accurately located on the map for future reference.

Grand plans always have to be modified- we had to allow our surveyors permission to vary the time of their surveys if personal circumstances acted against them. Whereas this concession made no difference to the permanent fixtures like the bridges or the towpath- a pothole won't vanish overnight but natural and human activity will be affected by the weather. Nonetheless we managed to amass a dozen surveyors most of whom met at the appointed time at noon at Paper Mill to share their findings and talk about ways forward.

The impression overall, echoed by all participants was that the general condition of the towpath, locks and bridges was very good, that the variety and numbers of wildlife was surprisingly high, and that the walk had been very enjoyable.

One surveyor remarked that she felt that it was the men who had looked at the built environment and the women the natural one!

Bird life observed was extremely varied with swans, mallards, moorhens, coots, in relative abundance; sightings of were made of swallow, goldfinch, pigeon, whitethroat, heron, magpie, crow, green woodpecker, great-tit, robin and sedge warbler; and the calls or songs were heard of skylark, nightingale and cuckoo. The animal category included a motley collection: perch, carp, orange-tip and peacock butterfly, as well as a mysterious twelve inch long swimming creature, too large to be a vole and thought to be a mink. Anyway it disappeared into the bank and surveyor Len Janaway is the man to talk to!

Flowering plants spotted were dominated by the ubiquitous cows parsley, dead nettle, buttercup and dandelion ,all enriched by presence of comfrey ( described by Betty Thomas as " a beautiful creamy-white waterside plant") celandine, may blossom, lady's smock, and shirt buttons ( again I must refer you to Betty for a fuller description!)

As for the dreaded American pennywort it was found for the most part lurking in quiet corners resting and waiting to strike once the water warmed up. Sightings were: above Grace's bridge at Sandon, and between Rushes Lock and Hoe Mill. The winter floods have done a good job in washing a lot of it away.

It seems that the residues of human activity were spared from the waterway and environs for the most part. But there was the odd plastic bottle and sheet recorded, not to mention the bike frame! Offensive graffiti under two bridges was noted as was dog fouling: both detract from enjoying a pleasant walk to its full.

The towpath was commended for it's accessibility also the lock sides where the grass had been recently mown. One or two potholes and soggy areas were identified. Several of the historic clapper gates needed repairing.

Locks and bridges were thought to be mainly in good condition. Suggestions were made for the provision of posts and/or jetties to assist landing and embarking.

The recreationalists were walkers, dog walkers, narrow boaters, cyclists, horse riders, picnickers and one photographer. It is patently clear that the waterway is a very important asset to the community as the number of visitors observed on one morning was considerable. It is likely that these numbers will increase: a sobering thought for the long-term conservation of the serenity of the landscape and the security of the wildlife.

One purpose of our survey was to see what the navigation is like on one particular day, for then we have a comparative point in time, which can be measured against a day in September for example, or one in three years time. It might give us an indication of the preservation and conservation actions that could be taken. The natural environment, it would seem, will be more difficult to protect than the built environment as deterioration in the man made infrastructure can be solved by adequate finance. The forces acting on the natural world are much more difficult to quantify and control.

We can take heart from the efforts of our pioneer surveyors who have brought much to our notice. Our survey will be used as a springboard for future events; we could concentrate on specific aspects, for example recreation; and we could seek expert guidance on further wildlife investigations. Whatever we do we must try and remember the plea from one very wet surveyor to make the recording sheets waterproof!

New Boathouse for Chelmsford Canoe Club

John Marriage

An attractively designed new boathouse, well worthy of the riverside scene was officially opened at an informal ceremony by the Mayor of Chelmsford, Mr. Bill Lane on the waterfront at Chelmsford town centre on Saturday 11th April 1999. It represents stage one of a planned redevelopment and expansion of the Chelmsford Canoe Club headquarters. The new boathouse, which provided accommodation for an about 100 canoes, together with a number of specialist canoes, was 75% funded by Sport England, through the National Sports Council Lottery Fund. It raises storage accommodation at the club premises at Kings Head Meadow, Chelmsford to about 250 craft and will enable the Club to accept a larger membership as well as widen the range of canoeing activities, thereby bringing the sport of canoeing to a greater number of people. Objectives which Sport England's representative Rosie Mayglothling, who presented the Club Chairman, Bill Cozens, with a cheque for 20,300, said was very much in line with their criteria for awarding grants.

Bill Lane, who has been familiar with the club for some 50 years, suggested that over this period Chelmsford and canoeing had become as synonymous as punts with Cambridge. He was pleased that from small beginnings, the club had advanced to become the largest and most active canoe club in Eastern England

New Rickets Weir

William Marriage

If you travel the lower reaches of the navigation this summer, you will pass the new rickets weir. Unless you are in a canoe, you will need to take a short detour on foot to fully appreciate the sight, but if you do, you won't be disappointed! The old weir had served the navigation well for over 200 years, but finally succumbed to the floods in November last year. (see Dudley's article in the last newsletter). The new weir has been built using traditional bricks which definitely "look the part" and apparently have the added advantage of cultivating their own protective coating of "green slime" as the water washes over them. Underneath the traditional surface of this weir is a backbone of very substantial steel piling which stretches all the way across the weir and 50 feet along each bank on the upstream side. If that's not enough to ensure that the new weir lasts at least the next 200 years, at the bottom of the weir the profile is so designed to project the energy of the falling water across the pond in a series of ripples, which grow longer (and therefore further away) as the river flow increases during times of flood. This should help ensure that the weir itself is not undermined by the damaging erosion caused by back eddies. After the completion of the weir, it was time to close the lock gates and bring the water levels back up.

During the work the river still flowed! The only place for it to go was through the lock - with both sets of gates open! The balance beam, which had snapped under the pressure of the floodwater when the gates were opened, was repaired and replaced on the upper gate to once again allow full navigation in time for the summer season. Not surprisingly all this work has burdened the navigation company with a substantial unexpected expense, but hopefully this particular part of our river will give no more trouble in our lifetimes! Since that time the maintenance team has been far from idle.

At the time of writing two brand new sets of gates are waiting in Little Baddow lock to have their balance beams fitted, while renovation of the 200 year old brickwork is carried out.

(All photographs used in this article are the courtesy of the C&BN)

Langford Cut

John Marriage

It was with great interest I read William Marriage's report in "Coate's Cuttings" about Langford Cut. Subsequently, I came across a suggestion by a canal company director that the Cut, built prior to the C&BN, was abandoned after the newer waterway was cut across its channel. However, this suggestion is inaccurate.

The distinguished writer, the late Hervy Benham, in his well researched book, "Some Essex Mills" points out that although the lower section was stanked off and later became a curious hazard within Maldon Golf Course, the upper part was deepened at the expense of the C&BN by some 2 feet in order that barges could continue to get to Langford, so becoming an arm of the navigation. For the next 80 years huge quantities of flour and corn were carried down to the Cut to Heybridge for shipment to London - even after construction in 1848 of the railway station at Langford. Early 19th Century Langford Mill was converted to steam and so presumably coal was also floated up from Heybridge. All this trade came to an end when Langford Mill burnt to the ground in 1879, though John Boyes and Ronald Russell, in their book "Canals of Eastern England" records that on 9th August 1881 the last load of wheat was floated up to the mill, which by then had been rebuilt.

William does not make any mention of its present depth, but since there is little flow, it is likely that the depth remains unchanged except for a century's accumulation of dead vegetation and windblown detritus. Certainly, I can record that about 3 years ago a friend was forced to leap into the Cut in hot pursuit of a panicking dog. She found out the hard way that where she jumped was at least 8 feet deep!

I also understand the sewer pipe may be "dead", so providing it can be removed, there does not seem to be any major physical problem about reopening at least part of the Cut for boats - and incidentally, fishing. I do not believe that restoration would affect the local water table in any way.

AGM for Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company.

The Annual General Meeting of the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Ltd - the second oldest navigation company in England (the oldest in the Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation whose waterway is, however, not fully navigable) - took place on 8th April, at their headquarters at Paper Mill Lock, Little Baddow, near Chelmsford, Essex.

In the chair was Anthony Cramphorn, who has succeeded Henry Marriage (no relation) as chairman, following the latter's retirement. He introduced the new General Manager, Keith Moodey, who has succeeded Bill Spall, who has also retired. Fortunately, their experience has not been lost to the Company, as both remain on the Board of Directors.

Mr. Cramphorn reported poor trading year mainly due to reduced 1998 bookings of their charter barge "Victoria", which he blamed on the inclement summer weather and rival attractions on TV, such as the World Cup.

Some unexpected expenses had occurred, in carrying out planned replacement of both pairs of gates at Rushes Lock near Little Baddow, the overflow weir was found to be suffering from serious erosion, needing extensive repairs. Additionally, further down the canal, a similar weir at Ricketts Lock suddenly collapsed and required complete reconstruction. As this was a Grade II listed structure, within the 14 mile linear Conservation Area, an exact reproduction was required by the authorities. This has now been completed and is a visual replica of the original, which was constructed to a design by John Rennie, although the company made use of the latest piling techniques in its construction. The result is a very pleasing structure, which the company is confident will last the lifetime of the navigation.

Special thanks was given at the meeting to Bill Spall, who had successfully negotiated a grant of two thirds of the total repair costs for virtually all the locks and navigation installations on the canal from a consortium of local authorities and the National Lottery Fund under a Conservation Area Partnership Scheme, all to be completed by the end of 2001.

SHORT CUTS TO THE C&BN

(Apologies for Part 6 being published twice)

Part 7 -Paper Mill Lock

A few hundred yards above the lock a footpath runs from the towpath to join the road to Little Baddow village where the Rodney public house serves good food and drink seven days a week. The pub can also be reached by joining the road just below the lock, and is about a mile up the hill. A little further is a shop. The towpath between this footpath and the lock provides good overnight moorings. The island to the left of the lock houses the offices and workshops of the Navigation Company. You can see the restored "bothy" where the bargees slept in bunks, while their horses used stables to the right of the lock. Horses still pulled the barges right up to the 1960s. Paper Mill is almost mid way along the navigation, and was the ideal place to break a barge's two day voyage. In 1792 there were two mills on the island on the left, just below the lock, one grinding corn and the other John Livermore's, making paper.

COMING EVENTS:

This calendar gives dates of forthcoming events etc to enable members to plan ahead. Full details of events will follow in Coate's Cuttings nearer the time.

Paper Mill Waterway Event27.6.99
Barge Susan - Visit to Springfield Basin3.7.99
AGM - Moulsham Mill7.7.99
(Not 7th May as previously notified)
Steam At Sudbury (RST)11.7.99
Phone John Marriage for details:- 01277 452166
Steam Boats at Paper Mill18.7.99
Sandford Mill Open Day25.7.99
Boats at Springfield for Chelmsford 80018.9.99

WORKING PARTY DATES:
Paper Mill26.6.99
Stonhams Lock17.7.99
Springfield Lock/Basin11.9.99

Coates Cuttings copy dates:
Autumn edition5th August
Winter edition30th December

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