Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

Home FAQ Forthcoming Events Work Parties Library About us Contact Us Join Us!



In This Issue

Chelmsford 800 Boat Rally at Springfield
Beeleigh Mill
Short Cuts to the C&BN - Part 9
The River Chelmer - Poem
Heybridge Basin Sea Lock
Report of the Special General Meeting
Chelmer Landscaping
Rolling Calendar

Chelmsford 800 Boat Rally at Springfield

William Marriage
On a somewhat chilly morning in late September it was time for us to help mark the 800th anniversary of Chelmsford receiving it's charter and becoming a proper town. Although it could be said that the navigation only spans just over a quarter of those years, we felt that this still gives it an important place in the town's history.
You can still buy timber in navigation road from the business founded by Richard Coates, albeit now owned and renamed by Travis Perkins. Similarly the town's gas pipes still all run from the head of the navigation where plentiful cheap coal from the barges spawned the first inland gasworks.
As well as setting up our now customary exhibition, we decided that to distinguish this from any other boat rally, the crews should dress in the fashion of 800 years ago.
As nobody was quite sure what was in fashion then, the dress code was fairly flexible. This made for a bit of fun, helping to offset the rather grey and windy day. The rain mostly held off though for which we were thankful.
The Barge Susan

The day formally started with the barge Susan leading a procession of decorated boats into the basin, with the crews dressed in our mediaeval garb. Later the boat crews were entertained in the Waterfront Place restaurant, where costumes were judged and pries awarded for the best.
As darkness fell, everyone who came by boat was presented with a commemorative scroll, and the evening ended with a barbecue and the excellent local folk musician Rick Christian singing for us (And the diners in the Restaurant) till the long expected rain finally forced him to stop.
Overall an enjoyable event, although now that the area at the head of the navigation is so popular, the space to hold similar future events beside the basin is becoming restricted. The space where we had our barbecue is now used by the new residents to park their cars! But there is still always plenty of space on the water, and Springfield Basin is now a very pleasant place to moor up. After all, there can be no more stylish way to arrive at a popular waterfront restaurant than by boat - and there's no need to drive home after your meal!

Happy 2000 from all the medieval characters below

Dudley our illustrious Chairman

Dudley our  illustrious Chairman

William and his trusty crew

William and  his trusty crew

Judith (editor) and Ron Blackwater Boats with Max the dog

Judith (editor) and Ron Blackwater Boats with Max the dog

Beeleigh Mill

Here are some comments from the excellent publication produced by the "Maldon Archaeological Group" on Beeleigh Mill. Thought you might find them interesting.
The publication can be bought from the Museum of Power or give me a ring and I will contact them for you (01206 853282)
From Page 11 /12.
"The construction of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation affected the mill's water rights and the Navigation Company found it advantageous to purchase the mill from John Crosier. In 1793 it was bought, together with two acres of land, for '7150 which was said to be a high price. The Navigation Company soon found that the interest on the loan and the 17/6d paid weekly to Mr. R. Cowdry to operate the mill was too much of a burden.
In 1795 the mill was offered for sale at '6500 and was sold to John Dunkin of Southwark for '5000.
It is recorded that Mr. Dunkin was slow in paying and did not finally settle until January 1797."

From Page 15
"The Essex County Council plans to open the mill so that these items of our industrial heritage can be enjoyed by a wider audience. This plan has suffered a setback following the revelation that the steam mill is home to a large colony of pipistrelle bats and a number of natterer bats. As bats are a protected species it may only be possible to open the mill at certain times of the year.
(Editors comment only: The roof was repaired so that the watermill and boiler could be restored, before the bats moved in!)

Elephant boiler and fire pit - Beeleigh

Elephant boiler and fire pit 'Beeleigh

Short Cuts to the C&BN - Part 9

Hoe Mill Lock
Named after the mill which stood nearby until 1914, it is possible to moor just above the lock, but the lock-keeper can sometimes offer space among the private moorings. From the bridge the road to the right leads, after a little under a mile, to Woodham Walter and to the Queen Victoria public house. Further on there is also the Bell public house. There is an excellent shop and Post Office called Chapel Stores. It is possible to avoid some of the road walking (although it is a quiet lane) by following the footpath. Just before the village on the Beeleigh road is the Cats public house for real ales, a charming establishment.

Hoe Mill Bridge
The lock opens under the bridge, and the river rejoins the artificial cut you have been following. Four hundred yards below the bridge is Sugar Baker's Holes, a reminder of one of the earliest sugar beet works in the country, founded in the early 1830s by Marriage, Reid & Marriage. It was built by the river so that sugar beet could be transported by barge. Further down, you pass under huge pipes which spans the river. These carry up to 35 million gallons of water a day from the waterworks at Langford.

Ricketts Lock and Bridge
Like the bridges at Sandford, this graceful redbrick structure was built in the 1790s but carries only agricultural vehicles to access the field and lock island. Just below the lock and to the left , Langford water works can be seen and the canal is crossed by another water pipe which provides water to parts of South Essex.

Beeleigh Lock and Bridge
The amazing confluence of waters here demands a pause in your voyage for exploration. The lock cut is artificial and joins the River Chelmer (which we have followed so far) to the Blackwater, which flows in from the left. The Chelmer tumbles over the weir beyond the lock, which walkers can cross by footbridge. A footpath passes Beeleigh Falls House, formally a mill house, which still has the remains of an 1845 Wentworth compound steam engine, and its Elephant boiler, which turned the mill stones by providing the steam. A little further along the same path is beautiful Beeleigh Abbey. The chapter house and undercroft from about 1250 are incorporated into the lovely Elizabethan house which more recently belonged to the Foyle family of London book shop fame. On the north side of the canal, about a half a mile towards Langford, is the original water works and is now a Museum of Power which contains a huge steam engine pump and many other exhibits.
Beeleigh bridge is another 1790s humpbacked brick bridge, just downstream from the long weir. Above the bridge the River Blackwater joins the cut; under the bridge is a flood lock - the gates (replaced in 1996) Below the bridge the canal cuts across the course of the older Langford Canal, which can be seen as an indentation running across Maldon Golf Course to the right, but is still partly in water to the left and can be followed on foot up to the village of Langford, (no pub or shop). This old canal used to be known as "Mr. Westcombe's Cut" after miller Nicholas Westcombe who had it dug in 1793 for navigation from his mill at Langford to the tideway below Beeleigh. The last barge to use this cut carried 100 quarters of wheat to the mill in August 1881. The old mill is now a residential home, and the old basin is hardly visible.

The River Chelmer

	This is a river
	That started long ago
	A swirling vigorous strippling
	Sort of thing;
	A river that
	Rushed and roared and spread
	Untamed across its widening bed,
	Sweeping and brushing and cleaning
	A highway to the sea
	Sculpting its way to history.

	This is a river
	Which in another time
	Could not maintain the show
	Shrinking, retreating to its modest self
	The depleted inheritor
	Of a vast estate
	A gleaming ribbon of summer light
	In a valley ten times too great.

	This is a river 
	That now strives 
	To keep its level up 
	And sulks quietly
	Within its pounded stream,
	Seldom returning to its former shore.

	This is a river 
	That has become the keeper of itsown bequest
	The secret guardian of a legacy 
	Whose value 
	Only it can know
	As it holds this landscape
	In its silent sway.

	Don McCourt 19/10/99
Thank you Don for contributing to the magazine, if anyone else has a poem, any photos, or even a quiz, please send them into Judith at Bumblebee Cottage, Boxted Road, Colchester Esex CO4 5HF. Comments on any article in the magazine that we could print in further issues would be gratefully received. So come on lets hear from you. Ed.



Major renovations and repairs to the entrance lock into the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation from the Blackwater Estuary at Heybridge Basin, in Essex, have recently been completed.
The lock, together with the adjacent freshwater basin, was originally built in the 1790's to create a new port from which commercial barge traffic could proceed up and down the concurrently constructed Navigation to and from Chelmsford, the County town of Essex. Its purpose was to enable brigs and colliers, not exceeding 107 feet long by 26 feet wide and with a draught of not more than 12 feet, to enter the basin. For over 100 years the lock and basin were busy with trading vessels but by the end of the last century, the increasing size of vessels prevented many from entering the Basin and they were forced to off load on to barges in the tideway. However, in the 1960's the lock was extended by about 25 feet by building a new electrically controlled sliding gate, downstream of the lower gates, thereby allowing modern coasters to enter the Basin, with cargos of timber. The original lower gates became redundant and were removed.
In recent years, the sliding gate has become ill fitting and is thought to be the source of persistent low water levels on this part of the canal, causing problems for craft based at the basin and the environment generally. To overcome this, the Company, with financial assistance under the current Council sponsored Conservation Area Partnership Scheme and the Essex & Suffolk Water Company, have now reinstated the original lower gates thereby reverting to its original 19th century size and appearance as originally designed by the canal engineer John Rennie. The new gates were hand built to the Company's customary standards, by their own employees.
Sadly, regular commercial traffic into Heybridge Basin ceased about 20 years ago and the extra length afforded by the sliding gate is no longer normally required. Nevertheless, for the present the sliding gate remains in situ and available for use should the need arise.
Repairs to areas of defective brickwork in the lock chamber were carried out at the same time and a safety ladder installed. The latter has become necessary due to the basin now being used for safe moorings by sailing yachts and other pleasure craft based on the Blackwater estuary.

Report of the Special General Meeting held at Langford on Wednesday 3rd November 1999

The meeting was called to approve the executive committee's recommendation that the Friends should seek charitable status and should register as a company limited by guarantee.
Encouragingly some twenty members were in attendance. The president, Lord Petre, took the chair. Dudley Courtman gave a short address on the rationale of the proposal: it had always been the intention of the Friends to seek charitable status and it had been held in abeyance until a strong organisation was established. Investigations revealed that the existing constitution unless substantially modified was unlikely to be acceptable to the Charity Commissioners. After examining constitutions of similar organisations a change in objects would be required enabling an expansion of activities within a defined area: the Chelmer and Blackwater Conservation Area has been selected to represent the sphere of operations. In addition, so as to avoid confusion with the activities of The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, a change of name was thought desirable: the one suggested was "The Chemer Canal Trust".
The costs of the proposed changes were thought to be modest but would be determined by the degree of legal advice required. The time scale to complete the change was estimated at between six and nine months.
A membership charity, which wanted to promote major works, would need to incorporate as a company.
Charitable status would help to reassure members, potential members and grant making bodies that The Friends, or its successor, would be working for the public good. The legal imperatives involved were not thought to be much different from those currently in operation under the present constitution.
Various letter and communications from members were reported to the meeting and comments were invited from the floor. The motion was put to the vote by and was passed nem con.


John Marriage
Hand in hand with the renovation and renewal of navigation structures in the Chelmer & Blackwater Conservation Area under the current CAPS scheme landscape improvement schemes are being initiated by the Essex County Council. Within the Chelmsford Borough area planting has been carried out on three sites -
  1. To the north of Sandford Mill some 525 trees and shrubs are intended to screen the Brookend sewage works from the Conservation Area. At present the treatment plant is very exposed and the new planting will eventually soften its impact of the landscape.
  2. A block of 87 native tress (oaks, ash etc) have been established on a site close to the present trunk road bridge between the Canal and the A12. The site is an area of neglected pasture owned by the Highway Agency. The A12 is currently extremely intrusive to this part of the Conservation Area and this scheme. together with the one following, will eventually substantially screen the road from the Canal. Sadly, it will be able to do little or nothing for the noise and pollution created by the A12.
  3. A further 255 trees have been planted along 400 metres of the base of the A12 embankment, north east of the present road bridge, where the road parallels the canal. At the approaches to Maldon 570 tree and shrubs have been planted to enhance the character of the Canal from existing industry.
Also being looked at is the possibility of recreating some pasture land from arable land alongside the canal and replacing former hedges and planting new copses and field edge trees.
All these works will, in time, greatly enhance the value of the Conservation Area, as a whole, as a recreational and amenity resource and add to its beauty initiated by the Essex County Council.
Within the Chelmsford Borough area planting has been carried out on three sites -
To the north of Sandford Mill some 525 trees and shrubs are intended to screen the Brookend sewage works from the Conservation.


Springfield Boating Rally 16/17th September 2000
Rally and Barbecue at Sandford Lock22nd July 2000 (to be confirmed)
Exhibition at Sandford Mill23rd July 2000 (to be confirmed)
Victoria Trip from Paper Mill to Chelmsford 10th June 2000( to be confirmed); coach to be provided.
The Essex Willow Industry 'a visit to Gt. Leighs7th June 2000 (to be confirmed)

Copy dates for 2000: February 29th, May 31st, August 15th and November 30th
The views expressed in Coates Cuttings are not necessarily those of the Editor or the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

Some useful phone numbers: Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation'01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company'01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats'01206-853282
Environment Agency'01376-572095

Springfield Basin
Springfield Basin

Previous Next
Home FAQ Forthcoming Events Work Parties Library About us Contact Us Join Us!