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Coates' Cuttings

"The Chelmer Canal Trust's " Newsletter March 2001, Issue 16
Charitable status achieved as at 10th April 2001 Registered No 1086112.

George King at Hoe Mill

George King at Hoe Mill

In This Issue

George King
New Members
Riddles of the River
Slippery Seal of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation
C/B Sets on the C&BN
Article in the Essex Chronicle Friday June 1 1973
Working parties
Rolling Calendar

George King,

Lock Keeper, Sandford Lock, Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

George King worked on the canal for fifty-one years from 1925 to 1976 and for many of them was the foreman of the maintenance gang. During this time he became an accepted part of the local landscape and was known to many who would meet him at Sandford Lock, which was the first stopping place downstream from Chelmsford for walkers, rowers and canoeists. He was noted for his cheerful character, his winning smile and his willingness to help those in difficulty- as all who arrived at his lock in hired rowing boats from Barnes Mill can confirm.

From his earliest years he had always been associated with the water, growing up beside the Great Ouse near Brandon Creek and Southery in Norfolk. As a boy he helped in the eel trapping business becoming familiar with handling the traps and nets, and working from the local punts and light skiffs. As a young man he came to Essex in search of his fortune and joined the Navigation Company in 1925 when he was just 14 years old.

In those days the work was hard and the hours long, but one could imagine that young George was so pleased still to be beside the water that he couldn't stop smiling. Honesty, hard work and reliability were George's trademarks. He could always be found dutifully employed: slashing the undergrowth, bailing out the boats, clearing debris from the locks, planting willow sets, mending fences, repairing and making lock gates, building coffer dams, or driving the Priestman dredger. It was this last job that he relished the most. With its short strong jib, pulleys, winches and wires, large bucket and powerful engine it could lift lock gates, dredge the shallows and shore up the banks. According to his grandson Michael, the dredger's engine room was a wonder to behold with a multitude of polished brass controls and levers. This was the ultimate technology of its time. For the most part, work was done by hand; there was no machinery to cut the grass and bankside vegetation, or repair the locks, just a variety of hand tools: hooks, beadle hammers, cromes (long curved forks for bottom scouring), slud hoes (a flat rake for pulling the mud from the sides of a cut during dredging operations), choppers, axes, shovels, picks, spades, saws and wheel-barrows. More specialised repairs required ladders, damming planks, winches, pile drivers, ropes, augers, chains, cramps and sledge hammers. George conscientiously kept detailed lists of all of this equipment along with scribbled notes of his own and the gang's weekly wages (for the week of February 10th 1969 he earned '16-18-6, including '2-10-6 overtime).

George King Helming Susan

In 1945, despite the long working day, George, like many others during World War II, had to join the Home Guard. Private King was commanded by a Major H.G. Moore on 12th June to report to the "Z" Anti-Aircraft Gun Battery, RA, on Chelmsford's Recreation Ground for one evening each week starting at 1945hrs (7-45pm sharp for the new recruits!) and not to forget to take his knife, fork, spoon, soap and towel One could imagine George, after his tea, cycling the Brookend lanes to the "Rec" to start a hard day's night and what stories he would tell about the nights when the bombs fell and his "whooshing rocket guns" were fired.

John Marriage, for over 50 years a long standing canal user and supporter, recalls that George was a tower of strength when a small group of canoeists, including himself, acquired the barge "Susan" for preservation, and moored it next to Sandford Lock. Unfortunately, like many old boats, she developed leaks and John grew to dread the late night phone call from George. In his Norfolk brogue he'd say, "Oi think she's goin" 'meaning she was sinking. On being told that help was on the way he would always say: "Thet'll be th' best".

Fate played an unkind trick on George in October 1972. When he was trying to start the dredger the engine backfired and he was hit by the winch handle. A long stay in hospital was to follow. As a regular canoeist on the canal I missed his reassuring presence and merry greeting and wondered, after many months' absence, whether he would ever return. On a very cold winter's evening in January, in the fading light, as I was canoeing along the long desolate straight on the approach to Heybridge Basin, I heard a thrashing sound in the high tangle of bramble bushes on the right hand bank. Pausing to investigate, there I discovered, much to my surprise, a smiling George, alone and back on duty; he might have lost a kidney but certainly none of his good nature and dedication to the job. How could he be so cheerful at the end of a long convalescence, a hard day's work in a biting easterly wind and still with the prospect of long journey home in the dark to Sandford Lock? My sympathies and concerns for George's well being were overwhelmed by sheer wonderment at the spirit of the man!

When Brown's of Chelmsford stopped using the navigation for transporting timber in 1972 the Navigation Company decided to concentrate upon the canal's recreational potential. Accordingly they established facilities at Ulting and Little Baddow for cabin cruisers, and they invested in a large canal cruiser, the "Victoria", for day-trippers and parties. George was appointed as one of the steersman and was kitted out formally with yachtsman's blazer, cap and company badge by order of the chairman, Colonel John Cramphorn, who, as a military man, was a stickler for proper decorum. As ever adaptable, George easily slipped into his new clothes and role but at the end of a cruise he would soon take off his smart clothes and revert to his old cap (worn at a jaunty angle) and overalls. Then with his trusty scythe he would start cutting the bankside grass so as not to waste valuable time 'George was never one to stand idly by.

John Cramphorn used to enjoy telling how George, in his role as the navigation foreman, would visit him every Monday evening at Cuton Hall where they would discuss the previous week's progress and plan a schedule of works for the next week. George's keenness was exceptional, almost to a fault, as he could never bear to end the discussions and would linger at the front door for upwards of half an hour as he thought of other things that needed attention, continually remarking "Well oi must be agoin" and " Right'o then". John's wife on one occasion wondered if something serious had happened because John was so long in returning. He spoke kindly of George as being "a bad go-er, but such a lovely man, I was very fond of him".

Eventually, after many similar Monday night partings, George and the Colonel had to say their final farewell when George retired in 1976.George treasured the photograph in the local paper of both of them standing together on the lock gates that he had helped build at Paper Mill. His love for the canal shone through to the end as he pronounced "I hope these gates will be here long after I'm gone". Everyone knew that he spoke from the heart.

He is now buried in the churchyard on the hill beside the river at Little Baddow, from where one can feel him smiling down on his lifetime's work.

At Cuton Lock

A talk given by Terry Fleet,

founder member and manager of the Museum of Power, Langford.


Terry told a good audience of Trust members how he first became fascinated with engines as a boy when he used to watch them working in the fields of Lancashire. His involvement with them was deepened by an apprenticeship at Woolwich Arsenal. Steam engines became his hobby and he got to know a lot of like-minded enthusiasts around Basildon where he lived. As he accumulated more and more artefacts he had to search for storage premises as some of the engines were too large to be kept at home. Through his contacts on the local council he managed to acquire the use of a large overgrown corrugated iron shed at a disused industrial site in Pitsea. It was there that his treasured possession, the steam engine that used to power Ridley's brewery at Braintree, was taken, and Terry's museum was born!

News of the birth spread far and wide and soon gifts of historic tools and engines followed. It wasn't long before he was overwhelmed by generous donations and his "large shed" was bulging at the seams. Terry was forced to look for larger premises. Having tried everywhere else he contacted Essex County Council's Museum's Department of who suggested the possibility of using the redundant pumping station at Langford.

Langford Pumping Station in the tiny village of Langford was constructed in 1927 by the then Essex Water in response to the increasing demand from Southend for more drinking water. The idea was to use the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater as the source of supply and to treat the water on site. A massive engineering and building works was involved in constructing the collecting reservoirs and the pumping station. Steam locomotives from nearby Maldon railway station were brought by road to the site to assist in the building operations. Huge concrete foundations were dug for the pump house. The subsequent structure is still much admired by visiting construction-engineering students. The pumping station served Southend well until 1963 when it was overtaken by the new technology and became redundant.

With some trepidation that Terry tried to persuade the guardians of the station to let him take it over. As all who have met him will attest he is a natural and compelling talker who is undaunted by snags and is fired by a clear vision. His ebullience and commitment carried the day. His vision included the preservation of the original engines and the reinstallation of the one that had been deposited outside as scrap!

Suddenly he was the keeper of seven acres of estate composing engine house, roads, a river, a cricket pitch, plantations and gardens. The first step was to commission a feasibility study. The broad thrust of this was developmental: facilities were needed to attract a large number of visitors who would finance the project in the long term. A whole range of exhibits and educational projects would need to be provided: classrooms, library, workshop, offices, toilets, and reception rooms. However, there were more pressing tasks ahead. The roof leaked, the building was insecure and toxic asbestos has to be removed. So while he was trying to assemble all the exhibits, search for funding, tend to the estate, and to organise his volunteer workforce, Terry was surrounded by droves of building workers!

It is a wonder that he managed in the midst of all of this keep a clear head.

encompassed both natural and scientific forces. Not only was there a need to show examples of the power produced by wind, water, animals and man himself, but also others exemplified by the later technologies of steam, petrol, diesel, gas, and the atom. So there is a place on the power continuum for a great diversity of artefacts, from a treadmill, to a Crossley gas engine, to a space capsule.

Terry also found time to develop various related projects. There is the Victorian jewellery. Workshop, complete with machinery, leather belt drives and raw materials that were bequeathed by a well wisher in Brixton. An unexpected windfall was that the old workshop contained a wealth of superfluous lead ingots and tortoise shells. (You can be assured that the funds realised on the sale of this unforeseen gift were put to good use!).

Another project is the restoration of the beam engine at Beeleigh Mill. Imagine Terry's amazement on discovering that there was an 1845 beam engine situated on his doorstep and that it belonged to Essex and Suffolk Water, his sponsors! He couldn't wait to get his hand on it but there was a snag. The engine house had been well preserved but unfortunately several species of rare bats had moved in and English Nature has erected the wildlife equivalent of a cordon sanitare around them! Undaunted, Terry persuaded all concerned that getting the engine up and running was just as important a heritage objective as protecting rare bats. Now alternative accommodation has been provided for the bats and they are being encouraged to leave home. When you see steam coming from the building you will know that they approve of their new quarters!

There is a project to link the Museum of Power to the Beeleigh Mill site using a miniature railway along the banks of the river Blackwater. It's more than an idea as already six locomotives are being constructed by the apprentices at the Ford Trade School at Dagenham. One of these is to be sold to pay for the track.

Making the site at Langford accessible and attractive will be helped by the project (in conjunction with ourselves) to connect the canal at Beeleigh Weir with the Museum via the course of the river Blackwater. Visitors will be able to arrive by water from Heybridge Basin, and beyond, once the shallows have been dredged and an arrival platform constructed.

Terry is concerned about the disappearance of the many Essex rural craft, retail trades and workshops. He would like to replicate the workshops found in a country village garage, a wheelwright's, blacksmiths and a shoemaker.

Major capital funding will be needed to bring all these exciting plans to fruition. The Museum has followed the same route as the Chelmer Canal Trust in forming itself into a charitable company limited by guarantee. Lottery funding will be sought and the projects and schemes realised. However, such is the measure of the man that one can imagine that even without lottery support Terry will still make things it all happen. It just might take a little longer.

Forthcoming events at the Museum of Power, Hatfield Road, Langford, CM9 6QA (01621-843183)

Summer Show Sat/Sun 2/3rd June Gates open at 10am

Open Air Concert with Long Melford Silver Band, Sat 9th June 7pm

Little Engine Rally & Model Show Sat 7/8th July Gates open at 10am

There is an Open Day at the Museum on Saturday June 2nd followed by a Silver Band Concert in the Pump Room on Saturday June 9th You will be assured of warm welcome, even more so if you volunteer to help. You will be guaranteed an important job! Phone 01621-843183.

Arial photograph of Langford Waterworks taken in 1929
(copy from John Marriage's book - Around Maldon, Sutton Publishing)


John Marriage

The Environment Agency recently took part in the River Stour Trust' s Millennium celebrations at Cornard Lock, near Sudbury, bringing to the event their river cruiser "Escargot

" Although a comparatively small project, the construction of Cornard Lock was surely one of the Millennium Commission' s most successful sponsorship projects as its use and popularity continue to increase - unlike some of the larger projects.

The Agency was anxious to demonstrate the unique feature of the "Escargot" which at first sight is an apparently unremarkable cabin cruiser not dissimilar to many craft seen cruising England's rivers and canals. Its unique feature, however, is its propulsion by pedal power.

In construction it is shallow drafted, of timber and plywood construction. It is 18' 6" long with a beam of 6 foot and contains a two berth cabin, a toilet compartment and a galley. Lighting is provided by way of solar panels.Two cycle units are mounted in the stern well and connected to twin propellers, with the two seated cyclists having a good visibility over the roof of the cabin. Steering is provided either by varying the speed by one of the cycles or via a rudder tiller set immediately behind the riders.

When on the Stour the vessel was found to be highly manoeuvrable and, despite its name, had no difficulty in maintaining the same speed as the River Stour Trust' s own electric charter launch "Rosette", which normally travels at 4 miles per hour. However, whether or not this speed could be sustained presumably depends on the fitness, or otherwise, of the cyclists.

Motor boats are, at present, restricted to certain parts of the River Stour, although the whole of the 24 mile navigation is available for use by manually propelled craft. This is a craft which appears to be eminently suitable for use on those sections currently not available for motor boats. It also appears to be suitable for use on canals and other slow moving waters where similar restrictions have been placed on boats. Similar craft have undergone successful trials on lakes and rivers in the USA.

The Environment Agency is the major sponsor of the boat, which was designed by Seattle based Naval Architect Philip Thiel and built in Southampton by boatbuilder Cohn Jones.

Further information about the boat can be obtained from Julie Clark at the Bristol Offices of the Environment Agency. Tel 01454 624376.


Dudley Courtman

At the last meeting of the Rivers Users Group at the offices of Chelmsford District Council the latest initiatives in combating Hydrocotyle, the American pennywort, were discussed.

The Environment Agency are to start a trial clearance of a 500 metre section this month on the river Can between the viaduct in Chelmsford and the start of the concrete channel section west of the London Road bridge. The weed will be intensively removed, followed by monthly monitoring, mapping and photographing. If the procedure is successful then it could be repeated along the river's length. Funding sources for the extending the removal will be investigated with the other partnership bodies.

Peter Spurrier, of Essex County Council, has carried out a comprehensive survey of the distribution of the weed from Chelmsford to Heybridge Basin. Tables show the percentage bank infestation, the width and length of each floating segment, with supporting graphs, bar charts and distribution maps.

The survey confirmed that the weed is abundantly present in the rivers Can and Chelmer as they flow through Chelmsford (it is not present on the faster flowing sections upstream)

There was a lot of growth on the Navigation between Chelmsford and Barnes Mill. It was reduced downstream to Paper Mill due to its removal by the Navigation Company. The clumps were localised further downstream to Beeleigh at places where the current slowed on bends. There were large amounts in the Blackwater above Beeleigh Weir and in the Navigation adjacent to Maldon Golf Course the weed stretched from bank to bank.

It was decided to commission a follow up survey in October 2001, funds permitting, to assess the extent to which the recent floods have flushed the pennywort out to sea.

The Trust has expressed concern about the rapid colonisation by the weed of the Long Pond between Beeleigh and Heybridge Basin, and it was accepted by all parties that suitable herbicides could be used in this section which is downstream of any water intake.


Mike Robards from Tiptree has recently joined


30 red-faced VIP's - article from Essex Chronicle June 1 1973

It was so undignified. A barge-full of VIP's being forced to accept a tow from a dinghy! The very thought ! But what else could they do? Either they accepted the offer or else remained stuck in the middle of the Chelmer and Blackwater canal all afternoon with their 60 foot barge broken down, they had to travel the one and a haslf mile into Chelmsford somehow. After all, there were several hundred people at the boat rally waiting to cheer them in.

On board was the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Sir John Ruggles-Brise: the Mayors of Chelmsford and Maldon; and even a local MP, Mr Brian Harrison.

And the trip had been arranged to promote leisure travel on the canal. That's what made it so embarrassing. Mr. Harrison abandoned ship. Said he had another appointment. The Lord Lieutenant appeared to go to sleep. The Mayor of Chelmsford put on a brave smile.

But on board the dinghy 'its outboard motor racing 'Mr and Mrs Peter Breton from Danbury and their two children were having a grand time. It's not every Saturday afternoon you can haul 30 local dignitaries out of a spot of bother.

At least the sun was shining and there was plenty to talk about. "Did you see that girl in the launch this morning, dear? She didn't have a stitch on!"

Barnes Lock and plenty of entertainment for a dozen youngsters. A mammoth heave on the rope and they pulled the barge out of the lock. A little boy disappeared up to his neck and went home dripping.

A tow from a larger launch and over a hour late, the barge moored at Kings Head Meadow, just opposite the Gas Works "2001 blasted out over the loud speakers. Everyone grinned, the cameras clicked and the show went on. Perhaps next time a horse might be more reliable. But come to think of it, on the last VIP trip didn't it fall in?

Riddles of the River

Tuesday 27th February at 7.30pm

Bryan McNerney explored mysterious links with the past on the rivers Chelmer and Blackwater in Essex. (text taken from internet site about the programme).

He investigated the secrets of a disused sail loft and historic patch of grass and joined the traditional February Thames Barge sail-dressing on the Hythe at Maldon.

He travelled on a narrowboat belonging to Blackwater Boats along Essex's forgotten canal, the Blackwater and Chelmer Navigation that links Heybridge and Chelmsford. Further along the coast are the saltmarshes of Tollesbury, once traversed by the Crab and Winkle railway line. Bryan pauses to find out what the connection is between crabs, winkles, jam and a London station. He also crosses the causeway to Osea island, meets owner David Cole, and discovers the place is home to wallabies and bouncing boats.

Ron Abbott and Bryan McNerney

Slippery Seal of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation

So far all attempts to track down details of the infamous seal, that escaped from the circus on the Kings Head Meadow in Chelmsford and swam all the way to Maldon and freedom, have failed. Trying to find the headline in the Essex papers is like looking for a seal in the sea!

It would help if we could put a more precise date on it; so we must widen the net and ask for help.

Can anyone remember it? What was approximate year? Which months did the circus come to town?

Members with the closest answers will receive a complimentary copy of the Millennium Book, which is nearly complete-except for the missing seal! (Contact Dudley Courtman 01621-892231)

C/B Sets on the C&BN

Len Jannaway

Although Chelmer & Blackwater is a small canal, one can sometimes seem quite isolated - I have in mind instances such as mechanical failure or some other incident or problem. Being unable to warn other boaters of potential problems or dangers.

With these thoughts on my mind I have often pondered the possibility of using one of the less used C/B channels on low power between us. There were quite interesting articles in Boat Mart for July 1988 and again in October 1998 on the use of C/B afloat and C/B sets seem to be reasonably priced to buy and use with quite a few second-hand ones on the market.

It appears that steel boats would have no problems with the antenna and fibreglass ones would need a special (priced around '20), or maybe a handheld set would suffice. Some might say, how about mobile phones, but we would all need a list of boat owner's numbers, etc which I feel could make the C/B the better bet.

If we were able to encourage all our boat owners to be on speaking terms even from afar, we might get more boat movements on visits or support for organised cruises.

What do other boat owners think of the idea - it would give them the opportunity to chat and exchange ideas too.

Article in the Essex Chronicle Friday June 1 1973

from John Marriage

A three point plan to encourage boating on the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal was disclosed by canal company director, Colonel John Cramphorn, on Saturday.

Speaking at the Chelmsford Rally of Boats 'organised by the Inland Waterways Association 'Colonel Cramphorn told me that the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company had now laid its plans for developing the amenity use of the canal.

These include;

The company are aiming to; use a '2,500 converted timber barge 'yet to be fitted out 'for public trips next year. Another barge will be in regular use this year for party trips.

In the past, private boating on the canal has been mainly limited to unpowered craft. But the company now hope to be able to issue more licences for powered craft 'plus keys for the lock gates. However, the number of times the lock gates can be opened each day is regulated by the Essex Water Company.

Negotiations are in hand to. Build landing stages along the canal 'especially where the canal meets a road. "The boat rally has fitted in nicely with our plans", said Colonel Cramphorn. "We hope the public will be encouraged to make use of the canal".

The Rally of Boats, which ran for 3 days over the Bank Holiday, atracted abouit 50 private craft up the canal. At least 40 canoeists also took part.

Publicity officer, Mr John Marriage, commented: "I think we were all very pleased with it. Financially, we've more than broken even. People were queuing up for over an hour to go im the barge trips".

However, Mr Charlie Stock, who was to have sailed to Newcastle to pick up some commemorative lumps of coal to Chelmsford's mayor, was beaten back by bad weather. He had taken a two week holiday to collect the coal, a symbol of the first use of the canal in 1797

Working parties:

Saturday 12th May: Working Party, " Tackling the Pennywort (possibility of joint action with other user groups)

Tel No:01376 521199 for information

Rolling Calendar:

Thursday April 26th: "The River Stour Trust" by Ted Pearson - Langford and Ulting Village Hall

Monday 7th May, Trip Boat Rally

Saturday 9th June - Victoria Cruise upstream to Stoneham's Lock and return

Thursday 5thJuly, Annual General Meeting, - Langford and Ulting Village Hall

Sunday29th July - Exhibition at Sandford Mill

Saturday/Sunday15/16th September - Springfield Basin Rally

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:

29th February for the March edition
31st May for the July edition
15th August for the September edition
30th November for the December edition.

Please note that if articles for inclusion are not received by the dates listed above they will be held over for the next publication.

Some useful phone numbers:

Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company - 01245 222025
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376-57209

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