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Coates' Cuttings

"The Chelmer Canal Trust's " Newsletter September 2001, Issue 17
Charitable status achieved as at 10th April 2001 Registered No 1086112.

Xylonite at Maldon

Xylonite at Maldon

In This Issue

Article by John Marriage for "lock Lintel" Journal of the River Stour Trust
"The Story of the River Stour from 1705 to 2001""
SPECIFICATION For the construction of a Canal Barge
Giant Fish Spotted in Barnes Lock
Springfield Boating Rally
Letter from the River Chelmer
Message from our Chairman
Interpretative Signs
Working parties
Rolling Calendar

Copy of article written by John Marriage for "lock Lintel" Journal of the River Stour Trust

I was recently invited to take part in an event organised by the Chelmer Canal Trust Ltd - a charitable group similar to the River Stour Trust - on a two-hour cruise along the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation on the venerable charter barge "Victoria", starting from Little Baddow. This waterway is actually the River Chelmer, like the Stour made navigable in the eighteenth century.

The trip took us along an unspoilt part of the waterway and, as usual, I was struck by its resemblance to the River Stour between Flatford and Stratford St Mary, quite as beautiful and just as remote and I could not help wondering at the inconsistency of the argument displayed by the Council for the Protection of Rural Essex, that navigation on the Chelmer is good whilst it is bad on the Stour. Their argument that they wished to preserve the peace and tranquillity, which would disappear if navigation was encouraged, is just not borne out by the facts.

Although boats and canoes have been allowed - even encouraged - on the Chelmer since commercial barge traffic ceased in the 1970's, it still remains as peaceful as ever. Indeed, within the last few years, it has become known as "Essex's unknown waterway'; even though it provides pleasure for many local people. The whole valley from Chelmsford to Maldon has been made a conservation area, which has aided the repair of the picturesque navigation structures as well as preserving the trees and vegetation along the valley floor.

Although we did not see any, it is the proud boast of the Environment Agency that the waterway - like the Stour - is the habitat of otters, voles and other protected species and abounds with wildlife. A myriad of dragonflies and waterfowl are also reported to abound.

A Blackwater Hire Boat at Little Baddow Lock
A Blackwater Hire Boat at Little Baddow Lock

For some years, the waterway has been plagued by the rapid seasonal growth of American Pennywort but fortunately, this year (as a result of almost three months continuous flooding) it has -temporarily at least - disappeared. When we made the trip, the water was deep and clear with frequent schools of fish to be spotted - a paradise indeed for the shy heron. We cruised through banks of yellow flowering water irises and bulrush and the occasional patch of water lilies.

We hope that the CPRE Executive Committee might make a visit to the Chelmer and see for themselves the positive benefits of an active navigation and thus be persuaded away from their present opposition to those who wish the Stour to be enjoyed in a similar, sustainable way.

The Story of the River Stour from 1705 to 2001"

A report by Dudley Courtman of Ted Pearson's talk to members and friends at Langford and Ulting village hall in April.

Ted Pearson's talk to members and friends attracted a large audience - nearly standing room only in the village hall at Langford with over 40 present. They were treated to a well-researched and entertaining account of the historical development of the River Stour Navigation and an appreciative study of the local countryside and its unique landscapes.

Being steeped in the knowledge of our own navigation, The Chelmer and Blackwater, one is tempted to think most canals are more or less the same and that, as the Stour is our neighbour, there would be many similarities. Nothing could have been further from the truth! The fact that the River Stour Navigation was constructed nearly 100 years before ours caused some fundamental differences between them.

Building materials and technology changed between the years separating the construction of the two navigations. Timber was used to build the staunches and locks of the Stour navigation. The bed of the lock, its sides and gates were made from locally produced wood. In order to strengthen the lock sides two horizontal lintels were used at either end and the barges would pass beneath them. These became local landscape features on the river and have been immortalised by John Constable in his famous paintings. The lock gates and paddles were more primitive by Chelmer and Blackwater standards, no balance beams or heel posts to take the weight, instead the gates were hung on pintles and gudgeons which needed considerable power to operate them. The winding gear too was less sophisticated and was operated by chains.

Another special feature found on the Stour was the construction of staunches. The principle employed was to position a group of barges above or below "the staunch" which was effectively a place where a dam could be quickly created and a 5ft head of water raised to carry the boats up or downstream.

Such a facility enabled boats to cover a twenty-three mile journey in two or three days. As the canal developed the staunches were replaced by lock gates until there were fifteen between Sudbury and the sea. The use of staunches explains why, in old photographs, you see groups of barges on the river, a feature unknown on the Chelmer and Blackwater.

Whereas the Essex navigation was used principally to carry building materials from London and the East Coast ports for the commercial development of Chelmsford and it surrounding area, the cargoes on the Stour were much more varied. A toll table of 1740 shows that many foodstuffs were carried: wheat, oats, beans, flour, peas, barley, malt, bran and clover seed; but there was also oil, pitch, soap, vinegar, paper, tallow, iron, lead, sugar, coal and bricks. Not to mention grindstones for the numerous mills.

The River Stour Navigation was started in a similar way to our own with meetings of local merchants, landowners and rich investors. Surveys were commissioned and estimates obtained over a long period until the mayor of Sudbury and his councillors proposed a Bill, which became the Act of Parliament for the navigation's construction on 16th February 1705. One divergence from the Chelmer and Blackwater Act of 1793 proved critical: there was no provision to authorise a towpath, and access to banks had to be negotiated with riparian owners on an ad hoc basis. To us Essex calves, accustomed to the regularity and order of a single bank hauling line which only changes sides two or three times on the Chelmer Canal, the need to change sides over twenty times on one 26 mile journey is quite astounding! The story becomes more bizarre when one realises that this translates into one horse having to jump on and off a barge over forty times! Special jumping places were provided where the horse had to be ferried across the river. It seems that the barge would be steered close to the bank and at the optimum moment the horse would leap aboard; the barge crossed over to the opposite bank to leap off and continue towing! It is recorded that not all jumps were successful and injuries were sustained. As if the horses did not have enough to contend with they also had to leap over 123 bankside boundary fences where they crossed the towpath! These fences had to be at least 2ft 10ins high so that the horses could jump them and the cattle couldn't! The magnificent painting by Constable of the light bay horse jumping such a fence at Dedham takes on a different complexion. Whether the Chelmer-Blackwater's rather ingenious system of two balanced, reciprocal clapper gates could have been used is not certain.

The River Stour Navigation Limited traded successfully for many years until, like other canals and navigations, the competition from the railway undermined its profitability. Whereas the Chelmer and Blackwater escaped having a railway line constructed along its length from Chelmsford to Maldon, a connection was made along the Stour to link Sudbury with Marks Tey. This lead to the inevitable to loss of trade and to the eventual abandonment of the navigation in 1935. Left to return to nature it soon became a shallow weedy impenetrable jungle with only vestiges of the former locks remaining.

In 1968 help eventually arrived in the form of "The River Stour Trust" whose aims, similar to the Chelmer Canal Trust's, were to cherish, restore and promote the navigation in the public interest. A formidable task confronted them as there was little left of any of the old timber super-structures, only a right on navigation and even this was being challenged by riparian owners and statutory bodies. Where once the navigation had been a hub of social activity, and hosted many boating festivities along its length, now the local communities had become accustomed to its dereliction and had left it to the devices of fisherman from London, the local farmers and mill owners.

The River Stour Trust's restoration efforts were constrained by the Anglian Water Authority who became the navigating authority for the navigation in 1976. Their preoccupation with flood prevention has confined the beautiful river in many places between high banks, and has prevented navigation by boats by the construction of a series of concrete weirs and sluices. Their idea appears to be to get the water to the sea as fast as possible. Moreover the Trust's worthy efforts to reopen the navigation are not seen to be a good thing by everyone, especially those who fear that the arrival of motorised boats and people will affect their rural tranquillity.

The Granary at Sudbury
The Granary - Sudbury

Undeterred the Trust has restored the locks at Dedham, Flatford and Cornard and have refurbished the Granary Basin at Sudbury. They now own and use the grade II listed building there as their headquarters. It is an impressive achievement. They have recently commissioned a feasibility study on the opening of the remaining 23 miles of the navigation and one awaits further developments with great interest.

The River Stour Trust's membership secretary is Andrew Sheldon, who can be contacted at 11 Gloucester Way, Sudbury, Suffolk, and CO10 1LW.

Ted Pearson boasts a long association with the River Stour. He was the Conservation Officer for the National Rivers Authority with oversight of the Stour. On the formation of the Environment Agency he set up his own consultancy and subsequently became chairman of the Cornard Lock Committee and the River Stour Trust's Navigation and Conservation Committee.

Cornard Lock , River Stour  - River Stour Lighter
Cornard Lock , River Stour - River Stour Lighter

HOWARD & SONS, Ship Yard, Maldon, Essex.

May 3rd 1907

For the construction of a Canal Barge for Brown & Son, Timber Merchants Chelmsford

The said Messrs Brown & Son to supply and deliver timber to yard and the said Howard & Sons to find the necessary Ironwork Labour etc. as set forth below

Dimensions 60 ft long 16 ft Beam and 3 ft 3 in draft

Keel to be laid on block, scaffs to be 2 ft 10 in long jogged, laid with tar hair and fastened with 2 - 5/8" through bolts and clinchers.

Stern & sternpost to be tenoned into Keel & fastened. Floor timbers to be berthed on keel 14' apart fastened with one oak treenail in each floor through keel in alternate edges

Keelson berthed on floor timber and fastened with 3/4" through bolt in every floor timber in alternate edges of Keel, bolts to be driven in upwards and clinched on Keelson.

Stern Knee fitted on Keelson and stern & fastened with 5/8" through bolt all driven from outside & clenched on inside. Three through stern & three through bottom.

Stem fitted on post & fastened with 4 - 5/8 through bolts driven from outside & clenched inside stern. Three fitted on Keelson & stern & fastened with 6 - 5/8" though bolts, three in bottom & three in Stern post driven from outside and clenched on inside.

Under chine plank fixed., middle part straight, forepart curved to shape, these to be elm, aft piece to be shaped. These to be oak, all to be fastened with oak treenails & galvanised spikes as may be suitable for ends of floor timber, the forends to be well & properly fitted to Keel & fastened to same with 5/8" bolts

The upright (or side timbers) to be properly dovetailed into floor timbers & those that do not have an Iron strap on them to be fastened with 9/16 screw bolt at floor. Those with the strap or to have the screw bolt through strap & dovetail at floor.

Wales to be fitted in such lengths inside & out that the shifts may be properly arranged to form strength, outside to be fastened with one oak treenail in each timber in alternate edges. The inner to be fastened with one galvanised nail in each timber. The treenail to go through both & a 1/2" bolt through every timber & both wales driven from outside & clenched on inside

Gunwale (or Capping) to be fastened throughout with suitable galvanised nails.

Bottom to be properly fitted & laid with tar & hair (or caulked as may be required & each plank to be fastened with two oak treenails in each & chain bolted, the plank to run continuous up to stern with proper shifts in butts & not all butts on one floor at swims.

Sides to be properly fitted & fixed & fastened with two galvanised spikes in each plank & every timber & properly caulked & payed with best pitch.

Ceiling (or flat) to be property fitted & fixed & fastened with galvanised nail.

Beam at bailhole fitted & fixed & two oak knees fitted to form one at each end & fastened with 4 - 5/8" bolts in each to go through & clenched & bulkhead fixed.

Rider knees one on each side under beam at bulkhead fastened with 4 -5/8" through bolts in each to be driven from outside & clenched on knee.

Breast hook properly fitted & fastened with '" through bolts, one through stern & throat & two through each arm driven from outside & clenched on inside.

Quarter knees properly fitted to stern and side & fastened with 4 - 5/8" through bolts in.

Rudder kick & tiller to be properly made to suit barge & hung on 4 iron gudgeons & 1 '" bolt steering boards fitted & bail space covered with sheet iron.

Ironwork 36 iron straps supplied & fixed as per Section plan & fastened with 5 - 9/6" Screw bolts in each (total 180 bolts). Ring bolts, 3 on each side & one in breast hook through & clenched (more if required) Iron stem band to go from breast hook over top of stern in front & under the bottom 2 feet properly fitted & fastened 3/8" thick & 3 '" wide.

The Barge to be painted & tarred in three coats.

The work to be well & properly done in a workmanlike manner to the satisfaction of the owner or their agent launched & delivered at Heybridge Basin for the Sum of '105 one hundred & five pounds & insured against fire during construction for '200.

Howard & Sons
Copied from original specification 13/9/00                           John Marriage

John Howard's Boatyard at the Slipways
John Howard's Boatyard at the Slipways -
from John Marriage's Book -Maldon and the Blackwater Estuary
ISBN 1-86077-016-9

Giant Fish Spotted in Barnes Lock

Maurice Hyde spent his boyhood in Great Baddow. He describes the day when he and his friend, Mark Harrison found a "massive" mysterious fish swimming in Barnes Lock.

Mark and I were about 10 or 11 years old at the time and spent a lot of our spare time playing along the river banks of the Chelmer. We would walk from my parents house in Longmead Avenue, Great Baddow, down Loves Walk Lane, that took us to the Al30 by-pass which was at the time under construction. Farmer Spalding had a access under- pass to his farm at Meadgate that took you through the fields and on to the banks of the river Chelmer. Sometimes the field at the gate of the underpass was so muddy it was a pretty hard job to walk to the Chelmer even with wellington boots on . I can remember, on more than one occasion, walking in thick slimy mud and lifting my foot with my wellie not moving-being stuck firm in the mud.!

About half way from Spalding's farm to the river there used to be this brick building with a small opening 5 or 6 ft high. We used to climb up and you could see 50 or so bats hanging around as well as the sound of running water. I never did know what the function of this building was. It was latter demolished.

I think the time we saw the giant fish in the locks was definitely summer time as near the Barnes Mill Lock was the large mill pool that many fisherman were fishing. So as the fishing season starts on June 16th and it was busy with fisherman it was summer. We were about 9 or 10 years old and quite often took Mark's pet labrador dog over, named "Honey" after the "Blue Peter" children's show pet dog. When we arrived at the locks we would sit down on the lock gates before we moved on. On this occasion I saw a giant fish surface in the lock between the two gates. Well, I screamed to Mark "Look a massive fish!". I was scared, I had never seen any thing like it before or since in a river. I took a few steps back from the water side. Perhaps I might have fell in and who knows what the fish would have done to me? (that was my thought at the time). "Bloody hell, look at the size of it!" we were saying.

Mark said that when I recently spoke to him (on the phone from Australia) that he remembers the dorsal fin was a foot long and the total length of the fish was half the width of the lock and confirms it must have been 5 ft long.( the lock is 16ft wide-editor's note). It would disappear and slowly come up again turning in the lock slowly. We ran round to where several fisherman were fishing and told them of the giant fish: "Please mister, come and have a look at the giant fish in the locks, it's bigger than us!"

The fishermen would say " Bugger off! We're not coming. Damn kids!"
"No, really mister, you must come, please its true!"
After a while we managed to get one fisherman over to check out the story. He was amazed and soon had all the other men over. So there must have been fifteen or so people looking at this monster fish in the locks and not one of them knew what it was. One man said that it must have been a sea fish that had come up stream when the water was high and now was trying to get back.
Well that was the story. No one ever believed us but we know what we saw.

Thanks to Maurice for his graphic account of their adventures. With all the excitement it's a relief that neither of them fell in! When Ted Pearson gave his recent talk to us about the River Stour he did say something about his former work in restocking local rivers with trout and salmon. He previously worked for the Anglian Water Authority .Perhaps he could help solve the mystery? It was suggested to him that Maurice's fish might have been a large salmon and this is what he had to say:

With regard to Maurice Hyde's story I found it most interesting. I think it was unlikely that what he saw was a salmon as the deep sluggish waters of the canal, plus the number of obstructions, would not make it very conducive to a salmon running upstream to find suitable spawning grounds. However, the Blackwater with its faster flows carries less suspended solids(sediments) and has the advantages of shallow gravel reaches which are highly oxygenated, another reason why a returning salmon would find it more favourable when it entered the estuary.

Going back to Maurice's fish, I suspect it was ,by his description, a pike, especially as 25-30 years ago the canal was noted for its large numbers of big pike. In carrying out our fish population surveys at around this period I have personally weighed pike in excess of 25lbs which would make them at least 3ft in length, so his fish could certainly been up to 4ft although I doubt it would be as much as 5ft. No other native freshwater fish would obtain that sort of length.

Finally, if my supposition was wrong and the fish was a salmon it would inevitably have died from exhaustion following either successful or unsuccessful spawning. A dead fish rapidly fills with gasses as the internal organs decompose and they float to the surface. In an area as popular as Barnes Mill I suspect a salmon of this size would soon have been spotted and reported upon, even making a headline in the local press.

Thank you for bringing this interesting mystery to my attention and I hope my comments on it are helpful.

The mystery remains. The boys seemed sure that the monster stretched half way across the 16ft wide lock and who is going to disprove it?

Could this be the big fish? - Picture from Maurice Hyde

Springfield Boating Rally - Springfield Basin

Boat Trips will be available

On Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th September

Programme of Events Canal photo exhibition, display stands- IWA, CBNC, RNLI, local crafts,bric a brac
2pmSilver Band on Coates Quay
2.30pmBoats return to Springfield lock and assemble ready for procession
3pm (approx.)Flotilla arrives in basin
Boat Handling displays and fun events
Sea Cadets, Canoe Club
7pmBarbecue (bring own food and utensils)
Raffle tickets for sale
8pmMusic and Dancing "The Tawny" Country and Western Band
9pmInterval for raffle draw and entries for illuminated boats

Further details from Judith Abbott, 01206 853282

(The organisers may alter the programme of events subject to attendance and weather conditions prevailing during the weekend.)

Letter from the River Chelmer

Polly Clarke wrote an article in support of the River Colne for The Essex Protector (the newsletter of the Council for the Protection of Rural Essex). What follows is an adaptation for its sister river, the Chelmer, which shares many of its characteristics and history.

Dear People of the Chelmer Valley,

Once I was wild. I had all the land I wanted. I spread wide across my valley in little rivulets, I seeped through marshes, I gurgled, oozed and flowed towards the sea at my own pace.

My valley was filled with reeds, rushes, willows, and alders: it thrummed with all manner of birds and insects, frogs and snakes. Wild boar plunged about in the marshes, beavers built dams in my streams, and otters grew fat on my teeming fish.

Then you came along. You wanted to tame me. You dug channels to confine me, claimed my alluvial plains for your grazing beasts, your tillage. I did not complain. I provided you with a hythe for your ships to come and go; I allowed your boats upstream with luxury goods from Rome, with Purbeck marble for your abbey at Beeleigh, and Caen and Kentish stone for your bankside churches. I bore your boats down to the sea with wool, cloth, bricks and flints.

I furnished your table with fish, lamphreys, clams and eels. You ensnared and my ducks and geese, and delighted in my cranes, storks and fish eagles. Your farm animals drank at my banks. You washed your sheep, your linen and fulled your wool and cloth in my waters.

Then you harnessed my energy, built twenty mills along my length, which turned, pushed, pulled and ground; your corn became flour, your wool became thread, then cloth, with my strength. Hoe, Paper, King's, Barnes, Moulsham, Springfield, Broomfield to name just a few of them. Your children played and swam and sometimes drowned in me.

You dug short cuts across my snaking bends; you made weirs and locks to make me deep enough for your horse drawn barges to carry goods to your county town at Chelmsford.

I rose and fell with the floods and tides, but I constantly flowed for you from the chalk hills of Thaxted to the salt marshes at Maldon.

Now you spurn my power - you have other ways of moving things. You ignore my potential as a waterway, preferring to trundle your goods noisily overland. You no longer eat my fish, or wish to swim or wash you clothes in my waters.

But still you need me. I take away your nasty waste. Every few miles I receive without complaint your treated sewage and bear it away for you to the sea. I do my best to clean it further for you, as I draw it through my reeds and rushes.

I can help in another way too, but many of you do not know this. Stand beside me, and watch me flow. I was flowing thousands of years before you were here, and I will continue to flow, with constancy, into the sea, and am drowned, and then renewed.

Watch me by day or at dawn or at dusk; but best of all, watch me at night when the moon is full; allow yourself the time, and cast your sorrows on my moving waters. I may seem indifferent to your griefs, but I can help you wash them downstream and away. All, in the end, transitory.

So please do not complain if sometimes I " burst my banks" and flood your meadows and block your roads. I am only reclaiming what once was all mine.

Yours ever flowingly,         River Chelmer

Boating Rally at Springfield on Saturday September 15th 2001
- Message from our Chairman

Page 14 of this magazine has the programme of events for the rally and hope that you will be able to come and join us at some time during the day. Each year we try and extend and improve the event and this time we have even more things going on.

As I am sure you are aware the organisation involved is quite extensive, which means that our small band of helpers is stretched to the limit. In the hope of encouraging others to help in some way I have listed tasks that you could assist with. Please feel free to volunteer for something as every little bit helps. Such joint efforts by members greatly strengthen the Trust.

We have been assisted by the kind co-operation and generosity of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, Blackwater Boats and The Waterfront Place. However, we still need to cover our costs and hope to do this by running a raffle and a bric a brac stall.

You could help either by spending a few hours of your time either manning a stand or stall, or by bringing something for the bric a brac stall, or by donating a prize for the raffle. With regard to the bric a brac we would be grateful for any items that is saleable and not too heavy - excluding electrical goods and clothes - books are popular. There will be a "Boat Jumble" section for things that you no longer use but which might appeal to others. We are unable to collect. Items can be brought to Springfield Basin on Saturday morning (temporary parking available off Wharf Road). If unable to call in on Saturday it may be possible to drop things off at one our organisers.

Please call Judith on 01206 852282 and let her know whether: you can bring something along for bric a brac; you can spend some time helping on the day; you will be bringing something for the raffle; you need to drop something off before the day.

Thank you in anticipation of your support. I look forward to meeting you on the day.


A route way

Not to Clapham Junction

Via Padington or Crewe,

Nor to Newport Pagnell Services

Up the M1 from Dunstable

But a winding pilgrimage to commemorate our past.

A journey through "ings" and "hams"

And "dons" and "fields" and "leighs",

With "fords" from "bury" and "don";

Making them quietly speak with us

As we pass along:

Spring-field, Bad-dow, Bore-ham,

Dane-bury, Ult-,ing, Lang-ford,

Beeleigh, Mal-don.

Sounds in harmony with the beauty all around.

Beeleigh Weir at high tide
Beeleigh Weir

Interpretative Signs

John Marriage

At long last the Trust has completed all the formalities for permission to erect 2 Interpretative Boards along the canal.

One will be installed at Heybridge Basin adjacent to Daisy Meadow Car Park and the other next to the old stables at Paper Mill Lock

Each sign will be 3 feet by 2 feet and will contain general information about the history and flora and fauna of the canal, together with a detailed map of the entire waterway plus an insert map of the particular locality and a reproduction of an early waterway scene. The boards will be in full colour and hopefully vandal proof. They have been made on our behalf by Insignia Signs of Chippenham9 who specialise in this type of work. Other local examples of their work are at Springfield Basin and at Great Cornard on the River Stour. Financial assistance has been provided by the Essex Environment Trust We are very grateful for their help.

Hopefully the erection of these signs will be followed by the installation of further boards at other strategic places in due course along the waterway and thereby add to the enjoyment and understanding of our beautiful waterway.

Working parties:

No information at time of going to press.
Tel No:01376 521199 for information

Rolling Calendar:

Saturday/Sunday15/16th September - Springfield Basin Rally
There will be plenty to do and see. Please come along and support us. You will have received details via a mailshot. This is the Trust's major event of the year PLEASE support it.

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

PLEASE NOTE: This edition of Coates Cuttings is very late this time due to the editor having had a hand operation and no means of getting the newsletter put together. All material that would have gone into the July edition will be included in this edition. Your next edition will be in December so get writing your articles and news.

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