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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter April 2002 Issue 19
Registered Charity No 1086112.

Heybridge Basin

Heybridge Basin

In This Issue

Progress on the Linking of the Canal to the Museum of Power
Fishing Memories
Information Boards Unveiled!
Along the Riverbank at Barnes Mill

Rolling Calendar


Dudley Courtman

On Sunday 24th April 1999 the Chelmer Canal Trust carried out an environmental survey of the whole length of the canal. This involved recording observations under various headings: pollution, condition of towpath, banks, locks, gates, and bridges, presence of canal users, types of animals and plants and distribution of foreign weed. Thus a clear picture of the state of things was made on one day in April. As anticipated at the time this record has been very interesting and useful. The various bodies involved with the navigation have studied it.
Now it is proposed to harness the enthusiasm and experience of Trust members to carry out a follow up study this year. New survey forms will be prepared, benefiting from the comments made by our previous surveyors. As previously, surveyors will be able to select a length of the waterway that suits them and to choose a time convenient within a set period to carry out the survey. This time, however, there is an additional bonus. The findings will be used by the River Users' Group (see the report on the current work of this body in this edition of Coates' Cuttings). The time spent by volunteer surveyors will be credited towards the Trust's commitment to providing 20 man-days to a new-shared funding scheme for the navigation.
If you love the tranquillity of the waterway and fancy a quiet ramble along its banks please sign up. Not only can you enjoy yourself but also you can earn money for the Trust!
Forms and further details will be made available shortly so watch out for them, look out your binoculars and polish your boots!

Progress on the Linking of the Canal to the Museum of Power

The Trust has been campaigning for several years since 1998 to link the canal at Beeleigh to the Museum of Power at Langford. It now seems that our persistence and hard work is paying off. All the principal bodies involved: the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, the Essex and Suffolk Water Company, the Environment Agency, riparian owners, the river users and ourselves will be holding a meeting on April 12th to plan a way forward. At present the prospect of the link, to be finished in time for this summer, is most encouraging but experience warns us against over optimism - we all know about the gremlins with their large spanners lurking around corners (or should it be bends of the river!).
The Trust has been " On the case" for three years now. Let's hope that the next edition of Coates' Cuttings will carry a report of a successful outcome.

Fishing Memories

(Peter Rolfe, alumni of Moulsham Junior Boys' School, Chelmsford, tells us about some of his life forming experiences on the river Chelmer.)

As a Chelmsfordian living now in deepest Dorset, I still have fond memories of boyhood days spent beside the river in the 1940's and 1950's. Please forgive any inaccuracies in what follows: over the years I have probably confused the names of the locks and mills but I hope that you can work out their identity from my descriptions. The extracts, incidentally, are from my book, "The Net on the Garage Wall".

Closest to home was Brown's Wharf, as we called it, with stone and timber quays and revetments and the gas works steaming on the opposite bank. Despite the hemmed-in feel to the place, the fishing was exciting enough for a novice angler of twelve or thirteen. Conveniently, I could park the bike by the stile not five yards from the water, hang the old A.R.P. haversack from the handlebars and take out bait and my bits and pieces of tackle as they were needed. We caught small carp and roach in the clear water. Clear did not always mean clean, though: my last memory of this stretch of canal is of a pollution and of the sad corpses of hundreds of poisoned fish, many far bigger than I had managed to catch.

Downstream, we fished for gudgeon and roach under the Princes Road bridge. I think that there were steps down to the river there. One day a crayfish took a small live-bait intended for pike, so the water quality must have been reasonable despite the effluent that sometimes floated downstream from sugar beet factories further up the Chelmer. Further down the river, in some stretches I seem to remember beds of yellow water lilies. In places like that we used to catch perch and small pike on spinner, bringing the bait back over the submerged cabbage-like leaves and watching the fish strike in the clear water.

"...At Barnes Mill and Hoe Mill, old lock gates oozed atmosphere and were loud with trickling water. Deep beside them and in the weir pools, in the reflection of decaying brickwork, perch lurked, just as the books said they should, and we fished for them with worms and minnows. ...At Barnes Mill, the upper weir in the top pool was fenced off as a kind of fish sanctuary and the water was often black with roach and dace. As boys will, we found a way to trot our baits down to the dense shoals of fish ..."

"The lower weir yielded up roach, quite large gudgeon, occasionally a perch or two and small dace'. In the pool below the mill - which I seem to remember was still busily worked on weekdays - we found the pike in the autumn, trotting our floats down towards the shallows above the black wooden bridge. The critical time was as the fat red-topped float, trailed by the smaller red and white 'pilot' float, swung across the current into the wide bay at the downstream end of the pool. Sooner or late the 'bung' popped under and the hooks were set after the compulsory count of ten. The pike were small, no more than five or six pounds, but their snapping ferocity made them hugely intimidating and yet fascinating at the same time. How boldly marked were their broad sides and how yellow their alligator eyes!"

On the bank of the mill pool, above the footbridge, was a caf'and there you could hire a skiff by the hour. On the occasional, eagerly anticipated Sunday afternoon, we would go on the river, Father rowing, Mother steering and I sitting in the prow. Afterwards, we would enjoy a pot of tea and buttered buns at an outdoor table.

Some way downstream, there was a lock. Sometimes we used to scramble over the lock gate onto an island beyond which was a weir and pool. Looking at your map of the river, I think this must have been Little Baddow Mill lock. There was a small tributary just below the lock, bringing rather dirty water (sewage?) into the main river and we used to float daddy-long-legs and other big flies down the current for the dace. We spent many happy hours there, first catching the bait and then trying to outwit the fast-rising small fish.

"Apart from the dace-fishing, two other happenings make this part of the old Chelmer memorable. First was the day of 'the blowing', masses of frothy bubbles covering the surface of the water in the fifty yards or so of water between the lock and the sewer outfall. ...It seemed obvious what were responsible for the disturbance, because fresh patches constantly rose to the surface as if fish were cruising and feeding.... We feverishly cast worms and bread paste into the maelstrom but the floats never moved and we left for home none the wiser. Later we heard that the angling club had stocked the river with giant bream from Abberton Reservoir. Had we been in the presence of those unbelievable monsters? It made me almost dizzy to think how close we might have been to actually catching one!

"The second event was concerned with a monstrous pike. Like every keen angler I had read of legendary pike swallowing spaniels and attacking helpless swimmers and had thrilled to the stories without really believing them. One day, though, my scepticism was severely tested. Happily trying to catch dace at the outfall, I was half-aware out of the corner of my eye of a moorhen clucking and fussing its way by the far bank. Suddenly there was an enormous splash, a high-pitched squawk and then nothing - except for a giant swirl of water covering half the width of the river, gradually subsiding and smoothing in the silence."

I remember catching eels in Hoe Mill mill pool on a sultry summer's day with thunderclouds looming in the distance and fishing unsuccessfully in a match on the clear and shallow stretch of canal not far above Maldon. The memory I cherish most, though, is of a day at Beeleigh Weir, when I almost caught a very big fish!

"At the end of a ten-mile cycle ride was Beeleigh Weir, marking the confluence of the Chelmer and the Blackwater, and the meeting of fresh water and brackish. We fished from the concrete weir beside the main river, shaded and sheltered by the bulk of the stalwart timbers that carried the towpath over our heads towards Maldon to our right. To our left was the last lock of the Chelmer proper and in front was the Blackwater, flowing gently towards us. Behind us as we fished was the strident, exotic world of the estuary, with its gulls wheeling and calling and swooping amongst the sand bars, flats and pools at low water. An exciting, salt-smelling place was Beeleigh Weir.

"We went there to catch bream. But bream we never caught, though one day I was so close to doing so. Unusually - in those days we seldom saw other fishermen - three anglers were opposite us on the left-hand bank of the Blackwater when we arrived, hot and tired after the long ride. They had obviously been there since dawn, if not all night, and were enjoying grand sport. Bream after bream was brought to bank, drawn across the surface to the outstretched net after a brief struggle. I could hardly contain my feelings, a ready-to-burst mixture of intense envy and desire....I would have given anything to have caught even one such fish and here were these interlopers catching them by the dozen! All we could land were small roach and gudgeon, normally welcome but suddenly inadequate in comparison with those fabulous bream.

"I remember realising that the men opposite were fishing much, much deeper than we were, and in desperation I pushed up the float until it eventually lay half-cocked on the surface, my worm-baited hook firmly on the bed of the river for the first time. All bites ceased for me, though Father still swung small fish to hand with irritating regularity. After ten minutes or so I was impatiently considering going back to the 'tiddler-snatching', as I had cockily called it.

Suddenly, t hough, a s mall group of bubble frothed beside m y float, which stirred slightly. My throat dried and my heart pounded as the quill slowly rose and in a studied way gradually lay flat on the surface - the classic bream bite that I knew so well from my reading. Slowly, oh, so slowly, the red top stood upright and moved to the right, submerging as it did so. As I struck, I knew instinctively that I had been a fraction of time too fast. The rod bent round as it had never done before - except when I had caught an overhanging bush - I was aware of an immense, dragging, living weight... and then it was gone and the rod was as straight as if nothing had happened."

Do the bream still swim by Beeleigh Weir, I wonder; and are the locks and mill pools and weirs still there? Through my boyhood years the Chelmer taught me much of value about the sport that has given me a lifetime's pleasure. We were slow learners then, with no videos and few books from which to profit; we knew few other anglers whose brains we could pick. A big fish came but seldom because our methods were na've and our tackle crude. We were satisfied with small rewards: just to be free to explore the countryside and catch a few fish was enough.

I hope that is true of some of today's young people.

Waiting for the big one
"Waiting for the big one"

Information Boards Unveiled!

Dudley Courtman

On the afternoon of Wednesday 20th March, our President, Lord Petre, umbrellared and undeterred, braved the vicissitudes of the canal bank at Heybridge Basin on a bracing spring day, to unveil the first of the Trust's information boards. He was supported by the Chief Executive of Maldon District Council, Steve Packham, the Chairman of the Council, Penny Channer, the Chairman of Heybridge Basin Parish Council, Beryl Claydon, and by district councillors, B Harker and S Rosewarne. Others in attendance were Margaret Hance from The Maldon Tourist Board, Hugh Turner, the development manager of Chelmer Cruises, and our trustees, John Marriage and Dudley Courtman.

It was not a day for protracted outdoor celebrations and after a short address by Lord Petre and a pause to admire the board the party repaired to the warm comfort and hospitality of The Old Ship as guests of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.

On the following Wednesday at Paper Mill, Little Baddow a second board was unveiled by Lord Petre and Anthony Cramphorn, Chairman of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.Those present were the Mayor of Chelmsford, Christine Ryecroft, the town's Chief Executive, Martin Easteal, and town and parish councillors from Chelmsford, Little Baddow and Hatfield Peverel: Maurice Hurrell, Ian Wright, Mr. and Mrs. RJ Shepherd, Robert and Doreen Goodall, Eric Windus and M. Elliston. The trustees of the Trust were in attendance together with Hugh Turner, the Development Manager of Chelmer Leisure.

The weather conditions for the second unveiling were in complete contrast to the first: warm, spring sunshine as opposed to rain and cold wind! On this occasion it was tempting to linger on the canal bank and to admire the countryside.The party had to be enticed through the old clapper gates to join the reception aboard the cruising barge Victoria. The completion of a successful project could then be celebrated most expansively thanks to the generosity of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company. A few celebratory drinks and the intimacy of the boat enabled all on board to freely share their views on the value of the canal as a community resource and to discuss future plans. Part of this will be the siting by the Trust of further boards at Sandford and Ulting Locks.

The unveilings brings to a happy conclusion many hours of hard work by the Trust and it is reassuring to see the impressive final result of our labours. The Trust was greatly assisted throughout its endeavours by the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company and the Essex Environment Trust who provided a major part of the funding.


Its Origins, Work, Funding Plans, and Progress on Weed Clearance

Origins: The foreign invasive weed, the American pennywort, has been the subject of discussions between the Chelmer Canal Trust and the Environment Agency since the summer of 1997. At that time it was becoming increasingly difficult to gain access to Springfield Basin for the Trust's annual boating rally as the weed growth downstream was barring the way. Subsequently on a members' cruise to the Basin in 1998 the weed even stopped the Victoria in its tracks. Conscious of the serious threat to the waterway, and the fact that our warnings were not producing any results, we alerted Chelmsford Borough Council to the problem. In order to find a solution the Borough Council offered to convene a meeting of all the parties involved with the river.

The first meeting of the River Users' Group took place in May 1999: local clubs, voluntary charitable groups, local and national government statutory bodies, and water -related limited companies, were represented. The membership list included the Sea Cadets, Chelmsford Canoe Club, the RHP Angling Club, the Chelmer Canal Trust, the Chelmsford Branch of the Inland Waterways Association, the Essex Wildlife Trust, Chelmsford Borough Council, Maldon District Council, Essex County Council, the Environment Agency, the National Centre for Aquatic Plant Management, the Essex and Suffolk Water Company, and the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company.

Work: It took some time for the group to establish itself as a coherent body as opposed to "a talking shop". Although there was a lot of willingness, and expert witnesses present, the stumbling block was always the issue of finance and initially only limited measures could be taken. Needless to say the weed didn't hang around and it quickly established itself along the whole length of the river from Chelmsford to the sea. Last year it colonised the Long Cut between Beeleigh and Heybridge, from bank to bank in places!

It is only recently that the full potential of the River Users' Group (it has withstood the all pervading fashion of acronyms- so far!) has been realised. With the advent of lottery funding, and partnership schemes of providers and beneficiaries, the Group has been able to confront the funding issue more imaginatively and to include into its brief other heritage and environmental issues in addition to the weed problem.

Funding Plans: At the last meeting of the Group, on February 25th at the Civic Centre in Chelmsford, it was reported that various funding applications had been successful and awards had been made by the Community Awards Scheme ('3525), the National Heritage Memorial Fund, ('19000), and the Waterways Trust ('5000). It was also recorded that the Landfill Agency would be sympathetic to an application staged over a five-year period ('100,000). The award of these funds will depend upon the capacity of the Group to provide matching funding in the form voluntary man-hours or contracted works. This will mean that all partner contributions involved in any project will have to be carefully costed and that voluntary work will have to be assessed on the number of volunteer days donated. (At this point in time '10,000 in man-days is required).

With this amount of potential funding available, the River Users can expand their operation of combating the foreign weed to improving all heritage and environmental aspects of Chelmsford's rivers as far as the sea. A Draft Proposal for this work was presented to the last meeting and will be worked upon in the coming months. It is hoped that the new scheme will replace the existing Conservation Area Partnership Scheme managed by Essex County Council and will enable any residual monies in that scheme to be released.

The River Users' Draft Project is concerned with: weed clearance; environmental surveys; repairs to the tow path, banks, locks and clapper gates; and the provision of safety rails and lock ladders, interpretation boards, new bridges, landing stages, canal museum, interpretation centres and dry dock facilities. It may also be possible to incorporate the historic barge Susan in the project.

It was noted that the Chelmsford Society was in the course of organising a public meeting on Chelmsford's Rivers in May. It is likely that the Draft Proposal will help to crystallise suggestions for improvements that might be raised then.

Work on Weed Clearance: The Environment Agency reported on their current work on weed eradication (pennywort) between the viaducts in Chelmsford for 600 metres downstream. Handpicking of the weed has taken place during April, June and September and December of last year and this has proved extremely effective. The work involved three men in a boat who physically pulled the weed out, having first removed the large matted areas.
Some 30 patches were identified in April, which rose to 60 in mid -summer, falling to 8 in December. Over one ton of weed was removed. It was found that the shallower clay banks were more resistant to weed removal than the gravelly steeper banks.

A comprehensive survey report containing comparative distribution graphs was presented to the meeting together with associated costs. It was estimated that it cost '3-49 to remove one square metre of weed. Extrapolation of these figures over the whole river's 20 kms would involve the removal of 560 square metres and cost '70,000! The River Lea, our neighbour, is experiencing similar problems and an information gathering visit will be made there in the near future.

A friendlier feature was revealed about the weed in that it is an efficient absorber of heavy metals. So it could possibly be put to good use in other parts of the County where its presence would be more appreciated!

It looks as if the fight against the weed is likely to be long and expensive - if only we had started in 1998! The Government is trying to prevent further infestations by bringing in legislation to ban the sale of pennywort in garden centres, its most likely origin. It eventually escaped from ornamental ponds to ditches and ponds - anyone who bought it for their pond would soon dump it when it metamorphosed into a monster Tryffid!

Conclusion: We have reached the stage when it is time to stop talking and to start acting .The Chelmer Canal Trust is committed to supporting the partnership initiative. Members can help towards providing voluntary days in lieu of cash. The first opportunity to volunteer for a clearance day was on Saturday 13th April at Chelmsford's Chelmer River Spring Clean. Twelve |members turned up - a good start. You will be posted details of further events.

Dudley Courtman (01621 892231)

Along the Riverbank at Barnes Mill

Leonora Wollner

Thankfully, looking back on the winter of 2001/02, we won't just remember being deluged with flood after flood. Nature gave this winter an acceptable and manageable level of high water, sent to remind us that we should be forever cautious and respectful of its need of water meadows and clear flowing river channels.

Mind you, we were still amazed at the amount of debris even a relatively small amount of rainfall delivered to the sluice and house gates. Enormous old tree roots, even more telegraph poles, house 'For Sale' signs and a 1950's tractor engine where just some of the blockages that turned up here and needed to be moved to ensure the river ran efficiently.

Our task of continually gauging and, hopefully, improving the Mill's defences against the ravages of nature continued with gusto this winter. Amongst many other things, a great number of trees were felled or pollarded to reduce the risk of storm or flood damage. Work that we were pleased to have completed before the vicious gales that we all suffered not too long ago. We were, at least, able to relax a little more as the wind whipped its way around the mill, usually in the middle of the night! However, we were also aware that the trees we lost needed to be replaced - not only for the practical measure of binding the mill pond and river banks to reduce erosion, but also as the homes for the many animals and birds that now live here with us at the Mill. Late winter has also therefore seen the planting of new trees and shrubs as well as the river's edge planting of river meadow grasses and flowers that will be eventually used as food and housing for water based creatures.

River life changes so much across the seasons. The fish seem to go into hiding during the long winter months. We know they are still around as herons still fish the mill ponds, standing for ages like statues at dawn and dusk, but always aware of their surroundings, in case they need to leave in a hurry. During the hard frosts and low temperatures of December and January we were also inundated by literally 30+ shag cormorants. We're used to a pair of these fish thieves on the mill ponds, but I did object to so many stabbing at the fish and filling themselves so that they could barely fly away, even when the dogs were sent out to frighten them off. I must have looked like a real mad woman on some frosty mornings as I regularly ran outside in a thick dressing gown beating saucepans to disturb their feasts. You see, most of the local rivers had frozen, even the water in Barnes Mill lock had frozen solid - so the birds congregated around the sluice gates in the mill ponds as they supplied the only local running water and therefore areas for the fish (their prey) to congregate.

One good thing of not so often having high water levels was that our old married couple of Swans (Sid and Ethel) and their two signets stayed with us until well into January. It was a lovely sight watching them teach the signets to fly by taking their necessary long run-up of a take-off up the mill ponds, then croaking at us below as they flew off onto the water meadows. This couple left us quietly one day after a high river made them decide that building their nest close to the mill would probably be a dangerous decision to take as future high waters may wash it and their young away.

I remain optimistic that one day, swans will nest here. They are such lovely creatures - even though they become very territorial and aggressive to occasional other swan visitors. Currently, we have two young and very much in love swans residing here. I wonder what will happen when Sid and Ethel turn up again, as usual, with this year's brood.

Other (temporary) departures for the summer include the sweet dabchicks or little grebes. These shy river birds' fish along the water's edge quietly all winter, almost blending into the riverbank if it were not for the flourish as they energetically dive beneath the surface for food. Another occasional early morning visitor is the goosander. These smart brown or black and white members of the duck family usually arrive in groups during the coldest part of winter. They have absolutely no interest in what humans can do for them, unlike their cousins the mallards, but their stylish; almost fashion conscious appearance has given me much pleasure during early winter mornings.

I am also now aware of spring's imminent arrival in February, when I notice quick splashes of water and realise that the pike is waking up and spawning, getting a head start on the other fish, so the pike's young have plenty of tasty morsels to choose from in early summer. With early spring also comes the frantic chasing of the female mallard ducks by their partners and any other male duck in the area. Although the more vocal and bad tempered, I do feel sorry for some females who seem to attract up to six admirers at once and have to tolerate their advances both on land and water. At its height, I cannot entice the males from the task with their favourite floating duck food - although once finished they'll soon let me know that they are now hungry!

Throughout the year, I continue to admire the industrious and subservient moorhen. They place themselves below the ducks in importance on the ponds and often wait until the mallards have finished feeding before loudly letting me know that it's now their turn. We now have at least thirty regular moorhens around the Mill - most are relatively friendly towards us, making their distinctive "kurruk" gurgle when they see I have some food. I also enjoy watching them set their own relatively small territories, by chasing off other moorhens with their white tails flicking furiously behind them! Another welcome newcomer to the Mill is a small contingent of coots. With their white face marking as opposed to the moorhens red foreheads, I haven't noticed them here until very recently. Let's hope they stay and breed in relative safety amongst the moorhens and ducks.

Well, it's the last week of March. The daffodils should just about make it to Easter Sunday, and the tree buds are supplying our already fat pigeons with yummy young buds. Blackbirds and, I'm proud to say, our two melodic song thrushes are rushing around building nests alongside the blue tits, wrens, rooks, magpies, robins, finches, sparrows and starlings. Two days ago the beautiful weather gave the reward I've been waiting to see for the last week or so. The distinctive hum and whistle of our family of kingfishers could be heard and, with my now practised eye, I managed to spot two tiny colourful birds as the raced low to the water and waited on branches until seeing their tea beneath the water. Of all British birds, these seem to be the most exotic. Although, by nature cautious, if I'm on my own and don't push my luck too much, these two will come and take a breather on the front bridge close to where I watch them from the Mill. Then I can take in the beautiful orange, red and turquoise plumage until they race off once again.

The only other fair weather visitor that I haven't yet seen is the sparrow hawk. These we usually hear rather than see or sadly notice their presence when we see a heap of moorhen or pigeon feathers after a successful hunt.

This morning, when feeding the ducks, swans and moorhens, three fat carp also rose to the surface to have their breakfast. With the absence of fishermen now until early June, they obviously feel safe to come up for some air at last!

Winter has now definitely left us.


A personal view by John Marriage

Paul Strudwick, the new Chairman of Chelmsford Branch, Inland Waterways Association, writing in the Autumn issue of their Newsletter suggested that, with the restoration of Springfield Basin, there was now little the Branch could campaign for within their boundaries and that they needed something else to fight for. He invited members to submit ideas for new projects. Perhaps understandably, as a Council employee, he appeared unwilling to press the Council about progressing the important proposed linking channel between Springfield Cut and the River Chelmer

As a member of the Branch, I responded to his request and I submitted a number of ideas, both within the Branch. boundaries (which takes in mainly Mid and South Essex) and further afield. These were as follows:-

Assisting CCT in the erection of Interpretative Signs at various strategic places along the Canal.
Joining in the campaign to make the River Blackwater navigable up to the Museum of Power.
Assisting in the erection landing stages above and below each lock, for the benefit of all boat users.

I did not intend. that my suggestions would he finite and, with respect to Paul and his committee, other ideas might be taken on board. The following spring to mind:-

When it was first set up, the Branch campaigned to improve facilities on the rivers Chelmer and Can above the Navigation, so promoting greater recreational use by 1ight craft, in acceptance of local knowledge that both rivers have been used for boating and canoeing for up to a 100 years as far as Little Waltham and Admirals Park. During my time on the Branch committee we had some early successes, some landing stages were erected and bridges built to navigation height. Sadly, I have heard nothing on the progress of this project for some considerable time.

Following the Branch's wonderful achievement in the reopening of Springfield Basin I believe there is now a need to establish an Interpretative Centre there before the past is completely swept away by new development, however excellent (I exclude in this description the awful 1960's styled exterior of the Essex Record Office, apparently modelled on. that of the Maritime Museum at Charleston, USA, where the setting is more appropriate !) and in this connection I would like to see the Branch take more interest. in Industrial Archaeology, including. pressing for a dry dock for "Susan" There is also the small matter of continuing to campaign for the bridges through the town centre being raised to proper navigation height. Finally, there is The Mar Dyke, that strange little waterway entering the Thames near Grays. Once barges penetrated several miles upstream, with a variety of cargoes, including explosives. Eastern Region, Sport England have identified it as having a potential for boating. In view of the burgeoning population in the locality, would it not be worthwhile for the Branch to investigate its potential?

Outside the Branch area I know that our friends in the River Stour Trust would welcome assistance. They are looking for working parties to rebuild two boat slips at Sudbury, carry out dredging at Sudbury Basin, assist in the restoration of Stratford St Mary Lock etc as well as larger schemes on that river. A Feasibility Study jointly prepared by the Trust and the environment Agency concerning navigation has just been published.

In the winter issue of their newsletter Paul returned to the subject. Apparently the Committee have now considered all the responses. They appeared unwilling to press the Council about progressing the important proposed linking channel between Springfield Cut and the River Chelmer and have concluded that they should start looking into the possibility of creating a navigable link between Bishops Stortford and Chelmsford although the Environment Agency have previously quite rudely dismissed the idea as being unrealistic, costing millions, without comparable benefit. However, in principle I would support their idea. A navigable link between the Chelmer and the rest of the canal system would be a local wonderful asset. Nevertheless, unlike the proposed Milton Keynes Bedford link, where there are positive advantages of bringing prosperity to a run down area and connecting the main canal system with that of the substantially detached Fenlands waterway, such a scheme must, in my opinion, be regarded, at the most, as very long term.. A more viable project, m my opinion, albeit outside present Branch boundaries, would be to link the River Stort to the River Cam, thereby creating another link to the Fens. This, at least, had the benefit of a full survey in the 18th century and an Act of Parliament.

It must be admitted that to some extent the Chelmer Canal Trust may have stolen some the Branch's clothes in its activities on the Chelmer & Blackwater, nevertheless, I would like to see far greater co-operation between the two groups, including a sharing of some of our activities. There is room for both organisations as the two groups do not have the same focus. Our terms of reference do not extend beyond the local area but, nevertheless, as a corporate member of the Inland Waterways Association the Trust shares many of its aspirations. A particular area of co-operation should be to force the pace concerning the construction of the navigable link between Springfield Cut and the River Chelmer, enabling Chelmsford to realise the full potential of its riverside location. How about a completion target date of 2007, (including the raising of bridges) to coincide with the 210th anniversary of the opening of the canal to Springfield? That would be a worthwhile target!! Can we set that as the date for a grand. armada from Heybridge Basin to Central Park?

The Granary at Sudbury
Granary at Sudbury


When a new canal boater heads for the peace and tranquility of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation he is hoping to escape from the rules, regulations, red tape and cares of modern life. Little does he realise that when he casts off from his mooring and noses out into the slow current that onerous "statutory obligations" are waiting for him at the first lock. These are detailed in an ancient act of parliament:

For making and maintaining

33RD GEORGE 3RD 1793

The Act for the building of the canal in 1793 comprises some one hundred closely printed pages. It sets out the duties of the builders and owners, and details the regulations that apply to the users, and the penalties to be applied for any infringements.

Boaters beware, for therein, written on pages 89- 90, are the statutory locking procedures.

"No Boatman on passing through any Lock....shall suffer the Water to remain in such Lock longer than is necessary for his Boat to pass through any such Lock...

and every such Boatman in going down the said Navigation shall shut the lower Gates of such Lock, before he shall draw the Cloughs of the upper Gates thereof, and after he shall have brought his Boat into the said lock, shut the upper Gates before he shall draw the Cloughs of the lower Gates thereof, and in going up the said Navigation shall, so soon as he shall have passed with his boat out of the said Lock, shut the upper gates of the said lock, and afterwards draw the Cloughs of the lower Gates, unless there shall be there then a Boat in Sight coming down the said Navigation, in which Case the lower Gates of the said Lock shall be left shut, and the upper gates shall be left open, and at all Times the Vessels going up the same, if within Sight, and at a Distance not above Three hundred Yards below a Lock, shall pass through such Lock or Locks before the Vessel coming down, and then the Vessel next above come down, and if there shall be more vessels than One below or above any Lock at the same Time, within the Distance aforesaid (at which distance a Post or Mark shall be set up and made for ascertaining the same) such Vessels shall go up and come down in such locks by Turns as aforesaid, until all the said Vessels going up and coming down shall have passed, by which Means One Lock full of Water may serve Two Vessels." Confused? Bewildered? The above regulations might have been the origin of the well -known English idiom: " not knowing whether you are coming or going"! The constant "coming up" and "going down" is reminiscent of the late Gerard Hoffnung's legendary story told at the Oxford Union about the raising and lowering of a bucket full of bricks using a pulley.

There is worse in store for perplexed boaters seen breaking the rules. The Act continues:

"...every Person offending in any of these Particulars, being convicted thereof before any Justice of the Peace, upon the Oath of One or more credible Witnes, or Witnesses, shall for every such Offence forfeit a Sum not exceeding Twenty Shillings."*

It would appear that without some assistance twenty-first century boaters run the risk of suffering eighteenth century consequences.

The Trust, true to its objects, would want to make the boaters' lot a happier one. It seems rather extreme to provide " Posts or Marks" three hundred yards up and down stream of each lock! Or to post a copy of the Act's locking requirements beside locks! Perhaps the answer would be to ask some erstwhile Hoffnung to make an instructive lock recording?

Closer study of the Act reveals that it's not only boaters who are at risk, for there are even more dire penalties for other transgressions. In the spirit of the Trust's obligations to help all canal users, some of these will be clarified in the next edition of Coates Cuttings. After all we want everybody to enjoy a stress free day on or by the river and to avoid being bewitched, bothered, bewildered, fined, locked up, locked in, locked out, and even transported!

* Editor's note. "Twenty Shillings" inflates to '200?

Rolling Calendar:

22/23rd June - Jubilee Cruise
4th July - AGM
A speaker will follow AGM - Laurie Gilson about life on the Midland Canals
28th July - Sandford Mill Exhibition

Closure dates for submission of articles for the newsletter:
31st December for the January edition
30th March for the April edition
30th June for the July edition.
30th September for the October 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.

New Members
Beryl Claydon from Heybridge
Chelmer Lighter Preservation Society
The East Anglian Waterways Assoc. Ltd
The Maldon Archaeological & Historical Group & The Maldon Soc.

Welcome to you all.

The Chelmer Canal Trust may not agree with opinions expressed in this newsletter. Nothing printed may be construed as policy or an official announcement unless stated otherwise and accepted no liability for any matter in the newsletter

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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