Chelmer Canal Trust, formerly the Friends of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter November 2005 Issue 31
Registered Charity No 1086112.

The 'Lion Oak' .
A hundred years ago this ancient deformed tree near Beeleigh Mill was a well-known local landmark.
The picture of the tree comes from a photograph that is truly one hundred years old. Beeleigh mill house is just visible at the far end of the road in the picture. The late John Marriage also referred to this tree in one of his local history books and described it as an elm tree. We don't know what it really was. There are a lot more hedges and trees alongside the lane now but the 'Lion Tree' is no longer there.

In This Issue

The future of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.
New Paddle Gears on the Canal
Boat Watch
A special treat for the Pennywort Volunteers
Bentalls Heybridge - Past & Present.
More about Bentall's

We welcome members' photos, articles & contributions to Coates' Cuttings. Please e-mail them to Mike Lewis before 31st December for the January 2004 issue or post them to 16 Roots Lane, Wickham Bishops, Essex, CM8 3LS.

The future of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.

As we all know, the Navigation Company has been under administration for more than two years. Fears for its future have been persistent - the possibility of it ceasing to be a statutory navigation has been worrying for everyone with any interest in this historic waterway. Now there has been a major change for the better. It is quite complicated, so we will cover it with a series of (abridged) statements from interested parties. The first is by William Marriage, who is the Chairman of the Navigation Company (as well as being a director of the Chelmer Canal Trust), made shortly before the change of management became settled.

Chairman's Statement, 2nd November 2005

The year under report has seen a number of significant changes necessitated by the continuing administration. Considerable further cuts have been made in the activities of the company, which while they have been painful to those involved, have left the company leaner and more financially viable. The latest management accounts show a healthy operating profit in excess of projections, but this must be set against the fact that the company has not funded any significant maintenance projects in this period, and this approach would not be sustainable for long. It should also be noted that income from assets earmarked for disposal have also contributed but will not do so in the future. The most notable of these assets are, The Victoria, The Tea Rooms at Paper Mill, and the Old Ship at Heybridge Basin. In hindsight it is clear that the company has benefited greatly by concentrating on the core business.

The issue of securing adequate external funding to secure the future of the navigation has remained. A proposal has been received from the IWA (Inland Waterways Association) to undertake the management of the navigation. The board of directors believes that such an arrangement offers the most promising way forward of the various options which we have examined. We are engaged in detailed negotiations with the aim of making the arrangement successful for the long term. All the indications are that this close relationship with the IWA will secure and stabilise the long-term future of both the Navigation and the company. The agreement will be the most significant change in the company's role and nature in its 208 year history!

The outcome of negotiations.

A meeting between all interested parties (the Administrators, the IWA and the Navigation Company) took place on the 11th November. They agreed to formalise the arrangement described above.

Here is part of the IWA statement about it.

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has signed a maintenance and operating agreement with the Administrator of The Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Ltd, whereby IWA will be responsible for the navigation in perpetuity.

Since 1994, when IWA volunteers successfully restored Springfield Basin in Chelmsford, the Association has raised approx. '400,000, which has been spent maintaining locks and weirs on the navigation. However, despite IWA's efforts, the C&BNCo went into Administration in August 2003 and, since then, all non-waterway assets have either been sold or are in the process of being sold.

IWA has formed a subsidiary company, Essex Waterways Ltd. (EWL) and, with support from Essex & Suffolk Water, Essex County, Chelmsford Borough and Maldon District Councils. The Association will operate and maintain this very popular river navigation for the benefit of the general public.

The Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation was surveyed by John Rennie and built by Richard Coates following the construction of the C&BN's sister waterway, the Stowmarket Navigation. The Act of Parliament was obtained in 1793 and work was completed in 1797. Today, with 12 broad locks, the waterway is exceptionally popular, with moorings at a premium, whilst, in the summer months, vessels from a variety of nations can be seen in Heybridge Basin.

John Fletcher, IWA's National Chairman, said: 'Working with the Administrator, IWA has been unable to find a nationally recognised navigation authority willing to take on the challenge of managing this waterway and, with the threat of Liquidation present, IWA Council took the decision to manage and operate this exceptionally beautiful river navigation. This Association is not in the business of losing waterways'.

Doug. Beard, IWA's South East Region Chairman, said: 'Whilst a great deal of work has been expended by volunteers over the past 12 years or so, we now have an excellent opportunity to move forward. Working with Essex & Suffolk Water and the local authorities, I look forward to a new era with great enthusiasm'.

Doug can be contacted for further information on 01702 554492 .


The IWA have already compiled a massive 20 year programme of maintenance tasks including,.

The first item during 2006 is the installation of new lock gate paddle gear in the five locks at the upstream end of the waterway. We believe that the gear has already been purchased but there may be some problems connected with fitting it - see page 6. Other tasks for next year include painting Springfield lock gates, repairs to Little Baddow weirs and sluices, mending or replacing 'clap gates' (the gates on the tow-path), new bottom lock gates at Cuton Lock and various repairs and improvements to facilities at Heybridge Basin. In subsequent years, lots more major maintenance and refurbishment tasks are planned.

The detailed programme of work, covering the next 20 years, also includes planting willow setts, as well as trimming trees, cutting grass, clearing weed (including a specific reference to the dreaded pennywort) and all sorts of other chores. They do express an intention to use voluntary labour for some of the tasks.

The overall costs will demand a lot of effort from the IWA. We must hope that they can continue their present skills at obtaining grants from a variety of sources.

New Paddle Gears on the Canal

Readers will recall that the Trust has been trying to help with the provision of new paddle mechanisms to the locks along the canal. We were alerted to their necessity by some of our members giving up boating because they couldn't summon the physical effort to wind the lock paddles up and down. The mechanisms date from the 1790's- or even earlier - when bargees had huge muscles; now, with the canal being used for recreation, lesser endowed mortals are at a serious disadvantage.

The Canal Company, with the help of the Inland Waterways Association, obtained replacement winding gears some years ago to make using the locks easier, but the Company failed to fit them. The Trust offered to have a go at assembling one set and to try it out. Robin Jones and Roger Edwards subsequently completed a set; this required the purchase of missing parts and some engineering work. The finished product was handed over to the Company, at their request, for fitting.

Reports emanating from the Kennet and Avon Canal newsletter, where they have used a similar type of mechanism, are worrying because it sounds as if they are having problems - see the report from the IWA 'Waterways'journal quoted below. Before the new mechanisms are installed on the Chelmer and Blackwater navigation it looks as if it would be wise to investigate the Kennet and Avon's problems further as it might be possible to benefit from their experience.

Kennet & Avon Paddle Gear Problems

British Waterways has apologised after many complaints from boaters who are experiencing difficulties with their operation of the new lock gearing fitted on the Kennet & Avon Canal. The gearing is designed to reduce the effort required to use the mechanism. A remedial works programme incuded a complete review of all the lock gearing along the whole canal by 30 June and repair or replacement of all incorrectly fitted gearing by 31 August. All short spindles were replaced with a tapered version by 30 September to prevent windlasses slipping A trial of a new clamp on the paddle rods will be made to further extend their life.

Due to the operation of the gear, boaters were very concerned about being able to lower paddles quickly if a boat is caught on the lock cill. In addressing these concerns BW has committed to ensure that all cill markers are clearly identifiable. It also plans to actively encourage narrow boaters to use loose ropes to steady the boat when using broad locks.

A boat emerging from a flight of locks on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

Clive and Amanda take a break while pennywort-picking
I once was a Pennywort virgin,
The top of the canal was mergin',
But with a push of a paddle,
And a bit of a waggle ,
The Long Pond was slowly emergin',

Amanda Covey

Boat Watch

The strangest vehicle ever to travel the length of the navigation? "Ish", a home-brew twin-hulled vessel normally based at Brightlingsea, locks up at Sandford on the 1st August, bound for Springfield Basin and having come the whole way by water!

On the 20th August a well-organised barbecue took place at Hoe Mill Lock, with many Trust members present. Gatherers were entertained by the singing and guitar duo 'Out 2 Lunch'on a purpose-built stage with lights and a sound system. Among many gazebos erected there the Trust's display and sales stand was present, attracting much interest. Hoe Mill lock itself was jammed with boats for the evening, many owners electing to stay the night to help out with tidying up and to return to their moorings the following day. Despite the number of sore heads during and afterwards, much jollity was had by all, some even taking part in an impromptu hay-bale-demolition contest at midnight! Special thanks are due to the Tea Room at Paper Mill Lock for contributing a large proportion of the refreshments in recognition of the efforts that Trust volunteers had made towards the removal of the Pennywort. A significant sum was raised at this event for Trust coffers.

On the same day a number of Sandford boaters had an all-day barbecue at the lock, with much goodwill being generated. Those same boaters will have noted that the house by the lock has changed hands. The new owner is reportedly boat-friendly, laying in 240volt mains power for boat use, with an 'honesty box'for contributions towards costs. Alterations are also taking place here in connection with improvements to drinking water supply and waste pump-out arrangements.

Reports are coming in of Sandford Lock upper gates leaking badly. One of the Sandford regulars noted that when the lock is empty there is so much water leaking in that two people are needed to open the lower gates with both paddles open. It appears that repairs will be needed here before too long. Traffic through Sandford was unusually heavy over the weekend of 20/21st August, with assistance being needed on the lower gates for much of the day.

On Saturday 27th August a flotilla of boats travelled westwards from Hoe Mill Lock, heading for Springfield Basin. At the same time a second flotilla travelled eastwards from Paper Mill Lock towards Heybridge basin. On the Bank Holiday Monday, the 29th, the situation was reversed, with each flotilla returning to its starting point. The surge in traffic caused chaos in particular at the Rushes Lock traffic black-spot, where queues, hold-ups and delays were the nature of things. Boaters were advised to avoid the area, stagger their journeys and to find alternative routes!

'Cafell'was in use daily during the summer holidays catering for the high numbers of customers appearing at Paper Mill Lock.

'Hobbit', one of the narrow boats, has changed hands and is now available for day or weekend hire by arrangement, being based at Paper Mill Lock. A new venture, 'Narrow Escapes', has been set up as its operator. Reportedly, 'Hobbit'is due for repainting this winter.

'River Orchid', another narrow boat, has also changed hands.

Some owners, and potential owners, are curious about where to advertise what they wish to sell and buy, and one opportunity is the notice board at Paper Mill Lock. Recently outboard motors and even complete boats have been advertised here with transaction values varying from a few tens of pounds to a few thousands. Further information on its use may be had from the office at Paper Mill.

In 'Coates Cuttings'recently a sailing yacht was pictured above Paper Mill and the only way this could have reached there is to have a facility for lowering its masts. Experiments have shown that if a boat can get under the road bridge at Paper Mill then it will get under everything else. If you are doing some additions to the upper regions of a boat then it is worth bearing in mind it will need to be collapsible.

Available headroom seems to be the technicality standing in the way of the 'New Cut'scheme proposed for Chelmsford. The scheme envisages a new waterway, passing the west face of the new Records Office in Chelmsford, to join Springfield basin to the rivers Cam and Chelmer above the weir, thereby extending navigation into the centre of town without the need to build a new lock. Observers point out that, though water supply to the Basin would be much improved, a new road bridge for access to the record office, a new footbridge to raise a footpath over it, and quite a lot of digging would be involved, though this is not the complete story. Part of Chelmsford's development plan recognises that the headroom below several bridges would need to be raised in the longer term, particularly the footbridge at the Meadows Shopping Centre over the Chelmer and the road round the back of Marks and Spencer over the Cam. At present, only a boat with little or no canopy can pass these, and the occupants would need to duck! Let's hope that, as bridge renewal and repairs become due, measures can be taken to increase the headroom throughout, because the presence of boats would add much to the attractiveness of the town.

By 'Yellow Ensign'

A special treat for the pennywort volunteers.

Of course, the pennywort war goes on and on. But we don't want to let it monopolise the contents of Coates' Cuttings. However, on Saturday 22nd October, members of the various weed-picking volunteer groups enjoyed a very sociable trip on the barge Victoria. This event was a present from Elliott Cox, the manager of the Paper Mill Tea Rooms, in order to show his appreciation of the hard work done by the volunteers.

About thirty of us (including some non-working partners) boarded the Victoria at 2pm on a pleasantly mild, dry and wind-free afternoon and set off down-stream to cruise to Ulting Church, returning to Paper Mill at 4pm. We could see traces of the dreaded weed below Rushes Lock but none of them was very large - Hooray! We were able to concentrate instead on the free refreshments (very tasty) and get a variety of drinks from the on-board bar. We also admired the skill of the boat's crew.

Mike Lewis

Passengers disembark at the end of the trip.

Bentalls Heybridge - Past and Present.

For many years the Bentall factory was a major feature on the north bank of the navigation in Heybridge, until the firm closed in 1984. In September of this year, Heybridge Parish council sponsored an exhibition of Bentall's history that was visited by more than 600 people. The necessary research was undertaken by Beryl Claydon, who wrote this account.

Heybridge in 1801 had a few cottages near Black Bridge, eleven farms and a population of 368. The greater part of Heybridge belonged to the Dean and Chapter since Saxon times. Today, the population is nearly 8,000 and there are one and a half working farms. The clue to the growth of Heybridge is the coming of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation in 1796. Heybridge became an inland port.

William Bentall, 1776-1836, a yeoman farmer in Goldhanger, invented a plough. It was so efficient that farmers asked him to make them one. This brilliant inventor and engineer stopped farming in 1795 and became a manufacturer of agricultural machinery in Goldhanger. He realised that raw materials could be imported and finished products shipped out by water and chose to locate his works on the banks of the canal in Heybridge in 1805.

His son, Edward Hammond Bentall, was a clever engineer and had a wide range of interests. He headed the firm for nearly fifty years and continued the expansion. His son, Edward Ernest Bentall managed the firm from 1885 to till 1946 when his son, Charles Bentall, succeeded him.

In 1914, the works covered fourteen acres and employed 600-700 workers. Bentalls became part of the Acrow Group in 1961. In 1984, the firm's order books were healthy and the factory successful when receivers arrived because the parent company had gone bankrupt. The works have disappeared but Bentalls was a family firm that concerned themselves with their workers' welfare, education and leisure. A legacy that is still evident

Bentalls provided houses for their workers, the first were built in the Square in 1815, the last in 1911-Springfield Cottages, and nine groups remain and are lived in today. A programme of selling these houses began around 1930.

The Industrial Revolution came to Heybridge through the development of Bentalls. Unskilled farm workers came to work in the factory and their descendants were trained by the firm and became proud, loyal employees.

The exhibition aimed to tell this story.

Beryl Claydon

More about Bentall's

The village of Heybridge owed its existence to its proximity to the canal. Indeed if the canal hadn't been constructed in 1797, Heybridge would have remained a tiny village at the head of the Blackwater creek and would not have become an internationally recognised centre for the manufacture of agricultural machinery. The original buildings of the village still remain; the mill house, the church and a line of old cottages.

Following the excellent exhibition to celebrate the bicentenary of Bentalls in Heybridge, which has been reported upon in these pages by the organiser and Trust member, Beryl Claydon, I made a visit to the Museum of Power at Langford where they had assembled a collection of some of Bentall's famous artefacts. Bentall's were an internationally recognised manufacturer of agricultural equipment.

The Goldhanger plough

Two of the prize exhibits were the famous 'Goldhanger Plough', one of the earliest examples of an iron plough, and the celebrated Bentall car. The latter was in magnificent condition having been lovingly restored by a family member. (a large number of the original Bentall family attended a former workers' reunion at the museum during the exhibition). The car unfortunately did not prove to be a commercial success, as the engine system was not as efficient as its competitors.
The last Bentall car.

There were several other examples of cast iron tools exhibited: the most interesting were the manually operated seed crushers which were sold all over the world, and an old framed photo of the canal.

The photo shows two bargees in the act of manoeuvring one of the barges into mid stream. The barge facing upstream bears the owner's name on the transom: 'E H Bentall & Co,'(just visible in the original picture). These barges were owned by Bentall's and were used to transport goods between their Heybridge factory and the port of Heybridge Basin.

As for the nature of the cargoes we can find this out from the port's 'Ships' Entry Book'for May /June 1902. The May entry shows that three ships unloaded cargoes in the Basin for EH Bentall & Co: the Aleyone carried 143 tons of coke and coals which took four days to discharge, the SS Sumus (a steamer) unloaded 260 tons of pig iron in three days, and the Sextus discharged 56tons of timber in one day. Pig iron was apparently easier to unload than coal, but it suggests very hard work. Further research might reveal how many men it took to do it. One could assume that the Aleyone and the Sumus came from the north east of England carrying coal and iron; the Sextus was probably a Thames Sailing Barge with timber from London.

The records show that Bentall barges also carried sand, loam, chalk and deals. Some visited the railway siding beside the canal at Maldon East Station to pick up pig iron and 'railway chains', thus showing that this siding, featured in a Coates' Cuttings, February 2005, issue 28, was used mainly for the transport of incoming goods from the railway. Coal was also transported from this siding to King's coal yard at Little Baddow.

One can see how one old photo can lead to many connections and can complete historic puzzles hitherto unsolved.

Dudley Courtman

Forthcoming Events 2006:
(firm dates to be advised later)
February - Talk by Doug Beard of Inland Waterways Association on their proposals for future of canal
May - a talk/visit to Langford Waterworks
June - a talk on cricket bat willows
July - boat rally/barbecue and entertainment at Hoe Mill
August - boat rally and entertainment at Springfield Basin
Welcome to new members:
Mr and Mrs Jonathan Garner from Braintree
Emma White from Brentwood
Anne Hunter and Roy Wilsher from Great Waltham
Tim Clayton and family from Little Baddow
Ian Bruce from Basildon.
Mark Hanson from Boreham
Steve and Mary Jones from Westcliff on Sea

Some useful phone numbers:

Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company;-
Hugh Turner- 01245 222025         Colin Edmond- 01621 853506
Ron and Judith, Blackwater Boats - 01206-853282
Environment Agency - 01376 572095

No articles may be copied or reprinted without the author's consent. 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 no liability can be accepted for any matter in the newsletter.

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