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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter October 2006 Issue 34
Registered Charity No 1086112.

Trust member Gary Patten receives an award from Chelmsford's mayor, Councillor Margaret Hutchon,  for his voluntary pennywort removal efforts.

Volunteer's Award.

Trust member Gary Patten receives an award from Chelmsford's mayor, Councillor Margaret Hutchon, for his voluntary pennywort removal efforts. (See the report.)

In This Issue

River Users' Group Meeting, 25 September
A Volunteer Award
Warning to all boaters
Boat Watch
Dudley's Recovery
Essex Waterways Ltd Advisory Committee
Still weedbusting
Poem: 'Gliding Along'
Members learn about trees
Chigborough News
Boyhood Memories on the River
Flooding in Chelmsford and Beyond
Events Diary Page

The River Users' Group Meeting on 25th September

The group met at the Civic Centre, Chelmsford; there were representatives from the Sea Cadets (SC), Chelmsford Canoe Club (CCC), the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), Essex County Council (ECC), Chelmsford Borough Council (CBC), the Environment Agency (EA) and the Chelmer Canal Trust (CCT). The matters discussed are listed below:

Supermarket trolleys
Concern was expressed about the continued dumping of trolleys in the river at Chelmsford. Although this practice has improved since the last prosecution by the EA it was felt that a similar action should be considered.

Warning Sign on Victoria Road Weir
The Environment Agency has relocated the sign further upstream to the metal footbridge. There are plans to move the sign again to a more prominent position

Mitten Crabs
The EA hopes to publish more information on the presence of this invasive species in the area. Any sightings of these as well as signal crayfish and terrapins should be recorded and sent to Peter Spurrier of Essex County Council (CCT members can notify their secretary). It was noted that the Natural History Museum could supply further information.

The Chelmsford Boat Rollers
RUG representatives held a site meeting at the boat rollers adjacent to the Chelmsford automatic weir. It was decided that these needed to be redesigned so that the entry point downstream is aligned to the rollers rather than at present where a sharp angle has to be negotiated. The intrusive tree on the site has been removed but dredging work has still to be carried out. It is hoped that the EA will take on this task under their flood prevention brief.

River Bank Clearance and Feeder Ditch
This is an annual event organised by Chelmsford Borough Council and is usually held in April. The canal, the feeder ditch to Springfield Basin, Springfield locks and the towpath are usually included in this. The Feeder Ditch is owned by Chelmsford Borough Council who undertakes to clear the weed growth. This is very important when the Basin in being used for boat rallies as a good flow is vital. The entrance opposite the Meadows would benefit from a sort of strainer being fitted as rubbish there also impedes the flow (the EA will investigate this further)

Canal Maintenance Programme
The Essex Waterways Ltd (trading company of IWA) confirmed that it is trading satisfactorily and that work had been completed at Sandford (new top gates and lower gate lock beam) and at Little Baddow (repairs to iron work on upper and lower control sluice gates). The next work schedule would involve Cuton and Stoneham's locks for which funding is being sought

Steps for Canoeists at Victoria Road Weir
Funding has been obtained and the work has still be carried out

World Scout Jamboree
40,000 scouts will camp in Hylands Park Chelmsford in the summer of 2007. Community based jobs are required for small groups over a seven day period between July 26th and August 8th. The possibility of them being employed for pennywort removal is being considered. A planning meeting will take place at the Chelmsford Civic Centre on October 16th. Any ideas on possible projects would be welcome - contact Carol Evans at CBC. 01245 606930.

Chelmsford Development Plan
The sea cadets and the canoeists were concerned that no progress appeared to have been made on this and the future of their sites opposite the Meadows is still unresolved.

River Emergency Hotline
A request was made for contact names from the Canoe Club and Sea Cadets so that any hazards identified by the CCTV control concerning the rivers could be quickly reported.

Springfield Nature Reserve
(Beside the Chelmer, opposite Anglia Ruskin University.) This is managed by a volunteer group with the assistance of CBC. A tree planting session is being planned for November to coincide with National Tree Week.

Bank Repairs on the Can
The eroded bank and protruding pipe just east of the railway viaduct will be reinstated. Canoe Club to be informed and advised to keep clear while work is in progress.

The Flood Protection Concrete Channel
It was confirmed that the planters over-hanging the wall in places would not be replaced and that alternative screening methods would be investigated so that the aesthetic character of the channel could be enhanced.

Pennywort Report
Peter Spurrier, the RUG project leader, reported that pennywort is still present in low quantities all along the canal.; volunteer work parties led by the Chelmer Canal Trust will continue their efforts to remove it for the time being; and that plans are being made to employ contractors during the winter to operate between Hoe Mill and the Basin.

The Black Shed at Springfield Basin
It was confirmed that this shed, a genuine relic of the canal age, was owned by Chelmsford Borough Council; it was thought that one day it could house a collection of canal memorabilia

The European Route of Industrial Heritage
It was reported by the IWA that the canal had been selected by Eupean Community as a European Route of Industrial Heritage. This designation was thought of publicity benefit to promote tourism

Dudley Courtman

A Volunteer Award

The Chelmsford based Volunteer Centre, who have supplied the Trust with volunteers for working on the canal and the pennywort, invited us to nominate someone for a Special Recognition Award at a reception hosted by the mayor of Chelmsford at the Meadows Shopping Centre
The Trust were very pleased to nominate Gary Patten for this award in recognition of his outstanding work on removing the pennywort. He, usually accompanied by his wife, Cheryl, and daughter, Rebecca, turned out at every working party -always the first one to arrive and last to leave. Nothing is ever too much bother to him. He has been an inspiration to all of us, and we are so pleased that his valuable contribution has been recognised by the Volunteer Centre. From all accounts it was a lovely evening and an excellent way to reward all volunteers.
Many thanks Gary for your hard work and for representing the Trust at this prestigious event, illustrated on our cover.

Dudley Courtman

Warning to all boaters

A recent article in the Times warns boaters about taking great care with the choice of paint for their boats' bottoms. The wrong sort can be very toxic to wildlife. Evidently over 90% of the water plant life in the Norfolk Broads has been destroyed by it. Although use of anti-fouling paint was banned in 1987 it is still present in the sediments which are stirred up by dredging from time to time. TBT (tributyltin) destroys the ecosystem because it is highly toxic to invertebrates such as molluscs and water fleas which keep down algae levels. Crystal-clear water is turned murky green. Once the tiny creatures are dead the algae chokes larger plants. David Hoare, Broads Conservation Officer, says:" This is a wake-up call to boat owners. Paints that release toxic chemicals are still in wide spread use - we urge boaters to reduce the impact on the waterways. Non-toxic paints are available"
We do not know if we have an anti fouling paint problem on the Canal. Perhaps no news is good news. However it is a timely reminder for all boaters to be vigilant and carefully inspect the paint used below the water line. After all they won't like to go boating on green smelly soup.

Another warning! You will see below in 'Boat Watch' a reference to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from gas refrigerators. Another similar mishap occurred to the occupants of a boat moored in Springfield Basin during the last weekend in September. So be very careful about ventilation!

Boat Watch

During early summer, a pair of swans was in residence about half a mile below Paper Mill Lock. Mr. & Mrs. Swan took time to look at a number of properties during their home-hunt, and finally settled for a self-build residence with good riverside views in a very sheltered spot on the north bank. Once the cygnets were well on the way, Mr. Swan took great exception at certain boats passing along the navigation and disturbing the youngsters, presenting an alarming display of wings, water and power, against which only the most determined waving of certain boats' dustpans presented any real deterrent. Occasionally he could be persuaded that all was well by the offer of bits of bread dropped into the water close by, and many boat operators resorted to this subterfuge of defence. Mrs. Swan took delivery of six cygnets this year, and has been out-and-about teaching them how to fish - disgracefully, in the 'close' season and without a licence either. At the time of writing five have survived.
A younger pair presented little hazard to navigation between Rushes lock and Ulting church, probably due to inexperience. Three offspring were seen in tow during June.

Some alarming news came to light recently with an important lesson to be learned from it. The overnight occupier of a boat on the navigation had a narrow escape when carbon monoxide released from a faulty on-board gas-powered refrigerator caused unconsciousness. Family members calling in the morning rescued the individual: being unable to obtain a response by knocking on the door, they broke into the boat just in time. The individual was immediately whisked off to hospital where, happily, a recovery was made that involved spending some time in a decompression chamber over the following week. Gas requires oxygen from the air to burn and produces, ordinarily, carbon dioxide (2 oxygen atoms), which is not particularly toxic though it does need to be expelled from the cabin. In cases where there is insufficient oxygen for complete combustion, carbon monoxide (1 oxygen) will be produced instead. Danger arises as blood corpuscles will take on carbon monoxide preferentially to oxygen and the body can't use it, so the body is starved of oxygen. Carbon monoxide is therefore highly toxic and is sometimes labelled the 'silent killer'. The hazard arises most significantly from the boat operator's perspective from gas-powered appliances. It is essential to have these in top working order at all times, so check them and their ventilation regularly and rigorously, particularly if individuals will occupy the cabin overnight. A good investment is a carbon monoxide alarm, which for the sake of a few pounds could save a lot of sorrow by alerting occupants early and before levels build up to the danger point. Is your boat as safe as it could be? Go and check. Now!

The summer often presents difficulties with sub-surface weed. A weed cutting boat has been out and about, though its activity was insufficient to prevent a number of boats getting overheated in and around the Ulting area in June. There are a number of things to watch out for in the bigger boat, one being the cooling water intake grille and the other being the ability of the secondary heat exchanger to pass the cooling water through. If either of these becomes blocked with mud or weed then overheating will result, requiring the boat engine to be stopped and the blockage cleared. Of course, air-cooled engines don't suffer this problem. More often, though, the propeller will become snared with larger strands of weed (not usually American Pennywort these days!). Usually a quick burst of reverse thrust is all that is needed to clear weed-infested propellers, though the wise boat operator takes a screwdriver and a junior hacksaw with spare blade as essential parts of the vessel's toolkit just in case, isolating the engine's starter motor before beginning the chore.

The towpath-side bottom gate at Rushes Lock went out of order during June, the paddle lifting pinion having wound itself off the top of the drive rack, causing the gate paddle to drop to its lowest extent and to let water by. This sort of thing presents difficulties and delays and is best reported at the earliest opportunity. A few days later the mechanism was reported as having been fixed and newly greased.

The annual Dragon Boat racing event took place at Paper Mill towards the end of June. After initial problems with car parking were resolved the event went off as successfully as last year though, subjectively, it was less well attended.

On 2nd July a most unusual event took place. The Navigation was used for a christening ceremony by a group of individuals from Zimbabwe. After initial concerns by local residents had been quelled the ceremony presented the most unusual sight and sounds to passing boaters and walkers.

A number of Hoe Mill boaters proceeded upstream to Sandford Mill on Saturday 1st July to the annual boaters' barbecue bash there. Part of the proceedings was a rubber duck race in Sandford Lock, with one of the Hoe Mill team winning the race. In response a number of Sandford boats travelled to Hoe Mill for the fun weekend bringing their ducks, run partly as a fund-raising event in aid of the Trust. The band 'Double Bluff'among others performed songs all Saturday evening to over 100 gatherers, most of whom had arrived by boat. Duck no.1 went missing during the evening and was held to ransom by person or persons unknown! On the Sunday more fun and games ensued. The Sandford duck race was repeated with much jollity and quite a few pounds raised for Trust coffers. Eventually duck no.1 found its way home though the culprits were never identified. Many boats were seen locking down to Heybridge and up to Sandford in convoy on the Sunday afternoon, with 'Victoria'getting in the way and causing chaos again. Quite what Mr. & Mrs. Swan thought of it all is difficult to say.

Isn't it wonderful when people don't take themselves too seriously?

by 'Yellow Ensign'

Dudley's Recovery

Our famously energetic Chairman, Dudley Courtman, suffered from a heart problem during the last year, but managed to stay almost as active as usual. Then, in July, he was subjected to a major heart operation, which brought him to a standstill for a couple of months. Now we are pleased to see that he is gradually returning to his previous capacity! The publication of this issue of our newsletter had to be delayed by a month from its nominal date, so that we could get our usual cluster of contributions from Dudley. And soon, we hope to see him back on the water!

Essex Waterways Ltd Advisory Committee.

The Advisory Committee was set up during the handover of the management of the Navigation from the Administrators to Essex Waterways Ltd (a trading Company of the IWA). The committee comprises Directors of Essex Waterways Ltd. (EWL), representatives of Essex County Council, Chelmsford Borough Council, Maldon District Council, the Environment Agency, the Company of the Proprietors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Ltd., Angling Societies and, of course, the Chelmer Canal Trust - in other words, key organisations having an interest in the future of the Navigation. The role of the committee is to advise on the continuing good management of the Navigation and its assets, and to ensure that EWL receives sufficient funding to perform the function adequately.

At the first meeting of the Advisory Committee on Friday, 29th September Roy Chandler, one of the EWL Directors, reported on progress over the first ten months during which EWL has had management responsibility. The good news is that the Company is in the black, by a small sum. An impressive amount of maintenance and refurbishment has taken place, although planned work on Cuton Lock has had to be allowed to slip back.

It is clear that the relatively fixed income from mooring fees and other income generating initiatives is insufficient to cover the expenditure needed. The support, particularly through funding, of a range of agencies was acknowledged, and agreed as vital to the future success of a navigable waterway. Of course, the more work that can be done at no cost, the easier it is to keep within financial balance The impressive amount of weed-clearing work done by volunteers of the Chelmer Canal Trust, and through grants managed by the Trust, was acknowledged with gratitude. The C C T does not intend finding itself solely responsible for the removal of pennywort, as the Trust's Aims and Objectives are much wider than this, but the more work that can be done by volunteers, the more money is available to spend on other aspects of maintenance. IWA working parties have also undertaken maintenance tasks which would have otherwise required the employment of contractors, or taking EWL-employed staff away from other duties.

Specific points that were mentioned, of concern to several representatives present at the meeting, were the issue of boats exceeding the four miles per hour speed limit on the Navigation (doing damage to banks and to moored boats) and the fact that the flood gates at Beeleigh were not always being closed by boaters (potentially putting areas of land, and houses, downstream at risk of flooding under certain conditions).

The nature of the meeting seemed to suggest a positive future with the various agencies working mutually supportively for the good of the navigation. It was agreed that the Advisory Committee would meet formally every six months, with the facility to share concerns and issues more frequently by email if needed.

Neil Frost (C C T Representative on EWL Advisory Committee.)


Trying to keep the Navigation free of the invasive American Pennywort weed has been a key role that the Chelmer Canal Trust has taken over the past few years. The weed, thought to have got into the Navigation in the Chelmsford area some years ago, has now colonised practically the entire length of the Navigation, including inlet and weir streams. A prolific species, which under the right circumstances doubles its volume each week, it has in the past grown across the entire Navigation causing problems for boat users, anglers and others. In order to use the Navigation, boats have to push through the weed - and it is not uncommon to find that the propeller of the boat has cut the weed up into smaller pieces. This weed debris can not only block cooling water inlets, but also form 'cuttings' which will grow into mature plants later in the season. Expensive fishing tackle has been lost by being trapped in the weed.

To get a good idea of just how extensive the problem was, take a look at the many pictures on the 'working parties' section of our Canal Trust website ( The challenges of keeping the Navigation free of weed are probably clear in the pictures. Our efforts have sometimes been Herculean! Huge rafts of weed have to be freed from where they have become attached to other vegetation and floated to places where the weed can be easily removed. One popular technique is to increase the flow of water by opening lock paddles and floating the weed into the lock where the solid edges make it easier for teams of volunteers to pull weed onto the bank. This cannot always be done, of course, because of distances from the locks.

For several years now, volunteers have met up on the first Saturday morning of the months from September to May, to spend several hours working along the Navigation removing weed. At some times of year this involves removing a large number of huge rafts of weed. At other times it can involve scouring the banks for the odd piece of weed here and there. In the summer months of June, July and August weedbusters spend a monthly mid-week evening removing weed.

We try to attack the weed using a range of techniques. It is really beneficial when we have people working from boats on the water - a couple of workboats allow large quantities to be taken on board. Volunteers in canoes play a valuable role both by removing pennywort from locations inaccessible to those in larger boats or on the bank, and also by floating rafts of weed across the Navigation to convenient places along the bank. People on the bank complete the teamwork by removing the weed brought across by canoeists, removing what they can access directly, catching small pieces which break away, and making the 'half time' refreshments.

Additionally, the Trust has received and managed substantial grant aid enabling the employment of contractors to remove weed. We can feel proud that our efforts over the years have ensured that the Navigation has remained navigable. We have managed to keep the problems caused by the weed to a minimum, and whilst American Pennywort seems now to be resident along the length of the Navigation, it is being kept below the levels it has reached in previous years when it has completely blocked large sections of the Navigation.

Partly because it is a pleasant way of spending a Saturday morning or a midweek evening, partly because it is good physical activity and partly because it contributes to keeping the Navigation open, volunteers turn up on a regular basis to 'bust the weed'. We always extend a warm welcome to new weedbusters.

However, the purpose of the Trust is not solely to remove American Pennywort from the Navigation. Now that the Navigation is being managed by Essex Waterways Ltd we feel that they have a responsibility to maintain the Navigation, including the removal of weed. Chelmer Canal Trust volunteers will, we are sure, want to continue to be involved in weedbusting, but we do not want that to be our sole responsibility.

Recently a 'Maintenance, including Weedclearing' Working Party has been set up to plan our approach to aspects of this work along the Navigation. Details of plans made by this working group will be available on our website and in future Newsletters. If you want to be involved in future weedclearing events and do not receive details by email or if you have a point of view about what the Trust's position should be, please email Neil Frost -

Neil Frost


On a warm June evening

Boarding the Victoria Barge

Remembering! Here at Paper Mill Lock

Gone the horse drawn barges

48 men! Women! Maddie a polio victim carried on board.

The boat invaded! The calm water

Gently creating ripples

Among giant buttercup lilies

Blue swordfish flies! Caress the water

A guard of honour! Green reeds stand tall

Complementing our eyes

Forget-me-nots, wild plants, age long trees

Ducks sheltering under foliage

Approaching 600-year-old Ulting Church

We see campers having supper

Reversing! Homeward bound

Dining! Prawns, pate, cheese, strawberries, cakes

How peaceful! To glide along

Red sunset! Mooring!

Having enjoyed nature's grandeur.

Patricia Turpin

Looking at cricket bat Willow

Members learn about trees.

Trust members had two opportunities to find out more about our local trees this summer.

The first was at the end of June; a group of members had a tour of JS Wright and Sons' willow depot. We learned which sections of the tree are used to make cricket bats, and what properties the manufacturers are looking for. We saw how the bats were prepared, graded and made ready for the bat makers of the world.
Just as important is how the trees are managed and harvested. The cricket bat willows take around 25 years from planting to harvesting. As they thrive near water, the banks of the Chelmer provide ideal conditions.

The second was the talk following our AGM given by Mark Hanson, who is a member of both the CCT and The Essex Field Club. His 'Celebration of Essex Trees'was a huge eye opener to those of us who take our trees for granted. As well as a lion's share of 'national champion'trees, Essex is the richest county for ancient woodlands. We were shown diverse examples of rare and interesting tree species. These included an example of a mature elm on the slopes of the Chelmer valley, which survived the decimation wrought by Dutch elm disease. The audience were struck by the dedication of the Essex Field Club in cataloguing our arboreal heritage in such detail, and long may they continue their work.

William Marriage

Chigborough News, August 2006

[Chigborough Lakes is an attractive Essex Widlife Trust nature reserve, about a mile north of Heybridge Basin. Its warden, Phil Luke, gave us a talk about it in October 2004 and a guided tour in June 2005. Here is his latest news about recent activity .]

Following a busy winter programme, summer work has mainly consisted of keeping the paths accessible to visitors. This means trimming back overhanging branches and keeping the grass under control. Fortunately, our grass-cutting machine (a Decimator!!) still continues to work well and it is possible to get round all the paths in a morning. However, the extremely dry weather reduced grass growth considerably, which makes the task a lot easier. Before we had this machine, we relied on a brush-cutter which made very slow progress, and the paths often became difficult to negotiate. It is perhaps easy to forget how much access to the reserve has improved over the years. .
However, the hot weather also has its negative effects. We had 19 ewes grazing the eastern meadow in June, but had to be taken off when the grass dried up. Nevertheless they have done a good job and it is possible that mechanical grass-cutting will again not be necessary this year. I would like to record my thanks to the `sheep wardens' who kept an eye on them during their stay. The western meadow has been grazed by local ponies, but these are much more selective grazers than sheep and this area will need a bit of rehabilitation to get it back into shape.

There have been a number of plant records recently. Perhaps the most interesting is a member of the carrot family which has appeared near the orchid area and a number of other places. Unable to key it out convincingly I sent some photo's to a botany email group. Their verdict was something called Corky-fruited Water-dropwort, but as there was only one record of this in N.E. Essex, I thought it unlikely. However, an on-site second opinion agreed that it was! Apparently this plant has increased considerably over the last year or two and is believed to be spread by grass-cutting machines. When I knew this it became obvious that the plant was growing in places that the Combi had been cutting recently. The plant is toxic to sheep but fortunately their grazing area did not need to be cut.

A Great White Egret caused a bit of a stir in the bird world by roosting with the Little Egrets on the east bank of Main Lake which resulted a flurry of twitchers arriving to see it. One apparently travelled 200 miles but failed to see it! It was quite a job finding a space in the car park on the Sunday after it was noted on Birdline, but it disappeared during the morning. However, a few days later, in the evening, there it was in full view - and not a twitcher in sight! The Little Egrets continue to be very numerous with counts of 30 or more on some occasions. The Kingfishers are also doing well and have nested in the bank near the `bird hide' on the southern edge of Main Lake. I see that someone has even set up a perch from the bank here, no doubt to give some good photo opportunities for these lovely birds. They have also been seen at the opened-'out pond mentioned in the last newsletter. This would not have been possible before we carried out the work as the pond was very much closed in by surrounding trees and scrub.

In one of the earlier newsletters I mentioned the owl box which was put up on the edge of the reserve by the neighbouring farmer. A regular visitor has been keeping an eye on it to see if it was being used. It turned out that in fact it was - not by the intended occupants but by a family of grey squirrels!!! Not what we intended. The kestrel box in the eastern section of the reserve has had some interest taken in it but no occupation as far as is known.

Also on the down-side, a Red-eared Terrapin (Chrysemy.s scripta) has been seen on the reserve, which is definitely NOT good news

Phil Luke

Boyhood Memories on the River

In the 1940's Chelmsford was a country town with very few cars. Children played in the streets and wandered everywhere exploring.

For boys, fishing was a favourite pastime. My friends and I graduated from stick, string, bent pin and worm, to more sophisticated tackle. When we had saved up enough pocket money, off to Leeches in Back Street we went. What an Aladdin's cave! Here, staked in neat rows, were row upon row of fine greenheart cane rods of all shapes and sizes; next to them, glass cabinets displaying ferocious looking pike and fat chub, as well as trays and trays of lures, hooks weights, reels and lines. And there were the guns. Polished barrels and buts and pannier bags, amongst which were perched replica duck and pigeons. It was the ultimate hunters' armoury and where you could be dressed up warmly with camouflage and waterproof clothing from top to toe. The most us boys could hope for was to soak up the atmosphere and fantasise on the trophies awaiting us as we bought our delicate, golden, size sixteen, barbed hooks neatly coiled in plastic bags. Along with a handful of live white maggots scooped up from heaving mass in a metal bin we were ready to go!

We never attained the sophistication of today's equipment and had to make do with odds and ends acquired from friends, or found, begged and borrowed, and sometimes borrowed without permission. Armed with our home made weaponry and maggots we would cross the Baddow Road, over the iron railings that boarded the buttercup meadow, and position ourselves under the silver birch trees on the bank side. It was here that the river deepened and swelled before it reached the weir above Moulsham Mill. (Now the natural splendour of the river lies buried under shops and car parks.)

On this particular day I had borrowed the top joint of my fathers rod, having carefully extricated it from the brown canvas rod cover that was in the garden shed- he would never know as I would pop it back later, This split-cane bendy length of rod would enabled me to cast a float and baited hook into the middle of the stream where the gudgeon and stickle back swam- we had no reels and the line was tied on the end of the rod. We fished away happily. When jam jars were full of sorry looking specimens, and we were feeling hungry, it was time to pack up. The final act was to empty the catch and fling the surplus bread crusts to the furthest reaches of the river. Before that just one more energetic cast to catch the monster of the deep that I had always dreamed about. But then disaster struck! The beautiful top joint popped out of its improvised holder and landed in the water close to the far bank! What could we do? The only possibility was to search for stones, clods of earth and sticks to throw beyond the precious cane thus creating a ripple which would drive it back towards us. Needless to say our over enthusiasm in such a dire emergency led to some poor marksmanship and the treasured top joint slid further and further away from our grasp. Just as we were about to concede defeat and succumb to disconsolate despair the gods took pity on us, for who should appear at that moment but their messenger dressed in the guise of a dog walker. Assessing the seriousness of the situation at once he ordered his faithful beast 'to fetch'. We watched with mounting incredulity as the dog, without a moment's hesitation, plunged in and swam strongly to the opposite bank, grasped the top joint firmly in its strong jaws, and swam purposefully back to his master's feet. Our joy was unconfined, especially mine!

Dudley Courtman

Flooding in Chelmsford and Beyond

As you drive around the Essex lanes you will see a number of elevated, somewhat neglected, walkways adjoining bridges over rivers, streams and ditches. It doesn't seem that there is much use for them these days as floods are a rare event, and even when they do occur very few people use the walkways: they appear to be a thing of the past. It makes you wonder how important they were Was it because floods were more of a regular occurrence and pedestrians and cyclists had to use the lanes more to get to work or make deliveries -'the mail had to get through at all costs'. A Chelmsford resident told me that when she went to school at Trinity Road School in Chelmsford in the early1900's duck boards were regularly placed each winter at the bottom of Springfield Road so that the children didn't get their feet wet. Floods now are perhaps not what they used to be? It could be that with the modern land and river drainage systems, and the installation of automatic flood control weirs, all the flood water is speedily discharged into the sea, there is nothing to worry about.

It is safe to assume that the lower parts of Chelmsford, the Springfield and Baddow Road area, always flooded before the construction of Chelmsford's flood protection channel and weir. As our photo shows, the town centre opposite Woolworth's is flooded out. This was in September 1958 when a long period of wet weather was followed by a heavy downpour which the land couldn't absorb. You can see that it was summer 1950's in the photograph by the delivery boy on his bike, and the cyclist in his shirt sleeves. You may spot some other clues?

The height of this flood can be measured quite accurately from the photo of the old stone bridge which links Moulsham Street with the High Street. You can see how easy it must have been to wash the earlier wooden structures away - the pressure and volume of water is immense. The bridge was built in1788 with this in mind. You can see that the bridge itself forms a formidable dam which could cause flooding upstream.

The photo taken from the north side of the old Bailey bridge (built in World War II) looking towards the gas works, shows the vast area of the submerged Kings Head Meadow. At the time it was used as a car park - you can just discern the roadway and the regulatory notice boards. One unfortunate owner has left his car there over night not expecting 'the tide to come in.'You can tell it's a summer flood because the trees are in leaf, the girls are having a paddle, and the boys are wearing short trousers. (The huge gasometer on the right has now disappeared - along with the short trousers!).These days the Chelmsford flood protection channel and weir occupy centre stage in front of the gasworks, and the Bailey bridge has been moved across the meadow to bridge the Chelmer, not the Can as it did previously; it now provides pedestrian access to the new Essex Record Office. A new road bridge has been built, High Bridge, to link the Baddow and Springfield Roads-'high'is the operative word, as it has to cope with unexpected floods, and the architects had obviously been guided by our 1958 photo of the half -submerged old stone bridge!

Despite all these measures flooding could still return to Chelmsford. Recently a flood very nearly breached the wall protecting the Meadows shopping centre. As the local press reported at the time it was a close run thing. The flooding threat was caused by the jamming of one of the automatic flood gates and the difficulty of gaining access with heavy lifting equipment to quickly repair it. The rationale of the Chelmsford flood protection scheme is to get flood water through the town as fast as possible. The rivers Can and Chelmer are diverted into concrete channels with high walls with an automatic weir at the end to control flows. But if the gates won't open properly the 'flood control'element is lost.

Barnes Lock
Barnes Lock

The flood plain below Chelmsford, the Baddow Meads, is very broad and forms part of Chelmsford's flood prevention strategy- the flood waters spread out harmlessly over the wide plain. The residents living close the plain's edge downstream at Sandford are not too pleased by this solution because their flooding has got worse over the years. Also, as the photo taken just below Barnes lock, clearly illustrates, the tow path of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, as in the past, still floods.

If there is a message to be learned from these observations it could be that, with the onset of global warming and the disturbed weather patterns associated with it, there will be more rain than in the past. When it falls by the bucketful, and the automatic flood gates stick, that will be the time to reinstate the duck boards in Springfield Road and refurbish our neglected board walks along the Essex lanes.

Dudley Courtman

This map shows the wiggly routes of the two rivers through Chelmsford town centre, in the 1940's and earlier. The straighter present routes resulted from the flood prevention scheme of the early 1960's.

General Events

IWA Social Programme
CCT members may be interested to know about the planned monthly social meetings held by the Chelmsford Branch of the Inland Waterways Association. They will all be held at Moulsham Mill, Parkway, Chelmsford. The hall is open at 7.45 for 8.00 pm start. The following list states the date, title, speaker and subject of each meeting for the next six months.
14 Sept 2006.Essex Air Ambulance.A representative from the Essex Air Ambulance will talk about its work.
12 Oct 2006.The River Stort.Richard Thomas talking about that river.
9 Nov 2006.Essex Waterways Recovery Group.Bob Crow and Dave Dobbin talking about the work of that group.
14 Dec 2006.Christmas Social. 
11 Jan 2007.Disability Boating Needs.Les Hunt talking about the work of the Harlow based Canal Boat Project.
8 Feb 2007.Ipswich and Stowmarket Navigation.John Finch; an update on the progress of restoring the navigation.

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 Boat Trips- 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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