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Coates' Cuttings

The Chelmer Canal Trust's Newsletter April 2008 Issue 38
Registered Charity No 1086112.

Ulting Church, about half a mile upstream from Hoe Mill Lock..

In This Issue

Ulting Church's 'Christmas Puddings'
Boat Watch
Urban Art at Maldon
Trust Granted '10,000 from Awards for All
New Chelmsford Canoe Club Building
An Ancient Diary settles an Essex Dispute
'Staunches', 'Stanks'and 'Navvies'
New lock keeper required at Heybridge Basin
The Mystery of Sandon Brook Bridge
Nature Watch
"Unusual Sitings"
Events Diary Page

Ulting Church's Christmas Puddings

Christmas puddings are made from a variety of fruits and nuts bound together by flour, suet, milk and a little brandy. It's quite a rich mixture which, when boiled for several hours, makes a dense pudding - a modest helping will keep you going for some time!

You might be surprised to know that nature makes its own dense puddings by using all sorts of natural ingredients which set like rock: mostly flint pebbles rounded by river and wave action and a binding substance- silica cement,- drawn from surrounding rocks. This is followed by a long period of cooking in old river beds. The end result is a deep brown, round, hard rock containing many small stones. The 'naturally cooked' pudding- stones are one of the few naturally occurring rocks found in Essex and were much prized by our ancestors as a building material.

An inspection of the west wall of Ulting church (see photo below) shows how popular its use was. The round, brown boulders are used in a decorative manner bound together by a flint and sand matrix, together with a number of other small rocks: mostly quartz and sandstone erratics which were left behind by the waters of melting glaciers, and some light brown blocks of mudstone from the Essex London Clay.

Hertfordshire is the only other county where pudding stone is found but its puddings are on a grander scale. They can boast specimens up to ten times the size of those found in Essex. Indeed they are such weighty objects that a local folklore about their supernatural powers grew up around them. Hertfordshire church records tell us that in 1662 a woman, suspected of having been a witch, was buried with a pudding-stone laid on top of her coffin to prevent her escape!

If you are attracted by the supernatural you might, the next time you take a leisurely cruise , canoe or stroll past Ulting churchyard, wonder if there are any large pieces of pudding-stone buried there? Or you might reflect that Essex pudding-stones might be smaller than those in Hertfordshire but that our Christmas puddings are far superior.

Dudley Courtman

A close-up view of the pudding stones.

Boat watch

It seems a while since the last set of notes, and news items are in short supply, so let's see what we've got.

The winter season doesn't present the best opportunities for boating. Sometimes only the hardy can face it. 'Rocky's Roost'came up to Sandford on Christmas Eve. It was the only boat to do so that day. Reports suggest that it was riding up onto the surface ice, and then breaking it downwards!

'Camelot', another Sandford boat, set off for Paper Mill on Boxing Day, breaking up ice floes, though this time the rains had been such that levels were too high to pass through Cuton Lock. Instead the vessel was turned upstream instead, returning to Sandford after a Boxing Day lunch in Springfield Basin. Otherwise, apart from canoes, kayaks and coracles, the Boating Season proper began in late February, with a number of boats being seen en route to favourite fishing spots. 'Victoria'made her first charter trip during March.

There have been a number of improvements to towpath-side structures at Paper Mill. The towpath fencing has been altered so as to enable footpath widening work to proceed. The aim is to make the towpath wheelchair-friendly in this area. A number of gates have been renewed and a bridge replaced over the relief channel near the Lock House.

Further, the owners of the Lock House at Sandford have nearly completed putting up an outbuilding there, the style of which complements the house. Look out for it on your next trip through there.

Two narrowboats were advertised as looking for new owners during March. 'Mister Badger', one of the narrowboats to be seen at Hoe Mill, has left the Navigation for the time being and is currently based upon the River Nene.

The big item is the creation of Sandford Boatyard! On 23rd February, the narrowboats 'Blackwater Rose', 'Katy May', 'Ruddy Duck', 'Little Stint'and 'Camelot'were lifted out and placed on the bank above the Navigation on the south side, for anode replacement, bottom scraping(!), bottom blacking(!) and insurance non-destructive testing. The cruiser Daisy 5 was lifted out to a trailer as well, the owners of these boats all clubbing together to share the costs of a crane. The activities over the following three weeks attracted a great deal of interest, and the owners of the vessels were clearly relieved, as well as exhausted, when the above were lowered back into the water on 15th March resplendent in their new paintwork. 'Olive'the steamer and two cruisers 'Penniless'and 'Willow'were also lifted out on the 15th. Apart from the crane getting stuck in the bank-side mud, and being recovered with railway sleepers that were used to build a temporary route out of the quagmire, the rest passed without incident. This was a true, co-operative, team effort and a lot of friendships have been strengthened as a result.

'Bittern'went for a trip early in March, the Sandford 'raider'now has a new handrail and the maintenance barge 'Julie'has been spotted at various points.

Other than that, not a lot has been going on, so let's get boating now, and generate some interest for the walkers, cyclists, fishers and just general boat watchers in time for the next issue of Coates' Cuttings!!

By 'Yellow Ensign'

Urban Art at Maldon

Trust granted '10,000 from Awards for All!

Resulting from a successful grant application to the Awards for All section of the National Lottery, the Chelmer Canal Trust has been successful in gaining the maximum amount distributed through this fund - an impressive '10,000 - which will go towards the purchase of a multi-use boat which can be used by our volunteers.

Experience of the removal of the invasive American Pennywort floating weed from the Navigation has shown that teamwork is the key; having work-party participants both on the water and on the bank produces the most effective way of managing the weed. Work-parties frequently incorporate the use of the work boats owned by Essex Waterways Ltd and Canal Trust volunteers have already refurbished the Raider currently based at Hoe Mill and done repairs to the one at Paper Mill.

The Awards for All grant of '10,000, will enable the Trust, in conjunction with Essex Waterways Ltd, to bring a specialist, multi-use, vessel to the Navigation as well as purchasing more safety equipment and providing training.

The Water Witch Buddy is likely to be a great asset to our weed-clearing work. A number of design features are being incorporated into the boat we will be sharing with Essex Waterways Ltd to give it the maximum fitness for purpose on the Navigation. Stronger fendering, a front-loading ramp and a powerful, self-lifting engine are included in the specification.

Free floating weed can simply be scooped into a removable basket and deck plates mean that the boat can be used as a platform for a range of maintenance tasks. Whether the work-party's task is removing weed, clearing rubbish, installing waymarking posts, cutting back overhanging vegetation, or many of the other tasks our work-parties take on, the new boat should be a valuable asset.

Look out for the new boat being used on the Navigation by our Weedbusting volunteers during 2008. Incidentally, our trusty band of volunteers are a friendly bunch and always pleased to welcome more participants to our weed-clearing and maintenance work parties - check the dates on the Working Parties section of our website. All of our volunteers who skipper the workboats undergo specific training - if you would be prepared to look after a workboat during work-party sessions, and would like to take part in the training, please email Neil.

New Chelmsford Canoe Club Building

After six years struggling to get permission to build a new club house Chelmsford Canoe Club have started work on their present site opposite High Bridge. Everything is going according to plan now after so many false dawns. The late John Marriage, who founded the Chelmer Canoe Club and the Chelmer Canal Trust was heavily involved with the early negotiations. He had a lot of experience to draw upon, having helped build four former club headquarters over the last fifty years. It is gratifying that his efforts are at last coming to fruition.

Clubhouse under construction.

Many congratulations to the Club members for sticking at it. The new club house promises to be 'state of the art" in the latest changing and training facilities. It is highly commendable and impressive. It is also much larger than the previous clubhouse because the club membership has become very large.


The discovery of an entry in an sixteenth century memorandum book or diary of the Essex Quarter Sessions has settled a long dispute as to who is responsible for the repair or reconstruction of an ancient wooden bridge spanning a brook about half a mile from the village of Sandon.

Time after time the Essex County Council has suggested that the liability rested on the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company, which, in 1793, obtained an Act of Parliament to make the River Chelmer navigable from Chelmsford to Maldon, where it falls into the River Blackwater. The company repudiated liability.

The Quarter Sessions diary entry just discovered is dated October 4, 1565, and reads:

'Item we presente there ys a Bridge in Lyttel Badowe called Cowbridge to be decayed and broken in such sorte that no man can travel that waye in winter.'

Little Baddow is a parish near the confluence of the Chelmer and the Sandon Brook. The Essex County Council has accepted the entry as evidence that the liability cannot be placed upon the Navigation Company, and has decided to reconstruct and widen the bridge at a cost of about '1,250.'

We quote the above, with acknowledgements, from the Daily News of 12th October 1932, and take the occasion to remind readers that every highway, whether carriage way, bridleway, driftway or footpath, which can be proved to have been a highway before the 20th March 1836, when the Highway Act, 1835, came into operation , is ipso facto repairable by the inhabitants at large, that is to say in these days, by the highway authority.

'Staunches', 'Stanks'and 'Navvies'

River courses have always been used to carry heavy goods, probably from prehistoric times. They have been the life blood of many countries and Great Britain is no exception. The country's rivers were important communication links and their waters were harnessed to provide power.

The Norman Domesday Survey of 1085 records that our two rivers, the Chelmer and the Blackwater, were used extensively for milling. It is highly probable that these mills were in existence even at the time of the Roman occupation in AD 400 and that both rivers were used for the transport of heavy goods. The Romans named Chelmsford, Caesaromagus which denotes that it was a major port. Magus suggests a pre existing trading centre connected with the sea, in this case the Blackwater estuary. Recent discoveries have revealed a large Roman settlement at Heybridge on the banks of the river Blackwater. Many Roman amphora which hold several gallons of wine and which were too numerous and heavy to have been carried by road, have been found in and around the Roman settlement at Roman Road in Chelmsford. Writtle village, a little further upstream on the banks of the river Wid, a tributary of the Chelmer, was formerly a large Roman settlement which also could have been served by water transport. But how could this be because when we look at the river Wid today it is too shallow for boats and is used by children for paddling and fishing for tiddlers. The idea of it being able to float a laden boat seems fanciful to us but not to the Romans who would have benefited from studying the river works of other countries across their vast empire. They could have used 'staunches'to raise water levels.

'Staunches'were widely used around the UK to turn rivers into navigations. There is an example close to us, still in living memory, on the Suffolk River Stour. Before the Stour Navigation Act of 1705, authorising a series of locks to be built from Sudbury to the sea at Brantham, the river was already used by flat bottomed boats which penetrated as far as Clare some 45miles upstream. The evidence for this is the presence of non-local stone used in the building of the church, priory and castle there. A modest stream could be made navigable by building temporary dams to raise water levels. When a boat reached a shallow spot it stopped. The crew disembarked with planks, poles and mallets and constructed a dam behind the boat. When the water level rose they continued on their way as far as the next lot of shallows where they repeated the process. On the return journey they would release the water and 'whoosh'on down to the next one and so on. Over time the dams were made more permanent, and removable boards were placed in the middle of the river thus speeding things up considerably. Locally they were called 'staunches'because they effectively staunched the flow. This method was used to create other navigations like the Aire, Calder, and the Kennet. On the Stour, when the navigation was improved by the construction of locks, a combination of locks and staunches'were used which explains why the Stour barges always travelled in pairs so that they could maximise the use of the 'staunched'water. It was not so easy for those barges on the return journey to be met by a sudden 'flash'of water released from an upstream 'staunch'. The new locks were made 90 feet long to accommodate the barges in line astern and were called 'stanks'. One can only guess why this word was used. Perhaps it had something to do with a tank of water?

Canals - cuttings made between two points in virgin ground - had yet to arrive in England, and we had to wait until 1750 when the young Duke of Bridgewater was jilted by the Duchess of Hamilton, quite a beauty by contemporary accounts. He quit London society in a pique and overcame his disillusionment by working non-stop on his estate. The story from there on is a familiar one and fills the history books. Against informed advice he employed an ill- educated mill -wright, James Brindley, to build a canal from his coal mine at Worsley to the heart of Manchester, crossing, much to national wonderment and acclaim, the river Lune via an aqueduct. Brindley became famous over night and was in great demand from all over the country for similar projects as it became clear that the economic benefits were wonderful; the costs of transport and coal were lowered, canals could be built independently of rivers, and they were very profitable. Brindley subsequently became a celebrity who was notorious for his inflexibility and for not suffering fools gladly: he traveled around the country on his old horse carrying out in his words; 'ochilor surveys or ricconnitrings'.

Brindley's legacy is the miles of canal built in England from 1750 to 1770, when the American War of Independence and a subsequent recession dried up the money supply. One of Brindley's bequests to us was the size of his 'stanks'. According to a lot of people they did just that because they were too small and thereby constricted the size of barges -hence the building of narrow boats. Today 'narrow boats'can be seen occasionally plying their way along the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, used not as cargoes boats but as floating, Romany like, caravans.

It was the realisation in the late nineteenth century that constructing canals and new navigations was highly profitable that led to 'Canal Mania'The shares in the Birmingham Canal had risen from'130 in 1775 to '1170 in 1785. It was no surprise that in January 1793, the year when there were a record nineteen new canal Acts of Parliament, including the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, a contingent of prospective shareholders from Leicestershire turned up at Black Boy, in Chelmsford, to buy shares in the navigation proposed to join the town to the sea. We can only wonder how they travelled along the pot- holed and muddy roads in winter and where they all stayed when they arrived. Let's hope that they received a warm welcome, but if so it did not extend to the share sale as the Chelmsford Chronicle dated 18th January1793 tells us: ''.The subscription for this public work was immediately filled, principally by the gentlemen of the County: more than fifty persons attended out of Leicestershire, for the purpose of subscribing - but a preference being given to the inhabitants of Essex they were not able to procure many of the shares'.'

The 1790's was the heyday of canal building by the famous canal architects William Jessop, Thomas Telford and John Rennie. The latter, earned his reputation for his outstanding work on the Lancaster to Preston canal where he built the superb classical stone aqueduct spanning the river Lune. He was noted for the high quality of his masonry work and it was he who came to Essex to construct the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Things were made a little easier for him because at the time he was working on the neighbouring Stowbridge to Ipswich Navigation. In fact on its completion in 1794 he transferred 50 of his workforce of 200 "navvies" to Heybridge Basin (although at that time the village was only just emerging from Potman Marsh!) The descendents of some of them are still there today: the Clarkes, and the Woodcrafts for example.

The villagers living close to the proposed route of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation must have been dreading its construction because the navigation workers, 'navvies'had a fearsome reputation. They lived mostly out of doors in improvised shelters and were renowned for fighting, drinking and rioting. Indeed in Leicestershire the army was called in to quell rioting 'navvies': three of them were shot dead with several severely injured. One story is told of their being hired by a political party at election time in Cumberland to cause riot and mischief so as to influence the results. One would need to study the Essex court records of the period to find out if they lived up to their notorious reputation. Their output- digging ability- was formidable as they were professionals and were capable of moving over twelve cubic yards of earth a day, the equivalent of a hole six feet deep and measuring nine by six feet!

John Rennie didn't have to bother himself with controlling the 'navvies', as, like all the other canal architects, he employed a chief engineer to do that. Richard Coates based himself at Springfield, and it was he, together with the company secretary, who had to ensure that the project was properly managed, that the local farmers were consulted and assuaged, that disputes with land owners were settled, that materials and tools were supplied and made secure, and that fighting amongst the 'navvies'was kept to minimum. It all must have been quite a load!

In 1797 the thirteen and half miles of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation from Chelmsford to the sea was completed. Along its route the 'navvies'built five 'staunches'( the weirs at Cuton, Stoneham's, Rushes, Ricketts and Beeleigh) , and twelve 'stanks'( the locks at Springfield, Barnes, Sandon, Cuton, Stoneham's, Little Baddow, Paper Mill, Rushes, Hoe Mill, Ricketts , Beeleigh and Heybridge Basin) . We may no longer hear the words 'staunches'or 'stanks'but the 'navvies'are still hard at work building new navigations: our motorways.

Dudley Courtman

New lock keeper required at Heybridge Basin

Colin Edmond has been the keeper of Heybridge Basin sea lock for over 20 years. Since Essex Waterways Ltd took over the management of the navigation he has inherited the extra work of canal manager. This change meant that not only had he to discharge his duties as lock keeper which entailed being 'on call' at high tide 365 days of the year , he also had to carry out maintenance work on the whole of the navigation which previously had been done by a team six workers. Needless to say he rose to the challenge and coped impressively- he even somehow found time to help with Chelmer Canal Trust's weed clearing operations!

However, just to prove that he is not superman after all, he is giving up his lock keeping duties at Heybridge to concentrate (only!) on managing the canal maintenance programme and will be based at Paper Mill , Little Baddow. At least , being in the centre of things, he will halve the mileage he has to cover attending to 14 miles of canal!

Essex Waterways are looking to appoint a new lock keeper at the Basin . They need another Colin which is rather a tall order Their job specification requires: 'opening and closing the lock gates at appropriate times, oversight of over 110 moored boats, taking immediate and effective action to secure any boat in danger and to keep the owner informed'an extensive knowledge of all types of boats'.. the types of people who sail them, practical abilities 'to do everything that needs doing' without supervision, good administrative abilities and ideally have an offshore boating qualification. A strong commitment to inland waterways, a friendly outgoing personality and enthusiasm for IWA and its work through Essex Waterways Ltd on the Chelmer& Blackwater Navigation will be essential'.

This job description tells us what Colin has been doing, and makes replacing him rather difficult, but we hope that there is someone out there who fit's the bill. ( an information pack is available from the IWA Head Office).

The Chelmer Canal Trust would like to thank Colin for rising to a formidable challenge and for successfully carrying out all of his extra duties. We welcome his appointment as canal manager based at Paper Mill and look forward to continuing working with him. He can count on our full support.

Colin wading in the Feeder Ditch to Springfield Basin.

The Mystery of Sandon Brook Bridge

We reprint an article sent to us by member, Mark Hanson , which he extracted from the journal of the Commons Preservation Society Vol 3, 1933, page 25. See our comments below.

This is a very interesting article as it refers to a bridge which spans a local brook and involves the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company. The record in the 1933 Journal of the Commons Preservation Society dates back to the year 1565 when an item was recorded on October 4th in the proceedings of the Essex Quarter Sessions. The mystery raised by the report of a decaying bridge over Sandon Brook, which subsequently became the cause of a dispute in 1933 between Essex County Council and the Navigation Company , is, which bridge? One would assume from the record that it crosses the brook half a mile from Sandon village .

The only bridges spanning Sandon Brook which fit this description are: the road bridge that leads directly east to Danbury, and the one further downstream that carries the A414. It is difficult to see how either could have any connection with the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. The bridge that might fit the description carries the towpath over Sandon Brook at its junction with the navigation ; this seems more likely. Its junction with the navigation is a few metres downstream from the road bridge (Church Road) that links Great Baddow with Boreham.

Could it be that the 1565 record stating that the decrepit bridge was half a mile from Sandon village was wrong and it should have been three and half miles? Or was it that the names of the villages were mixed up and it should have been Little Baddow rather than Sandon? Support for Little Baddow as the correct one is provided by the fact the village at that time would have been centred around its church which is exactly half a mile away from the towpath bridge. Further support for this choice is the presence of a footpath which leads diagonally across a field to the church half a mile away.

In seems reasonable for Essex County Council to query the repair of a bridge which directly gives benefit to a private company who depend upon it for their horse drawn barge traffic.

The towpath bridge would have been built well before the Highway Act of 1836 came into operation, and possibly even before 1793 when the canal was constructed ,so in 1933 its maintenance was confirmed at the Essex Quarter Sessions as the responsibility of Essex County Council . One could assume that this judgement would apply to all the bridges that either cross the canal and possibly all, or some, of the towpath bridges.

Nature Watch

The first signs of Spring are appearing along the navigation: the ducks are all paired up with the females quaking furiously as one approaches; the swans are looking for nesting sites and the cob is looking threatening: the wild daffodils are blooming at Beeleigh. The catkins of the Alder trees are all dangling over the water; and the furry 'pussy'willow buds are starting to form.

Bankside daffodils at Beeleigh

marsh marigold taken growing on river bank

"Unusual Sitings"

This platform was spotted under a road bridge. One wonders what it is for. Presumably to assist some animal to avoid crossing the road? The height of it suggests that the animal doesn't like getting its feet wet! Any ideas anyone?

The next picture shows some new blue posts at the head of Springfield Basin. Where did they come from?

'Unusual Sitings' Old posts below Ricketts Lock.

General Events


Welcome to new members:

Roy and Mary Brindley from Bicknacre


Some useful phone numbers:

Chelmer Canal Trust - 01621 892231
Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation (Essex Waterways Ltd);-
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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