Stock History
By Charles Phillips
1. The Chelmer and Blackwater canal is still owned and maintained by the same company that built it - (The Company of The Proprietors of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Limited). - thought to be the only fully navigable canal in England still controlled by the original company that built it.
2. Although Chelmsford's origins go back to Roman times, modern Chelmsford grew up after the Norman Conquest as being at the central position between London and Colchester.
3. Reason why the canal was built- to enable goods to be more easily transported to Chelmsford - roads were not in a very good state- Chelmsford to Maldon not turnpiked until 1726 - 1730 - Chelmsford region was reckoned to be sending 2,600 tons of farm produce to Maldon quay by 1,900 waggon journeys and receiving 1,500 waggon loads of coal amounting 2,500. - some think this was an underestimate 1770s - about 10,000 tons of goods traversed the road - road went over Danbury hill -costs as well - 1765 Thomas Yeoman price of goods in Chelmsford brought by wagons 6 shillings a ton - by water including tolls 4 shillings and 6 pence a ton - also whilst a horse could pull a heavier on iron rails than on a road - it could haul an even heavier load on water than on iron rails - and the first public railway was not opened in 1803 and railways didn't take off until the success of steam power at the beginning of the 1830s.
4. First proposals to passing of act - 1677 - Andrew Yarranton - cost £8,000- came to nothing - opposition from Maldon - 1730-1733 - John Hore - two schemes - one improvements to river costing £9,355 and other entirely new channel costing £12,870 support from Chelmsford - opposition from Maldon - reason - fearing transfer of trade to Chelmsford - 1765 Thomas Yeoman carried out survey for making river navigable - support not only from Chelmsford where the benefit would be most felt but also Roothings and Dunmow and Sir William Mildmay of Moulsham Hall- opposition Maldon fearing loss of trade and income and jobs derived from tolls, harbour dues and wharfage - leading campaigner John Strutt whose son had just succeeded him as MP for Maldon - also millers fearing loss of water to operate their water wheels in particular at times of drought - support for stronger than opposition against - act passed 1766 to make river navigable from Maldon to Chelmsford - for boats to be able carry cargoes of up to 30 tons- main wharves and warehouses to be Fullbridge Maldon and Moulsham Bridge Chelmsford- work to be carried out within 12 years and no work to begin until estimated costs of £13,000 subscribed - money not raised - 1772 - one Peter Muilman of Stapleford Tawney proposed to revive the idea of making the Chelmer navigable - apparently with few or no locks at all - Muilman didn't disclose how he intended to cope with the fall from Chelmsford to Maldon without any locks - amongst others Lady Mildmay gave her backing to the scheme -it was very unusual for if not unique for a woman in those days to support a scheme - nothing came of it - 1792 fresh scheme prepared under leadership of 9th Lord Petre of Ingatestone and Thomas Branston MP of Skreens, Roxwell - to overcome Maldon's opposition and because a survey had revealed that colliers could not unload at Fullbridge Maldon, but transferred their cargo to lighters at Colliers Reach some distance below town on the Blackwater Estuary - at a parliamentary enquiry a ship captain proved that only at springtides could vessels of 50 tons reach Fullbridge at Maldon, whilst Colliers's Reach was quite adequate for 200 ton colliers and Norwegian timber ships as well as being outside of the Maldon borough bopundary and at the same time striking the estuary at highest point which heavily laden ships could penetrate without having to transfer part of their cargo over the side into lighters - a bill was promoted which became an act for a canal from Colliers Reach to Heybridge to join Blackwater which was to be canalised to near Beeleigh Abbey where a junction would be made with the Chelmer - at Chelmsford it was thought that there would be problems with the Mildmay entail (land) - a short cut would connect canal bain with river below Moulsham Mill- act passed 17th June 1793 - costs estimated at £40,000 with right to raise a further £20,000- act named 147 proprietors some of the surnames of whom are still to be found in the area today even though many of the original subscribers came from Leicestershire- rejoicing in Chelmsford - cheering crowds gathered in the town, beer was distributed to the people, church bells rung and bonfires lit in the street whilst the more well to do met for a more genteel celebration in the Black Boy inn which stood at junction of High Street and Springfield Road
5. Construction to opening of canal -first meeting of proprietors 15th July 1793 in Black Boy inn - construction started in October1793 under general direction of canal engineer John Rennie who was also responsible for the Kennet and Avon Canal - many of the locks and bridges are of similar design to those on the Kennet and Avon canal - John Rennie is reputed to have visited the site only five times - actual survey carried out by Charles Wedge with a further survey by Matthew Hall - the resident engineer was Richard Coates who came from Marske near Richmond in Yorkshire - after the completion of the canal Coates settled in Chelmsford and set up his own carrier business on the canal - he became a very successful businessman and amongst his profitable enterprises was the setting up of the Chelmsford Gas Company - he died in 1822 aged 59 - his carrier business was taken over by his nephew James Brown - length of canal 13 miles and 7 furlongs - 13 locks - 12 locks down from Chelmsford - dimensions 17 feet wide by 68 feet long able to accommodate barges 60 feet long by 16 feet wide with carrying capacity of 25 tons and having a maximum draft of 2 feet - the shallowest in the country -reason for dimensions of locks unknown but possibly to enable lighters in use on estuary to penetrate navigation - the fall from Chelmsford to Maldon was 79½ feet - sea lock at Heybridge Basin built to take vessels of capacity of 300 tons up to 107 feet long by 26 feet wide with a draft of 8 feet- most of locks, bridges and lock houses built of bricks made at Sawpit Field, Boreham and Ulting - locks bridges and wharves capped by Dundee Stone noted for its hardwearing capacity- there was a continuous towpath from one end of canal to the other bridging streams and side canals as necessary - a particular feature were self closing towpath gates built as a smaller version of more common farm gates - they were mounted at an angle to their posts in pairs at every field boundary to prevent cattle straying from one field to another - however Maldon did not lie down during the construction of the canal - it called in one Benjamin Henry Latrobe who had worked under a rival to Rennie - Latrobe submitted two reports - first in 1793 recommended deepening of the Blackwater and straightening its course as far as Fullbridge where the Maldon to Heybridge road crossed the river - the second in 1794 improved on his earlier proposals and this together with a suggested improvement of the Blackwater upstream to its junction with the Chelmer were incorporated into a petition to parliament on 3rd March 1794 - the proprietors of the navigation realised that if this proposal was accomplished it would mean that their expensive cut from Beeleigh to Heybridge and the Heybridge Basin itself would be valueless and so it opposed the petition which was dropped - the canal opened in stages - the first section opened was in the spring of 1796 on 23rd April from Heybridge to Hoe Mill between Woodham Walter and Ulting - in the same spring of 1796 a coal yard was opened by a firm of Maldon merchants (Messrs Blyth and Coates) at Ulting Hall from which he served coal brought by collier from Sunderland to Colliers Reach and thence up the first stage of the navigation which had opened from - on 23rd April 1796 the first collier (Fortunes Increase)sailed into Heybridge Basin carrying 150 chaldrons of coal which were delivered to Messrs Blyth and Coates by the navigation - on 28th April 3 wagons loaded with coal from a Boreham coal yard stocked by the navigation reached Chelmsford - on 26th April a barge laden with nearly 150 sacks of flour from Hoe Mill preceded to Colliers Reach whence the flour was taken to London for the London market - by 3rd June 1796 the navigation was open as far as Little Baddow lock and wharf and advertisements appeared in the local press offering coals for sale there - three weeks later it was announced that as coal merchants had reduced their prices by 2 shillings per chaldron there would also be a reduction at Baddow wharf - September 1796 two barges of foreign wheat reached Moulsham Mill near Chelmsford - 3rd June 1797 opened to terminus at Springfield Basin in Chelmsford - one effect was a great reduction in cost of coal in Chelmsford and surrounding area which was of benefit to the poor - the total cost of the canal was £52,000
6. Proposals for extension and Braintree canal proposal - there were a number of proposals for extending the canal - John Phillips writing in his Inland Navigation in 1805 says that they wanted to extend the canal through the Roothings to Dunmow and another source mentions the Dunmow proposal with a branch to near Ongar - in 1790s there was a proposal for a canal from Maldon to Braintree along the Blackwater and this put up property prices along proposed route - in 1805 the plan was recommended as likely to accrue the same advantages as those of the Chelmer and Blackwater - there was another canal connected to the Chelmer and Blackwater - Langford Cut was dug in 1793 (4 years prior to the C and B) was used to transport wheat from a mill in Langford to the river - last barge to use the canal was in 1881. when it transported 100 quarters of wheat to the mill on 9th August - one short branch to the canal - a half mile tidal canal leaving Chelmer at Beeleigh and terminating at Langford Mill on Blackwater - originally known as Mr Westcomb's navigation because it ran through his land to the mill - the C and B sliced through the little canal after some initial disagreement the lower section running into the Chelmer was banked off and the upper part incorporated as a branch of the C and B becoming known as Langford Cut and until coming of railway was used extensively by Langford Mil of the import of coal and export of flour
7. Development of canal traffic - according to John Phillips the inhabitants of Chelmsford and the neighbouring country would be materially accommodated by a cheap carriage for coal and the farmers would benefit from their corn being shipped to London at a trifling expense for instead of their of teams of horse going the 12 miles to Maldon on very bad road they could now be employed on the farm - canal conveyed coal - timber - grain -stone -agricultural machinery - businesses moved near to the canal - for example Bentall the iron founder of Goldhanger moved to Heybridge in 1805 to take advantage the canal offered - in 1819 a gas works was built in Chelmsford supplied by the canal - the first inland gas works in Britain - just downstream of Hoe Mill Britain's first sugar factor was established in 1832 - one existing industry that would have benefited from the canal would have been the paper mill at Paper Mill lock - the first place in Essex where paper was produced, in 1792 there were two mills here, one for grinding corn, the other for pulp rags - to give an example of the amount of traffic carried in 1838 47,295 tons of goods were conveyed on the canal to Chelmsford - in 1830 the price of shares in the canal was £5 and 5 shillings paying a dividend of 5 shillings - other examples of dividends in percentage - 1811 2½% - 1818 - 5% - 1828 - 5% - 1838 - 4% - according to Joseph Priestley in his Navigable Rivers and Canals in published in 1831 tonnage rates were in 1831 coal 2d per chaldron per mile - stone 1d per ton per mile ditto lime for manure, chalk, dung and other manures - wheat, barley, rye, peas, beans and tares were a halfpenny per quarter per mile,- oats, malt and other grain or seeds were a farthing per quarter per mile - meal or flour was a farthing per sack of five bushels per mile- all other goods, wares and merchandise was two pence half penny per ton per mile - stone, sand and gravel for the repair of roads of townships other than turnpikes through which the canal passed were exempt from tolls provided it wasn't carried five miles and did not pass a lock except at such times as when the water flowed over the gauge, paddle or waste weir of the lock - vessels twenty tons were not to pass locks without leave or without paying the tonnage to that amount - wharfage rates were three pence per ton for chalk, lime or other manure provided it remain no more than six days - for all other goods for the same period it was one shilling - if anything remained longer than six days the charge was six pence per week in addition coal was exempt from wharfage rates as was goods remaining less than twenty four hours - milers on the navigation were restrained from drawing their mill ponds more than21 inches below the height of a full pond -an interesting use of the canal was in 1819 when the heavy pieces of artillery that were intended to defend Chelmsford in the event of an invasion during the Napoleonic wars were removed from their emplacements at Galleywood Common and Widford for transporting to London- they were taken to the public wharf and thence down the canal to Heybridge Basin and thence by ship to Woolwich Arsenal - there is evidence of passengers being carried as Pigot's directory of 1832-33 in the entry for Chelmsford includes within its list of conveyances lighters of thirty tons burden on the river Chelmer to Maldon daily - although not mentioned there was obviously a similar service from Maldon - similarly photographic evidence exists of excursion trips on the canal - canal was not without problems - in December 1797 heavy rainfall caused serious flooding and shoals were formed to the extent that barges were impeded and coal stocks depleted in Chelmsford - this problem increase with every flood until on 20th March 1799 a meeting at a meeting of the navigation committee a resolution was passed that the navigation appeared to be particularly defective between Paper Mill lock and Hoe Mill lock in that shoals occurred there after every flood and the navigation became impassable and of late had only been navigable by vessels carrying ten tons and therefore something needed to be done - decided that Lord Petre go and see John Rennie and tell him about the defects - John Rennie to his credit accepted the defects and said that he would rectify them - which seems to have been done - in 1805 millers at the six mills on the navigation , Moulsham, Barnes, Sandford, Little Baddow, Paper and Hoe complained about the loss of water used by barges passing the locks near each mill and requested damages - Rennie was engaged again and recommended improvements costing £4,918 for settling differences with millers - despite these efforts millers were still trying to get satisfaction
8. Surviving competition form railway - the railway from London to Colchester reached Brentwood in 1840 and Colchester in 1843 - the canal was used for the conveyance of material for the construction of the railway - in 1845 there were three proposals for railways to Maldon - one from Witham as part of a line that also had a line from Witham to Braintree one from Luton to Maldon via Hertford and Chelmsford and one from Chelmsford to Maldon - the Luton to Maldon via Hertford and Chelmsford and Chelmsford to Maldon lines were rejected by parliament whilst the Braintree to Witham and Maldon proposal was approved and opened in 1848 - had either of the two rejected proposals been passed it is likely that the canal would have died as the routes of them from Chelmsford was parallel to the canal - it is not impossible that the railway from Chelmsford to Maldon would still be open today and the canal would be like a river - by not being in direct competition with a parallel railway initially it was easier to bring coal and wood for example direct from a ship in Maldon to near the centre of Chelmsford rather than go via Witham to a slightly inconveniently situated goods yard in Chelmsford - be wrong to say though that railway did not cause a decline in traffic - 1896 there was another possibility of a railway from Chelmsford to Maldon - this was a branch line from Ongar through Chelmsford and Maldon to the mouth of the River Colne where it was proposed to construct a deep water harbour from a projected railway from the Great Northern Railway at Holloway via Stoke Newington, Walthamstow, Chigwell, Ongar, Dunmow, Bury St Edmunds and Wymondham to Norwich. The proposal seems to have been backed by the Great Northern Railway. Nothing came of this. Canal Dividends 1848 3% - 1858 3% - 1868 3¼% - 1920 1½% - in 1927 coal ceased to be carried ironically the Witham to Maldon branch line closed in 1966 - from 1953 horse drawn barges began to be replaced by diesel barges - canal was not nationalised in 1948 as it was not included in the canal control scheme operated during the second world war - whilst competition between the railway and the canal was great there was some cooperation between the railway and the canal - at Maldon a special siding was built so that sea coal and other goods intended for Witham and Braintree could be off-loaded from barges into railway trucks belonging to the railway which thereby acted as a branch to the canal in supplying raw material to both Braintree and Witham. Later the same railway wharf was used to float materials down to Bentall's factory at Heybridge - by early 20th century after the canal ceased to carry coal Heybridge Basin lock had become to small for the newer coastal steamers to enter it instead timber was transferred to old dismasted Thames sailing barges near Osea Island which were towed into Heybridge Basin and the timber reloaded into the canal barges - in 1960s Heybridge Basin lock was lengthened to 130 feet so that motor vessels could once again enter into it
9. End of commercial traffic and start of leisure traffic - commercial traffic finally ceased in when Brown and Company of Chelmsford who were a large builders merchants and imported timber from Finland and Russia via Maldon were taken over and the use of the canal for the conveyance of the timber was discontinued - in future the boats would unload at Colchester and the timber carried to Chelmsford by road - thus it was not steam on steel rails that defeated the canal but diesel power on rubber wheels - other than canoes recreational craft were rarely allowed on the canal until after 1973 - after 1973 the canal company opened the canal to leisure craft and even purchased their own charter vessel the Victoria - 1973 London and South East Branch of Inland Waterways Association held their 1973 rally at Chelmsford - this was a great success - afterwards Chelmsford Committee reconstituted as a branch of the Association - theoretically there is nothing to stop the canal being used again for commercial traffic
10. Boats - -they were open boats - that is having no cabin - another term for them is Day Boats - originally made of wood and horse drawn - first diesel powered boat 1953 Susan - although not entirely successful in1955 company decided to replace horse drawn barges with diesel powered barges - later barges constructed of steel - trip in each direction in horse drawn days took twelve hours which gives an average speed of just over one mile per her hour-in early days there was an over night stop at Paper Mill lock where there were bothys or bunk houses for the men and stables for the horses - this system was eventually discontinued and Heybridge men brought a barge from Heybridge to Paper Mill Lock and exchanged there with Chelmsford men for one that the latter had brought from Chelmsford - thus both crews could return to base each evening - boats had a crew of two - one leading the horse and one steering which they took in turns - diesel barges also had a crew of two - with diesel barges the engine was of the outboard motor type as in an outboard motor on a small - but rather larger - diesel were somewhat faster than horse drawn barges - a problem was that after it rained heavily it was not always possible because of the outboard motor for the boats to get under the bridges
11. Proposal for the future - extend navigation into Chelmsford town centre, by the means of a new cut between Springfield Basin and the River Chelmer- extend the canal into the River Stort and the main UK canal network-. this is likely many years away, no detailed planning has been undertaken to date
Description taken from Bradshaw's Canal and Navigable Waterways 1904
Chelmsford Basin to Springfield Lock -- 3
Chelmsford Basin to Barnes Mill Lock 1 1
Chelmsford Basin to Sandford Lock 2 1
Chelmsford Basin to Cuton Lock 3 1
Chelmsford Basin to Stonehams Lock 3 --
Chelmsford Basin to Little Baddow Lock and Wharf 4 7
Chelmsford Basin to Paper Mill Lock 6 1
Chelmsford Basin to Rushes Lock 7 4
Chelmsford Basin to Hoe Mill Lock 8 6
Chelmsford Basin to Ricketts Lock 10 1
Chelmsford Basin to Beeleigh Lock 11 --
Chelmsford Basin to Heybridge Village 12 2
Chelmsford Basin to Heybridge Sea Lock 13 7
There was a towing path throughout the canal
1. Introduction - 1825 there was a proposal for a canal from the River Crouch near Battlesbridge to Purfleet with a branch from Battlesbridge via Rettendon to Billericay. Only the plans for the branch canal from Battlesbridge to Billericay were deposited with the county.
2. Proposed canal to Billericay shown on plans to run from River Crouch near Battlesbridge to Billericay. Canal basin in Billericay to have been in lower end of meadows of Chantry Farm
3. Length of proposed canal - 7? miles rising 181 feet by means of 29 locks.
4. Details of canal Boats would have entered the canal at sea level by an entrance lock and then would almost immediately risen up through a further five locks. After that there would follow seven intermediate locks and the final rise of 100 feet to the terminal basin at Billericay would require sixteen locks.
5. Parishes canal would have passed through from Billericay - Great Burstead, (Billericay was at that time part of Great Burstead) Ramsden Crays and Bellhouse, Downham, South Hanningfield, Wickford, Runwell, Rettendon (Battlesbridge was part of Rettendon).
6. Engineer- Alexander Clark - an obscure name - unlike John Rennie
7. Surveyors - J and H Clayton
8. Probable reason for canal proposal - at beginning of 19th century Billericay was in decline -woollen industry finished - market declining - not on a major - had become a small agricultural town - possibly seeing success of Chelmer and Blackwater canal some Billericay townsfolk perhaps thought that a canal was a way of halting the town's decline. They may have been behind the Battlesbridge to Purfleet scheme. The idea being that you build part and forget the rest.
9. Canal would not have been a success had it been built - reason population of Chelmsford in 1821 - 4,649 people population of Great Burstead in which those days included Billericay was 1,861. (Billericay did not become a separate parish until the mid 1840s. Was technically a hamlet ) Billericay was not on a main road - unlike Chelmsford. Cost of building would have been greater than the Chelmer and Blackwater had the two been built at the same time - a rise of 181 feet in 7? miles by means of 29 locks for the Billericay as opposed a rise of 75 feet in 13? by means of 13 locks There is no guarantee that had the canal been built it would have attracted any industry or commerce to Billericay.
10. Boats to have been used on canal -not known - may have been similar to those on Chelmer and Blackwater
11. What halted Billericay's decline - the railway coming at the end of 1888 (goods) beginning of 1889 (passengers)
Barging into Chelmsford by John Marriage - 1993 and 1997
The Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation by John Marriage - 2002
Essex at Work 1700 -1815 by A J F Brown - 1969
Essex at Work 1700 -1815 by A J F Brown - 1969
Poverty and Posterity - Rural Essex 1700 - 1815 by A J F Brown - 1996
The Canals of Eastern England by John Boyes and Ronald Russell - 1977
Ipswich Journal
Billericay and Its High Street by Harry Rickman - 1963
Branch Lines to Maldon by Dennis Swindale - 1977
Main index History index
If you include any data from this page in your research, please credit Charles Phillips as he has put a lot of work into researching this
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