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Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation
Click here to download this map> Chelmer.pdf
The Chelmer & Blackwater navigation runs from Springfield Basin south of Chelmsford town centre to the sea lock at Heybridge Basin where it empties into the Blackwater Estuary. There are 11 river locks and the sea lock at Heybridge is only navigable at high tide. The river is shallow and quite weedy in places and meanders through peaceful countryside with riverside walks along the well kept towpath. The Springfield Basin has undergone some restoration work and the river is now maintained by Essex Waterways Limited, a division of the Inland Waterways Association. Trip boats run from Springfield Basin, Waterfront at Chelmsford, and Paper Mill Lock.
Length 60ft, Beam 16ft, Draught 2ft, Headroom 6ft 3ins, Navigable length 14 miles, Drop 77ft through 12 locks
Distances to locks and places of interest
click on the lock number for information
and pictures (shown pink) associated with that part of the waterway
www.chelmercanaltrust.co.uk (additional information is reproduced in these pages by kind permission of the Trust)
Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Introduction
The first suggestions that the River Chelmer might be made navigable, to satisfy the increasing needs of the prosperous farmlands around Chelmsford. were made in 1677. Further plans were made in 1732 and again in 1765, nut it was not until the 9th Lord Petre of Thorndon Hill and Thomas Bramston of Roxwell, MP for Essex, revived the plans in 1792 that firm steps were taken to make the river navigable. Against opposition from the Borough of Maldon, the millers and the landowners, an Act was finally passed in 1793 to create a navigation from Heybridge Basin to Springfield.
John Rennie was appointed as principal engineer, although he rarely visited, and the survey was conducted by Charles Wedge, with work being supervised by Richard Coates. Construction began in October 1973. and almost immediately problems were encountered. The newly built Langford Canal (near Beeleigh Lock and hopefully soon to be restored) had to be crossed and, in 1795, severe damage was sustained during flooding, especially around Hoe Mill where there were unstable sands and gravels. By April 1796 it was possible for boats to reach Little Baddow Mill, and the navigation was opened throughout on 3rd June 1797. All the locks and bridges, except for Chapman's Bridge, were designed by John Rennie and built from bricks made from brickearth excavated at Hoe Mill and Boreham. The navigation, as completed, was remarkably shallow, with a draught throughout of only 2 ft.
Initially quite profitable, cargoes increased to an annual total of 60,000 tons in 1842, although a large part of this consisted of materials destined to build the Eastern Counties Railway, which, when opened, contributed to the navigation's inevitable decline. Tolls were cut and tonnages fell until in 1914 only 12,120 tons were carried. The company did, however, have the foresight to plant cricket-bat willows during the 1860's and, as these matured, income from their sale kept them solvent.
Trade continued to decline until 1972, with timber being basically the only cargo carried. In 1975 it was decided to open the navigation for recreational use and, with the corresponding increase in leisure activities, the navigation found a new raison d'etre. Still managed by Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Limited, the directors made an annual inspection, a tradition which has persisted throughout its life.
The navigation leaves the pleasant surroundings of Springfield Basin to pass through Springfield Lock and join the River Chelmer, which is navigable to the weir. Immediately, the Chelmsford conurbation is left behind as the river flows under the A138 road and meanders on its way to the pretty Barnes Mill Lock. continuing downstream you pass through Sandford Mill Lock before slipping under the bypass and turning due north towards Cuton Lock. A lake separates the navigation from the road, keeping the noise levels down until you are once again heading east into remote Essex countryside, where only the odd farm and distant church spire intrude. The river becomes wooded by Little Baddow and Little Baddow Lock, and soon you approach Paper Mill Lock and the Navigation Office. Villages still keep their distance as the river continues on its untroubled course along a large arable valley.
The course of the navigation is now very remote, meandering through quiet Essex farmland and accompanied by a sprinkling of reservoirs. Rush's Lock, named after a local farming family, is passed, soon to be followed by Hoe Mill Lock, Rickett's Lock and Beeleigh Lock, each accompanied by a weir. Woodham Walter lies over half a mile to the south as the river continues on to Beeleigh, where it passes the old Langford Canal, an obstruction during building and now hopefully soon to be restored. You then dive under the A414 and skirt the very northern tip of Maldon on to the "Long Pond". The town centre is a short walk to the south, across the River Chelmer, but there is a useful supermarket right by the navigation. An eccentric sweep then takes you towards Heybridge and the final mile or so to the sea.
You can now smell the salty breeze as the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, having bisected the industrial outskirts of Maldon and Heybridge, heads straight for the Blackwater Estuary. A gaggle of masts forewarns of Heybridge Basin, where Heybridge Sea Lock awaits those in suitable craft. Otherwise you must moor here to enjoy a breezy walk and a visit to the local pubs before winding. Northey Island lies across Collier's Reach.