Canals in East Essex

Chelmer and Blackwater Canal - Woodham Walter

In the  1700's the industrial revolution led to the construction of many canals throughout the Country.

Chelmsford watched the progress of canals as all the raw materials to feed it's growing industry had to be imported by wagon along roads that were still in poor condition.

Then the finished articles had to repeat the same length journey to marked in London and the East Anglian Cities.

The River Chelmer already flowed through Chelmsford but the River was not navigable.

Several plans for a canal were considered and in 1793 Parliament approved the Chelmer Navigation Bill  allowing development of a canal linking Maldon and Chelmsford

To keep the costs to an affordable level the existing River would provide the basis for the canal with some straightening, dredging and building of locks to make it navigable.

Construction of the Canal was led by an experienced engineer John Rennie although a young engineer called Richard Coates was in control of the day to day working. Rennie painted in 1810

Work went well and by 1797 the canal was open linking a purpose built basin at Springfield to the Blackwater Estuary at Heybridge Basin.

The cost of the canal was a considerable 50,000 as although it was only 14 miles long it contained 11 locks.

This immediately allowed seagoing vessels and Thames barges to dock at Heybridge and transfer their cargoes to barges to make the journey up the Canal.

Vessels of 300 tons could enter the lock at Heybridge where the water was 8 to 12 feet deep with barges of 30 tons able to use the canal.

Use of the canal proved a financial success as the toll of 2sh 6d plus the transport costs of 2sh only gave a cost of 4sh 6d whereas  road transport was though to cost about 3sh more for each journey.

The canal proved so successful that many Chelmsford firms began to operate at Springfield building their own wharves to accommodate the canal barges.

Although not the intended beneficiaries several mills were sited on the stretches of the River Chelmer that were incorporated into the canal.

One of these mills was Hoe Mill which was in Woodham Walter.

The new canal proved ideal for transporting the bulky corn and for exporting the flour produced by the mill.

Crews were normally two men one of which steered the barge and the other led the towing horse along the towpath.

Although neighbouring Blue Mill was nor on the Canal it was not far away and could also take advantage of the new cheap and convenient water power.

In 1843 the opening of the railway line from London to Ipswich via Chelmsford provided an alternative for bulk transport and the volume traffic of the Canal slowed.

In 1889 the new railway line from Wickford to Southminster and Wickford to Maldon and Witham further threatened the Canal and over the years traffic continued to lessen with more goods being haled on the trains and motor lorries on the new much improved roads.

When Coal stopped being carried to Chelmsford in the 1920's the main use was to supply the timber yards at Chelmsford and even this stopped in 1972 when the Canal ceased commercial use.

Boat traffic continues on the Canal with pleasure craft which includes some restored barges giving a feel for the canal in it's busy working life.

White House Farm Canal - Mundon

White House Canal was a private canal built in 1832 to link Southey Creek on the River Blackwater with White House Farm at Mundon.

The canal runs for the short  distance of 1.8 km.

Mr Marriage who farmed White House Farm  who wanted Thames Barges to be able pick up produce from his farm and take it to markets in London.

Barges would enter the canal via a small lock at the end of Southey Creek and then travel the 1.8km along the canal to the small barge basin and quay at White House Farm.

The canal was in regular use for about 50 years before the coming of the railways provides alternative methods of getting produce to markets.

In 1970 the sea lock was destroyed during works to improve drainage and the White House Farm basis is now a pond

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