This booklet follows the course of two of Essex's most important rivers and gives a modest amount of historical background. In describing the rivers advice is given on how the motorist can reach the place's mentioned. Where a walk gives a worthwhile view of a certain section, recommendations are made. Distances, and heights above sea level are approximate.
|1. Source (360') to Gt Dunmow (180')||10|
|2. Gt Dunmow (180') to Chelmsford (70')||14|
|3. River Can and tributaries|
|4. Chelmsford (70') to Beeleigh (10')||10|
|C.||RIVERS BELOW BEELEIGH|
|5. Beeleigh-Maldon (Chelmer)||1 ½|
|Maldon-Colliers Reach (Estuary)||1 ½|
|Heybridge Basin-Heybridge (Canal)||1 ½|
|6. Beeleigh (10') to Witham Mill (38')||3|
|7. River Brain|
|8. Witham Mill (38') to Bockingstreet (120')||14|
|9. Bockingstreet (120') to Source (380')||16|
(C) Vernon Clarke, (1979)
Drawings by Joan Clarke
Map by John Walker
The Chelmer and the Blackwater and their tributaries, with their intricate pattern of parallel streams, water and drain about two thirds of Essex. These two rivers rise within half a mile of each other, SE of Saffron Walden at a height of nearly 400'. The Chelmer flows broadly south then east and the Blackwater flows broadly east then south until they meet some 34 miles later at Beeleigh, where they discharge into the tideway and continue south-eastwards to Maldon at the head of the Blackwater estuary.
In this publication we follow the course of the Chelmer from its source to Beeleigh and go on down its tidal section to Heybridge Creek. We next follow the tidal Blackwater round to Colliers Reach. We start our upstream journey at Heybridge Basin and follow the "Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Company" canal to Heybridge and then the Blackwater (absorbed into "The Navigation" for the stretch from Heybridge to Beeleigh) up to its source. When we come to a confluence with a major tributary we pause to see something of that tributary. Brooks shown in inverted commas have no official names marked on the map.
The roads referred to are all shown on the Ordnance Survey one-inch Maps (sheets 148, 149, 161, 162) and on the 1:50000 Maps (sheets 154, 167,168).
The Chelmer rises in Rowney Wood,½ mile south of Debden Airfield, at a height of 370' above sea level. It can first be seen as a small ditch from the bridleway that runs from Howlett End on A130 SW to Debden Green. The Chelmer then passes twice under A130 - first, flowing NE, near Proud's Farm, then, a mile later, flowing SW, at Armitage Bridge. Soon after the Proud's Farm crossing it receives its main secondary headstream which rises near Tindon End, SE of Wimbish Green. When it passes Thaxted it has travelled 4 miles and dropped 106 feet in height. Thaxted's bridge, on the Debden road, is xh mile from its famous 14th century church which is as long as it is high (183') and is dedicated to St John the Baptist, Our Lady and St Lawrence. We continue through Thaxted — past the 15th century guildhall with its 3 storeys overhanging and the house where the composer Gustav Holst used to live — and out onto the Elsenham (B1051) road.
After½ mile we cross the Chelmer and we then turn left onto the minor road that follows the right bank of the river to Little Easton. The first part of this road is twisty and undulating and gives some pleasant views down onto the valley, which is here narrow and fairly deep; after about 2 miles we reach the valley floor at Duton Hill from where the road is mainly flat until it joins A130 for its last mile into Great Dunmow. On this stretch we should turn aside first to Tilty and then towards Great Easton.
Tilty is the idyllic site of a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1153 — just as beautiful, in its own way, as the better known sites of the Cistercian Tintern and Fountains Abbeys. But at Tilty all that remains are some stones in a field and the 1220 Gate Chapel, which had added to it in the 14th century a chancel with a large east window of exquisite tracery. It was retained at The Dissolution and later turned into a parish church. The abbey had its fish ponds, its sheep, its vineyards and its water mill (run from a millpool formed by damming a stream). The present mill building dates from the 18th century and it worked until 1957.
A mile below the Tilty turning is a cross roads; here we turn left along the Great Easton road to see the river at a "two-tier" bridge — a high arched bridge for walkers and a low-level "bridge-ford" for the road. We return to the cross roads and continue towards Dunmow, and soon cross a low spur from which there is a good view across the valley to Great Easton Church standing up on the hill opposite — a church that has in it Roman tiles, a Saxon font and a Norman chancel. 1½ miles on from the cross roads is Little Easton and the Chelmer's uppermost mill -today a pink-plastered house. Up to 1940 it was timber-framed and it had operated as a mill until 1933. A short way beyond this mill we join A130 just after it has crossed the Chelmer and after % mile we turn left along B1057 to Churchend, where a pleasant row of 15th century houses leads up to Dunmow's 15th century Parish Church and its magnificent tower. B1057 crosses the river at Churchend and from some open ground to the south of the bridge there is a good view of the bridge with the church tower behind it.
From Churchend a footpath through playing fields and meadows leads in ¾ mile to the Stane Street (A120) bridge; it goes first along the right bank and later transfers to the left. The Chelmer, after passing under Stane Street, meanders round the slopes below Dunmow Park and in a mile reaches the seven-arch viaduct of the old Dunmow-Braintree railway (visible from A130, ¾ mile south of Dunmow). Two miles downstream from the viaduct is the Chelmer's confluence with the Stebbing Brook, near Felsted Sugar Factory, and½ mile below this is Felsted Mill.
The Stebbing Brook, 6 miles long, can be seen from the Little Dunmow-Felsted road at Priory Bridge (152'), A120 at Stebbing Farm (168'), the Dunmow-Stebbing road before Stebbing, from B1057 at Bran End Mill (215') and from Lindsell (255'). The Brook rises at a height of 300' a mile north of Lindsell, and a couple of miles SW from the River Pant at Great Bardfield.
There is much of interest to see in the valley of the Stebbing Brook. There is Lindsell Church among the barns, the 1870 red brick mill at Bran End with its delightful mill pond on the other side of the road, and then Stebbing with its 50 pre-1650 houses, its mill and its church. The water-driven machinery of the 16th century mill now produces electricity; the fine 1310 church has in it a magnificent stone rood-screen of a type found only in two other churches — Great Bardfield, 5 miles to the north and the cathedral church of Trondjem in Northern Norway. Finally there is the British Sugar Corporation's Felsted Sugar Factory, which dates from 1926; from most angles this monstrous block is a blot on the otherwise gentle landscape but seen from the south, across the Stebbing Brook, it is a fine, well proportioned, piece of industrial architecture, with a row of poplars and some beautifully kept lawns leading up to it. Behind the factory, Yi mile to the NW is the slender relic of Little Dunmow's Augustinian Priory, where the Dunmow Flitch contest originated. In this couples had to satisfy the Prior that they had not quarelled for a year and a day; when the Priory was suppressed in 1536 the Lord of the Manor took over as arbiter.
To get an idea of the places mentioned so far in this section it is best to go from Churchend along B1057 to Bran End and Lindsell, then back to Bran End and left to Stebbing, at the end of which we turn right — down to the brook and up the other side to A120. Here we turn right for a short way and then left for Little Dunmow and Felsted.
The road to Felsted Mill and North End turns off at the beginning of the village but it is worth going on into the village to see the old school building, which was founded by Lord Richard Rich (1497-1567), and the nearby church which houses his magnificent memorial in the "Riche Chapel" erected about 1620.
Richard, 1st Baron Rich was one of the most unsavoury, and at the same time one of the most successful, characters of Tudor England. He was an opportunist of the first order and persecuted catholics under Edward VI and protestants under Mary I. He was one of Thomas Cromwell's agents in the dissolution of the monasteries and amassed a vast fortune out of which he built himself a splendid palace at Leez Priory by the River Ter, two miles SE of Felsted. His Elisabethan Free School at Felsted educated 4 sons of Oliver Cromwell. His almshouses were rebuilt in brick in Victorian times.
For½ mile below Felsted Mill road and river go side by side. The | road then crosses to the right bank and climbs quite steeply through North End (keep left at the green) to join A130 at Black Chapel - an entrancing 16th century half--timbered chapel with a matching priest's house next door. It is worth stopping here to go into the chapel (or peer through the windows if the door is locked) and to enjoy the view onto the Chelmer Valley as it meanders down towards the Walthams. We now go SE along A130 for a couple of miles and then turn left along B1417 to Hartford End. Here, beside the bridge over the Chelmer, is the brewery and½ mile up the lane past it is the mill, now a residence. This mill, believed to date from 1780, was in 1839 bought by William Ridley. In 1842 the Ridleys decided to diversify their business and built the brewery. The mill stopped working in 1929; the brewery is still active and operates some of its original equipment side by side with modern automated plant.
Between Hartford End and Chelmsford the Chelmer is crossed by roads at Howe Street, Little Waltham and Broomfield, and there are roads on both sides of the river, The left bank road gives the better views but is in places very narrow. The right bank road (A130) gives access to a footpath that passes close to Howe Street Mill House (mill demolished about 1928) and then, at the entrance to Great Waltham, to a footpath leading into the park of Langleys, the house that has belonged to the Tufnells since 1685. This path crosses the Chelmer beside a small waterfall; there was a mill here in 1825 but there is no trace of it today.
From the outskirts of Little Waltham the right bank road continues as A131 and after½ mile gives us, opposite the entrance to Broomfield Hospital, a good view down on to the valley and the distinctive 18th century building of Croxton's Mill with its extraordinarily steep roof. Half a mile on is Broomfield Church, which has one of the six round towers in Essex. It looks across the green to the attractive "Kings Arms" — a good place to go for a bar lunch.
We can get a better idea of the Chelmer valley by going on into Little Waltham and taking the left bank road south for a couple of miles. This road gives some delightful views over the valley where the river, now wider, meanders peacefully over the green valley floor with quite steep slopes on either side. ½ mile after Little Waltham Church a bridleway leads off into the valley and to a footpath that skirts the back of Croxton's Mill. There is a beautiful scene here with the river flowing through the old spill weir into a pool among willows, with the impressive 4-storey mill behind. The footpath crosses the spill weir and then gives a good view of the front of the mill and of the attractive 17th century mill house nearby. The mill operated until 1930 and is now a house. The path continues uphill to join A131.
A mile beyond the bridleway to Croxton's we turn right, onto Broomfield road, and soon cross the Chelmer at the site of Broomfield Mill, which was demolished after World War 1. From here the river meanders southwards for another mile until the hill of Springfield Hall (now crowned by a housing estate) forces it to turn west for ½mile to where the Broomfield ridge forces it to turn south again.½ mile beyond the site of Broomfield Mill our road reaches A131 and we turn right for a few yards to see Broomfield Church before continuing south for Chelmsford.
We can get to the river again a mile farther on by going down "Seven Avenue", which is opposite the "Clock House" pub. Here is a trim recreation area on the right bank and a precarious-looking weir leading across the river to a footpath that leads along the left bank for IV2 miles to Chelmsford's Springfield Mill..
We return by car to A131, turn left and, 3A mile later, left again down "Rectory Road". We can, just before this road turns right and becomes "New Street", go'to the left along Bishop's Hall Lane from which there is, after Hoffman's Works, a view of Bishop's Hall Mill House. This mill was owned by the Bishop of London until the Dissolution and it was from 1795 until 1914 run by the Marriages, that Huguenot family that was concerned with so many Essex mills. It was burnt down in 1930. We turn left out of New Street at the next traffic lights and in½ mile cross the Chelmer at Springfield Mill, which belonged to the Strutts from 1692 until 1780. The Strutts also hired Moulsham Mill and one of them, John Strutt 3rd, milled at Hoe Mills and Beeleigh on the Chelmer and at Wickham Bishop's on the Blackwater. Moulsham Mill passed in 1785 to the Marriages, who were also concerned with Broomfield and Croxton's as well as with Bishop's Hall. They also had Hoe Mills in the early 1800's.
From Springfield Mill we can walk upstream beside, or close to, the Chelmer for 1½ miles along the left bank path referred to earlier, and for most of the way we go along a "paved footway" through meadows. We have, as we go, a delightful view, looking back under the impressive 3-arch railway bridge, of the river meandering between trees with the tower block of Rivers House, the Water Authority's headquarters, behind; later we get a glimse of Bishop's Hall Mill House. Walking downstream from Springfield Mill on the right bank, we can, from the Victoria Road car park, look across to the mill with its tail race and mill house. This mill worked until the 1920's. At Debenhams' the Chelmer turns sharp left, beside some quaint old buildings, to flow under Springfield Road and continue beside the Kings Head Meadow car park to its confluence with the Can.
The Can rises near High Roding at a height of nearly300' and is 12 miles long. It has 7 road crossings in its first 5 miles, none in its next 4 and then, near Writtle Agricultural College, receives in the space of ¾ mile its two main tributaries - the Roxwell Brook and the Wid. These streams rise within a mile of each other near Blackmore; the Brook flows direct to the Can in 7 miles but the Wid is 14 miles long as it has to work its way round the bottom of the Highwood Ridge before it can turn north towards the Can.
From the confluence with the Chelmer below the King's Head Meadow car park we can walk beside, or close to, the Can for 1½ miles to Rainsford End. We pass the elegant stone bridge built in 1787 bv County Surveyor John Johnson (who also built Shire Hall) and then walk along Stonebridge Walk, with its seats, flower boxes and balustrading, to New Bridge, a 19th century iron bridge close to the 1841 Chelmsford Institute.
We now cross a street to the Can's left-bank "paved footway" that takes us on, through well kept gardens and park land for over a mile — passing under Park Way, the railway (whose impressive 18 arch viaduct was completed for the Eastern Counties Railway in 1843) and Rainsford Lane (A1019). Where the footway, which has crossed to the right bank soon after Rainsford Lane, returns to the left bank to enter Admiral's Park we continue along the right bank through meadows to the site of Much Mill (burnt down in 1870) at Rainsford End. From here Beach's Drive leads to A414 near the Chignal Road Junction.
From Much Mill we can continue along the Can's right bank (muddy in wet weather) for½ mile to the confluence with the Wid and then continue along the Wid's right bank to Writtle Bridge (see later); we can then return along the Wid's left bank by the Lawford Lane bridleway to its footbridge over the Can and after this turn right, eastwards, into a footpath that takes us back to Beach's Drive. This circular walk from Rainsford End to Writtle and back is about 2 miles. Above the Can-Wid confluence the slow flowing Wid is the wider of the two rivers, the Can being but a narrow, swift flowing, brook.
There are two pleasant drives we can do for seeing the valleys of the Can, the Roxwell Brook and the Wid;
1. Up the Can's right bank by A414/B184 to High Roding and back down the left bank tlirough The Easters and Chignal St James — 22 miles. 2. A414 to Blackwall Bridge, Roxwell, Highwood, A122 to Norton Heath, Blackmore, Mountnessing Church, Ingatestone, A12 to Margaretting and Widford, A1019 and A122 to Writtle, A1091 back to A414 - 23 miles.
Drive 1. We cross the Can soon after the Writtle (A1091) road junction. The river here is flowing N-S just before it changes direction to W-E on joining the Roxwell Brook. We next run beside the Roxwell Brook for 1lh miles and then mount a ridge which gives good views to the left towards Highwood. At Leaden Roding (perhaps so called because it was the first of the 8 Rodings Churches to have lead put on its roof) we continue north along the ridge between the Roding and the Can and some 3 miles on, at the northern end of High Roding, we turn right onto a minor road signposted "Wellstye Green, Barnston."
After ¼ mile the Barnston road goes off to the left and soon after this we pass on our left "Broadgates" where the Can starts. The young river makes a sweep to the left Before passing under our road half a mile on at a height of 249' and from this bridge we stay on the left bank for the rest of the way back to Chelmsford. There are views to the valley from our high open road before High Easter and we come close to the river at two places between The Easters (179', 174') and at ChignalSt James (123').'
We should pause at The Easters. "Easter" is Saxon for "sheepfold"; "High" denotes status rather than altitude and "Good" is a shortened form of "Godiva", an owner at the time of King Canute. High Easter has a church with a magnificent flint tower and a cluster of old houses near it; Good Easter's church with its 100' spire has in front of it an 18th century pillory and behind it a fine view over the Can valley. In former years Good Easter's post office used to have a thriving trade during Holy Week from people who wished to have "Good Easter" stamped on their Easter Cards. From Chignal St James the bridleway to A414 leads southwards down a pleasant stretch of valley to cross the Can after ½ mile at the site of "Pengymill". There is an attractive old house by the river here but no trace of the mill remains. 1 ¼ miles beyond Chignal St James our road becomes suburban and after another 3A mile we are back at A414 nearly opposite Beach's Drive.
Drive 2. We return westwards along A414 for 2 miles and at Blackwall Bridge turn left for Roxwell. At the west end of the village, in a charming setting of old farm houses, water meadows and gently sloping valley sides, we turn south. For the next mile our road gives pleasant views over the Roxwell Brook Valley on our right. We then turn left at a "T" junction towards Highwood and on reaching A122 turn right - towards Ongar. We soon cross the shallow valley of the Brook, which has now changed its name to "Ewson's Brook", and after 2 miles we turn left at Norton Heath. In½ mile, at the entrance to Fingrith Hall Farm, we get a good view of the Ewson's Brook upper valley. From here it is but a mile to Blackmore and the source of the Wid.
Blackmore is one of Essex's most attractive small towns, with its unspoilt Church Street leading up to the church and its fantastic pagoda-like belfry. Next to the church is the Queen Anne-fronted house known as "Jericho House", which stands on the foundations of an earlier building, in its turn built on the foundations of a 1152 priory. Henry VIII was a frequent visitor to this earlier house and when he was asked where he would be during his absence from London he would reply "Say I have gone to Jericho".
The Wid leaves Blackmore down a fairly steep valley and we have a good view of this from the Mountnessing road. Three miles on, when in sight of Mountnessing Wind Mill, we turn right and after ½ mile cross the old A12 (Roman road). We then, side by side with the Wid, plunge under the new A12 (of 1973) and then the railway (of 1843). We now enter the delightful open country of the Wid's most southerly section and after another mile come to Mountnessing Church, with another of those exciting wooden belfries, on its own, next to the Hall, far from the village.
After½ mile our road turns left at a "T" junction, but we should first turn right for a few yards to the bridge by "Lowness" to see the river, which has just started on its northerly course, flowing in a delightful setting of trees and old houses. We can now follow the Wid fairly closely, northwards, for the couple of miles to Ingatestone Bridge. We go first on the left bank, cross the river by a water-splash, and then after¾ mile reach Buttsbury Church, which stands on its own near a road junction, completely deserted by its village. After another½ mile our road turns west, across Ingatestone Bridge, to the old A12 and Ingatestone Church. This church has, as a change from the wooden belfries, an exquisite brick tower and there are in the church some fine memorials to the Petres of Ingatestone Hall.
Alternatively, we can turn left just before the water-splash and then, after ¾ mile, turn right for Ingatestone Hall, Station and village. The Hall, a "product of the Dissolution", was built about 1550 by Sir William Patre (who held high office under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) on land that had belonged to Barking Abbey. It still belongs to the Petres, who lease one wing to the Essex Record Office who stage exhibitions there.
On our way northwards along Al 2 from Ingatestone to Widford we should turn right to a. Margaretting Church, with another of those exciting wooden belfries, cut off from the rest of the world by a level crossing, and b. Margaretting Bridge (White's Bridge of 1770) from which there is a good view of the Wid meandering over the valley, with the 120' high Galleywood Church spire on the ridge behind it. From A12's bridge over the river, 2 miles beyond Margaretting cross roads, we look right (upstream) to the Wid's second railway crossing and left to the river flowing NW at the foot of Widford Hill.
From Widford we take A1016 and then turn left along A122 which passes Writtle Mill (high and dry since the river has been diverted) and crosses the Wid at Writtle Bridge. At the western end of Writtle (memorable chiefly as the place where Marconi conducted his early experiments in wireless telephony) we turn right, along A1091, cross the Can and rejoin A414 for Chelmsford.
100 yards below the Chelmer-Can confluence is a weir and below this starts the canalised section of the Chelmer known as the "Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation". From the confluence, which is at the SE end of the King's Head Meadow car park one can walk along the river bank down to Maldon. Soon after the weir, the river bends sharply to the east and we walk for½ mile along the left bank to Springfield Lock, with the gas works on our left and a view across the river to Moulsham Mill to our right; this lock gives access to the Chelmsford Basin of the "Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation".
The Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation was built to enable Chelmsford to be supplied by barge instead of by horse wagon. It was made by widening and straightening the Chelmer down to Beeleigh, making a short new canal to the Blackwater, widening the Blackwater down to Heybridge Mill and making a 1½ mile long canal to Colliers Reach on the Blaclcwater Estuary. This Navigation was completed in 1797, the Stort Navigation had been completed in 1796 and the Stour Navigation in 1795.
The Navigation had on it 11 locks: Springfield, Barnes, Sandford, Cuton, Stonham, Little Baddow, Paper Mill (Boreham), Rushe's, Hoe Mill (Ulting), Rickett's and Beeleigh. There were also the sea lock at Heybridge Basin and the flood lock just.below the confluence with the Blackwater at Beeleigh. The horse-drawn barges used to take 8½ hours upstream and 6 hours down; the motorised barges that operated from 1960 until 1973 used to do the round trip including 22 locks in 10 hours. Of the 12 bridges that cross the Navigation 6 date from the 1790's - Springfield, Sandford (2), Rickett's, Beeleigh and (½ mile below Beeleigh) Chapman Bridge. The Navigation's tow path is on the left bank to Little Baddow (4 miles), right bank to Hoe Mill (4 miles), left bank to Beeleigh (2 miles), then right bank to Chapman Bridge and left bank to Heybridge Basin. For more information about the Navigatioi see "The History of the Chelmer and Blackwater Canal" by Peter Came available from Paper Mill Lock, North Hill, Little Baddow, Chelmsford. There is a bus service from Chelmsford to Maldon along the left bank so one can walk one way and return by bus.
A short way below Springfield Lock we pass under the Chelmsford by-pass (opened 1932) into the stretch of open country that leads in ½ mile to Barnes Mill (now a house) and Lock. Half a mile on is Bundock's Bridge (which accommodates the tow path under it) at the beginning of the straight cut made to by-pass Sandford Mill, which was in 1924 bough by the Chelmsford Borough Council for a waterworks.
After the second Sandford bridge, which is at the Lock, there is a 2½ mile stretch without road access, that more than any other part of the Navigation gives a feeling of remoteness. After a mile in Cuton Lock, where a spur of the Danbury Ridge stretches into the valley from the right and after another mile in Stonham Lock close to the hills on the left of the valley. The river next bends sharply to the right, near the back of Boreham House, and in ½ mile reaches "King's" (Little Baddow) Lock.
Above King's Lock is a fine mill pool - the mill was burnt down in 1896 and the Navigation built a house in its place — and below it is the confluence with the Boreham Brook, and Boreham Bridge. The 3-mile long brook passes close to Henry VIII's "New Hall", now a school; the bridge has under it wooden fenders to protect barge and bridge from each other. A few yards below the bridge is the confluence with the Sandon Brook.
The Sandon Brook is 6 miles long and from its mouth we have a good view of Little Baddow Church standing on a spur of the Danbury Ridge. This church has in it some magnificent wooden effigies dating from the time of The Black Prince and a 1639 memorial to Sir Henry Mildmay who lived at Great Graces, a mile to the south. Part of the house is still standing as "Great Graces Farm" and "Grace's Walk", today a mile-long tree-girt bridleway, leads from it across the Sandon Brook to the Boreham to Great Baddow road. The Sandon Brook's 4th bridge is under the Chelmsford to Maldon (A414) road and above its 5th bridge it receives its secondary head stream that rises near Cock Clarks, between Bicnacre and Purleigh. This stream drains the south side of Danbury Ridge and had formerly a mill on it at Overshot, where the Bicnacre-Danbury road crosses it.
Continuing up the main brook we come in Va mile to Sandon where the church, with its magnificent brick tower designed by the Italian architect who built Hampton Court (Cardinal Wolsey was Lord of the Manor here), looks out across the green to the pub nestling behind its wooden railings. Three miles above Sandon is the northern dam of Hanningfield Reservoir — a fine sheet of water with some pleasant planting on its shores.
Continuing down the Chelmer from the Sandon Brook confluence we soon come to the Essex Naturalists' Trust's "Chelmer Meadows" reserve to which large numbers of snipe come in winter; this leads up to Paper Mill Lock and the bridge of the Hatfield Peverel to Little Baddow road. The Paper Mill Lock was, in the days of horse-drawn barges, considered as "halfway house" at which barges would stop for the night on their way back from delivering a load of timber at Chelmsford. Here was stabling for horses and a bunk house for bargees. There are still barges moored at Paper Mill Lock — those used for clearing the river and the luxurious pleasure cruiser "Victoria", commissioned in 1975 for private hire and public cruises. The "Victoria" makes delightful trips down to Ulting and back at weekends in summer, details of which can be obtained from the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Company's office at Paper Mill Lock (telephone Danbury 2025).
On the island here there used to be two mills — one corn and one paper; paper was made by reducing rags to pulp and it has been suggested that the first paper in Essex was made here.
We now have another 2½ mile stretch without road access, through pleasant open country with the river in places banked up above the level of the fields. The valley is here enclosed by the Danbury Ridge, which rises to 365' above sea level, to the south and the Hatfield Peverel "hills" to the north. After ¾ mile is a footbridge and soon after it is Rushe's Lock, below which the river Ter comes in from the left.
The Ter, 12 miles long, is crossed by A12 at Hatfield Peverel, A131 at Little Leighs, and At 20 at Blake End near the road junction for Great Saling. Above Blake End the river, here a small ditch, is close to the Braintree-Stebbing road. At its source near Stebbing Green the Ter is barely a mile from, and is 80' higher than, the Stebbing Brook.
There is much of interest in the Ter valley. There are the attractive old houses of Stebbing Green and then, between A120 and A131 in which section the river makes some enormous meanders, are the Cricks Green vineyard, Leez Priory and Reservoir and Little Leighs Church. The vineyard (½ mile NW of Molehill Green) produces the grapes and makes the excellent "Felstar" white wine. The two gateways at Leez Priory, reminiscent of the gateways of some Cambridge Colleges, are some of the finest Tudor brickwork in England; they were built for Lord Chancellor Richard Rich, who (see earlier under Felsted) acquired at the Dissolution a 12th century priory and out of this built himself a splendid palace. This palace in due course came into the possession of Guy's Hospital whose governors pulled the house down to save the upkeep. The half-mile long reservoir is a fine sheet of water and is well stocked with trout. Little Leighs Church is pleasantly situated in fields above the right bank of the river; it is Norman and has many Roman bricks in it, and some Tudor pews.
Between A131 and A12 are Great Leighs Church, with one of the six round towers in Essex. (We have already seen the one at Broomfield, near the Chelmer and shall refer later to that at Bardfield Saling, near Pod's Brook), and Terling, where the impressive 1732 red brick church tower and its steeple look across the green at the delightful Congregational Chapel "builded c 1799, restored 1895". In the church are memorials to the Strutt family who first came to Terling, from Chelmsford, in 1726. It was John Strutt 4th who built Terling Place in 1772 and subsequently became M.P. for Maldon and led the Millers' opposition to the proposed Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation.
There is a delightful road, with fine old trees beside it, on the right bank of the river from Terling to Hatfield Peverel, where the Ter flows under the railway and then under A12 close to the site of a mill demolished in 1931. A mile farther down, the Ter crosses the 50' contour and river and valley then widen for the last mile down to the Chelmer.
A mile below Rushe's Lock, the Chelmer passes Ulting Church and after another 3A mile we come to Hoe Mill (Ulting) Lock.
Ulting's minute 13th century church measuring 45' by 18', with its miniature 1873 turret, is the only church actually on the river bank. V2 mile below this starts the short cut, made to by-pass Hoe Mill (demolished 1914), that leads to Hoe Mill Lock and the bridge of the Hatfield Peverel to Woodham Walter road. This is one of the Navigation's pleasantest spots, with the Lock Keeper's House in a meadow where it is possible to park the car against payment of a fee. From this bridge it is½ mile up the road to Woodham Walter's delightful 16th century "Bell Inn" and the contemporary church of brick gothic built in 1564 by Thomas, Earl of Essex at a time when churches were falling into ruin and very few were being built.
Beyond Hoe Mill Lock (where we return to the left bank) is a pleasant stretch of river with trees on either side After½ mile the path goes for a short way beside the Ulting-Langford road and then passes under a pipe-bridge that takes water from Langford to Hanningfield, and out into open country. ¾ mile on we see on the right bank the weir across a bend in the river that the Navigation by-passed and soon after this is Rickett's Lock and one of the original brick bridges. From here We walk beside grassland, with views of the Langford waterworks to our left, and after ¼ mile we look across to the Chelmer as it heads towards Beeleigh Mill and the tideway and continue beside the Navigation Canal for Va mile to Beeleigh Lock Here we return to the right bank and after a short way we walk across The Long Weir, over which excess water from the Blackwater opposite flows into the tidal Chelmer. It is here that The Navigation enters the Blackwater.
A few yards farther down is a flood lock for controlling the flow of water from the Blackwater and after this is Beeleigh Bridge, another bridge dating from the 1790's. From here we can continue our riverside walk for 2½ miles beside either the tidal Chelmer and then the Black-water estuary to the Hythe, beyond Maldon, or else beside the Black-water and then the canal to Heybridge basin.
To follow the course of the Navigation by car it is best to take the A12 from Chelmsford's "Army and Navy" roundabout, turn right at the first traffic lights and then right again for Barnes. We must return nearly u to the A12 and can then turn right and take lanes via Sandford (crossing the two Sandford bridges) and the new "Chelmer Village" to Cuton Flyover. From here we travel NE along the old A12 for two miles having, as we go, a view to the right of the imposing 1728 Boreham House with its ornamental canal (the house is now a training centre of the Ford Motor Company) and to the left of Henry Vlll's "New Hall".
At Boreham we turn to the right, pass the church and after another mile reach the Little Baddow bridge over the Chelmer. We next turn left for Little Baddow Church and after another mile turn left at a crossroads for Paper Mill Lock, where we again cross the Chelmer. We keep right at the next 3 road junctions to continue by a narrow road which goes down into the valley, turns left close to a footbridge over the Chelmer and then crosses the Ter ¼ mile above its confluence with the Chelmer at Rushe's Lock.
Shortly after joining the Hatfield Peverel — Woodham Walter road we can turn to the right down a side road to Ulting Church before continuing to Ulting Lock and Woodham Walter's inn and church.
Just after the church we turn left and then left again at the next cross-roads towards Maldon. After another 2½ miles we turn left down a side road for Beeleigh and at the bottom of the hill turn right along the approach road to Beeleigh Abbey, where it is normally possible to park a car.
The map above shows the lower reaches of the Rivers Chelmer and Blackwater and the Navigation Canal. It shows the.Chelmer leaving the C. & B. Navigation above Beeleigh Lock, to continue as a tidal strea from Beeleigh Mill House to the mouth of the Heybridge Creek, and it shows the Blackwater and the Langford Cut joining The Navigation above and below Beeleigh Flood Lock. It shows also the old outlet of the Blackwater to Heybridge Creek.
The Chapman and Andre Map of 1777 has the Blackwater flowing from Langford direct to Heybridge (parallel to the road that is now B1018) with a lesser outlet from above Langford Mill to Beeleigh Mills. At the time The Navigation was made the principal stream flowed from Langford to Beeleigh Mills and on to Heybridge Mill and Creek. The "Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation" is therefore "Chelmer" to above Beeleigh Lock, "Canal" to The Long Weir, "Blackwater" to near Heybridge Mill House and "Canal" to Heybridge Basin. When the Navigation was made, the lower part of Langford Canal ( opened in 1792 for serving Langford Mill) was filled in but the line of this can still be seen on Maldon Golf Course; the upper part of the canal, "The Langford Cut", is now used for supplying the water needs of The Navigation.
In 1978 the Anglian Water Authority, Essex River Division, are extracting to their Langford Waterworks, for pumping to Hanningfield Reservoir, most of the water brought down by the Chelmer and the Blackwater. For much of the time, therefore, very little water flows over the weirs at Beeleigh and hardly any flows past Heybridge Mill House to Heybridge Creek. But in times of flood the Beeleigh weirs become miniature "Niagaras", with the Chelmer pouring in from the south west and the Blackwater cascading down The Long Weir from the north into "The Salt" (the local name for the old tidal harbour).
Regarding the mills: Beeleigh mill was destroyed by fire in 1879 and was finally demolished in 1960, when the millstream from the Chelmer weir downwards was filled in. Heybridge Mill worked until 1942 and was demolished in 1955. The mill houses are still there. Both these mills used to discharge into the tideway but the water below Heybridge Mill House is now fresh as far as the sluice under the dam near Heybridge Hall, at the head of Heybridge Creek.
For our journey down the Chelmer and up the Blackwater we take first the path (slippery after rain) along the left bank of the tidal Chelmer from Beeleigh to Fullbridge. To our left is the Maldon golf course, laid out in 1891, and to our right we look across the river to Beeleigh Mill House and tail race and to Beeleigh Abbey (founded in the 12th century, destroyed after the Dissolution and, like Coggeshall Priory which we visit later, in part converted into an attractive 16th century house). We then have a good view of Maldon on its hill; the name "Maldon' is Saxon for "cross-hill". After½ mile the path goes through the remains of the impressive 1889 viaduct built for the railway that connected Maldon South and East Stations and½ mile after this is Fullbridge at the Maldon end of "The Causeway" from Heybridge. Buses from here to Chelmsford.
We now cross to the right bank and walk along the quay, Downs footpath and Downs Road to The Hythe. From Downs Road there is a good view of the Chelmer/Blackwater confluence at the end of the Heybridge Creek. From here the stream is the Blackwater. At The Hythe we can refresh at the Queen's Head on the waterfront; from the far end of the Marine Parade is the Blackwater's most famous view (on our cover) of Maldon's river front with St Mary's Church up on the hill behind it.
To start our journey up the Blackwater we must now return to Fullbridgc and go north along The Causeway to Heybridge. ("Hey" means "high".) From this bridge we look upstream to Heybridge Mill House and the arches of the former mill and downstream onto the industrialised final freshwater section of the Blackwater.
We turn east at Heybridge roundabout and then, when the road to Colchester bends left, carry straight on along Hall Road for½ mile to Heybridge Hall and a large area of holiday bungalows. Beside these is the raised bank of the river and along this is a path that leads to the dam at the head of Heybridge Creek. There is a beautiful view from here down the creek to the Blackwater with St Mary's Church on the hill behind. From the dam we can have a pleasant breezy walk along the sea wall round to Collier's Reach and Heybridge Basin — for the first half mile beside the saltings and then beside the estuary. In Collier's Reach there are usually some interesting barges moored beside the path and there is a good view across the water to Northey Island, where the Viking raiders camped before the Battle of Maldon in A.D.991.
Heybridgc Basin could accommodate ships of up to 300 tons which once brought coal from Newcastle and timber from Scandinavia. The hamlet round it dates only from the construction of The Navigation and the lock keeper's house dates from 1842.
The Navigation Canal goes, with the towpath on the left bank, for its first 1½ miles in a straight line NW to Heybridge Town, at the entrance to which is, on the right bank, the magnificent warehouse built in 1863 for Bentall's Ironworks (established in 1811). This warehouse is now a "Metrostore" for air freight.
The Navigation next goes under B1022'and then turns SW under B1018 after which we see on our right the ditch which comes from Langford along the line of the Blackwater's earlier course. Then, a few . yards farther on, we look across the canal to the Heybridge Millstrcam and the old mouth of the Blackwater. It is here that our journey up the Blackwater begins.
For the next ½ mile we continue SW looking across the river to some ugly modern industrialisation and then, after passing through the remains of a Maldon-Witham line railway bridge, we turn NW again, At this point we are but 100 yards from the Chelmer above Fullbridge and we have a pleasant view of Maldon's All Saints Spire and St. Peter's Tower up on their hill. We next go under the remains of another railway bridge (of the line linking Maldon South and East Stations) and then come to Chapman's Bridge, where we cross to the right bank. We now walk beside the golf course for½ mile and then see the Langford Cut coming in on the other side of the river, just before Beeleigh Bridge.
Before we cross Beeleigh Bridge for going to Langford (see section 6.) we should have a look at the remains of Beeleigh's harbour, its weirs and its millstream. To do this we keep along the right bank, past the flood lock and across The Long Weir, from which we see the Blackwater coming in from our right and the old tidal harbour below us on our left. We then take a footpath to the left through some bushes, with the "harbour" on our left, and turn left again, across the Chelmer's weir and beside the filled-in millstream to the site of the mill. We now return across the weir and continue up the Chelmer's left bank to the upper weir and the beginning of the Navigation Canal. From here we return along the Canal's right bank to Beeleigh Lock, The Long Weir and the bridge.
For those who have come by car to Beeleigh there is an interesting "down the Chelmer and up the Blackwater" walk of a couple of miles to Fullbridge and back. We take the right bank path past Beeleigh Abbey and beside the river to an old railway crossing. After this we cross a stile into riverside fields and continue through these to Fullbridge. Here we cross the Chelmer and cut across fields NW to the Blackwater and up its right bank to Beeleigh Bridge.
To see the lower reaches of the Chelmer and the Blackwater by car we can go from Beeleigh through Maldon to the Hythe and then come back through the town to Fullbridge and Heybridge. Here we turn right as for Colchester and then, where the road bends left, go straight on down Hall Road to Heybridge Hall. We next return to the Colchester road, turn right, and right again along B1026 for a mile and then to the right down a small road to Heybridge Basin. We return from here to Heybridge roundabout and continue along B1018 to Langford.
We walk from Beeleigh Bridge to Langford (½ mile) along the golf course approach road between the Blackwater and the Langford Cut. We reach B1019 with the waterworks on our left and the mill, now part of the waterworks, facing us. The brick mill building that we see today replaced the 1776 weather-boarded building burnt down in 1876; the mill worked, with steam and water power, until World War 1 but when the owners failed after the war the Essex Water Company bought it and installed a water extraction pump in it. The mill race today serves as a reservoir for the waterworks, and for supplying the Navigation Canal's water requirements down the Langford Cut. At the upper end of the mill race is the weir (visible from B1019's bridge over the river) which lets surplus water down to the main stream of the Blackwater.
Next to the mill is the mill house, now a guest house, and beyond this is Langford Church which claims to be unique in having its Norman apse at the west end. This was a feature of pre-Norman churches in Western Europe and may have been quite common in this country too. Langford Church had also at one time an eastern apse and the line of this is shown in tiles on the chancel floor in front of the altar.
From Langford we take B1018, which gives good views of the Black-water valley. After 2 miles it comes to a "T" junction and turns left to cross the river at Wickham Place. From the hill here there used to be a wonderful view of Wickham Mills but this exciting complex of buildings was pulled down in 1975. It is now more interesting to turn right at the "T" junction for Wickham Bishops (good views over the valley) and the where the road turns right, near Wickham Bishops Church, go straight on by a lane. This soon plunges down through an attractive beech wood to join the Wickham Bishops to Witham Road (the Bishops of London had a manor-house near the "T" junction recently referred to) a short way above Witham's "Blue Mill".
The name "Blue" was possibly a corruption of "Below", this being the lowest of Witham's three mills — the others being on the Brain. This mill is one of the Blackwater's handsomest, with its weather-boarded building standing on a two-arched bridge beside an elegant Georgian mill house. The mill dates anyhow from the 18th century and it last worked in 1895. Half a mile upstream from here is the Blackwater's confluence with the Brain.
Our road now crosses the Blackwater and after½ mile we rejoin B1018. Here we turn right, go under the new A12 and over the Brain and after another½ mile we reach Witham's traffic lights at the point where B1018 crosses the old A12, now called Bl389. This section of the old A12 was part of the Roman road between Chelmsford (Caesaro-magus) and Colchester (Camulodunum) and it is here called "Newland Street". We turn to the right if we are continuing up the valley of the Blackwater, or to the left if we are going up the valley of the Brain.
The Brain (called "Pod's Brook" above Clapbridge on A120 at the western outskirts of Braintree) is 14 miles long and we can follow its valley if we take the right-bank road via the Notleys to Braintree, A120 westwards to Rayne and then secondary roads, skirting Great Saling and Bardfield Saling, to Great Bardfield Church. From this church it is a half mile walk along a bridleway to Bluegate Hall, near the source of Pod's Brook.
We start off from the Witham traffic lights along the western part of Newland Street. This street has a large number of beautiful Georgian houses in it and is sometimes referred to as "Witham's handsome High Street". At the western end, just before the bridge over the river, where there was in 1213 a hamlet called "Wulvesford", we turn to the right into Mill Lane. This leads us in ¼ mile to the Mill House of Witham's Town Mill (earlier called "Newland Mill"), the second of Witham's three mills. This mill was demolished in 1948. The name "Newland" comes from the "New Lands" settled with half acre holdings by the Knights Templars who had been awarded part of the "Kings Lands" by King Stephen.
Our road now continues as "Guithavon Valley" (the word "Guithavon means "boundary river") and in another ¼ mile reaches Bl018, just before the station. Here the London-Colchester Railway, completed in 1843, cut tluough the mound built in 913 A.D. by Edward, the elder of King Alfred's sons, as a defence against the Danes. After crossing the railway we turn left onto a road signposted "Faulkbourne, The Notleys" and soon pass the 14th century Parish Church of St Nicholas, which stands behind the Green on which the Cressing Templars (see later) used to hold their market. This original "Town Centre" of Witham is called "Chipping Hill", the word "Chipping" meaning "Market".
A short hill leads down to the Brain, which we cross by an attractive old 5-arched brick bridge. On the far side of this bridge we have on our right Chipping Mill House; the mill, Witham's uppermost, was burnt down in 1882. On our left is the beginning of the paved footpath that follows the river through pleasant recreation areas for 1½ miles down to the Maldon road. From this path there is a good view of the Church standing up impressively on Chipping Hill.
1½ miles beyond the bridge we come to Faulkbourne (pronounced "Fawborn") with its magnificent red brick Hall and its delightful little Norman church. The Hall, once described as "The Pride of all Essex", started in the early 15th century as a timber-framed building, and was expanded at the time of Henry VII into a substantial red brick house.' Further brick additions were made at different times, notably in the 19th century. From 1439 it belonged to Sir John Montgomery who had spent much of his time as a soldier in France. It is conceivable that the church's dedication to the French saint, St German who was Bishop of Paris in the 10th century, may date from this time.
At the beginning of Faulkbourne village,½ mile on, a public footpath leads down a lane to the right, crosses the river in a very pleasant stretch of the valley and joins B1018 ¾ mile south of Cressing Temple, the earliest English settlement of the Knights Templars. They were given the manor in 1135 and two of their barns, dating from the 11th and 13th centuries, are still there.
1½ miles along the right-bank road from Faulkbourne's church dedicated to a French Bishop of Paris is White Notley's church dedicated to St Etheldreda, a Saxon Abbess of a monastery at Ely. This church stands on the hill at the southern entry to the village and has a white belfry - in contrast to Black Notley's black belfry. At the bottom of the hill we turn right and cross the Brain by a picturesque old iron bridge beside a ford. From here there are two pleasant walks along the valley. One can go downstream for½ mile along the left bank to a foot-bridge, cross the river and return to the village by a path at the edge of the ridge on the right bank. Or one can walk upstream for a mile, through the grounds of Fambridge Hall and along a delightful stretch of valley before crossing the river and continuing by a path (which is often muddy) past willow beds to the right-bank road at Pennett's Farm.
At Black Notley we should turn right, along the Cressing road to see the Brain's finest mill — Bulford Mill, an 18th century wool mill which was in 1813 converted into a corn mill. It produced flour until 1947. (From Bulford there is a footpath along the left bank for 1½ miles to the outskirts of Braintree. It is hoped ultimately to have a footpath beside the river the whole way from Witham to Braintree, a distance of 6½ miles.)
We should next go to see Black Notley's black-belfryed church, beautifully situated among fine old trees close to the Hall and its barns. Then, a mile on towards Braintree, we turn right, opposite a school, down Masefield Road towards the river. At the bottom, where the foot-path from Bulford comes in, we turn left along Skitts Hill and after 1 ¼ miles come to Courtaulds Braintree Mill. This mill now has nothing to do with the river but Courtaulds enterprise here started off with a river-driven corn mill which George Courtauld 1st (1761-1823) bought in 1810, and the silk throwing mill that he built in its place was river-driven. The valley now turns sharp left and the river is soon crossed by the Black Notley-Braintree road and then by A131. A mile further up, at Clap Bridge on A120 near the Barn Restaurant, the river changes its name to "Pod's Brook". The name "Pod" is thought to derive either from the family of David Pod of Little Burstead or from "Padde" meaning "Toad", and it applied originally to the whole river down to Witham (and, some people say, Maldon).
There are good views of the Pod Brook's shallow and rural valley from minor roads between Rayne and Great Bardfield. At Rayne we see the church's fine Tudor brick tower and a green lined'by 16th century houses. At Bardfield Saling the church has one of the six round towers in Essex (we have already seen those at Broomfield and Great Leighs) and an organ donated by Sir George Elvey, author of the hymn "Come ye thankful people, come".
The young river's early stage can be seen from a farm track at Parkgate or from the Great Bardfield Church to Bluegate Hall bridleway (which gives good views towards the Pant, here but a mile away and 100' lower.)
The best route to take for seeing this stretch of the Blackwater valley is the old A12 from Witham eastwards for a mile to the intersection with the new A12, then to the right, down a minor road, to Little Braxted. We go on towards Wickham Bishops for½ mile and then turn left, and left again at the wall of Braxted Park. We then take the first turn to the right and follow the attractive left-bank road to Kelvedon. Here we turn right, along the old A12, cross the Blackwater and,¾ mile beyond the bridge, turn left for Feering Church and Coggeshall.
We now turn left along A120 for½ mile, then left along B1024 back towards Kelvedon as far as Coggeshall Hamlet (Pointwell Mill) and then right, along a narrow twisty road, to Bradwell Church and the A120 at Bradwe11-juxta-Coggeshall. Here we turn left along A120 for½ mile, ! then right for Stisted, crossing the river after½ mile. At Stisted we make two left turns, cross the river again at Stisted Mill and rejoin A120 for the remaining 1½ miles to Braintree. Here we turn right for A131 (Halstead and Sudbury road); at the bottom of the hill we reach Bocking Bradfordstreet Mill, where the river changes its name from Blackwater to Pant.
In Witham we soon pass on our left No 24 Newland Street, the home of Dorothy L. Sayers, Novelist, theologian and Dante Scholar, 1923-195 At Little Braxted there is a delightful group of buildings — on the right the mill (which ceased operating in 1886) and the fine Georgian Mill House and on the left the miniature Norman church and the Hall with its fine Tudor chimney stack.
Great Braxted's church is up a drive, close to Braxted Park's ornamental lake. This Park was laid out in the 18th century by the du Canes, Huguenot refugees from Philip IIs persecution of the Protestants in the Low Countries, who after coming to this country prospered in banking and in the wool trade. The park's 4½ mile wall was built to give employment after the Napoleonic Wars. We follow this wall for a mile and after another ¼ mile can walk down a footpath to the left to see the delightful setting of the former Great Braxted Mill (demolished 1920). From here a footpath crosses the river and leads to Durwards Hall on A12.
At the entry to Kelvedon we cross an old brick bridge below the fine 19th century "Docwra Mill" (earlier known as "Kelvedon Greys") now a seed warehouse. Half a mile upstream from here is, in a pleasing setting of willows and alders, the confluence with the 4 mile - long Domsey Brook that comes from Easthorpe where a delightful little Norman church looks across a Roman road at an attractive old pub called "The House without a Name".
Before crossing A12's Kelvedon bridge over the Blackwater we should turn right to see "Easterford Mill", which operated until the 1930's and then turn left to see the Blackwater's only railway bridge, which is under Kelvedon Station. At the top of Feering Hill, opposite the junction with B1023 we can turn left to see Feering's Georgian-fronted Rye Mill House, which stands pleasantly amid trees beside the mill stream.
Travelling along the left-bank road from Feering to Coggeshall we should stop at Feering Green to see the church with its superb Tudor brickwork and Constable's picture "The Risen Christ" (transferred here from Manningtree in 1965) and to walk down to the river to see how it makes an acute bend when its southward passage is blocked by Feering Hill and it has to continue in a westerly direction. After another ¼ mile we should stop again to walk down a high-banked lane to see the site of Feering Mill (demolished 1923) which is in a delightful wooded setting beside the concrete bridge of the footpath that leads to "The Duke of Wellington" on the right-bank road (B1024). We next have, from our left-bank road, a fleeting glimpse of Feeringbury Manor, one of the houses that Queen Elizabeth I is supposed to have slept in, and after this we have some good views over the valley in which the river is winding its way, mostly between trees, roughly on the 100' contour. At the eastern edge of Coggeshall we reach A120 and turn left along it for½ mile. The valley too makes a right-angle bend here but we cannot see it as the view is blocked by houses.
After passing the 16th century'Red Lion Hotel we turn left down Bridge Street (B1024) which crosses first "The Back Ditch" and then, by The Long Bridge, the Blackwater. Between the two bridges there is a delightful row of 18th century-fronted houses, one of which is the Portobello Inn. We should pause here to look at Coggeshall's rivers; it is also but a short walk from here to the delightful Market Hill and to Coggeshall's most famous house — Paycockes in West Street (A120) built about 1500.
From just above Coggeshall's "Long Bridge" to just below Pointwell Mill the Blackwater flows in two streams - the right, and wider, stream flowing through Coggeshall Abbey and Pointwell Mills and the left, known locally as "The Back Ditch", flowing but a short distance from it. "The Back Ditch" was the original river and at one time householders used to throw their slops into it. The wider stream was made about 1220 by the monks of Coggeshall Abbey for operating their corn mill.
From near the Portobello we can walk up the left bank of the main stream to the start of the "Back Ditch", which is at times dry in this first section. As we go we obtain a good view of the three brick arches of The Long Bridge, which claims to be the oldest brick bridge in England; until 1912 it had a narrow single track and the larger carts and waggons used the ford alongside. By the Portobello's car park is the Robin's Brook's confluence with the "Back Ditch", just above the attractive old iron bridge whose graceful railings were made in the foundry that used to be beside where the "Foundry House" antique shop now is.
Robin's Brook, 3 miles long, comes from an artificial lake at Markshall near the site of the former church (demolished 1932) and house (demolished 1951). It used to drive a mill — a 19th century brick building, now a house, in Robinsbridge Road, NW from Market Hill.
We now visit two of the Blackwater's most interesting features — Coggeshall Abbey and Pointwell Mill — both approached down lanes leading off B1024. The lane to the Abbey is opposite the remains of the 15th century tithe barn; on the left of this lane is the 1220 gatehouse chapel (in construction somewhat similar to the 1220 chapel at Tilty) and at the end are the ruins of the 12th century monastery with (as at Beeleigh) a 16th century house built among them. A track then crosses the Blackwater by a 13th century brick bridge (the mill is immediately below this bridge) and after a few yards goes across the "Back Ditch". It is very muddy here in wet weather.
There is a path down the left bank of the river from here to Pointwell Mill, first beside the "Back Ditch", then beside a channel linking the two streams and finally beside the main stream. From this path we see Coggeshall Abbey Mill. The monks started a corn mill here in the 13th century but the building we see today is thought to date from the 17th century. It was first a fulling mill, in the early 19th century it was a silk throwing mill and from 1840 until 1960 it was a corn mill. Its water-driven machinery is still in working order.
Pointwell Mill worked until 1902 and was converted to a house in 1960. This and the two-gabled mill house beside it are, with their well kept gardens, one of the Blackwater's pleasantest scenes. The short lane to them leaves B1024 at Coggeshall Hamlet about ½ mile south of the tithe barn.
From Pointwell Mill we drive straight across B1024 into the narrow winding right-bank road (marked on the map's as "Cuthedge Lane") that leads in a couple of miles to Bradwell Church. This small Norman church has as a reredos, instead of the usual biblical figures, a pair of exquisite Jacobean memorials to members of the Maxey family who were, at the time of the Civil War, staunch supporters of the King when most of Essex was against him. From this church a path leads down beside the Hall to a bridge over the river; those who do not mind mud and barbed wire, can walk along the left bank for a mile to the outskirts of Bradwell Village.
The road between Bradwell Church and Village has good views to the right over the valley. Where we meet A120 we see, on the house facing us, the inscription "O.S.O. 1863". O.S.O. was a Squire of Stisted and is referred to later. A short way along Al 20 to our right is a bridge over the Blackwater and across the river is the house that stands on the site of the former "Blackwater Mill", which operated from 1689 and was demolished 1953.
We now turn left for half a mile along Al 20 and then turn right for Stisted, and cross the river after another½ mile. Stisted Village is one of the places we remember — from the charm of its setting, the impressive chimneys of its Victorian-Tudor cottages and the beautiful view past the church down onto the valley. The Victorian-Tudor cottages are the work of Squire Onley Savill Onley who succeded his father at Stisted Hall in 1843. His builder, Watts, made a speciality of ornamental chimneys with a "cobweb" design on a square plaque with the initials "O.S.O." and the date on it. He fitted these not only on the houses he built but also on some ancient farm houses.
The word "Stisted" probably means "The place where the pigs were styed in the wood" and the church was "rebuilt from the foundation" under The Revd. Charles Forster (grandfather of the novelist E.M. Forster) who was Rector from 1838 until 1871. We should stop near the church and walk down the hill across the golf course to the river to see the fine old brick bridge and look back across the golf course to the Hall (built 1823, now an ECC Old Peoples Home) and the church standing up impressively on the crest of the hill. The Hall was the home of the Olneys until 1890 and was then owned until 1906 by Colchester engineer Joseph Paxman, who gave a Diamond Jubilee ball, for which guests were brought down from London by a special train.
At Stisted we take two left hand turns and follow round the grounds of the Hall (now Braintree Golf Course) down to Stisted Mill. There was a mill here owned by the monks of Canterbury Cathedral and the Archbishop is still co-patron of the Stisted living. The present mill, now a house, is thought to date from 1775 and it operated (driven latterly by an oil engine) until 1960. We now cross the river back to the right bank and climb a hill to rejoin A120 - the Roman road "Stane Street" — VA miles before Braintree.
At Braintr.ee traffic lights we turn right, down Courtauld Road, and soon pass on our left "Bocking Place" (now a school) which was the home of George Courtauld 2nd (1802-61), of his son Sydney and of his son Sir William Julien Courtauld Bt who was High Sheriff of Essex 1921-22. This leads us into Bocking's Bradford Street, one of the most beautiful streets in Essex, that continues down to the Blackwater's highest bridge where the road changes its name from Bradford Street to Broad Road and the river changes its name from Blackwater to Pant. On our left, before the bridge, is Bockingstreet Mill (sometimes called "Bradfordstreet Mill") which is today, electrically driven, making pellets and cubes for animal food.
There used to be another mill between Stisted and Bockingstreet — Straits Mill, which after Standing as a wreck amid gravel workings for 20 years was pulled down in 1974. Making boat trips between Straits and Bockingstreet Mills was at one time a popular pastime.
The best route for seeing this final section is A131 north for 1½ miles and then left, past the old post mill, to Bocking Churchstreet. Here we cross the Pant and continue by B1053 to Finchingfield, then by B1057 to Great Bardfield. We next skirt Little Bardfield, pass Little Sampford Church and then take B1053 through Great Sampford to Radwinter. mile beyond Radwinter we turn left for Wimbish, Tye Green and Howlett End, where we turn right, along A130, for ¼ mile and then left towards Debden Cross. The Pant's source is ¾ mile on, on our right, by the southern perimeter fence of Debden airfield.
There is a left-bank footpath from Bocking Bradfordstreet to Bocking Churchstreet which passes near the imposing 16th century Doreward's Hall. Bocking Churchstreet is today a vast 20th century factory overshadowing a fine 15th century church on the north side and looking up to the gabled 17th century Deanery on the south side. The factory has developed out of the "Convent Mill", known as far back as 1300, which Samuel Courtauld 3rd (1793-1881) bought in 1819 and replaced wool ("Bocking" was the trade name of a cloth just as "Harris Tweed" is today) by silk. He rebuilt the mill and deepened the channel to take a larger wheel. The factory was running 100 looms by water power in 1894 when Courtaulds decided to concentrate their weaving at Halstead and to carry out finishing processes at Bocking, with spinning at Braintree. The Bocking water mill was demolished about 1899 to make room for a new dye house.
The Deanery is so called because the Rector here has the title of Dean, being what is called a "Peculiar" under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop, who is patron of the living, has four other such "Peculiars" — at Battle, Stamford (Lines), Jersey and Guernsey.
From B1053 we should go aside for a few yards down the Beazley End road to see Codham Mill (closed finally in 1956) which is unusual in having the weather-boarded mill and the brick mill house under one roof. In its working days it suffered alike from flood and draught both of which forced it to close down for protracted periods. There is a pleasant walk of ½ about 2 miles from here to Shalford Church, largely on the river's right bank as far as Rotten End Ford. This ford is in a delightful setting among trees and has an impressive flow of water over it when the river is high. From here we can continue our walk on either side of the river. If going along the left bank we turn to the right along a lane for ¼ mile and then, at Rotten End Farm, turn left by a footpath across fields to a bridge near Shalford Church. If we are keeping to the right bank, we turn left along the lane and after½ mile turn to the right across fields with pleasant views of the church ahead. Shalford Church is beautifully situated amid elms near farm buildings.
B1053 takes us from Codham through Shalford and down a hill to a bridge over the river at a height of 160 above sea level. Just above the bridge is Weathersfield Mill whose wheel operated until 1957. In the 1960's the mill was cut off from the Pant when the river was straightene for handling Ouse water under the Ely Ouse Water Scheme, which is referred to later.
A mile on, by Brewery Tavern at the entrance to Wethersfield village it is worth turning left into West Drive and then taking the footpath to the left to the ridge overlooking the valley. Wethersfield itself has a smal triangular Green with some pleasing houses beside it and the church above it. The Revd. Patrick Bronte (father of Charlotte and Emily Bront was curate here from 1806 until 1809. He lived at St George's House, opposite the church tower.
There are two road bridges over the Pant between Wethersfield and Great Bardfield and the uppermost is in a delightful setting at the foot of a steep hill near Waltham's Cross. But the road approaches are so narrow that it is better to continue to Finchingfield and take B1057 (with views to the "Finchingfield Brook") to Great Bardfield. To reach Great Bardfield Watermill we keep left at the next three road junctions, head towards Waltham's Cross, stop near the elegant Gibraltar Windmill and walk down a lane past the windmill to the watermill.
This 19th century mill, the uppermost on the Pant, was in use until the 1940's, though the water-driven machinery is still intact. It is in a delightful setting a short way above the Pant's confluence with the "Finchingfield Brook"; this brook is a fast flowing stream whose water is noticeably clearer than that of the Pant.
Great Bardfield is one of Essex's pleasantest small towns and it was at one time, as so many artists lived there, called "The Chelsea of Essex". The main street, along which we drive, has some beautiful half-timbered and Georgian houses in it. From here we take the Thaxted road for 3A mile and then bear right for Little Sampford. Along this narrow right-bank road we pass through some delightful country and have good views over the valley, now quite shallow, to the right. After Little Sampford Church we turn right, cross the Pant at a height of 210' and turn left, along B1053, for Great Sampford. This road gives" views to the left across the valley to the right-bank weir over which Ouse water, which has travelled 36 miles by pipe, 8 miles down the Stour and 7 miles by pipe, flows into the Pant.
The approach to Great Sampford is delightful, with old houses on either side and the 14th century church ahead. This church was built by the Knights Hospitallers and the chancel has in it some interesting wall seats provided originally for the Knights. In the church yard is an obelisk in memory of Colonel Jonas Watson 1st who served under the Duke of Marlborough in Flanders and fell in action at the siege of Cartagena in 1741 at the age of 79. His grandson Jonas Watson 2nd was commissioned at the age of 14, fought at Bunker Hill in 1774 and fell in action near to the house to which he had retired (after selling his commission), while trying to quell a rebellion in Ireland in 1798, at the age of 50.
At Radwinter, 3 miles farther along B1053 we should walk down past the store-tavern (Great Sampford too has a store-tavern) and cross the river to get the pleasant view, looking back, of Radwinter Church among its trees. This church was richly restored in the 1870's and 1880's with a wealth of paintings and woodcarving.
Half a mile beyond Radwinter we turn left onto a minor road towards Tye Green and after another Va mile we turn right, onto the approach road to Wimbish Church and Hall. Here is another church close to farm buildings (as at Lindsell on the Stebbing Brook) and a very pleasant setting it has.
Near the Hall is the Pant's confluence with its main secondary head-stream, which rises at Sewards End on B1053 two miles short of Saffror Walden. Near the source is the 1350 moated Tiptofts Farm referred to in the Shell Guide to Essex as "one of the most spell-binding antiquities in England".
Continuing along the road we go through Tye Green and then along a ridge which is the watershed between the Pant on our right and the Chelmer on our left. We next turn right, along A130, for ¼ mile and then turn left, alongside the very young Pant, past Elder Street to the source. This is on the right of the road, beside the airfield's perimeter fence, at a height of 380' above sea level just before the road starts going down towards Debden Cross and the valley of the Cam. We are here but½ mile north of the source of the Chelmer in Rowney Wood.
For the historical information given acknowledgement is due to:
Hervey Benham's "Some Essex Watermills" (Essex County Newspapers 1976)
Peter Came's "A history of the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Canal" (Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation Limited, 10 Bradford Street, Braintree.)
Marcus Crouch's "Essex" (Batsford 1969)
E.A. Fitch's "Maldon and the River Blackwater" (1909 - now out of print)
Arthur Mee's "The King's England - Essex" (Hodder and Stoughton 1951)
Norman Scarfe's "A Shell Guide - Essex" (Faber and Faber 1975)
The village booklets from Coggeshall, Felsted, Stisted and White Notley.
Thanks are due also for the help received from The Essex Record Office, The Plume Library at Maldon, The Anglian Water Authority (Essex River Division) at Chelmsford and from all those who have been so patient in answering questions.