Welcome to the History of
the Lee and Stort Navigations
Scroll down for the Introduction bit but before you go -
You are welcome to use information gleaned from this site but if you publish it anywhere, please acknowledge where you got it from!
The site is being regularly updated as I add new information. The latest additions are:-
30th January 2014: I have added John Smeaton's reports to the Lee Engineers page.
23rd January 2014: I am celebrating the New Year by (at last) presenting the update to the Stort's history (see below 6th October 2013). The article formerly known as "A Short History of the River Stort" is now reborn as "A (not so) Short History of the River Stort". (See Stort History)
16th October 2013;A number of additions and changes have been made in response to an email from Eric Last whose great grandfather George Judge was a River Constable in the late 19th century. He has provided a photograph of George and information on brother James Judge and his nephew Albert Judge who worked as Lock keepers and Constables at Limehouse and Old Ford. There is a resumé of the Judge family's involvement in two places on the Police and Bailiffs page, together with the press report of one of George's apprehensions. Grateful thanks are due to Eric.
6th October 2013: After being invited to catalogue the River Stort Navigation Deeds held by Canal & River Trust (the successors to British Waterways), I took the opportunity (with their permission) to photograph many of the older Deeds. Transcription of forty eight of these documents has given me the opportunity to peer into dusty corners of the Stort's history. This has meant changes to some previously-held opinions and views. John Poole Davis's halo has received a polish. I have added a button to the left called Stort Chronology which is a brief listing of the Navigation's history. More information has come to light from Richard Bradley about the robbery at Burnt Mill in 1847 and the history of Burnt Mill Station.
31st August 2013. There has been an abiding story that Point Jackson in New Zealand (and Port Jackson, now Sydney Harbour) were named by Captain Cook after the proprietor of the Stort Navigation, George Jackson. After failing to find Point Jackson, I contacted the secretary of the Captain Cook Society, who told me that the place Cook named was Cape Jackson. (See Stort History for the full story).
29th August 2013. I have added an engraving of Tottenham Mills showing the Mill and the lock prior to 1845. This was taken from a print owned by Dennis Ashby.
14th June 2013. I have enlarged and brought up to date the Bow Back Rivers page, including the changes brought about by the 2012 Olympic Games and the hoped-for future development of Carpenters Road Lock
30th May 2013. In my archives of the road where I live, I have found a photograph of Thomas Brooks, lock keeper at Dobbs Weir Lock between 1915 and 1917, with his family.
17th May 2013. I have added links to two waterbased activities at Burnt Mill Lock on the Stort Navigation
4th May 2013: Another half-mile post has come to light. It is a few metres south of the Coal Tax post which itself is just to the south of King's Weir bridge. See the Mileposts page for more details. Many thanks to Neil Leslie for locating it.
Neil Leslie also raised a query concerning the layout of the 1878 lockhouses. This led to a bit of intensive research. which proved his theory was correct, and the changes are reflected in the Lock Houses page.
I have been looking into the life of that mysterious man John Poole Davis, who bought the Stort Navigation in 1889. This is a summary of my findings.
16th February 2013: More for the Stort: A large version of the 1946 Lee Conservancy map of the Stort Navigation. A number of additions have been made to the Stort-Cam folder, including several maps. A new map (the relevant section of the 1946 map) has been added to each of the Stort lock pages.
1st January 2013: Busy day today with the Stort. The development of the name of the river from STOURE Flu to RIVER STORT, complete with two maps can be found here. Samuel Cockett's detailed 1772 map of the Stort can be found from his button to the left. Lastly, the stories of the attempts to extend the Stort Navigation to Cambridge and beyond, are here. All these subjects can also be visited from the Stort History article.
20th December 2012: The Enquiry into the Pollution of Rivers in 1867 relating to the Lee and the Stort, is now available in full and in an edited version. Click here
14th May 2012: The discovery that there was a list of the lock keepers occupying the original seven lock houses on the Stort, shown on the 11th June 1833 auction details. James Spellow at Harlow Lock is an addition to the list of known keepers.
20th March 2012; More Pre-History for the Stort with a map and a press cutting. And there are now three of John Boyes' extensive researches, those of the Stort Mills and the North papers at the Bodleian are on the Stort History page and for John Grundy's 1772 Survey notes at the Brotherton Library in Leeds, see Stort Surveys
15th February 2012; The addition of Messrs Burtroupe and Cannon to Roydon and Brick Locks respectively and a correction to the 1891 Census for Messrs Higgins and Searle who swap places between those two locks.
25th January 2012: The addition of a new old postcard from Dennis Ashby's collection. The Fish & Eels pub at Dobbs Weir with, possibly, the lock keeper W J Hughes standing outside. Or do you know otherwise?
5th December 2011: A new button to look behind - 'Stort Pre-History'. Here are the five documents which pre-dated the opening of the Stort Navigation in 1769.
25th October 2011: The addition of the last full-time lock keeper (Mr Jean Lemaire) to live at Hardmead Lock. He retired in 1976.
5th September 2011: Following an interesting day out on the navigations yesterday, it seems that the former lock houses are becoming desirable residences. Those at Feildes Weir, Hardmead Lock and Brick Lock are all up for sale!
3rd September 2011: The laborious task of transcribing the lengthy and sometimes illegible 19th century survey reports for the River Stort is now complete. See behind the Stort Surveys button.
26th July 2011: After 13 months of thinking we had all the mileposts, Florence Salberter of British Waterways has found another. See Old Ford on the Mileposts page.
2nd May 2011: Having been recommended to explore the Chadwell Way Sculpture Trail, I was so taken with it that I have added a page Chadwell Sculpture
20th March 2011: The full text of William Vallens' poem "A Tale of Two Swannes" is now to be found under "Lee History Papers". See also Dr Keith Fairclough's detailed analysis of the short-lived lock at Waltham, described at length by William Vallens.
5th February 2011: Photo of South Mill Lockhouse
22nd September 2010: A new examination of the earliest records held at the National Archives has resulted in a number of corrections and additions to the pages for Lee Navigation, Hertford Lock, Ware Weir, Stanstead Lock, Dobbs Weir Lock, Carthagena Lock, Kings Weir, Watham Common Lock, Newmans Weir, Picketts Lock, Stonebridge Lock, Lea Bridge, Hackney Marsh, Bow Lock, Limehouse Cut and Limehouse Lock. Also the addition of Thomas Yearsley, Edward Want and William Graves to the Lock Keeper Index.
4th August 2010: Lots of new photos and information. See Dobbs Weir Lock, Newman's Weir, Picketts Lock, Bow Back Rivers (City Mills Lock), Bow Locks (Three Mills Lock) and Limehouse Lock. Also a new photo on the Lee Surveys page.
30th June 2010: The last milepost (at Hackney) is located and added to the site!
3rd June 2010: A postcard image of Feakes Lock on the Stort in 1909.
2nd April 2010: A new page for the Mileposts with their origins, photographs and locations of the surviving posts. Also a boundary post at Enfield and a Coal Tax post at Kings Weir
2nd March 2010: Mystery pictures page - see below and left - can you identify the location?
26th February 2010: A new "old" map of Broxbourne Mill and Gull. See Carthagena Lock
21st February 2010: The 1911 census. The names of the lock keepers and their wives (but not their children), who were at home in their lockhouses on 2nd April 1911, have now been added. To decode the reference, see below....
18th February 2010: Hunsdon Mill Lock. The details of the Mill at Hunsdon have been corrected and amplified.
18th January 2010: Lee History Papers. A new section containing research papers on the history of the Lee between 1190 and 1790.
The Introduction bit...
On the following pages are reproduced some of the entries in the 168 Minute Books of both the River Lee Trust (1739 - 1868) and the Lee Conservancy Board (1868-1948), held at the National Archives at Kew. Information has also been gleaned from the Census returns (1841-1911) and from the massive holdings of Engineering plans and reports at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell.
It was in 2006 that I was asked to write an article about the derivation of the names of the locks on both the Navigations. My interest was kindled and after researching the names of the locks, I started to wonder about the names of the lock-keepers, so I hunted through the Census returns.
Then John Boyes told me that the Minute Books contained many references to the locks and the keepers. This led to a series of visits to Kew to comb through those volumes. It was a time-consuming task, as my attention would often be drawn into interesting side tracks, some of which I followed and recorded.
The original article was four pages long - when the research exceeded a hundred pages I decided to publish it. To produce a book seemed prohibitively expensive with the additional problem that the resultant volume was unlikely to top the Sunday Times' best-seller lists.
So here it is as a website. Apart from the histories of each lock, there are other pages which may interest you.
I must make an acknowledgement of the various Archive Collections which I have visited and whose staff, without exception, have provided assistance, guidance and access to their records. I particularly thank Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies (HALS), within whose area a large part of both the Lee and the Stort is located. They may be contacted via www.hertsdirect.org/hals.
Where possible, I have added a reference to the origin of the information. You will need to visit the NA or the LMA if you want to verify or expand an entry, although I might have a digital image of the record. Just ask.
NA = National Archive. Rail 845 is the subject (Lee) in their records. The volume number follows the oblique stroke. The date will then take you directly to the relevant meeting in the Minute Book if you wish to go back to an original entry.
LMA = London Metropolitan Archives. Acc 2423 is the British Waterways holding which includes the River Lee Trust and the Lee Conservancy Board papers. The file number follows the oblique stroke.
LCB Records = The discovery of a box of Lee Conservancy staff record cards was unexpected and a treasure chest of information, often filling in gaps left by other sources.
Where there is a Census entry, the reference for each of the Census years 1841-1901 gradually narrows down through county to town to district to page.
The 1911 Census reference breaks down as follows: (the example is for Hertford Lock).
If you enter the relevant number in the "census reference search" window, it should take you directly to the lock!
I have, in most cases, set an arbitrary time limit of 1950 on personal details, except where I have permission to include them.
The Lock keeper Index pages list all the Lock keepers alphabetically for both the rivers. There are also pages which record the careers and locations of the Conservancy Police and Water Bailiffs.
The Mystery Pictures page contains images of scenes in the Lea Valley. Our experts are defeated as to the location of these pictures! Can you help?
The Survey pages record all the surveys carried out between 1791 and 1947. To go to a particular lock in the Surveys, simply click on the title at the head of the individual lock pages or go via the Survey pages..
A broad history of the River Lea and the Lee Navigation written by John Boyes in 1994, particularly relating to the engineering aspects, will be found behind the Lee Engineers button. Lee History Papers is the portal to the Edmonton Hundred History Society paper researched by Michael Parker, "The Navigation of the River Lee from 1190 to 1790" and to Dr Keith Fairclough's detailed doctorate thesis "THE RIVER LEA 1571-1767: A River Navigation prior to canalisation."
For those desiring a wider and more general history of the River Stort Navigation, I have included my own article "A Short History of the Stort".
Those interested in the legal history of the Lee and Stort should go to the Acts of Parliament page which shows all the Acts relating to the rivers with the major actions for each Act listed.
Just choose a button on the left to go somewhere that interests you!
By the way, if you are wondering just how much 20/- or a pound a week was worth in 1885 (answer £80*), this little table will give you an approximation. It shows the value of £1 in terms of the Retail Price Index compared with 2008.
* Or that you could buy for £1 in 1885 the same amount of goods that would have cost you £80 in 2008.
All the currency amounts quoted on this site are in the "old" money format that disappeared with decimalisation on 15th February 1971. For those who cannot remember those days, a pound was divided into 20 shillings (s) each comprising 12 pence (d). These pennies were divided into halfpennies (ha'pence) and quarters (farthings). There was also the guinea which was £1. 1s, the crown (5s) and the half crown (2s 6d). Currency amounts were either written as £5.2s.6d. or £5.2.6 or £5/2/6. Just to make it interesting, amounts below £5 were often quoted in shillings and pence only; hence £3.7.6d would be shown as 67/6.
If you spot something you don't understand or think is wrong or just want to chat about, then click here and email me.
Richard Dean has kindly allowed me to use his finely-researched historical maps of the Lee Navigation, to locate, illustrate and add information to each lock. The legend can be brought up by clicking on the map. These maps are included in his 'Canals of London - No. 4 in the Historical Canal Maps' series. Full details of his work can be found at www.cartographics.co.uk/Page3.htm.
I must record my grateful thanks to John Boyes, Keith Fairclough and Jeremy Batch, whose various researches, published and private, I have plundered for information.
Also to Dennis Ashby, whose extensive collection of early 20th century postcards has provided many of the illustrations on these pages.
Many of the other photographs were taken by me. I have credited images where I know the source. The remainder have come by various circuitous routes and I cannot recall the origins. If you know the provenance of any that I have not acknowledged, please contact me.
p.s. If you have the time to browse further, please have a look at my other websites -
This site was last updated 30-Jan-2014