Stort Navigation

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Stort Navigation
Roydon From Canal.jpg
The navigation approaching Roydon
Maximum boat length 86 ft 0 in (26.21 m)
Maximum boat beam 13 ft 3 in (4.04 m)
Locks 15
Status navigable
Date of act 1766
Date completed 1769
Connects to River Lee Navigation
Stort Navigation Route Map
Bishop's Stortford
End of Navigation
52 B1252 Station Road Bridge
51 Station Footbridge
50 B1383 London Road
49B Railway Bridge
South Mill Lock No.1
Twyford Lock No.2
48 Pig Lane Bridge
47 Matchstick Foorbridge
44 Hallingbury Footbridge
Spellbrook Lock No.3
43 Spellbrook Lane Bridge
Little Hallingbury Mill Junction
Hallingbury Mill Marina
Tednambury Lock No.4
Little Hallingbury Mill
37 Kecksys Railway Bridge
Keckys Farm Footbridge
Keckys Farm
Sawbridgeworth Lock No.5
35 Station Road Bridge
Sawbridgeworth Station Arm
Sheering Mill Lock No.6
33 Sheering Mill Bridge
28 Footbridge
Feakes Lock No.7
A1184 Harlow Road Bridge
Harlow Mill Lock No.8
21 Harlow Footbridge
Latton Lock No.9
18 Bailey Bridge
Moorhen Marina, Harlow
Burnt Mill Lock No.10
16 A414 Burnt Mill Bridge
15 Footbridge
Parndon Mill
Parndon Mill Lock No.11
11 Cinders Bridge
Hunsdon Mill Lock No.12
Roydon Lock No.13
7 Roydon Railway Bridge
B181 Roydon High Street
Roydon Mill
Brick Lock No.14
Lower Lock No.15
Feildes Weir
Rye House Junction
(Lee Navigation)

The Stort Navigation is the canalised section of the River Stort running 22 kilometres (14 mi) from the town of Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, downstream to its confluence with the River Lee Navigation at Feildes Weir near Rye House, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.


With the growth of the malt trade in Bishop's Stortford in the early eighteenth century, attention turned to providing better transport facilities. The River Stort joined the River Lee, and the malt trade at Ware had benefitted from improvements made on that river. A similar solution was therefore sought for the Stort, and a public meeting was held on 11 December 1758. The chief promoter seems to have been Thomas Adderley. A bill was duly submitted to parliament, and became an Act of Parliament in March 1759.[1] It was entitled An Act for making the River Stort navigable, in the counties of Hertford and Essex, from the New Bridge, in the town of Bishop Stortford, into the River Lea, near a Place called the Rye, in the county of Hertford.[2] Commissioners were appointed to oversee the work and to raise the capital to fund the project. They failed in this duty, and the powers of the first act lapsed, as it imposed time limits during which the work had to be completed.[3]

A second Act of Parliament was sought after three men proposed to the Commissioners that they would fund the scheme in return for the tolls. This met with the Commissioners' approval, and the new Act was obtained on 30 March 1766.[3] It was entitled An Act for making and continuing navigable the River Stort, in the counties of Hertford and Essex,[2] and it empowered Charles Dingley, George Jackson and William Masterson to build the Navigation and to collect tolls. They had five years to complete the work, and the powers of the first Act were repealed by the second. Work began on 24 September, under the direction of Thomas Yeoman, who was also the surveyor for the Lee Navigation, and was completed in autumn 1769. The navigation, which included fifteen locks, was officially opened on 24 October 1769.[3]

In 1796, Jackson issued a Stort halfpenny token for use on the Navigation. The reverse shows the course of the river with a horse-drawn barge in the foreground. It was struck by Matthew Boulton in mid-1796, despite the date on the piece (1795). Conrad Heinrich Küchler was the designer.[4]

Because the navigation was privately funded, there is no record of the actual cost, but Jackson, speaking in 1812 and by then named Sir George Duckett, stated that it had not been a good business proposition. The Lee Navigation paid the proprietors £105 in 1774, for improvements made to the junction between the two rivers. Trade increased gradually, rising from around 18,000 or 19,000 tons in 1791 to 40,000 tons in 1811.[5]

Table of tolls[edit]

The tolls specified by the enabling Act of Parliament were as follows.[2]

Tonnage rates
For wheat, rye, beans or peas  0s 6d per quarter.
For malt or oats  0s 4d ditto.
For barley, or any other sort of grain not before enumerated  0s 5d ditto.
For meal or flour (five bushels to a sack)  0s 4d per sack.
For coal, culm or cinders  2s 6d per chaldron (£0.13/m³)
For lime  2s 6d ditto (£0.13/m³)
For oil-cakes, malt-dust, pigeon dung or other manure of any Kind  1s 6d per ton
For goods, wares or merchandize not before enumerated  2s 6d ditto.

And so in proportion for any less Quantity.

Boats returning with a back lading of Oil-cake, Malt-dust, Pigeon Dung or any other Kind of Manure, which have passed up or down the River immediately before, and paid the Tolls or Rates on their Cargoes, shall be exempted from Tonnage Rate on such Manure.


Once the Stort was navigable to Bishop's Stortford, there was interest in making it part of a larger network. The City of London's Thames and Canal Committee appointed the engineer Robert Whitworth to survey a route for a canal between Bishop's Stortford and Cambridge. He was to produce a report, including an estimate of the cost of construction, and give his opinion on whether any other route to Cambridge might be better. Although he was asked to do this in November 1779, it was more than a year until he produced the report, which was published on 6 December 1780. His plan followed the obvious route, passing up the Stort Valley, and crossing into the Granta Valley to reach Cambridge. However, this involved passing in front of Audley End, the home of Lord Howard de Walden, who vehemently opposed the scheme. A public meeting held in November 1781 ended in disarray, and no further action was taken at the time.[6]

John Phillips was next to revive the plan in 1785, although it was a small part of a grand scheme to link London to Kings Lynn. He hoped to avoid the opposition experienced previously by routing his Bishop's Stortford to Cambridge link to the west of the Shotgrove and Audley End estates. He did not find favour because his costings were thought to be wildly optimistic. George Jackson proposed a route to the Thames and Canal Committee in 1788, which passed behind Audley End and through Saffron Walden. This was surveyed by Samuel Weston, as Whitworth was busy in Scotland. Lord Howard opposed this route, too, as did the Bedford Levels Corporation. In 1789, a line proposed by John Rennie was considered, which would have passed through Saffron Walden to join the River Little Ouse near Wilton Ferry. A bill was presented to Parliament, but was withdrawn in the face of serious opposition.[7]

The next attempt was made in 1811, with Jackson, now called Sir George Duckett, driving the plan. A bill was introduced to Parliament, but was defeated in committee. A second bill was introduced in January 1812, with some modifications, and despite organised opposition, became an Act of Parliament on 9 June 1812. It authorised the raising of £870,000 for the project, which included 52 locks on the main line, 13 on a branch to Whaddon, and three tunnels. Work could not be started until £425,250 had been raised. However, only £121,300 was subscribed, and so a second Act was obtained in 1814, to authorise just the sections from the River Cam to Saffron Walden, and the branch to Whaddon. Despite the authorisation, no work was ever done, and the idea of the London and Cambridge Junction Canal faded away.[8]


A change of ownership occurred in 1832, when the bankers Duckett, Morland and Company failed, and Sir George Duckett, one of the original three funders, became bankrupt. At the time, the annual income from tolls was around £5,000, and the whole concern was estimated to be worth £150,000. It passed to a firm called Birbecks, who had loaned the company £40,000 but then foreclosed the mortgage. They then passed it on to Gurney and Co, who were bankers based in Norwich.[9]

In May 1842 the Northern and Eastern Railway opened a line to Bishop's Stortford, which followed the valley of the Stort, and had stations almost on the banks of the navigation. The effect on trade was dramatic, with income dropping from £5,477 to £2,593 in the ten years between 1838 and 1848. The decline then stopped, and the Lee Navigation gave serious thought to purchasing their neighbour. Acts of Parliament obtained by them in 1868 and 1874 included powers to authorise the acquisition, but surveys were made, and the amount of repairs and dredging that would be required persuaded them to only offer a small sum, which was rejected. Gurney and Co sold it in 1873 to a firm of brewers from Spitalfields called Truman, Hanbury and Co. Sir Walter Gilbey took it over next, and formed the Stort Navigation Company Ltd in 1905, a company in which most of the directors were members of his own family.[10]

With income dropping, Gilbey began negotiating with the Lee Navigation. Bishop's Stortford Urban District Council offered £170 towards its purchase, on condition that other local authorities should also contribute. Later that year, one side of Brick Lock at Roydon collapsed. As it was the second lock above the junction with the Lee, nearly all the barges that operated on the Navigation were trapped above it. Gilbey offered the Navigation to the Lee Navigation for a small fee. Although the deal was not finalised, they sent extra men to assist the six already employed on rebuilding the lock, and it reopened on 4 October 1909. Another assessment by the Lee Conservancy Board estimated that £10,800 was needed to put it back into good order, and noted that income had dropped from £927 to £319 between 1901 and 1907. Eventually Gilbey gave in, and the Lee Conservancy Board took ownership on 1 June 1911, having paid just five shillings (25p) for it.[11]

Prior to the takeover, the Lee Conservators had applied for a loan under the Development and Road Improvement Funds Act of 1909, and were granted five annual payments of £2,500, to be repaid when profits were made. Work began on rebuilding the locks in 1913, but the onset of the First World War in 1914 resulted in all work stopping, except for urgent repairs. It resumed when the war ended, and the navigation was reopened on 4 July 1924, the ceremony being performed by Harry Gosling, the Minister of Transport. Some traffic returned to the navigation, as trade in timber grain and malt grew, but it died away after the Second World War, and the last commercial traffic was in 1972.[12] However, the growth in leisure boating was already well under way, and the navigation has seen a new lease of life as a result.[13]

Present day[edit]

The 15 locks are built to take boats 86 feet (26 m) by 13.25 feet (4.0 m), which means that they are not quite wide enough to take two narrow boats at a time. The Navigation is now managed by the Canal & River Trust as successor to British Waterways.[13]

There is a towpath along the entire length of the navigation, which forms part of a number of long distance walks. The Stort Valley Way is a 28-mile (45 km) circular walk, while the Three Forests Way is a 60-mile (97 km) circular walk, passing through Hatfield Forest, Hainault Forest and Epping Forest.[13] It was devised by the West Essex Group of the Ramblers Association, as a way to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 39–40
  2. ^ a b c Priestley 1831, pp. 593–594
  3. ^ a b c Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 40
  4. ^ "Great Britain - 1795". Napoleonic Medals. Retrieved 2011-12-22. 
  5. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 41–42
  6. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 42–43
  7. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 43–45
  8. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 45–46
  9. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 47
  10. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 47–48
  11. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 48–49
  12. ^ Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 49
  13. ^ a b c Cumberlidge 2009, pp. 170–171
  14. ^ "Three Forests Way". Long Distance Walkers Association. Retrieved 2011-12-23. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°46′57.23″N 0°5′47.88″E / 51.7825639°N 0.0966333°E / 51.7825639; 0.0966333