River Lee Navigation

River Lee Navigation

The River Lee Navigation is a canalised river incorporating — as the name suggests — the River Lee (also known as the River Lea). Its course runs from Hertford Castle Weir all the way to the River Thames at Bow Creek. The first lock of the navigation is Hertford Lock the last being Bow Locks.


While the river itself can be spelt either Lee or Lea, the Lee Navigation was so named by Acts of Parliament and is so marked on Ordnance Survey maps.

History of the navigation

The Lee or Lea is a major tributary of the River Thames and was once used by Viking raiders: King Alfred changed the level of the river to strand Guthrum and his fleet. In more peaceful times, it became important for the transport of grain from Hertfordshire, but navigation of its southern-most tidal reaches "Bow Creek" was difficult due to its tortuous meanders.

The first Act for improvement of the river was granted in 1424, this being the first Act granted for navigational improvement in England; a second Act was passed in 1430. The Act authorised local landowners to make improvements paid for by levying tolls.

The first pound lock in England, that is, a lock as we now understand it with mitred gates, was opened at Waltham Abbey in 1577: the remainder of the control of levels was carried out by "staunches" or "turnpikes" — a weir with a single vertically lifting gate, through which boats were pulled against the current.

With increasing extraction of water by the New River Company, navigation became difficult and water for mill-owners became scarcer, and a petition was presented to Parliament resulting in a further Act of 1739.

However, this did not solve all the problems. John Smeaton made a survey of the river in 1765 and recommended that the staunches be replaced by pound locks. An Act in 1767 provided these changes, together with the construction of a new stretch of canal, the Limehouse Cut to bypass the tight bends of Bow Creek near the River Thames, and this was opened in 1770 and widened in 1777. Artificial cuts and pound locks were opened at Waltham Abbey, Edmonton and Hackney in 1769. There were further improvements throughout the 19th century, including an Act in 1850 to authorise new lock cuts at Hoddesdon, Carthagena Lock (Broxbourne), Waltham Marsh, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Hackney, Leyton and Bromley-by-Bow and new locks at Hunter's Gate (Bow Bridge) and Old Ford. The River Lee Water Act of 1855 authorised a new lock at Amwell Marsh and the removal of Stanstead Lock. Edmonton Lock was to be removed and Pickett's Lock rebuilt. In 1868 the Lee Conservancy Board was formed to take over control of the river from the former trustees.

The Lee Navigation bought the Stort Navigation in 1911, and instituted further improvements, including reconstruction of the locks between Enfield and Hertford, the width being increased from 13 feet 3 inches (4.04 m) to 16 feet (4.88 m): by the 1930s, 130-ton barges could reach Enfield, and 100-ton barges to Ware and Hertford.The navigation was nationalised in 1948, and control passed to the British Transport Commission. The locks as far upstream as Ponders End were duplicated and mechanised. In 1962, the British Transport Commission was wound up, and control passed to the British Waterways Board. Commercial traffic effectively ended in the 1980s. During the 1950s horse drawn lighters were still journeying as far as Hertford. By 1980 commercial traffic extended no higher than the Enfield Rolling Mills at Brimsdown, with just one tug, the "Vassal" was regularly at work on the river. Powered by a 120 hp Gardener diesel engine, she would typically tow a train of two lighters loaded with timber from Bow to Hahn's Wharf at Edmonton. Although there are efforts to transport rubbish for incineration at the Edmonton Incinerator. [ [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article521162.ece Timesonline Canal report ] Retrieved January 07 2008 ]

ee also

*Canals of Great Britain
*History of the British canal system
*Bow Back Rivers
*Lea Valley Walk

External links

* [http://www.londoncanals.co.uk/lee/leeintro.html River Lee Navigation]
* [http://www.petermarshallphotos.co.uk/p_enfield_edmonton.html Photographs of Edmonton timber wharves (1983)]

Further reading

* Cumberlidge, Jane (1998). "Inland Waterways of Great Britain" (7th ed.). Imray Laurie Norie & Wilson. ISBN 0-85288-355-2.
* Paget-Tomlinson, Edward (1994). "The Illustrated History of Canal & River Navigations". Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 1-85075-277-X.
* Priestley, Joseph (1831). "Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain". Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green.
* Nicholson&Ordnance Survey."Guide to the Waterways 1 London,Grand Union,Oxford& Lee" (1997) ISBN 0 7026 3296 0


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