Essex Waterways


AINA Representative: Mr Neil Edwards

The Company Secretary
Essex Waterways Limited
Island House
Moor Road

Telephone: 01494 783453


Constitutional status 

Essex Waterways Limited is a private company, owned by The Inland Waterways Association, a national Charity, which manages the navigation on behalf of the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation Limited, the company that built the waterway under a 1793 Act of Parliament.

Description of navigation

A mainly rural navigation with short urban sections, all situated within a conservation area.

14 miles canalised river with locks at approx. 1 mile intervals.

A brief history of the navigation

The Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation was formed under an Act of Parliament in 1793, following an earlier unsuccessful Act in 1766 when insufficient funds were raised. Surveys had been undertaken and there had been discussions for promoting a navigation since the late 17th century. John Rennie was nominally in charge of construction of the navigation, but his assistant Richard Coates actually did the work. Although labelled the ‘Chelmer & Blackwater’, the Navigation mostly follows the river Chelmer, which is joined by the Blackwater just below Beeleigh Lock, near Heybridge.

The Navigation joined the sea at Heybridge rather than the sea port of Maldon owing to objections from landowners and other port interests in the town who feared the Navigation would bring a loss of trade. The community around Heybridge arose following the construction work in the 1790s, as the area was entirely rural farmland until the building of the Navigation. For the first fifty years of its operation, the Navigation was very successful, but with the arrival of the Eastern Counties Railway in Chelmsford in 1843, trade steadily declined. After the 1939 – 1945 war, the sea lock at Heybridge Basin was enlarged (now 107’ x 26’) for bigger timber ships from the continent.

The only trade during the final the years of commercial carrying was timber to Brown’s, timber merchants, in Chelmsford. When this trade stopped, in 1972, the Navigation Company was, at first, resistant to use of the waterway by pleasure traffic, but a spirited campaign by the Association’s Chelmsford Branch led to acceptance and a steady growth in pleasure craft numbers. The Inland Waterways Association’s Chelmsford Branch has supported the waterway ever since, and organised the restoration of Springfield Basin in 1993. Since then, the Association has raised over £400,000 to repair locks and weirs at Hoe Mill, Stoneham’s, Barnes Mill and Sandford locks. More recently, a locally-based Chelmer Canal Trust was formed to add its support.

Heybridge Basin is a busy haven for boats sheltering from the tidal Blackwater Estuary, after which there follows 13 miles of tranquil rural river, with 12 locks (60’ x 16’), until water meadows on the outskirts of Chelmsford are reached. The Navigation terminates at Springfield Basin, only a few minutes walk from the busy town centre. Major redevelopment of waterside properties followed the restoration of Springfield Basin, and there is potential for much more. The Association has also promoted an extension of the Navigation through a former gas works to the river Can (a tributary of the Chelmer), which flows through the centre of Chelmsford. The proposals have enjoyed the support of Chelmsford Borough Council, but funding has yet to be secured.

Current situation and use


The Inland Waterways Association’s subsidiary company ‘Essex Waterways Ltd’ (IWA) took over the management of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation on Monday 14th November, following negotiations with the Company of Proprietors of the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation and the joint administrators of the Company.

The arrangement provides that IWA takes on day-to-day responsibilities for the Navigation, as well as income and expenditure relating to it, although the freehold ownership of the waterway remains with the Company.

New arrangements

In particular, IWA has taken on responsibilities for licensing boats to use the navigation, for moorings, for operating the sea lock at Heybridge and associated services, for looking after the willow trees along the navigation - which provide a source of income through timber sales for cricket bats - and general maintenance of the navigation, its structures, the towing path, water supplies, waterside furniture and operating mechanisms. IWA will also look after the lock cottage at Heybridge, the Company’s small office at Paper Mill Lock (near Little Baddow), facilities for boaters at Springfield (Chelmsford), Paper Mill Lock and Heybridge, and the company’s maintenance vessels, motor vehicles, plant and equipment.

The tearooms at Paper Mill Lock, the Old Ship public house at Heybridge and trip-barge Victoria have all been sold by the administrator. Lock cottages at Paper Mill Lock, Hoe Mill Lock and Sandford Lock are also being sold by the administrator along with some other pieces of land that are outside the core-navigation assets. The proceeds from these sales will be used to help clear debts to the Company’s creditors.

IWA has also taken on Colin Edmond, the lockkeeper at Heybridge, to manage the Navigation on a day-to-day basis. The administrator made other former staff of the Company redundant at various times since the Company went into administration. IWA intends that some maintenance, repair work and other duties on the Navigation will be undertaken by contractors, as and when funds permit.

Many duties will be undertaken by volunteers, and arrangements are being made for some work to be undertaken by local IWA members and Waterway Recovery Group work parties. The local authorities along the Navigation – Essex County, Chelmsford Borough and Maldon District councils and Essex & Suffolk Water, which abstracts water from the Navigation, have provided IWA with letters of comfort that, subject to certain conditions, they are likely to provide financial support in repair works to the Navigation.

IWA’s agreement to manage the navigation is for an initial period of ten years, and then renewable for further periods of ten years, at IWA’s option, in perpetuity. The Navigation is being managed through the Association’s subsidiary company so as to keep the undertaking separate from the Association’s main charitable work. For legal purposes, operating the navigation will count as trading, thus the work will be undertaken through a trading company, Essex Waterways Limited, which is wholly owned by the Association. The operation will need to break-even, after taking into account any fundraising for the Navigation undertaken by the Association, and IWA is anxious that its main charitable work does not suffer any lessening or distraction as a result of the new duties. A series of safeguards have been built into the agreement to protect the Association in the event that the new arrangements fail for any reason. IWA has not taken on any liability for the Company’s debts or any commitments incurred before 24th November 2005.

Plans for the future

IWA intends to run the navigation for public benefit, to undertake or arrange all necessary repairs to bring the navigation into good maintenance order, to improve facilities for all legitimate users of the waterway and its surroundings, to safeguard the built and natural heritage of the Navigation and to undertake appropriate restoration and development of the navigation to maximise public appreciation and enjoyment of the asset consistent with safeguarding it for future generations. In order to do this, IWA will rely upon the support and assistance of users of the Navigation, members of the Association and other local people, the Company’s directors and shareholders, local authorities and local businesses, charitable bodies and other interested parties both locally and nationally.

To assist in this work, IWA plans to set up an advisory committee to advise on the management of the navigation. IWA hopes that representatives from those with knowledge of the Navigation and whose livelihoods and interests are affected by it, and others with relevant knowledge and expertise, will offer their support to the committee’s work. IWA also intends that there should be a close engagement with users and local communities alongside the waterway.

The Association wishes to place on record its appreciation of the help and co-operation of all parties in concluding the Management Agreement, and to acknowledge gratefully the support and welcome with which the Management Agreement and the Association’s work has already been greeted.

How we consult with our users

Local meetings will be established.

How we are structured

As detailed above.

Navigation statistics

Heybridge Basin to Chelmsford

Heybridge Basin

Length/area of navigable waterway

19.3km canalised river, 3.2km canal

Number of locks

12 including sea lock



18.3m (60ft)

32.6m (107ft)


4.9m (16ft)

7.9m (26ft


0.6m (2ft) min (but usually deeper)

3.7m (12ft)


1.9m (6ft 3ins)


Boating statistics

12 month period
Licences/Registrations - Long Term




Privately owned



Hire – day boats



Hire – overnight stay/timeshare



Hire – trip boat/ restaurant/passenger



Hire – hotel



Other business/charity boats



Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme

No, but strongly encouraged

Third Party Insurance

No, but strongly encouraged