Page published: 9 February 2021
Between 2004-2009 I wrote a column that appeared in "Norfolk Afloat" a magazine that in later editions became "Anglia Afloat". I also began writing articles in the magazine.
Here I reproduce the text that I submitted for one that appeared in Issue #34 (September-October 2008). It is some 1870 words in length. The version published was more than 800 words short of that. You'll also see the full frame of the photos I submitted to illustrate the article, which were all taken during my visit on 1 July 2008. A couple of the photos were not used in the article as published but all appear here along with the captions I proposed.
If you want to read the published version of the article you can find a PDF on the River Gipping Trust's web site. I understand that the version that appears there had the contact details in the "box-out" changed to reflect the ones that were current at the time the PDF was created and are not those that appeared when published in the 2008.
One further slight mystery is the map that appears in the published article. I have a copy of it in the folder where I kept all that was submitted to the publisher and know that I simply lifted it from the Trust's web site. The text file that I submitted to the magazine includes my proposed headline, strap line, photo captions and the text for the two box-outs (The box-outs were combined into one on the article) but it does not mention the map. I hope that the email that I sent asked the publishers to obtain the necessary permission to use it!
The article as published appeared on pages 44-46 in the Sep-Oct 2008 edition of Anglia Afloat.
"Fancy a dirty weekend?", asks a prominent panel on the home page of the Waterway Recovery Group's web site. And it means it! The group was founded in 1970 as a co-ordinating force, helping local canal restoration schemes. These days it is not just canals that get the WRG treatment. The group has also supported work at many river navigations as well.
The cofferdam diverts the stream from the mill race and lock through the sluice to by-pass the working area.
Perhaps the muckiest job to be done on the camp when I visited - collecting clay to plug the holes in the cofferdam.
This year, the group's first work camp took place before Easter and there are twenty two further camps taking place up and down the country right through to the "Christmas Camp", which lasts until New Year's Day next year. Don't get the idea that the group's membership only goes in for a bit of simple spade work and bramble clearing. Describing one of the camps in July this year "Navvies", the group's magazine, told members that they would be building a large dam across the canal to allow restoration of a lock to be undertaken in the next couple of years. Explaining further, it said, "The dam will be made of many, many tons of clay - moved with machines. So for those that want to play with big excavators and dumper trucks, this could be the project for you." It went on to describe how the camp might also involve restoration of the lock's lower wing walls and continuing the works on a Boat Lift. Not stuff for the faint hearted then!
The project that will have caught the interest of those in our region would be the camp at Ipswich. Navvies said, "Liz Wilson and Nina Whiteman are promising an even better camp than last year, so that'll be very very good then. Work is restoring the historic Baylham Lock on the River Gipping (about 5 miles north of Ipswich). The work will include brickwork, demolition, landscaping and like last year another big concrete pour, mixing on site. The accommodation is the same as last year, in a new village hall, with showers within walking distance. A variety of social activities are already planned for the evenings including a boat trip on the River Stour and a visit to Colchester Spa."
It was mid morning on the day that I turned up at the camp. There was blazing sunshine and about fifteen men and women were hard at work. The first person I spoke to was Colin Turner. He's been involved in the restoration of the River Gipping for ten years, nine of them as the Working Party Organiser for the Ipswich Branch of the Inland Waterways Association. This is one of the biggest branches of the IWA, having 400 members and looking after the bulk of East Anglia with a patch that covers the area from the River Colne to the Wash. Now he is also one of the Directors and Trustees of the River Gipping Trust.
Listed Building Consent was needed before the Waterways Recovery Group volunteers could work to replace the collapsed retaining wall.
I learnt from Colin that the branch at Ipswich began to feel that the river, and its environment, would be better served by a group that had purely local aims. A sub-committee was charged with setting up a Trust. This was to be both a limited liability company and registered as a charity. In May 2007 this was achieved and the Trust is now a completely independent organisation, although it does have strong links with the local branch of the IWA, with some of its officers serving on both groups. While the legalities of the formation of the trust were achieved last year, the Trust is only now being promoted to the public and it is to hold its first public meeting in September this year (See Box out).
Brick-laying in progress on the new retaining wall alongside the silted up entrance to the mill race.
Apart from the business of setting up an administration for the work of the group, Colin then explained what it took to get the work at this particular camp started. He began, "Mr Onians had made his fortune in the post war period and bought Baylham Mill and much of the area around in the early 1960s. After he died ten or twelve years ago, the trustees of the estate had particular problems with the Mill. It was a Grade Two Star listed building and in need of much work." Colin continued, "However, the big problem was with the lock and mill race. When we started negotiating to work on the lock, in 2005, the Environment Agency were claiming that the lock belonged to them. It took eighteen months to sort out. Eventually the Environment Agency dropped their claim and we were then able to reach agreement with the Onians Trustees about how to proceed." This was not straight forward as they needed listed building consent for the lock & planning permission and listed building consent for the retaining wall above the lock.
All this really opened my eyes to what is involved in waterway restoration. You have to admire the sheer tenacity that it takes to see it through. This wasn't the first lock rebuilding project on the Gipping that the IWA Branch had been involved with. In 1996 they had restored Bosmere Lock, two miles upstream from Baylham, helping to produce a first class feature in a local park. After that it was Creeting Lock. Both of these are now ready to receive new lock gates and then they would be fully working. If we can obtain permission to fit lock gates to Bosmere lock the plan is to obtain a boat able to take people on river trips. This should bring the work of the Trust to the attention of many more people and help draw in the necessary support and money to enable the rest of the waterway to be fully restored. The aim is to make it fully navigable as far as Stowmarket.
Mixing the cement for the replacement wall The stock of reclaimed bricks is stacked outside the large shed, used as the camps headquarters.
I asked Colin how he had got involved with the waterways. "I was widowed and in 1974 decided to take my two girls on a canal holiday", he said. "I took holidays on various canals over the next few years ending up, in 1991, buying a share in an "OwnerShips" boat. I kept that until 2001." OwnerShips was one of the first of the shared ownership schemes to be operated on the Canal network and we went on to chat about the organisation as I too had been a share owner at one time. Colin concluded with the tale of how one of his daughters went on to be a live aboard boater, so perhaps boating is further embedded in the Turner blood than he first realised.
A mountain of silt in the foreground blocks access to the mill race, while camp members work on installing an additional pump to keep the working area clear of water.
Next I found Liz Wilson, who was wearing the inevitable bright red WRG t-shirt. Explaining the role of the Camp Leader she said, "I have the job of liaising with he local group to find out exactly what the project involves. I make a site visit two weeks before the camp and am in charge of the volunteers at the camp. A camp leader is responsible for everything from ensuring that there are clean tea towels to the collection and delivery the WRG vans. So, for example, twenty four hours before this camp I had to go to Chesterfield to collect the van and trailer, and I'll be making sure it is clean, tidy, and with all equipment in working order ready for the next camp at the end of this one."
Baylham Mill in the background, as workers discuss how the next stage of the work is to be carried out from the bridge at the tail of the lock.
As with Colin, I felt obliged to ask how she had got involved with waterways. That answer was simple. "It was nine years ago. I was 17, at college, and planning to apply to take a civil engineering degree at University. I wanted something to add to my CV." Now with several camps on the Basingstoke Canal, the "Mon and Brec" and "Wilts and Berks" behind her, her full time job is with Network Rail.
Colin Turner looks down at the work completed twelve years ago at Bosmere Lock. The plaque indicates one of the many organisations that have supported the work in restoring the waterway.
It's not just the work that needs to be organised, but the accommodation and social activities too. On this camp the volunteers are sleeping on roll-up beds at the village hall in nearby Somersham. Spencer Greystrong, the Treasurer of the IWA branch and River Gipping Trust, says "We were really lucky. The village hall committee let us have the building for £100 for the week. They would have preferred us to have the camp during the school holidays. As it is we have to empty some of the rooms during the day as a playgroup uses the building. The hall doesn't have showers, so we have hired the use of the Football Club's forty yards away on the other side of the field." Spencer isn't just the group's bean counter. He has practical experience, having been a volunteer on a WRG camp at Bude in the 1980s. "Bude! Beautiful Devon, I thought. Great beaches..." He says it all with that wistful air of the of the naive sailor who thought he joined the navy to see the world, and then tells of the infamous, and at times fearsome, camp leader "Mucky" Mick Beattie. He was not afraid of hard work, expected nothing less of his campers, and woe betide anyone who challenged him while on site. But once off-site, Mick played as hard as he worked.
Beside Bosmere Lock this stop plank store was built with a dual function that also provides seating for the park alongside the lock.
Eventually, it was time for a break and I had a chance to chat with some of the volunteers. It certainly confirmed what Liz had told me earlier, when I asked about WRG volunteers, saying that I assumed they were all boaters. "They're not just boaters. Some are into conservation or enjoy community work of any kind. Some were just passers-by who had seen another camp at work. Another thing, you can't help but notice how there are a large number of railway enthusiasts amongst the WRG membership."
Creeting Lock: Another that has been restored on the Gipping by the IWA Ipswich Branch and WRG members and now ready to receive lock gates. The Environment Agency fences the locks for safety until the locks are in use.
Martin Rowe was the first of the workers I talked to and it was his first camp. For him it was a break from a desk job as technical author. He writes avionics equipment manuals for Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge and had been looking for a more adventurous holiday. He came across the WRG stand at The Ordnance Survey Outdoor Show at the NEC earlier in the year and signed up. For Sarah Patey, from Woodton, just outside Bungay, it was her fourth camp, with two on the Caldon Canal, in Staffordshire, and last year's Gipping camp behind her. "I signed up four years ago with he expectation of learning brick laying", she said. "Finally, I'm getting the chance." I had slightly unnerved her earlier, by staring at her at work, but she now explained that she was having trouble getting the courses level. It turned out that it was her husband who had been involved in pouring the concrete foundation a last year's camp, so it seemed better to change the subject and move on. Finally, I encountered someone who met my stereotype of a canal glutton. Peter Bowers, from Harwich, was just back from a six week cruise of the canal system aboard his own boat. Starting from his mooring at Tring and working up the Grand Union, he had completed passages of the Rochdale Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. "990 lock miles, single handed." There wasn't much more to be said. I was just left feeling jealous.