A boundary marker and a Miller's plate are two 'finds' that were made during our winter works stoppages in London, on the Lee and Stort Navigations.
This winter ‘stoppages’ – so called because the navigation is ‘stopped’ - at Hertford Lock on the River Lee Navigation and at Tednambury Lock on the River Stort were meant to be fairly straightforward works of repairs and refurbishment to the lock gates. Little did we know that these would reveal forgotten historic features!
At Hertford Lock it was someone tripping on a bit of metal sticking out of the ground that lead us to the find. As it was in line with the back fence, the original assumption was that this piece of metal would be some bit of railing left in the ground, but as they started digging around it, they realised it was a lot more exciting than that and before long, our operative managing the site, Paul May, was calling me to announce he had found a marker inscribed RLT – for River Lee Trust - 1866!
The boundary marker was deeply set into the ground and it took our operatives a lot of hard work to get it out. I contacted Richard Thomas, a local historian who has done extensive archive research on these navigations and indeed, after a little search he was able to produce a copy of an archive drawing of the lock that recorded the marker probably marking the realignment of the navigation by the River Lee Trust. The marker has now been reset above ground for everyone to appreciate.
A few weeks later, Paul was again in touch, sending me a photograph of a Miller’s plate that was revealed as they installed the stop planks in the wing wall above the top gates at Tednambury Lock, to drain the lock and enable them to do the repairs. Paul having worked for years on these navigations and drained many locks was aware of the existence of such plaques, but no-one had recorded them before. The plate says ‘The Lee Conservancy Board Stort Navigation. The 12 inches range marked on this plate denotes the working head for this mill as arranged by agreement made and dated September 6th 1910, between the owner of this mill and the Lee Conservancy Board. Again I rang Richard Thomas who was able to find archive evidence to match the find.
The photograph has now been added to Richard’s website on the Lee and Stort to complete the story. From now on, we will be looking out for the other Miller’s plates that according to archive material might be found by other locks on the Stort. The lock is back in water and the navigation open so all that is visible is about two lines of text above the current water level. Hidden again, but not forgotten and maybe boaters will now look out for these?
The assiduous research Richard did through archive material is invaluable and Paul’s presence of mind meant that we could match the actual features to the archive material. It demonstrates, in the case of the Miller’s plate in particular, that although the existence was known to some, sharing our knowledge is really important. Now that we know of their existence we can protect and share more widely this little part of the Stort's history.
Heritage adviser London and South-East
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from this author