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Richard Smith's Log of a sail around the Great Ouse and Tributaries in July 1976

Monday 12th July 1976.

Trailed to Ely

1.00       Motored South from Ely to Newmarket Railway Bridge. Then made sail and beat to Popes Corner.

2.30       Popes Corner and first bridge on the Old West. Wind abeam on most reaches, though fluky in trees and high banks.

3.00       Stretham Engine

4.00       Stretham Oak (New bridge building)

4.30       Twenty Pence Bridge

7.00       Moored within mile of Earith

Fine & Hot. Wind 4 S.E.

Tuesday 13th July 1976

8.45       Sailed from mooring to Earith Lock.

9.15-9.30 Locking through and under bridge

9.30       Set sail for a run to Denver, just over 20 miles distant (New Bedford) . Flood tide strong through Mepal Bridge

12.45       Rail Bridge

1.45       Welney Suspension Bridge

2.10       New bridge to Wildfowl Trust. Sailed under jib to near Denver whilst enjoying sandwiches and tea. Tide ebbing strongly so set main (reefed) and rounded clear of shoal below Denver Sluice and beat into landing stage to lower gear.

2.30-3.30 Locking through and mooring by sluice

3.30       Beat up river to entrance of R. Wissey and ran up under jib, resetting main after railway bridge and ran up to mooring within sight of Hilgay (4.30)

Cloudy Wind S.W 4+

Wednesday 14th July 1976

8.30 Left overnight mooring under sail up R. Wissey

9.00 -9.45 Moored at Hilgay for stores.

Sailed on up to Wissington. Started engine and lowered mast past Wissington Factory. Raising mast again had a clear run to Cut Off Syphons near Stoke Ferry. Weed very thick near siphons. Forced through under jib and oars.

1.00       Passed Stoke Ferry. Lowered main and ran on up river under jib to beyond Oxborough Ferry, before running out of water. Mr Wilson of Ferry Farm greeted us before we made our return. (1.45-2.30). Bowhauled and oars to Stoke Ferry siphons (4.30), then with mast lowered used engine back through Hilgay (6.00) to mooring (6.30).

Wind moderate S.W. Sunny periods, warm

Thursday 15th July 1976

9.15       Motored from mooring out into Gt Ouse and under Ouse Bridge to Ten Mile Bank

9.45-10.45 Moored at Ten Mile Bank for stores

10.45       Sailed up river. Wind freshening. Turning due S.W. at Southery unable to make progress with wind gusting severely and gear slamming

12.30       Stowed sails and motored past Brandon Creek 'til engine ran out of fuel.

1.15-2.00 Dinner and refuel. Lowered mast.

2.45       Under power at Littleport, moored above Sandhill Bridge and went into town.

4.00-4.03 Motored to G.O.R.A. moorings near entrance to River Lark.

Wind fresh. S.W. Bright dry.

Friday 16th July 1976

10.15-11.15 Motored to Ely and moored at Banhams for weekend.

Monday 19th July 1976

10.45       Motored down river from Ely. Raised mast and set jib below Adelaide Bridge.

11.30       Entrance to River Lark. Shot bridge at entrance and sailed up to Prickwillow Rly Bridge.

12.15       Lowered mast and motored to Isleham Lock

1.30-3.45 Moored below Isleham Lock

3.45       Sailed with assistance from engine on bends. Winds heading and gusting. Then sailed with jib and later main, back to Prickwillow. Lowered gear 5.15

5.30-6.10 Moored at Prickwillow

6.30       Moored 1 mile from entrance to river.

Cloudy, mild, dry. Wind S.W. strong.

Voyage Summary

Total 131 miles, 75 miles sail, 56 miles power etc. 70 bridges and obstructions, 21 bridges shot under sail. 2 locks. 4 gallons fuel.

Richard W. Smith



Compiled by Alan Faulkner

By the beginning of the 1900s the River Great Ouse was effectively closed to navigation from St. Ives upstream from St. Ives up to Bedford as the locks were inoperable. Various attempts were made to re-open some of the locks for pleasure traffic, notably at the Bedford end, but these were short-lived.
1918 The Ouse Drainage Board was established (confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1920
December 1930 River Great Ouse Catchment Board took over from the Ouse Drainage Board under powers in the Land Drainage Act 1930
1931 The locks at St. Ives, Hemingford, Houghton and Godmanchester were restored by the RCOCB with a guillotine gate replacing one set of mitre gates at each site. This was to enable the locks to be used to discharge flood water but also to enable its maintenance craft to be moved around more effectively.
1933 J. R. Eve & Sons of Bedford, surveyors to the RGOCB, reported on the navigation
November 1935 The RGOCB purchased the navigation rights from the owner Leonard Thomas Simpson for 30.
1935 Brownshill Staunch renovated with a guillotine gate being installed.
1937 Brampton and Offord Locks restored
1938 St. Neots and Eaton Socon Locks restored and Belford Staunch eliminated.
1939 - 1945
Second World War.
After the war financial stringencies throughout the country prevented any thoughts of the pre-war work being extended from Tempsford up to Bedford. Likewise much of the RGOCB's plant was now land-based eliminating part of the justification to restore the locks.
30 October 1949 Fenlands Branch of the Inland Waterways Association founded at a meeting at the George Hotel in Huntingdon.
April 1950 Bedford Boat Club founded
7 June 1950 Survey of the river from Bedford to Tempsford undertaken by IWA members A.S. Cavender, L. H. Jones and F. W. White.
20 February 1951 Public meeting held in Bedford's Town Hall addressed by Robert Aickman and Peter Scott and which decided on the setting up of a restoration society.
20 March 1951 Initial meeting of the new society's officers at the Swan Hotel, Bedford. The society to be called "The Great Ouse Restoration Council".
16 April 1951 First general meeting of the new society at the Town Hall, Bedford; the society to be called "The Great Ouse Restoration Society"
2 January1952 Restoration of the river from Tempsford to Bedford estimated at 77,000 by Mr. W. E. Doran, Chief Engineer of the RGOCB. The plan included eliminating Tempsford and Castle Mills staunches and Great Barford Lock
1 April 1952 The Great Ouse River Board took over from the River Great Ouse Catchment Board under the powers of the 1948 River Boards Act.
1953 The annual Bedford to St. Neots canoe race inaugurated by the Bedford Kayak Club.
7 March 1955
Using its own labour, the GORB started work on restoring Bedford Town Lock on a scheme that was also to include Cardington Lock. The combined cost was estimated at 10,000 towards which the GORS agreed to pay 2,500 .
23 September 1955
The first boat passed through Bedford Town Lock. A guillotine gate was installed at the head of the lock, the chamber was refurbished and new wooden bottom mitre gates were fitted. Financial stringency prevented the GORB moving on to Cardington and the GORS just paid 1,250 towards the 6,250 cost of Bedford.
31 March 1956
(Easter Saturday)
Formal opening of the restored Bedford Town Lock by the Mayor of Bedford
July 1956 Silvery Ouse Pleasure Craft launched a shuttle service involving its three launches to take visitors from Bedford Town Bridge through the lock to the Bedfordshire Agricultural Showground on the Cardington Road and bring them back. The service lasted several years, but latterly took visitors along the Embankment to Newnham Bridge, rather than using the lock.
11 June 1961 The GORS launched its first voluntary work party at Great Barford Lock to clear out the lock chamber and draw attention to the state of the river.
25 June 1961 The GORS launched its first work party at Roxton. These sessions continued for the rest of the summer and were resumed at both locations in 1962.
7 September 1961 New 221,800 estimate by Mr W. E. Doran, Chief Engineer of the GORB, of the combined land drainage and navigation costs for restoring the river. It involved eliminating Tempsford and Castle Mills staunches and Old Mills Lock.
October 1961 The GORS launched its new quarterly journal - "The Lockgate".
3 September 1962 Contractors W. & C. French Ltd started work on a 15,000 scheme to restore Cardington Lock. The contract did not include fitting bottom lock gates, as there were not needed for land drainage purposes.
17 May 1963
Formal re-opening of Cardington Lock by Harold Goodwin, Chairman of the GORS, when a contingent of boats from the Bedford Boat Club passed through the lock. A guillotine top gate was fitted and the lock walls were repaired by lining them with a steel mesh covered with a thick sprayed-on layer of concrete, hence making this the narrowest lock on the river. The GORS paid 1,000 which covered the installation of steel mitre bottom gates together with the provision of step ladders and safety chains in the chamber.
1 April 1964 Under the powers of the 1963 Water Resources Act the Great Ouse River Authority took over from the Great Ouse River Board.
January 1968 The GORA announced a land drainage and water-measuring scheme at Roxton.
30 August - 3 September 1968 St Neots Waterways Rally organised jointly by the GORS and the St. Neots Carnival Committee held to campaign for and draw attention to the river.
1 April 1970 The GORB's Byelaws were approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries authorising the registration of private pleasure boats and hire boats on the Great Ouse and the payment of an annual fee.
14 June 1971 The Dredging & Construction Co. Ltd of Kings Lynn started work on a completely new lock at Roxton.
12 August 1972
The new lock at Roxton was formally opened by the Duke of Bedford, Vice President of the GORS, accompanied by Leonard Childs, Chairman of the GORA. The work, which cost 80,200, involved a new concrete lock with steel mitre gates at both ends, a wide measuring weir alongside and a footbridge crossing the site. At the same time the staunch downstream at Tempsford was removed, a new footbridge was installed there and the river was dredged up to the new lock. Some dredging also took place upstream towards Great Barford. The GORS contributed 5,000 to the overall costs.
1974 For some time the GORA had stated that there would be no land drainage benefit in restoring the lock at Great Barford and hence none of the cost could fall on the land drainage budget, which had funded most of the costs at Roxton. The impasse was resolved when Bedford Town Council announced it would contribute 100,000 from the sale of aggregates from riverside land at Bedford to the work at Great Barford. The GORS, in partnership with the Cambridge Branch of the Inland Waterways Association and the Waterway Recovery Group, agreed to provide volunteers to carry out part of the work, and the GORS offered 5,000 to the overall costs.
11 March 1974 The authorities started work at Great Barford to create an access road and start dredging a bypass canal round the site into which to divert the river and hence drain the worksite.
1 April 1974 The Anglian Waterway Authority took over from the Great Ouse River Authority
4 May 1964 Volunteers from the IWA and the GORS started work on demolishing the lock and sluice islands at Great
4 June 1974 The river at Great Barford was diverted from the work site with the completion of the bypass canal and two dams.
7 September 1974 The volunteers completed the removal of the lock island. The bricks recovered from this and the sluice island were used to fill gabions to form the new river bank Meanwhile the AWA, using its own labour, had just begun laying the foundations for a new lock to be built just downstream of the old lock site. The site was flooded in November by high river levels.
2 June 1975 Contractors May Gurney & Co. Ltd of Norwich started work on a new lock at Willington.
6 May 1976
Formal opening of both Great Barford and Willington Locks by Mr A. F. Skinner, Chairman of the Anglian Water Authority and Mr D. K. Cassels, Chairman of the GORS. Great Barford was designated as a conservation site and the new lock was constructed to a high standard with a brick chamber, two sets of steel mitre gates, with a new wide weir and a footbridge over the river. Other work included deepening one of the arches under the Great Barford Bridge and extensive dredging upstream past the site of Old Mills Lock to Willington. At Willington the new lock comprised a concrete chamber, two sets of steel mitre gates, a wide new weir and a new footbridge across the river. The work at Great Barford cost 190,000 and that at Willington 245,000 with the GORS paying 5,000 towards each project. Old Mills Lock was by-passed and left un-restored.
12/13 June 1976 Elizabethan Feast and Rally of Boats held at Great Barford. This produced 1,565 to the GORS's funds whilst a draw organised by Mr. A. S Lain for a Shetland Cruiser raised 2,686.
31 August 1976 Contractors French Kier Ltd of Tempsford started work on a new lock at Castle Mills, Goldington.
28 April 1978
Low-key opening of the new lock at Castle Mills by Mr E. H. Burton, Chairman of Anglian Water Authority's Great Ouse Land Drainage Committee and Mr. D. K. Cassels, Chairman of the GORS. The lock has a deep concrete chamber -the deepest on the river - with steel mitre gates, a wide new weir and a bridge over the site. At the same time the former staunch a short distance downstream was demolished and the river was extensively dredged up to the new lock. The work cost some 370,000 towards which the GORS paid its usual 5,000 contribution.
27/29 May 1978 The Bedford River Festival celebrated the re-opening of the river through to Bedford.
25 January 1979 Its objectives completed, the GORS held its final meeting and disbanded.

Alan Faulkner