Stowmarket Navigation

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The River Ure (Orwell) flowed from near Felsham in Suffolk to the sea at Harwich via Rattlesden, Stowmarket and Ipswich. Over the years the river has gone through several name changes so that now it is known as the Rattlesden River from it's source to Stowmarket, the River Gipping from Stowmarket to Ipswich and the River Orwell from Ipswich to the North Sea.

The River Gipping rises near Mendlesham Green but gets it name from the small village of Gipping a couple of miles away. The first proposal to create a navigation from Stowmarket to Ipswich came from the inhabitants of Stowmarket in 1719. This was a time when the South Sea Bubble was at it's height and people were desperate to invest in anything, including river navigations.   A petition was presented to Parliament seeking agreement to introduce a bill but 3 petitions against the idea came from the businessmen and towns people of Ipswich. A parliamentary committee was set up to consider the petitions and it decided against the proposal.

A second attempt was made in 1790 when a Bill was presented to Parliament which received the royal assent on 1st April 1790. After numerous problems with the survey, (John Rennie had to produce a new one), the contractors (they were sacked), and the costs (estimate £14,300, final cost £35,300) the navigation was finally opened in September 1793.

The navigation went from strength to strength with numerous maltings being set up in Stowmarket. Other works beside the navigation included a gun cotton manufacturer and the forerunners of the company Fisons at Bramford where Packards and Fisons had a very large presence producing artificial fertilisers.

However in 1846 with the opening of the Eastern Union Railway between Ipswich and Stowmarket the trustees moved to have the navigation leased to the  railway, forgetting in their haste that the original act said that was one thing they were not allowed to do! In fact this lease was very helpful to the navigation as it allowed the payment of a dividend to the shareholders for the next 42 years, despite a 75% drop in trade.

In 1888 when the lease expired the railway offered the trustees £2000 in full settlement for any repairs and handed the navigation back. At that moment the navigation above Bramford became virtually disused. Luckily Packards and Fisons continued to use it from Bramford to Ipswich and return with steam haulage and dumb barges as the service they were getting from the Great Eastern Railway was chaotic.

Eventually even they went over to rail and road transport and the last recorded use of the navigation by commercial craft was around 1922. At the final meeting of the trustees in March 1934 the navigation was formally closed.

Over the next 50 years the river was used as a dumping ground and in some places became little more than an open sewer. A change in attitude by various authorities produced a cleaner river until in the 1970's IWA Ipswich Branch started a restoration campaign which eventually led to the formation of The River Gipping Trust in 2008 to continue the work started by the branch. With massive support from the Waterways Recovery Group, the Branch and the Trust have completed restoration of three locks (Bosmere, Creeting and Baylham) and have started work at Pipps Ford Lock. The Trust hold regular working parties and would welcome newcomers. Find out more here.

For more information about the navigation find a copy of 'The Canals of Eastern England' by John Boyes and Ronald Russell, published by David & Charles as the last part of its 'Canals of the British Isles'

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