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Trustees of the River Lee


Records of the Trustees of the River Lee: byelaws 1827-1846, minutes 1739-1859, reports 1804-1859, share records 1771-1877, legal records 1739-1833, financial records 1776-1930, administrative records 1770s-1929, engineer's reports to the clerk 1835-1897, maps, plans and surveys of the river 1733-1878, plans concerning conveyance of land to the trustees 1828-1880, plans of work affecting the River Lee 1802-1872, Island Lead Works and Limehouse Cut 1834, vessels early-mid 19th century, other plans 1851-1864, River Stort 1761-c1905.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The River Lee, between Hertford and the River Thames, constitutes one of the oldest navigations in the country, with Bronze Age and Saxon remains in Walthamstow marshes. Boats have been used on the river for over 2000 years. The spelling 'Lee' is used in legal documents and is the official title of the river. 'Lea' is used in other connections, such as Lea Valley and Lea Bridge. The River Lee was the subject of the first Act in the British Isles for improving the navigable state of a river, passed in 1424 with a second in 1430 when commissioners, the local landowners, were appointed to oversee improvements and collect tolls. An Act of 1571 empowered the Lord Mayor and City Council of London to make improvements, and a new cut was made with toll free rights for barges (the Act was passed to ensure grain supply), which is probably the section now known as Bow River (the cut still retains its toll-free privileges). In 1577, the pound lock at Waltham Abbey was constructed because the flash lock was using too much water. The new lock had probably the first mitred gates in Britain, but seems to have been in disrepair by 1590. The growth of London's population required an increasing supply of water and in 1608 Sir Hugh Myddleton started building the New River to convey water from springs at Amwell and Chadwell near Ware into the city. Due to its circuitous nature, the channel was completed in 1633. However, the supply was insufficient and by the mid-seventeenth century water was being abstracted from the River Lee, affecting the millers and waterway users. An Act of 1739 established the Trustees of the River Lee to control the river through their own staff. Bostock Toller was appointed clerk, Thomas Martin was receiver and treasurer. William Whittenbury, a Hertford carpenter, was employed to survey the river between Hertford and Ware and recommended a turnpike type of staunch be erected at Broxbourne Mill in 1741. He served until his death in 1757, and John Clark took over. Mill owners remained dissatisfied with the water supply. John Smeaton surveyed the river in 1765 and 1766, assisted by Thomas Yeoman who became surveyor to the Lee Navigation in 1767. Smeaton recommended pound locks to replace flash locks and various other improvements, including a new cut from near Bromley Lock to the River Thames at Limehouse and cuts at Hackney, Edmonton and Waltham Abbey. An Act of 1767 followed John Smeaton's report and Thomas Yeoman instructed to make a cut from Flanders weir, Chingford, to the tail of Walthamstow mill stream in order to cut off some bends; to extend the navigation upstream from Folly bridge to Hertford town mill; a cut between King's Weir and Waltham Abbey; and to investigate a new Limehouse Cut from Bromley to Limehouse. Money was raised to make cuts at Waltham, Edmonton and Hackney, all opened by 1769. The Limehouse Cut was fully opened in 1770 and widened due to increasing traffic in 1777. In 1779, the trustees' financial state was giving some concern and power to levy additional tolls was included in an Act of 1779. Benjamin Lewis, who had replaced Thomas Yeoman in 1771 as surveyor, was replaced in 1779 by John Glynn. John Glynn died in 1784 and was succeeded by his son, also named John Glynn. He became ill and James Griggs was appointed acting surveyor in 1791 in April, and in September took over from John Glynn. James Griggs and then his son worked for the River Lee until the latter's death in 1852. In 1803 John Rennie was asked to survey the River Lee to see whether it could be flooded as a barrier to prevent Napoleon from invading London from Essex. The report was not encouraging, so much so that he did not point out that if the valley were flooded the gunpowder works at Waltham Abbey and the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield would be lost. Despite the report, the plan went ahead into 1807 but the plan was never completed and in 1814 the Lee trustees asked the remains to be removed as an impediment to navigation. At the request of the trustees, John Rennie surveyed the whole navigation and in 1804 made recommendations for improvements that were not acted upon. An Act of 1805 limited the maximum size of barge to 40 tons in an attempt to improve the River Lee's function as a water supply. In order to deal with increased traffic at Waltham Abbey, a new dock was built in 1843 next to Waltham Town lock and a report by Francis Giles in 1844 persuaded the trustees to rebuild Tottenham Lock. The report also resulted in an Act of 1850 to undertake the improvements, including the building of a pound lock at Bow. When the lock opened, a toll was levied for using the lock, leading to arguments, as Bow navigation itself was toll-free. In a bill of 1868 the trustees sought to confirm their right to charge a lock toll but it was dismissed. In 1868, the Lee Conservancy Act replaced the Trustees of the River Lee with the River Lee Conservancy Board. For further information on the River Lee see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of Eastern England'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain the complete original structure of record-keeping from the records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged into series by subject, which is how some of the records were originally kept. The company's byelaws have been placed first, followed by minutes, then reports. These are followed by share records, legal records, financial records and then administrative records. These progress through engineer's reports to the clerk and maps, plans and surveys of the river. Plans concerning conveyance of land to the trustees follows, then plans of work affecting the River Lee, Island Lead Works and Limehouse Cut, vessels and other plans. At the end of the collection are records relating to the River Stort. The records within these series have been arranged chronologically while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence. The plans concerning conveyance of land to the trustees are in the order in which they were originally kept. It has been possible to recreate their order through the original document reference numbers.

Associated material

[See also: BW136 for records of the River Lee Conservancy Board]