Journey of the River Stour

River Stour rises in eastern Cambridgeshire and flows eastwards through East Anglia forming most of the boundary between Suffolk and Essex throuogh country made famous by John Constable.  The Stour enters the North Sea at Harwich by tidal estuary

The river was used as a means of transport for many years but an Act of parliament passed in 1705 declared it ‘a navigable river’ (from Sudbury to Manningtree). This meant from that date there was a legal right to travel up and down the River Stour transporting goods or anything or anyone else.

Flatford Lock by John Dunthorne 1814
Photo of Flatford Lock Gates today
Flatford Lock today

In order to navigate the length of the river,  locks and bridges had to be built. 

  • The ‘navigation’ originally had 13 flash-locks or staunches along with a further 13 new pound locks being built which eventually replaced the staunches.
  • The lock gates were distinctive in that they were hung like field gates with hinges and the post was carried above the lock with a lintel across the lock between the two posts.
  • The lintels were necessary to stop the posts from collapsing inwards and by the time John Dunthorne painted Flatford Lock in 1814 the number of lintels needed to hold the sides back were very many.

The navigation was opened around 1709 was at the cutting edge of transport in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Horse, man and gang of Stour Lighters
Black and white photo of a horse is helped onto a lighter
Horse being helped onto a Stour Lighter C1900

The Act of Parliament did not specify that a full towing path should be provided but left it to the discretion of local landowners. Horses were often required to jump onto barges and be poled to opposite side of the river where permission to travel was not permitted.

In 1937 The River Stour Navigation (Trust) Co. Ltd. was dissolved as it was not able to compete with the efficiency of steam power and railways. But that wasn’t the end as in 1968 the River Stour Trust was formed and has taken on the task of restoring the waterway to full navigation again.

Click on the drop down menu in the tool bar or click on the links below to find out more about navigation on the River Stour.