Stratford Lock looking very neglected C1910

The picture above shows Stratford Lock in a state of disrepair with substantial leakage and vegetation growing from the walls. After the Navigation went into liquidation in 1913 the river became derelict and neglected with broken down locks and fallen trees falling into the water and blocking its flow and silting up the river bed. The Navigation remained responsible for the river but its inability to maintain the Navigation infrastructure caused flooding over the surrounding agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture set up the Drainage Board in 1918 and in 1921 asked the Navigation to remove the “remains” of the locks at Horkesley and Boxted and to open the paddles of Langham and Stratford Locks as they were obstructing the flow. By now the upper reaches of the River Stour were derelict and quite unusable by craft.

Landowners and the Ministry of Agriculture were concerned about the state of the river but, despite many meetings, little was done about it until after the Second World War. During that time the condition of the river deteriorated more until the river was in a very poor condition.

Flood Defences - after the Second World War

Until the Second World War sea water could flow along the south channel of the Stour and making the low lying meadows to the south and south west of Flatford almost unusable. On the north channel normal tides reached Judas Gap but spring tides could occasionally reach as far upstream as Flatford.

 As part of the planning agreement with Essex and Suffolk Water allowing them to increase water extraction from the Stour the company was required to:

  • improve the weir at Judas Gap on the north channel and
  • build a barrage, called the 56 Gate on the south channel.
56 Gates Barrage at Flatford

56 Gate has 56 gravity controlled gates which allowed fresh water to flow down stream but prevented salt water from flooding the water meadows. This installation was completed in 1948 and meant that the agricultural land to the west of 56 Gate could be reclaimed.

Flood Defences - after the 1953 Floods

The East Coast floods of 1953 raised awareness of the problems of flooding from the North Sea and in December 1969 construction was started on a better but expensive flood defence scheme:

  • South Channel sluice gates were installed at Cattawade. The level of water is constantly monitored and the gates adjusted. In the event of a power cut the emergency gates fall under their own weight and so there should be complete flood protection!
  • The North Channel of the River Stour was closed to the tide just east of Cattawade Bridge at Brantham – this was achieved by building a dam with a sluice through it. The dam had a ramp so that small boats could be pulled over it (this has since been removed due to deterioration)
    • water passing Stratford almost doubled as it could be recovered at Brantham
    • there is now fresh water down river as far as Brantham and that all the water can be abstracted as there is no stagnant water. 
    • a fresh water habitat has been created in the north channel
    • the new Cattawade bypass, which was another part of this project, travels over the Brantham flood defence dam via The White Bridge and A137
  • Judas Gap Weir at Flatford was replaced with a new weirthat contains a fish pass to allow fish to swim upstream. It exists to this day and:
    • if too much water is flowing past Flatford, this no longer causes flooding because the excess flows over the Judas Gap weir into the South Channel but also
    • even in a dry summer Judas Gap means that there is enough water to keep the Flatford Mill pond looking reasonably full. The fish pass should still allow fish to swim upstream.

As a result of the above works the 56 Gate Barrage became redundant.

The work was paid for by Suffolk County Council and the Essex Water Company – it was completed in 1971.

Cattawade Barrage & Judas Gap Weir at Flatford