Ipswich & Stowmarket Navigation
The River Gipping Trust aims to restore limited navigation between Ipswich and Stowmarket in Suffolk. The navigation was almost certainly John Rennie’s first-ever completed canal project, opening to navigation in 1793 with 15 locks over the 16-mile length, and suitable for 14ft-wide and 55ft-long barges. Fourteen of the 15 lock chambers remain, with water flowing through them all, but none has lock gates and water levels drop significantly during summer, with some places drying up completely. Remains of the lost lock of Claydon have been found - previously thought to have been buried under the A14 trunk road - and the trust is in discussions with the Highways Agency to replace or rebuild it as it is an essential part of the complete restoration work.
The trust has recently opened up a 1km stretch of old towpath alongside the river, completely lost some 100 years ago when the old footbridge rotted and fell into the river. The original 1793 bridge brick abutments have been restored, using around 500 original bricks recovered from the bottom of the riverbed. The new footbridge and permissive path give walkers a much-improved experience between Baylham and Needham Market along the old towpath route, not walked by the public for around 100 years.
The trust plans to open a 3km length of the navigation between the popular Needham Lakes visitor centre and Baylham Rare Breeds Farm suitable for an electric trip-boat and canoes. Three lock chambers have been restored: Bosmere, Creeting and Baylham. It is planned to complete Pipps Ford Lock, with its new bywash, in August 2023. All four locks await lock gates.
Following two pre-feasibility studies in 2019, the trust has now had an ecological scoping study completed of this 3km stretch of the river by Moss Naylor Young which specialises in waterways restoration work. This study highlights many potential biodiversity gains associated with the introduction of lock gates on two locks, enabling boats to navigate this stretch of the river again. The trust is now working on the next steps before applying for grant funding for a full feasibility study, which will establish in detail all the implications involved in restoring the 3km section of navigation, together with estimated costs. When complete, the trust will look to expand navigation further on a lock-by-lock basis, each lock increasing the 3km navigation by around 1km.
The trust aims to improve the footpath along the river, and restore the towpath line where possible where it deviates away from the river’s edge, to provide a more pleasurable experience for walkers. The aim is to create a beautiful and natural place to take exercise and enjoy leisure pursuits. The trust has recently planted over 350 trees alongside the old towpath, away from the river but close enough to give some shade from the sun in years to come. Over the last two years more than 1,000 trees have been planted by trust volunteers, with thanks to I-Dig-Trees which supplied them. The trust has recently published a 104-page history book titled The Ipswich to Stowmarket Navigation – John Rennie’s First Canal Project, available directly from the trust or through eBay.