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Ipswich & Stowmarket Navigation

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. 
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. Four lock chambers have now been restored and await lock gates.

Following two pre-feasibility studies, the trust has had an ecological scoping study completed along this 3km stretch of the river. This 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, thought to be around £1m. 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.

Although a footpath runs the whole length of the river between Ipswich and Stowmarket, parts are not directly adjacent to the river and can get overgrown in summer. The trust is gradually restoring the towpath line where it deviates away from the river’s edge. With a £10,000 grant from Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Council, it has started to carry out weekly maintenance work along the footpath between Bramford and Badley (more than half the total length). It is hoped to expand this further in 2025. 

The trust opened up a 1km stretch of old towpath alongside the river at Baylham in 2023 which included the reinstatement of a 230-year-old bridge across the river which lost its wooden platform some 100 years ago. The original 1793 bridge brick abutments were restored, using around 500 original bricks recovered from the riverbed. The new footbridge and permissive path give walkers a much-improved experience between Baylham and Needham Market along the old towpath route.
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 Ipswich-to-Stowmarket restoration work. The aim is to create a beautiful and natural place to take exercise and enjoy leisure pursuits.

The trust’s recently published 104-page history book titled The Ipswich to Stowmarket Navigation – John Rennie’s First Canal Project has sold well with few copies remaining of its 500-print run. It is available to purchase at £10 directly from the trust or through eBay while stocks last.

April 2024


Top picture: Vegetation clearance around old brick abutments on the Ipswich & Stowmarket Navigation
Reestablishing the towpath on the Stowmarket Navigation
Reestablishing the towpath on the Stowmarket Navigation.

Navigation Authority


East Anglian Waterways Association

River Gipping Trust