River Gipping

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Bridge over the River Gipping

The River Gipping is the source river for the River Orwell in Suffolk. Its name is lent to the village of Gipping and is also kindred to the town of Ipswich, known in Old English as Gipeswic.

The river rises near Mendlesham Green and flows in a south-westerly direction to reach Stowmarket. From there it flows towards the south or south east, passing through Needham Market and a number of villages to reach Ipswich, where it becomes the Orwell. The river has supplied power to a number of watermills, several of which are still standing. None are operational, although the mill at Baylham retains most of its machinery, and is the only complete mill on the river.

Historical interest

In the year 860 the Danes sailed up the river and established the village of Rattles-dane near the source of the River Rat. From this village now known as Rattlesden they attacked the English stronghold of Haughley Castle. Stowmarket, a few miles south of Haughley, was of little significance then.

Early recorded use of the river includes the transporting of stone which was used in the rebuilding of Bury St Edmunds Abbey. The stone was carried in flat-bottomed boats to Rattlesden. Although some sources record that it was Caen stone imported from Normandy, the stone actually came from quarries at Barnack in Northamptonshire, which were owned by the abbot of Peterborough. There is also some confusion about the date of this activity, and whether it was for the original building of the abbey between 1070 and 1095, or for a rebuilding in the thirteenth century. It is more certain that Stowmarket church bells were re-cast in the seventeenth century after being transported down-river.[1][2]


The source of the River Gipping is in the village of Mendlesham Green It rises to the north of the village, just above the 160-foot contour, and is fed by waters drained from fields. It heads towards the south-west, passing under the main street of Mendlesham Green by Green Farm.[3] It continues in the same general direction, passing Great Gipping Wood and Old Newton Hall, both on the north bank. The hall is a Grade II* listed structure, dating from 1600 to 1630, with later additions. The joinery in one of the rooms in the left wing is exceptional.[4]

By Stonebridge Ford, the river is joined by a stream flowing northwards from Columbine Hall, a Grade II* listed former manor house built of flint rubble around 1400,[5] and another stream flowing southwards from Old Newton. By Bridge Farm, another timber-framed and plastered farmhouse dating from the late sixteenth century,[6] Newton Bridge carries the B1113 road over the river, which then passes under a railway bridge, and is joined by a stream flowing southwards through Haughley and Dagworth.

The river now turns to the south east, and passes under the A14 Stowmarket Bypass to enter Stowmarket. It is crossed by Stowupland Street and Station Road, below which the river was made navigable. Immediately after Station Road bridge is The Maltings, originally a malthouse, but adapted as a warehouse to serve the navigation. The brick-built structure has nine openings on the ground floor, which once held chutes for loading barges, and two loading doors on the first floor. It is now used as a restaurant and leisure centre.[7] The Gipping Valley River Path runs along the eastern bank of the river, which is flanked by industrial buildings. It is joined by the Rattlesden River, flowing from the west. Stowupland Lock was located just below the junction, beyond which the river passes under the A1120 road bridge. Beyond the bridge, Badley Mill House is a seventeenth-century former mill-house. It has an eighteenth-century extension with a cellar dating from the early sixteenth century.[8] The next bridge carries the railway over the river, and the site of Badley lock is close to Badley Mill Farm. The lock now acts as a weir. To the east of the lock is Creeting Hall, a mid-sixteenth century manor house, with later additions, which is now divided into two dwellings.[9]

To the east of Needham Market is Hawks Mill and Needham Lock. The lock is at the upstream end of the mill bypass channel. The present mill building was constructed in 1884. Although it still contains a working Armfield water turbine, all of the internal machinery has been removed. The road in front of it is supported by an eighteenth-century bridge.[10] Just to the east are the remains of a post mill, originally built further north, but moved to its present location in 1880, and used as a dovecote. It is thought to be the last example of its type in the country.[11]

On the west bank of the river, while to the west are some former gravel pits, which have been landscaped to become part of the 32-acre Needham Lake park. The park spans the river, and parts of it are a designated local nature reserve.[12] The river splits into two just to the north of the B1078 bridge, with the River Gipping to the east and the Old River to the west. Bosmere lock is located below the bridge, and the four-storey timber-framed and weatherboarded mill building is now used as a restaurant. The iron breast-shot water wheel remains, but the machinery does not. It was formerly called Barking Road Mill or Quinton's Mill, as there was a Bosmere Mill some 880 yards further downstream.[13]

The Gipping Valley River Path moves to the west bank at the bridge. The next lock downstream is Creetings Lock, with Riverside Farmhouse standing on the east bank. It was built in 1798 and was originally a mill house. The original Bosmere mill was close by, but was demolished in the early twentieth century.[14] A stream flowing west from Ashbocking through Coddenham joins the mill stream, and the Old River rejoins the main channel below that. Pipps Ford Lock came next, with Pipps Ford farmhouse, dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries located to the east.[15] The railway comes close to the river, and the Gipping Valley River Path briefly leaves the river, to run alongside the railway, but rejoins the towpath at Baylham Mill. The mill, close to a sixteenth-century mill house, was built in nineteenth century, and has three storeys with an attic storey containing storage bins. The cast iron breastshot waterwheel drove three pairs of stones through wooden shafting. Two additional pairs could either be water-powered, or an oil engine could drive them. Most of the machinery is still in situ, making it the only complete water mill on the river.[16] There is a red-brick humped backed bridge over the tail of the adjacent lock, which was repaired with gault brick in the nineteenth century.[17]

A weir replacing the gates at Handford Sea Lock

To the east of the river, both above and below the lock, is the site of Combretovium, known to have contained two Roman forts. Finds have included a bronze statuette of Nero and a saddle-cloth weight, which may indicate that cavalry was stationed there.[18][19]

After Shamford Lock, the river is crossed by the railway, with Blakenham Lock to the north of Great Blakenham. The Gipping Way reverts to the east bank at the lock, and nearby is a nineteenth-century house called Gipping Weir.[20] The river and railway re-cross, and to the east of the river there are extensive flooded gravel workings. At the southern end of the workings, the site of Claydon lock now lies beneath the A14 dual carriageway. Continuing southwards, the next lock was Paper Mill Lock, beside which is the paper mill. To the west, but separated from the river by the railway, is Suffolk Water Park, which occupies flooded gravel workings. To the south is the north warehouse at Fisons Horticultural Division, which was built around 1858 to manufacture superphosphate fertiliser. To the south of the 300-foot building, Edward Packard established the world's first superphosphate factory between 1851 and 1854, and the two companies amalgamated soon after Joseph Fison set up his rival enterprise in 1858.[21]

After another crossing under the railway, the river skirts the eastern edge of Bramford and circles a hill, on top of which is Sproughton Manor, a grade II listed house built for Col Henry Phillipps in 1863 by the architect William Eden Nesfield.[22] Sproughton Lock and mill are at the bottom of the hill. The mill is built in red brick and dates from the late eighteenth century. The mill race passes below the mill, which was operational until 1947, but all the machinery has been removed.[23] Parts of the adjacent mill house date from around 1600.[24] After passing under the A14 road, the river briefly heads north-east, through Chantry Cut, where Chantry Lock is situated, to pass under the railway. There are two bridges, as the railway line forks on the south side of the river. A flood barrier has been installed below the first bridge.[25]

Passing through Ipswich, the river also forks, with the eastern branch being the River Gipping, and the western branch forming the start of the River Orwell. A modern sluice is located on the Orwell just below the junction.

A final weir marks the position of Handford Sea Lock, below which the two channels rejoin. An outfall is situated below the junction, beyond which the river is tidal.


There is evidence that the river was used for navigation in the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries, but in 1790, an Act of Parliament was obtained to enable the river to be improved from Ipswich to Stowmarket. This was achieved by building 15 locks, and the river was then known as the Ipswich and Stowmarket Navigation, although the name has now fallen out of use. The navigation was opened in 1793, and although few records were kept of income and expenditure, the enterprise appears to have been profitable. In 1819, there was talk of expansion, but nothing came of the plans. In the 1840s, as railways arrived in the area, the Trustees negotiated with the Eastern Union Railway, and the navigation was leased to them for 42 years. At the end of the lease, it was in a poor state, despite the fact that the railway had a legal duty to maintain it.

Traffic to Stowmarket did not recover, but there was some traffic through the lower four locks, with barges serving the Fison's and Packard's fertiliser factories at Bramford. By 1917, it was no longer economical to keep it open, and it closed in 1922, although a formal closing order was not obtained until the early 1930s. After a period of decay, the local branch of the Inland Waterways Association raised the idea of restoring it. The River Gipping Trust now spearhead this work, and several of the lock chambers have been restored, while the Gipping Valley River Path had been established along the towpath. There are many listed buildings along the course of the river, including some of the locks and bridges, several of the mill buildings, and Fison's fertiliser warehouse at Bramford.


The first proposal for the construction of a navigation channel was in 1719, but the traders of Ipswich objected, fearing loss of trade. It was not until 1789 that six local gentlemen (two of whom were vicars) with foresight realised that because of poor transport, due to badly-maintained turnpike roads, the population and industries were dwindling in the Stowmarket area. They engaged William Jessop, who employed Isaac Lenny as the surveyor and a Parliamentary Bill for the construction of the navigation was introduced on 17 February 1790.[26] It became an Act of Parliament on 1 April 1790, and created a Board of Trustees, consisting of six men. They were empowered to borrow £14,300 to finance the work, and an additional £6,000 if this became necessary. They also had powers to build an extension of the navigation from Stowupland Bridge for three-quarters of a mile to the turnpike road that ran to Bury St Edmunds.[27] An unusual clause in the act prohibited the carrying of fishing tackle by boats using the navigation, for which a fine of £5 could be charged.[28]

Work started in 1790 at the Ipswich end of the navigation, but there were problems. Baynes was sacked after less than a month, because of "unaccommodating and improper behaviour", and in November, Dyson and Pinkerton were dismissed for trespassing on land which did not belong to the Trustees. Legal action followed, which caused delays and involved the Trustees in extra costs, although some work carried on during the lawsuit. Smith set up a brickworks in January 1791, and a contract to build six locks was awarded to Samual Wright of Ipswich in June. Because of the dispute, the Ipswich end was not sufficiently completed to enable materials to be carried up the navigation, and so they had to be carried overland to enable work on the Stowmarket end to continue. A verdict was reached in the dispute between Dyson and Pinkerton and the Trustees on 14 November 1791, but the outcome is unclear.[29]

John Rennie reported on the canal in December 1791, that the section from Stowmarket and Needham Market, the other main town on the waterway, was almost complete, but advised that the towpath would need to be raised in places. There were three turf and timber locks, but he suggested that further locks should be made of brick. He felt that while Jessop had laid the plans out before obtaining of the initial Act of Parliament, there had been a failure adequately to survey the river and detail the works that would be required to construct the navigation. He particularly criticised Lenny's lack of accuracy, and recommended that a new survey be made, so that the work needed could be identified.[30]

Rennie’s report to the trustees the next April was more detaikled: he estimated that £12,762 would be required to finish the work, of which £6,600 would be needed for the remaining 12 locks, which he thought could be built for £550 each. He then inspected the lower river, and agreed that Jessop's original site for the junction between the navigation and the River Orwell was the best available. He suggested that the timber locks should be rebuilt, once the navigation began to make a profit, and recommended that another Act of Parliament should be obtained, to raise more money.[31] The Act was obtained on 28 March 1793, which authorised the Trustees to borrow an extra £15,000, as the original capital had all been spent.[27] The final cost of construction was £26,263, which was nearly double the original estimate.[2] The waterway was just under 17 miles long from Ipswich to Stowmarket, rising 90 feet through 15 locks of broad construction each 55 feet by 14 feet, suitable for barges with a draught of 3 ft 4".[32] It was opened throughout on 14 September 1793.[31]


The main cargoes on the navigation consisted of agricultural produce which travelled down stream, with coal and other heavy goods travelling in the opposite direction. Initially, there were up to four barges working on the navigation, and tolls for the first year amounted to £460. The number of barges then increased to 10 but frost and flooding in early 1795 caused serious damage, and £1,000 had to be spent on repairs. Despite a short-term fall in income, the tolls for the year ending in July 1795 came to £937. Subsequently, details of receipts were not recorded in the minutes of the Trustees, so are unknown, but they did record that barges were making over 30 trips each week in the early 1800s. Each trip took around seven hours. James Austin was appointed as surveyor in October 1804, but absconded in 1805: the Trustees advertised in the Cambridge newspapers, offering a reward of 10 guineas (£10.50) if he could be apprehended and placed in gaol.[33]


An extension from Stowmarket to the River Lark at Bury St Edmunds was not pursued.[2] With the navigation thriving, there were two proposals for canals from Ipswich to Eye, Suffolk in 1819, one of which would have involved a tunnel through the hills and another to take the canal over the hills: both were thought to be too expensive to implement. A third proposal, for an extension from the Gipping at Needham Market to follow the valley to Earl Stonham, was keenly adopted but did not advance any further.[34]


When the Eastern Union Railway announced plans for an extension from Ipswich to Stowmarket in 1844, the Trustees negotiated with the company to lease their canal, which was forbidden by the canal's private Acty of Parliamnt and so Parliamentary approval was obtained, the House of Lords requiring a clause that the railway maintain the canal "in as good a state and condition as the same shall be at the time of passing of the Act." With this amendment in place, the Act was passed on 26 June 1846.[35]

Part of Fison's factory, built in 1858

The railway was built and the line opened in 1846, causing a serious decline in traffic on the navigation.[2] The condition of the waterway declined, and the Railway Commissioners asked the Great Eastern Railway who had taken over the Eastern Union Railway, to repair the defective sections in 1869. When the 42-year period of the lease was close to ending, the two sides met, and the railway declined to extend the lease. The navigation was by this time in a poor condition, with little traffic, but because of the clause in the 1846 Act, the railway company offered the Trustees £2,000 in lieu of repairs. This was agreed on 5 January 1888, and the money was paid on 23 March.[36]

Trade on the upper part of the navigation to Stowmarket was extremely limited, with just an occasional barge carrying manure to Prentice's Manure Works, and returning with guncotton, which was manufactured at an explosives works. There was more traffic between Ipswich and Bramford, as barges regularly worked to Fison's and Packard's factories. The companies paid lower tolls because they helped to maintain the lock gates and clear weeds from the channel. 30-ton barges were worked through the lower four locks in trains of two dumb barges with a steam-powered barge pulling them. By 1917, the undertaking was virtually bankrupt. Income amounted to around £220 per year, with expenditure running at £480, and there was no capital left. The Trustees tried to make economies, but in May 1922, with the current account overdrawn, they resolved to close the navigation from 3 June 1922.[37]

In 1932 the Trustees resolved formally to close the navigation, and obtained an order permitting it under the Land Drainage Act 1930. A final meeting was held on 16 March 1934, when debts were settled, and the remaining money was split between the council and the Catchment Board, who had responsibility for the river under the terms of the Land Drainage Act.


Bosmere Mill, with its restored lock chamber

In the wake of a report entitled Upgrading of remainder waterways the Inland Waterways Association began to take an active role in the improvement of the River Gipping.[38] This cause was highlighted by an article in the December 1979 edition of the waterways magazine Waterways World, which showed the state of the navigation, and noted that the long-term aim of the local branch of the IWA was restoration to navigable standards for leisure traffic. Already the group had been clearing the towpath,[39] and this led to the setting up of the Gipping Valley River Path, a footpath from Ipswich to Stowmarket which uses the towpath for most of its route. Between 1994 and 2004, members of the IWA worked on the reconstruction of first Bosmere and then Creeting locks. Subsequently, the chamber of Baylham lock has been restored, although no gates have been fitted, and work has been carried out at Pipps Ford to restore a bridge over the tail of the lock and the river channel around the lock.[2]

Claydon Lock was destroyed when the A45 road was built (now the A14) and the river here was diverted through a new cut.[40] Water levels on the river are regulated by various devices. Hawks Mill lock at Needham Market has had an automatic rising sluice gate fitted,[41] while Paper Mill lock incorporates an automatic tilting sluice gate.[42]

In 2007, the Inland Waterways Association established the River Gipping Trust, a charity,[43] to manage the river and its canal.

Outside links


  1. Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 90.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "History". The River Gipping Trust. http://www.rivergippingtrust.org/Pages/History.aspx. 
  3. National Heritage List 1285352: Green Farmhouse
  4. National Heritage List 1181768: Old Newton Hall
  5. National Heritage List 1352322: Columbine Hall
  6. National Heritage List 1181797: Bridge Farmhouse, Newton Road
  7. National Heritage List 1292516: The Maltings, Stowmarket
  8. National Heritage List 1231092: Badley Mill House
  9. National Heritage List 1352073: Creeting Hall, Mill Lane
  10. National Heritage List 1277199: Hawks Mill, including bridge
  11. National Heritage List 1182292: Buck of former Post Mill
  12. "Needham Lake". Mid Suffolk District Council. http://www.midsuffolk.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/countryside/countryside-sites/needham-lake/. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  13. National Heritage List 1231764: Bosmere Mill
  14. National Heritage List 1352068: Riverside Farmhouse
  15. National Heritage List 1033236: Pipps Ford
  16. National Heritage List 1033260: Baylham Watermill and Mill House
  17. National Heritage List 1352018: Bridge and Lock, Baylham Mill
  18. Combetovium - Roman-Britain.org
  19. National Heritage List 1006033: Baylham Roman site
  20. National Heritage List 1262876: Gipping Weir
  21. National Heritage List 1263014: North warehouse at Fisons Horticultural Division
  22. National Heritage List 1036922: Sproughton Manor
  23. National Heritage List 1036927: Sproughton Mill
  24. National Heritage List 1193955: Sproughton Mill House
  25. Pictures of River Gipping Flood Barrier and the area on Geograph.co.uk
  26. Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 90-91.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Priestley 1831, pp. 280–282
  28. Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 91
  29. Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 91-92.
  30. Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 92-93.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 93
  32. Cumberlidge 2009, p. 155.
  33. Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 93-94.
  34. Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 94.
  35. Boyes & Russell 1977, pp. 94-95.
  36. , Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 96.
  37. Boyes & Russell 1977, p. 97.
  38. Squires 2008, pp. 83-84.
  39. Squires 2008, pp. 105.
  40. IWA Ipswich Branch: Claydon Lock
  41. IWA Ipswich Branch: Hawk's Mill Lock
  42. IWA Ipswich Branch: Paper Mill Lock
  43. River Gipping Trust - About Us