Lewis Tyler is Secretary of the recently established River Gipping Trust which has taken on the work of re-establishing the 18th century Ipswich to Stowmarket Navigation. In his lecture on 9 February, we were given a comprehensive survey of its background and of the current situation.
The Inland Waterways Association's Ipswich branch had taken on a very positive role over the many years, but it was felt that a Trust with the specific aim of restoration of the historic Gipping Navigation would have a better chance of success in attracting potential funders. Most of the members of the new River Gipping Trust are also members of the local branch of the national Inland Waterways Association. In Ipswich we already have the River Action Group established some 10-15 years ago, of which The Ipswich Society is an active member. Its emphasis has been more on improving access to, and usage of, the river and its towpath, as well as the creation of an improved cycle route. It also operates only as far as Sproughton.
Lewis reminded us that, from the 16th century, the river had been navigable for certain craft as far as Stowmarket and via the River Rattlesden a little further westwards. With industry developing in Ipswich towards the end of the 18th century, a start had been made towards creating a proper navigation with a series of locks. John Rennie had supervised the design of the original locks and the initial barges were horse-drawn. The newly arrived railways rather interrupted progress, but steam barges replaced horses in the 19th century and traffic between Ipswich and the Packard fertiliser works at Bramford continued until the 1930s, with actual closure of the navigation in 1932.
The River Gipping Trust, like the IWA before it, is concentrating its efforts on the restoration of locks in the Needham Market section of the river where sufficient remains of the original structures have survived. Progress is inevitably slow, but several locks are now fully restored. This interesting talk was plentifully illustrated with photographs old and new so we could see for ourselves what has been achieved.