From the Thorley Archives

Thorley Memories of the Stort

Oral history provides a valuable insight into local social history. In this article Thorley people relate some fond childhood memories of their activities around the River Stort or as it more properly known, the Stort Navigation.

Brenda Pleasance has happy wartime memories of playing on the river banks, fishing for tiddlers and swimming in the crystal clear streams and in the river. On one occasion a novice swimmer got into difficulties and Brenda went to her aid. Brenda's mother then tried to rescue both children, but it was Brenda who ended up pulling both of them out! Brenda's brother, Maurice Hockley, explained that a central channel had to be regularly dredged to keep the navigation open for the barges. This created a sudden step from each bank which made swimming very dangerous.

The lock keeper responsible for Twyford lock lived at Spelbrook Lock 2 miles away. When the children in Thorley Street saw him cycling quickly along their road, they raced through the Roley Croak keyhole gate, along the twitchel, across the railway line and over the matchstick bridge in time to watch the timber laden barges, being pulled by a horse, pass through the lock.

The Roley Croak Matchstick Bridge in the 1950s

Grenville Bird recalls that the timber was heading for Hughes timber yards in Bishop's Stortford and that barges had names beginning with Q - (Queen, Quest, Quorn etc). On their return journey to London they carried malt, hay and straw. Pamela Finch remembers some of the barge men being Russians who came with their loads of timber from the Baltic region.

A stick of bombs fell across the towpath during the war and the path had to be diverted around a crater. There is still evidence of the damage alongside the river today. Grenville also recalls that at a boatyard called Nobbyland situated between Southmill and Twyford locks, rowing boats could be hired for use between the two locks.

Edward Miller's boyhood memory of Nobbyland was playing football and cricket in the field and watching the trains go past - especially carriages hauled by a Britannia or Sandringham class engine! That field has long since disappeared, its gravel and sand having been extracted. The resultant hole is now occupied by a deep fishing lake. He also has fond memories of the youth club, under the leadership of Canon Sidney Robinson, rowing on the river. Boats were hired at Spelbrook Lock and travelled up to Twyford Lock on balmy summer evenings..

Thorley Lock in 1908

Len Wood remembers village children being taught to swim in the Stort by Miss Beryl Frere at Twyford Mill in the 1930s and 40s. They began in a thick rope sling held by Miss Frere from the small bridge. When they could manage to swim a few strokes they graduated to the mill pool with its ice cold current generated by the mill wheel. Village children progressed from this to win many swimming awards in district events.

Twyford Mill Pool

Pamela and her brother Mark Wolfson often rowed their boat 'The Lunatic' on the Stort. This was the beginning of Mark's lifelong interest in rowing. A painful memory for Pamela was younger brother Mark disturbing a wasp's nest in the bank as they passed and then being stranded in the middle of the river.

Today the recreational activities on and beside the river extend to canoeing from a purpose built clubhouse near South Mill lock, wildlife watching in the Rushy Meads Nature Reserve, fishing at the Abbey Cross Angling Club and horse riding near Twyford lock. Pleasure boats still make their way along the river but its course no longer needs regular dredging for use by commercial traffic.

Bill Hardy
December 2005

From the Archives