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History of managing the Lea

History of managing the Lea

River Lee Trustees

The River Lea has been controlled and managed by a series of organisations through the ages, the earliest being the River Lee Trustees.

The Trust was incorporated (and reincorporated) in a series of Acts of Parliament. Likewise,though the ages Trustees or Commissioners were appointed, disbanded or lapsed and then reformed.

The navigation of the river Lea was managed and governed from 1424 by a public trust incorporated under the name of The Trustees of the River Lee.

The Trustees derived their powers from two Acts of Parliament, the earliest passed in the reign of Henry VI in 1424 and the other in 1430.These two statutes empowered the Chancellor for the time being to issue commissions for the purpose of clearing scouring and amending the river 'Ley' (Lea). Both Acts refer to the Lea as 'une des grandees rivers' of England.

The river appears to have been rendered navigable from 1570 in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I when the constitution of the River Lee Trust was established in an Act of1570'For the bringing of the river of Lee to the north side of the city of London'.By this Act, 'the Lord Mayor Commonality and Citizens of London and their successors were authorized to bring the said river ofLee from the town of Ware to the north side of the city of London'.

It was enacted under Section 4;'That the said Lord Mayor Commonalty and Citizens shall have the whole jurisdiction conservice rule and government as well of the said New Cut River and ground of each side as also the royalty of the fish and fishing of the same and the profits of the said ground soil and water to them and their successors for ever'.

This section was enacted expressly to define and give control of the navigation of the river Lea, rather than the water supply via the New River.Powers were also given by this Act for the punishment of offenders and persons breaking the rules and orders provided for the preservation and maintenance of the river.

The number of Trustees were increased to 16 under an Act of 1739.The Lord Chancellor was empowered to appointfour from the City of London and four each from the shires of Essex, Middlesex and Hertford 'who should have full power to treat agree and compound for the scouring cleansing repairing and keeping of the said river Lee'.

Canalizing the River Lea

An Act was passed in 1766 for the improvement of the Lea from Hertford to the Thames. Trustees were appointed 'for the making extending improving and maintaining the navigation of the said river Lee from the floodgates belonging to the Town Mill in the town of Hertford to the river Thames'.

The Act presaged the first period of canalizing the river Lea, in a scheme designed by the engineer John Smeaton.The Trustees were empowered to cleanse, scour, deepen, enlarge or straighten the channel of the river Lee, to make and maintain the new cuts, and to build the bridges and works described by the Act.

The Lea was established as a free navigation, but subject to the payment of rates and duties.The rate of tolls was subsequently increased by an Act of 1779.

An Act of 1805' for the better preservation and improvement of the navigation' set the heights of water and gave the Trustees powers to make by-laws for regulating the lading of barges. No craft was permitted to carry more than 40 tons of freight (the limits later increased).

The Lee Navigation Improvement Act

The Lee Navigation Improvement Act of 1850enabled the Trustees to further improve the navigation and to dispose of the surplus water not needed for the navigation.

The Trustees were incorporated under the name of The Trustees of the River Lee and were empowered to purchase and hold,to sell demise, and to dispose of lands.

The Act entitled the Trustees to dispose of the surplus water of the Lea to water to companies and to individuals for a water supply. The River Lee Water Act of 1855 later vested the surplus water in two companies, namely the New River Company and the East London Water Company, for the payment of a fee to the Trustees.

The right of the Trustees to guarantee water levels in the navigation was absoulte. The water companies were permitted to draw water fromabove Tottenham Millup to a specific daily limit, but were prohibited (without the consent of the Trustees) from drawing water below the Mill. This was regulated by the definition of a customary 'head level' of water at specific 'ponds' (bodies or tracts of water between locks and weirs).The watersbelow Tottenham Milbelonged solely to the Trust.

Lee Conservancy Board

The Lee Conservancy Board (LC) was set up under the Lee Conservancy Act 1868 to replace the Trustees of the Lea Navigation.

The Board's powers came into effect from April 1869. It was responsible for 50 miles of navigable waterways which included the Lea Navigation and, from 1911, the River Stort Navigation. It's duty was to control the whole of each river to ensure freedom from pollution, whilst sums were payable to the Board for the abstraction and protection of water.

Lea District of the British Transport Commission

Under the Transport Act 1947 (c.49) the Lee Conservancy Board became the Lea District of the British Transport Commission. With the exception of water protection activities,the functions formerly carried out by the Board were taken over by the Commission, but this body was then dissolved by the Transport Act 1962 (c.46), and its functions were divided between four boards, one of which was the British Waterways Board.

Lee Conservancy Catchment Board

The Lee Conservancy Catchment Board (LCCB) was established under the Land Drainage Act 1930 as a body distinct and separate from the Lee Conservancy Board.The LCCB was responsible for the functions of the Lee ConservancyBoardrelating to water supply, fisheries, pollution and drainage.

The first members of the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board were the members of the Lee Conservancy Board, together with six additional members.

The LCCBwas abolished under the Water Act 1973 (c.37) and its functions transferred to the Thames Water Authority.

British Waterways Board

British Waterways was the public corporation that cared for the network of canals and rivers in England, Scotland and Wales. Its role was to ensure that the waterways could be used for all to enjoy, now and for many years to come. The Board was abolished in July 2012.

Thames Water Authorityn

The Thames Water Authority (TWA)was one of ten Regional Water Authorities created in 1975 that brought together all the water management functions of the Thames Region (including the Lea) in one public body.The TWA subsumed the Metropolitan Water Board and the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board.

The Regional Water Authorities were responsible for the supply and distribution of drinking water, sewerage and sewage disposal, land drainage and flood risk management, fisheries, water quality management, pollution prevention, water resource management and many aspects of the management of aquatic ecology and some aspects of recreation.

Thames Water

In 1989, the Thames Water Authority was partly privatised, with the water and sewage responsibilities transferred to the newly established publicly quoted company of Thames Water; the regulatory responsibilities transferring to the newly created National Rivers Authority.

National Rivers Authority

The National Rivers Authority took control of regulatory functions after the privatisation of the Thames Water Authority. The NRA operated from 1989 until 1996 when its main functions relating to the river Lea were subsumed within the Environment Agency. Some roles and responsibilities were transferred to Thames Water.

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency was created by the Environment Act 1995. It came into existence on 1 April 1996, taking over the roles and responsibilities of the National Rivers Authority.

Canals and Rivers Trust

On 2nd July 2012, the Government transferred inland waterways in England and Wales into a new charitable body, the Canal & River Trust, when the British Waterways Board was abolished.


Report from the Commissioners Mr J merchant 19 December 1866



leabridge.org.uk December 2012