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Hackney Cut


John Smeaton



Canals and Rivers Trust

Date or period


Current Designation


Archaeological Merit

The original canal was remodelled and widened after 1850 with new locks and gates. The remaining fabric is likely lost

Hackney Cut

The competing interests of mill owners and river traffic regularly led to conflicts.

In 1765, the river commissioners appointed the engineer John Smeaton to survey the river and to devise improvements.

When Smeaton reported in 1766, he recommended a new cut or canal should be built from Lea Bridge to Old Ford, a distance of two miles - the Hackney Cut. This was one of 14 cuts / canals Smeaton proposed.

On 30 September 1766, Smeaton's report was laid before the trustees and a thousandcopies printed. An enabling Act of Parliament (7 Geo.II c51) followed for 'improving the navigationof the Lee from Hertford to the Thames, and for extending the navigation to thefloodgates belonging to the Town mill of Hertford'. In 1767, the Act was passed by the Commons and subsequently examined by a committee of the House of Lords chaired by Lord Sandys.

The Cut was to be dug from between Lea Bridge and the buildings belonging toHackneyWaterworks, but no nearer than ten yards to the buildings. It was thento pass through part ofHackneyMarshand back into the Lee between Pudding Millstream andHackneyBrook on the east side of Jones' calico grounds at Old Ford.

The Cut diverted from the natural channel just below Lea Bridge with locks to take boats down from the level of the navigation to the level of the tidal river, which came to be to be known as the Old River Lea. The mill race that channelled water towards the water wheels at Hackney Waterworks, on the site of the Middlesex Filter Beds was safeguarded.

Smeaton recommended that a single pair of lock gates at Lea Bridge should be replaced with double gates, called a pound lock, to protect water levels.But the single gates were retained alongside the new double gates, against Smeaton's advice.

A single set of gates, or half lock, was to be formed at the entrance to the Cut, just below Lea Bridge Weir.

Work began in 1868 and,on 7 August 1769,the Hackney Cut opened.

The Cut was gradually rebuilt and widened from 1850 in order to accommodate larger barges.

In 1865, a new lock, the Brick Cistern Lock, was constructed near the current Cow Bridge. That lock soon became redundant when, after 1872, the Cut was thrown into one level from Tottenham to Old Ford.

The junction of the canal with the River at Lea Bridge was substantially remodelled when the East London Waterworks Company took control of Lea Bridge Mills after 1828 and again in the 1850s.

The Lock was retained as a flood prevention measure until 1931, when new flood gates were constructed adjacent to the Middlesex Filter Beds. These gates were removed in 1987, although the abutments and the bridge over the canal remain today.


Lee and Stort

leabridge.org.uk December 2012