Down the Chelmer and up the Blackwater
By Vernon And Joan Clarke
From just above Coggeshall’s “Long Bridge” to just below Pointwell Mill the Blackwater flows in two streams – the right, and wider, stream flowing through Coggeshall Abbey and Pointwell Mills and the left, known locally as “The Back Ditch”, flowing but a short distance from it. “The Back Ditch” was the original river and at one time householders used to throw their slops into it. The wider stream was made about 1220 by the monks of Coggeshall Abbey for operating their corn mill.
From near the Portobello we can walk up the left bank of the main stream to the start of the “Back Ditch”, which is at times dry in this first section. As we go we obtain a good view of the three brick arches of The Long Bridge, which claims to be the oldest brick bridge in England; until 1912 it had a narrow single track and the larger carts and waggons used the ford alongside. By the Portobello’s car park is the Robin’s Brook’s confluence with the “Back Ditch”, just above the attractive old iron bridge whose graceful railings were made in the foundry that used to be beside where the “Foundry House” antique shop now is.
Robin’s Brook, 3 miles long, comes from an artificial lake at Markshall near the site of the former church (demolished 1932) and house (demolished 1951). It used to drive a mill — a 19th century brick building, now a house, in Robinsbridge Road, NW from Market Hill.
We now visit two of the Blackwater’s most interesting features — Coggeshall Abbey and Pointwell Mill — both approached down lanes leading off B1024. The lane to the Abbey is opposite the remains of the 15th century tithe barn; on the left of this lane is the 1220 gatehouse chapel (in construction somewhat similar to the 1220 chapel at Tilty) and at the end are the ruins of the 12th century monastery with (as at Beeleigh) a 16th century house built among them. A track then crosses the Blackwater by a 13th century brick bridge (the mill is immediately below this bridge) and after a few yards goes across the “Back Ditch”. It is very muddy here in wet weather.
There is a path down the left bank of the river from here to Pointwell Mill, first beside the “Back Ditch”, then beside a channel linking the two streams and finally beside the main stream. From this path we see Coggeshall Abbey Mill. The monks started a corn mill here in the 13th century but the building we see today is thought to date from the 17th century. It was first a fulling mill, in the early 19th century it was a silk throwing mill and from 1840 until 1960 it was a corn mill. Its water-driven machinery is still in working order.
Pointwell Mill worked until 1902 and was converted to a house in 1960. This and the two-gabled mill house beside it are, with their well kept gardens, one of the Blackwater’s pleasantest scenes. The short lane to them leaves B1024 at Coggeshall Hamlet about ½ mile south of the tithe barn.
From Pointwell Mill we drive straight across B1024 into the narrow winding right-bank road (marked on the map’s as “Cuthedge Lane”) that leads in a couple of miles to Bradwell Church. This small Norman church has as a reredos, instead of the usual biblical figures, a pair of exquisite Jacobean memorials to members of the Maxey family who were, at the time of the Civil War, staunch supporters of the King when most of Essex was against him. From this church a path leads down beside the Hall to a bridge over the river; those who do not mind mud and barbed wire, can walk along the left bank for a mile to the outskirts of Bradwell Village.
The road between Bradwell Church and Village has good views to the right over the valley. Where we meet A120 we see, on the house facing us, the inscription “O.S.O. 1863”. O.S.O. was a Squire of Stisted and is referred to later. A short way along Al 20 to our right is a bridge over the Blackwater and across the river is the house that stands on the site of the former “Blackwater Mill”, which operated from 1689 and was demolished 1953.