The River Rib from Braughing to the River Lea

During the winter and spring of 2022, Peter Sinclair completed the final part of his survey of our rivers, having previously walked and recorded The River Quin from Barkway to Braughing and The River Rib from Therfield to Braughing. He now takes us  from where the Rib and Quin meet just south of Braughing, down to the point where the Rib joins the River Lea, west of Ware. 
Join him on an exploration of the southern half of our catchment.

1 – Riversmeet to Gatesbury (Braughing), Friday 23 April 2021

From Riversmeet, the Rib continues under the B1638 at Ford Bridge, passing to the east of the site of the Roman town and old Braughing Station, which was closed in 1964.

Water drains from the east into the river between Chalk Lodge and the disused railway bridge on the B1368.

The river follows the 70m contour from here, dropping slowly to 60m below Standon.

The river crosses under a track from the B1368 leading to what used to be Gatesbury Mill (Footpath 019). It was a fulling mill in 1657 and later a corn mill. It was sold in 1896 and pulled down in 1906. The mill house was converted into two cottages.

The iron machinery used to divert water along the mill race north of the track can still be seen. 

A pond has survived as part of the tail stream. Its outflow continues to follow the old course to re-join the river downstream.

2 – Gatesbury (Braughing) to Standon Bridge, Wednesday 2 February 2022

Where the river flows under the track to Gatesbury (Footpath 019), there are two sets of double arches. The river now flows through one of the two larger arches seen in the previous photograph, but the two smaller arches a few meters further east are dry. These served as a sluice in addition to the machinery controlling water flow through the larger arches, giving the miller greater control at times of flood.

Lidar map of Stane Street at River Rib. Courtesy of David Ratledge www.twithr.co.uk

Footpath 035 from Gatesbury follows the disused railway line south towards Standon. 

Close to where it next meets the river the Roman road called Stane Street from Colchester to St Albans crosses it, confirmed by laser detection and ranging (Lidar).

The county electoral division, parish, and district ward boundaries still follow Stane Street east of the Rib.

The line of trees below Darney Wood marks Stane Street eastward to Horse Cross and the A120 (bold red line on the map above). The westward extension over the river meets the Roman road north to Great Chesterford through Braughing. Ermine Street leaves Puckeridge and becomes the A10 north of the roundabout. 

Braughing Warren Bourne from Darney Wood joins the river from the east soon after the Stane Street crossing. 

Between Gatesbury and Standon the Rib is wider and deeper, and the gravel riverbed is often visible. 

The first aquatic plants can also be seen, rather than grasses growing above the water level. 

Also, the underlying chalk is exposed in the wooded hill to the east of the river, visible from a footpath (without status) on the west bank that leaves and re-joins Footpath 012. 

The two Puckeridge Tributaries, both dry, from the west of the A10 and through Puckeridge, meet below Fisher’s Mead. 

The merged tributary follows Station Road for a short distance and is crossed by Footpath 012 from Gatesbury before joining the Rib upstream of the weir near Standon Old Mill. 

From ‘Notes on the River Rib from Standon to its Junction with the Lea.’ By Arthur Giles Puller, M.A., F.S.A., F.Z.S., F.R.G.S. Read at Ware, 30th March, 1882.

The River Rib, about one mile below Puckeridge, flows past the village of Standon, which possesses two mills worked by the water of the stream, one a corn mill which stands immediately above a bridge built in the year 1858 (to replace a former bridge destroyed by a flood of unusual height in the month of October, 1857);…

The corn mill on the A120 to the west of the river was built in 1901 and powered by steam. It was operated by British Soya Products Ltd into the 1960s and was served by a private siding off the GNER railway line from Hertford to Buntingford until it was closed by Beeching. 

The mill was sold in 1998 and converted into residential apartments in 2005. 

The weir seen from the bridge on the A120. Upstream a sluice ensured any flood waters did not overwhelm the mill race to the east leading to Standon Old Mill. A mill pond might have covered the water meadow behind Mill End.

The Bishop Stortford & District Angling Society used to stock the river here with brown trout into the 1960s.

Standon Old Mill, accessed from Mill End, was powered by a waterwheel and supplemented by steam from 1901. The chimney and engine house remain, but the mill itself burned down in 1961 and was replaced with an industrial building. 

Water still flows in the mill race behind the buildings, re-joining the river just before the bridge. 

Standon New Mill and the road bridge. The iron bridge was built in 1858 to replace a brick bridge of five arches destroyed in a flood the previous year. Courtesy of www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk 

3 – Standon Bridge to Latchford, Monday 7 February 2022

…the other, for many years used as a paper-mill, but lately converted into a saw-mill, stands a few yards above a ford and foot-bridge by which the river can be crossed, about a quarter of a mile below the bridge referred to above.

The river flows south from the A120, followed by Footpath 015 which crosses it close to a sluice pictured right, where the water is diverted around Paper Mill House, re-joining the river downstream, just before the ford. 

A dry stream from the direction of Froghall Lane follows Paper Mill Lane from the High Street and joins the river at the ford.

This used to be the tail stream below the Old Paper Mill, just above the ford and footbridge on Paper Mill Lane, and close to the diverted water re-joining it from the west.

The Old Paper Mill, Standon. Courtesy of https://new.millsarchive.org 
A photograph of the Old Paper Mill on the lid of a tin of Sharp toffees, late 1930s, an unexpected find. Courtesy of www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk

The seventeenth-century Paper Mill House is hidden by the trees to the right of the river.

Footpath 014 from Paper Mill Lane continues south and to the west of the river. Bridleway 030 follows the river to the east. 

After almost doubling back on itself, the river meanders across meadowlands towards The Lordship, occasionally flowing across gravel beds.

A pumping station on Paper Mill Lane pumps sewage from the Colliers End, Puckeridge and Standon main sewer to the Sewage Treatment Works on the hill to the south of Standon. Wastewater discharges into a stream rising near Wellpond Green and joins the river just upstream of The Lordship. 

Untreated sewage discharges are low (2 spillages in 2021), but abstraction of water from the chalk aquifer at Standon is high.

In following the course of the river below Standon, the next point most worthy of notice which we come to is the site of the mansion or palace, completed in 1546 by Sir Ralph Sadleir, called Standon Lordship. It originally was of great size and contained three courtyards, and according to local tradition King James the First was entertained there one night on his journey from Scotland to London. But small traces remain of the extensive pile of buildings, save the arch of the principal entrance, and some parallel terraces now covered with grass which formed part of the pleasure-ground and suggest the idea of a vineyard.

From The Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire by Henry Chauncey, 1826. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Downstream of The Lordship the river is not accessible because of a Conservation Headland. Bridleway 019 from The Lordship entrance lane passes the site of the annual ‘Standon Calling’ festival, crosses the river, turns east and meets Bridleway 030 south to Latchford.

An alternative route follows Barwick Road from The Lordship entrance lane to the west of the river and then southeast on Footpath 059 across fields to Latchford, following the 60m contour.

The Latchford fisheries. Courtesy of Rob Mungovan, map © Ordnance Survey 
Aerial tour of lake and river, 6 April 2015. YouTube

Of crustaceans, the crayfish or crawfish, Astacus fluviatilis, is frequently met with at all parts of the Rib, and is especially abundant near Latchford.

The route along Barwick Road passes an artificial lake used by Latchford Fly Fishing, stocked with brown trout and this year with grayling for the first time.

Run-off from the higher fields to the west killed all the fish in the lake one year, but a ditch now channels the run-off to the river, and consequently unknown concentrations of nitrates and/or phosphates could be entering it there.

According to a 2021 report by the Wild Trout Trust for the Latchford Lake Fishery the river from The Lordship to the lake is bordered by marginal vegetation like great willow herb, reed canary grass, common reed, and a stand of water crowfoot, with taller blackthorn and osier willows on the banks. 

Water cress used to be farmed here and evidence of water voles has been found. It is thought this stretch of river is a good reserve for wild trout.

The river from the lake to Latchford is degraded. It suffers from a lack of gravel and pools are prone to filling with sand. 

The Wild Trout Trust report recommended active management of this stretch, restoring the riverbed with additional gravel and creating better conditions for wild trout to thrive by re-grading the banks and planting trees. This is being done and the flow has improved.

As we proceed down the course of the river, an extensive wood called Plashes becomes visible on the right bank. This wood, now reduced to 150 acres, was formerly of much greater extent, and has long been reputed to be one of the last refuges of badgers in this part of England … 

Footpath 059 and Bridleway 035 converge close to the ford at Latchford.

Neither bank can be accessed between The Lordship and the ford. The west bank has been set aside for small mammals and birds under a DEFRA countryside stewardship scheme managed by Dowsetts Farm.

Beyond Latchford the road crosses the river again, leading past Sophie’s Wood owned by the Chaldean Estate, towards Plashes Wood (71.9 hectares), also privately owned, a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the last ancient woodlands left in Hertfordshire. It can be accessed by Bridleway 041.

4 – Latchford to Barwick Ford, Friday 11 February 2022

From Latchford the road follows the river to Rib Ford at Hangingwood, which is only suitable for farm vehicles. 

The water is clear and occasionally flows over a gravel bed. 

For much of this stretch of the river to Barwick Ford, it is narrower than pictured, with overhanging trees and bankside vegetation. It flows deeper most of the way, but occasionally opens out to expose a gravel bed like this.

The Barwick Tributary from the direction of Standon Green End runs alongside Gore Lane. After it crosses under the road an old mill stone has been built into the bank. This could have been used when gunpowder was being manufactured on the site.

The tributary enters the river to the west of the industrial units (A10 Timber).

In September, 1849, the footbridge, either from decay or accident, became impassable, and, owing to a dispute between the two parishes [Standon and Thundridge], twelve months elapsed before the river was again spanned by a wooden bridge. This was swept away by a flood of unusual height on the 3rd of August, 1879, and has been replaced by one more substantially built.

At Barwick Ford, two posts marked with the depth of water indicate that floods can reach 6 feet, overtopping the footbridge.

From 1889 the peace of the area was regularly shattered by explosions when the Smokeless Powder Company tested its gunpowder, manufactured on 120 acres both sides of the river, with its own tram network. The New Schultz Gunpowder Co Ltd ran the site from 1898 until 1914, and a few years later, Sabulite Ltd. 

The Sabulite Works closed about 1933 but the factory continued making snaps for Christmas crackers. It finally closed after the war. The foundations of many buildings can still be found, in Cook’s Wood, which was known as Factory Wood from 1905, and in Round Wood.

A colony of glow worms was recently discovered in the field visible beyond the bridge, but it is not known if they have recovered after the set-aside was cut back in 2020/21.

At the lower end of the cutting glacial drift rests directly on the chalk: the drift consists of light-coloured sand, with a thin layer of gravel between it and the chalk; 180 feet above the lower end of the cutting the chalk dips below the level of the roadway, and the section consists first of glacial drift, i.e. light-coloured sand, with a layer of gravel below it, and, for fifty yards after the sand ceases, of gravel alone. The next 130 yards of the section is thus described by Mr. Penning: “Gravel with intercalated patches of sand, and a contorted bed of boulder-clay.” At the upper end of the cutting the section consists of gravel and sand. The cutting exceeds 500 feet in length, and was made in the year 1871.

Section along a road-cutting 1½ miles N.E. of Thundridge (near “Barrack” [Barwick]), 1871
Inclination 1 in 30 westward. Scale on the original drawing 60 feet to an inch. Glacial Drift: (a) Gravel with intercalated patches of sand (b), and a contorted bed of Boulder Clay (c). Light-coloured sand (d), with a little gravel (e) below. Chalk (f). The (d) on the right hand should be (b).

The above drawing was made by W. H. Penning, FGS, for the Geological Survey of England and Wales and cited by Puller in his ‘Notes’ in 1882. 

Local geology is difficult to picture, so this illustration may help to clarify what is under your feet when standing close to the river at Barwick Ford and looking east up the hill towards Much Hadham.

It is not known exactly where the section begins, but it is assumed the riverbed consists of a mix of sand and gravel at the far left.

5 – Barwick Ford to Fabdens, Friday 11 March 2022

Of animals, ferae naturae, there are twelve species, as follow: mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, barn-rats, water-rats, foxes, hares, rabbits, badgers, stoats, weasels, and canes, the last three belonging to the family of the Mustelidae… ‘cane’ is a local name more often applied to the female weasel than, as here, to the white variety. (Ed.)

Half a mile below Barwick, an ancient manor-farm named Sawtrees crowns the hill on the left bank of the stream, whilst on the highest point of the hill on the right bank stand two cottages which bear the name of Haven End; in the last century a small farmhouse and homestead existed here, and earlier still a village which gave its name to the surrounding district, there being a local tradition that in the reign of King Alfrred the Danes came up as far as Haven End.

One quarter of a mile lower down, … we come upon a pair of targets with a marker’s mantlet inclosed by an iron fence, and at 700 yards distance a red brick building with two turrets called the armoury; for more than twenty years this has been the private rifle-range of the owners of Youngsbury, and during the greater part of the time the Volunteers from the neighbouring town of Ware … have practised at this range …

A short distance below the armoury, the boundary of Thundridge parish crosses the river … the probable cause of this deviation of the parish boundary from the channel of the river is the undoubted existence in past times of a water-mill called the Fish House Mill, the site of which is fixed by an old lane which led to it, which has long ago become a water-course, and may even ne called a bourne.

…of water-fowl and marsh birds there are eleven species, as will be seen by the following list: water-rail, moorhen, kingfisher, woodcock, snipe, wild goose, wild duck, teal, heron, swan, and common gull…

A few hundred yards lower down on the borders of Youngsbury Park stands the keeper’s lodge and kennels, once a farmhouse, named Fabdens, and at this point the river divides into two branches. … 

The house was built in 1745 by Serjeant Poole; it was enlarged in 1779 by Mr. David Barclay, and completed early in this century by Mr. Daniel Giles, an ancestor of the present owner.

Below Barwick Ford an old footbridge leading to the garden of Great Barwick Manor has survived.

A short stretch of the river here can be reached by a permissive footpath from Footpath 011 along the edge of Sawtrees Wood.

A muntjac deer disturbed close to the river. These were not mentioned by Puller in 1882 because they were only brought into the country from China in the early twentieth century. Feral populations established themselves later, especially in Hertfordshire.

Surprisingly, there are no significant tributaries or streams emptying into the river between Barwick Ford and Wadesmill. But after extended rainfall several bournes drain away water from the eastern hillside through pipes under the bridleway.

The remains of a crossing used by pheasant shooters. 

The nearby Thames Water Thundridge Pumping Station between the river and Cold Christmas Lane draws water from the chalk aquifer.

The Armoury, 1945. Courtesy of Emma Blowers

The rifle range that crossed the Rib was used from the 1860s until the Second World War. The butts have long gone and the Armoury was in ruins by 1966. Just a few bricks remain, hidden in the undergrowth beside Armoury Lane (Bridleway 024) from Cold Christmas Lane. 

Bridleway 024 follows the river to the footbridge and ford just before Fabdens, one of the few public footpaths to provide direct access to the riverbank. 

Recent ‘stepping stones’ on the possible site of an older bridge. 

There is no sign of ‘Fish House Mill’ mentioned by Puller, other than trees along the line of a lane that led to an old ford. 

A little further downstream there used to be a wooden footbridge for farmworkers to reach Fabdens. 

A large black cormorant disturbed while in the river. 

Moorhen and wild ducks are the most common water birds seen, and occasionally heron. 

In the 1940s the river was annually stocked for private anglers, and patrolled by George Harvey of Bridge Cottage in Wadesmill. Pike were regularly taken out. 

Today no fishing is permitted.

The ford and footbridge just upstream of Fabdens. The track crossing the river here leads from Cold Christmas Lane (Footpath 030) and past the entrance to Fabdens.

It continues up the hill towards Youngsbury Farm (Bridleway 051) and passes two Roman barrows or burial mounds (Scheduled Monuments) in the woods to the left (TL 37202 17775 and TL 37228 17777).

The Rib in flood at Fabdens Ford a few years ago. The iron footbridge, from ‘The Cut’ at Victoria Maltings in Ware courtesy of a founding member of the Ware Society, was almost under water.

The Rib can also be dangerous. It has claimed a number of lives in the past, including, amongst others, Frank Pateman aged 5 drowned in 1888 and Ann Bates aged 11 drowned in 1885.

The river splits at Fabdens. The wider branch, a favourite haunt of a local kingfisher, flows past Youngsbury Park.

Fabdens, 1896, from the Pullers of Youngsbury Photograph Albums, Puller Memorial CoE Primary School, High Cross. Courtesy of Emma Blowers

6 – Fabdens to Thundridge Old Church, Tuesday 15 March 2022

Old Church Lane (Bridleway 024) continues to Wadesmill from Fabdens and passes Thundridge Old Church. 

It used to be lined on both sides with elm trees, and is still the prettiest public footpath in the Rib Valley, only spoilt by the A10 flyover.

After the Reformation the priory was converted into a country house, which was pulled down in the year 1811. One chimney, believed to be the kitchen-chimney, was left standing at the time, and still exists.

The left-hand branch of the river brings us in less than a quarter of a mile to a chain of moats, four in number, which before the Reformation were used to contain fish for consumption on fast-days by the monks of a priory which immediately adjoined Old Thundridge Churchyard, and was used as a summer residence by the monks of Ware Priory.

Many traces of the country house, called Thundridge Bury, still remain – the lawn, on which stand two wide-spreading hickory trees; the gardens, now used as a nursery for forest trees and shrubs; the coach-house, converted into a cottage; the chimney before referred to; and the well.

Of old Thundridge church, pulled down in the year 1853, only the tower remains standing. From the principal entrance to the churchyard one avenue leads up the hill to a farmhouse called Thundridge Hill Farm; whilst another avenue of elms, 600 yards in length, leads along the valley in the direction of Wadesmill.

Thundridge Bury, an engraving from the Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. LXXXI (1811), p. 609. Courtesy of www.thundridgeoldchurch.org 

The remains of the largest moat behind Thundridge Bury. 

Loose bricks still lie close by, evidence of the kitchen chimney that was left standing when the house was demolished in 1811. It finally came down in the 1970s.

The moat to the west of Old Thundridge Church can just be made out in the foreground. When the standing water froze in the moats, local children used to skate on them in the past.

Thundridge Old Church, by J. Buckler, 1828. Courtesy of the Thundridge Old Church Action Group, www.thundridgeoldchurch.org

A part of the field beyond the Tower would have been the lawn of Thundridge Bury, having now lost the hickory trees seen by Puller in 1882.

Footpath 027 leads up to Thundridgehill Farm and Cold Christmas Lane through the fields from Old Thundridge Church.

Nearby, Footpath 033 crosses both sections of the river towards Footpath 051 from Fabdens to Youngsbury Farm.

7 – Thundridge Old Church to Wadesmill, Thursday 17 March 2022

Courtesy https://
landedfamilies.blogspot.com 
The Bath House, 1896, from the Pullers of Youngsbury Photograph Albums, Puller Memorial CoE Primary School, High Cross. Courtesy of Emma Blowers

…and in Youngsbury Park he would find more than one plane-tree planted by the water-side, a group of abeles which date from the last century, and one pollard-oak believed by calculation made from its girth to have stood for eight centuries whilst the Rib has flowed by within one hundred yards of its trunk.

Youngsbury currently being renovated. Its new roof is similar in style to an earlier incarnation of the building, c.1889. 

The ‘Bath House’ in 1896, and what remains of it in 2022.

Note the same tree, 126 years apart.

The two branches of the river re-join as they flow west of the site of Thundridge Bury and Thundridge Old Church. 

After the First World War, a Mr Trudget ferried passengers in a flat-bottomed boat to the osier beds near here for one penny a trip.

A stream from Youngsbury Park drains into the river, but is dry in March 2022. 

The landscaped park was designed by ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783), which included the widening of the river.

The flow of water is severely hampered by fallen trees and branches lying across the river either side of the A10 flyover, resulting in surface scum. 

Urgent work is needed here to clear the water course.

From An Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England by Richard Cosway, 1784. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The river looking upstream from the footbridge behind Watermill House at Wadesmill. The river follows the 50m contour from here to its junction with the River Lea.

The mill at Wadesmill. Courtesy of Tony Weech

Although there is no date, the mill was probably photographed between the wars. 

This writer’s family were millers here between 1867 and 1911 and also farmed at Thundridgehill. In the early 1980s the mill was demolished and a new house built to a similar design.

The mill pond seen from the footbridge above the weir behind the mill. A sluice would have channelled water beneath the mill to power its four pairs of millstones. 

Fishing for pike used to be permitted above and below the floodgates because they preyed on trout.

When the river was too high, water was diverted through a large pipe behind the mill.

The Bourne, now dry, rises in Standon Green End, passes behind the houses to the west of High Cross Hill, crosses Anchor Lane through a brick tunnel formerly known as the ‘Bone Arch’ and joins the Rib just below the Anchor car park. 

Footpaths 040 and 042 follow it to Standon Green End where, a short distance west at Sacombe, the Dane End Tributary flows south to join the River Beane southeast of Watton at Stone.

Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) stopped to rest at High Cross Hill in 1785 on his way back from Cambridge and there resolved to abolish slavery. A monument paid for by Puller was unveiled on 9 October 1879. It was moved to the verge (TL 36009 17868) when the road was widened in 1972, and restored in 2007 to commemorate the bicentenary of the passing of the Act of Parliament to abolish the slave trade.

Both the Giles and Puller families owned shares in slaves.

The first turnpike in the country was established at Wadesmill in 1663. The toll house in the 19th century is marked by a plaque erected in 2002 on 14 Cambridge Road (Alms Cottages). 

Vincent Lunardi, on the first hydrogen balloon flight in England, ascended from the Artillery Ground in London and landed here on 15 September 1784. A stone in the middle of Long Mead field nearly opposite Knowle Farm on Pest House Lane leading to Standon Green End marks the spot (TL 36415 19793).

8 – Wadesmill to Westmill, Thursday 17 and Tuesday 22 March 2022

Of game-birds there are but five species – the common and red-legged partridge, the pheasant, the quail, and the land-rail; 

…of birds of prey there are seven species – one raptor, the kestrel-hawk, or Falco tinnunculus, and six Insessores, all beonging to the family of the Corvidae, namely the carrion-crow, the hooded or Royston crow, the rook, the jay, the magpie, and lastly the jackdaw.

Roman Ermine Street passed through Wadesmill from London to the north. The earliest bridge was likely to have been built in 1510. 

The bridge in 1759 was ‘very ruinous’ and the decision was made to bypass Ermine Street (Back Street) because it was too narrow and dangerous and move the road to its present position. 

After extensive flooding the new bridge was built in 1825. 

Although The Bourne is dry, this could be where it joins the Rib on its north bank. 

A Thames Water Sewage Pumping Station is located close by and water might be discharging into it here. The water is noticeably dirty and worth further investigation.

The Rib from Wadesmill flows faster and deeper and begins to feel much more like a river.

Anchor Lane follows the river to Westmill, but private agricultural land prevents access.

The Chelsings Tributary rises at Sacombe Green, between the Bourne and Dane End tributaries, and flows south to join the Rib between Wadesmill and Westmill.

Red kites are now common throughout the Rib Valley.

The river flows well between farmland to the north and Hanbury Manor 18-Hole Golf Course to the south.

A fish farm made up of a number of ponds between West Mill and the golf course was in use here before 1988, but now only one pond remains.

The two weirs behind West Mill. The field north of this section of the river is marked as liable to flooding on older maps and is still noticeably wetter. Accumulating water drains into the river.

The Grade II listed West Mill was built in 1580. In 1856 it had two waterwheels, one 19ft diameter driving four pairs of millstones for grinding flour, and one 15ft diameter driving three pairs of stones. It stopped working in 1926.

In 1865 the miller’s house included a 90ft conservatory containing 22 vines. It and was restored and modernised as a family home in 1961.

9 – Westmill to Bengeo, Wednesday 23 March 2022

The fish whose names are given in the following list may on any day be taken from the waters of the Rib: trout, jack or pike, perch, chub, dace, gudgeon, minnows, eels; and occasionally tench and roach, and more rarely carp, have been captured.

Westmill Farm lakes. Courtesy of www.lda.org.uk, © OpenStreetMap
Courtesy of www.westmillfarm.co.uk
Society members, c.1950. Courtesy of Bill Lammas at www.abbey-cross-angling-society.com 

The riparian fishing rights of the Rib are owned by the Abbey Cross Angling Society from Paynes Hall Road off Westmill Road (A602) to the River Lea at Hartham Common. 

There were 30 storm overflow spills in 2021 from the Thames Water Chapmore End Waste Water Treatment Works on the Sacombe Park Tributary that joins the river below Westmill Road (Footpath 010). 

The east bank is only accessible at Westmill Farm, where daily angling permits can be purchased.

Fish caught in this stretch of river include chub, perch, roach, dace, pike and the occasional barbel. 

In the 1950s, trout, roach and dace often reached a pound in weight and were known locally as ‘Rib Herrings’.

This section of the river is the last where the water can be seen flowing over stones and gravel. 

Rib Lake, the largest of the three fishing lakes at Westmill Farm, is stocked with carp. 

The next largest is the Millennium Fly Fishing Lake stocked with rainbow trout. 

Westmill Lake is the smallest and stocked with general coarse fish – bream, carp, perch and tench. 

There are at least seven concrete weirs from Westmill to Bengeo as the river slowly descends to where it joins the Lea at 50m. These were built after the Environment Agency dredged the river. Most seem to be in good condition.

The water in the foreground is the dammed mill race which used to flow from Westmill Farm to the Ware Park Mill (2.3km). 

In the background is the large Rib Lake stocked with carp.

Between Rickneys Farmhouse and the west bank of the river there is a private training ground for gun dogs.

The Wadesmill Road Pumping Station near Waterworks Cottage extracted 5.9 million litres of water a day from the chalk aquifer in 2014.

An agricultural ford and weir between Westmill Farm and Bengeo. There are no public footpaths near the river here.

Among the few monuments in the Rib Valley, this simple memorial is dedicated to someone who spent his life looking after the river: 

Abbey Cross Angling Society
“Adams Meadow”
This meadow has been named in memory of Neil Adams, Fishery Officer and River Rib Keeper who sadly passed away on 17th July 2011.

10 – Bengeo to the River Lea, Friday 25 March 2022

The river flows under Ware Park Road towards Hartham Common and the River Lea. The most downstream weir will be removed and this section improved in 2022 to make it easier for fish to swim upstream..

Beyond the Lea lies King’s Meads, one of the largest water meadows in Hertfordshire. 

This is the only river sign along the entire length of the Rib from Therfield to Hertford.

Ware Park Road follows the Rib for a short distance and then continues up Shipman’s Hill to Ware Park. 

Footpath 097 follows the road towards Ware Park Mill. Footpath 017 crosses the river and joins Footpath 019 to Hartham Common.

Ware Park as it was in the 1880s. Hertfordshire County Council bought it in 1920 and converted it into a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. After it closed in the early 1970s it was sold and later divided into luxury apartments. Courtesy of www.ourhertfordandware.org.uk and Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

The Rib meets the River Beane (although sometimes referred to as the River Lea) at Hartham Common. On the east bank a five-year project was initiated in 2013 to safeguard the habitat for otters. 

The Greenspace Action Plan for 2018-2023 should continue to improve the riverside habitat for otters and water voles.

The junction of the Rib and the River Beane which rises at Rushden, not far from the Rib at Therfield, and flows through Walkern and Watton at Stone before it reaches the Lea. 

The Lea rises in Luton and passes Harpenden, Wheathampstead, Hatfield, and is joined in Hertford by the River Mimram from Welwyn.

The mill race, which starts at Westmill Farm, where the water is dammed. It used to flow around Ware Park and Shipman’s Hill to power a 16ft diameter overshot waterwheel to grind corn. 

Shipman’s Hill or ‘hill of the ship men’ was thought to have been associated with the Danes who came up the Lea in AD 894 to attack Hertford.

The Grade II listed Mill House, c.1800, was renovated in 2018. The large 5-storey flour mill, built in the 1820s and operated by J. W. French & Co from 1888, was probably demolished in 1924. Courtesy of www.watermillware.com 

By 1896, the mill race had been extended by J. W. French & Co to power two 28ft diameter overshot waterwheels behind the large flour mill. In 1867, ten pairs of mill stones were driven by water, and four pairs by steam power.

The tail stream flowed out of the mill beneath the road and into the Lea.

The River Beane on the left joins the River Lea from the right, in front of Ware Park Mill.

The canalised River Lea from Hertford Lock, looking towards Ware Park Mill.


Written and researched by Peter Sinclair for the Friends of the Rib and Quin, https://friendsoftherib.wordpress.com, May 2022

It is widely reported that 97% of England’s rivers are not accessible to the public. The distance from the source of the Rib to the River Lea is over 31 kilometres. The only places the public has a right to walk along the riverbank are on the following public footpaths:

Whiteley Lane, Chipping, to A10: 002, 370m and 003, 200m

Westmill recreation ground: 175m

B1368 to track leading to Gatesbury: 035, 300m

Paper Mill Lane to The Lordship: 014, 325m

Barwick Ford to Sawtrees Farm: permissive footpath off 011, 150m

Upstream of Fabdens Ford: 024 and Hertfordshire Way, 400m

Wadesmill, Old Church Lane: 250m

A602 to Sacombe Park Tributary: 010, 150m

These short sections total just 2.3km, about 7.5% of the river. The only one of any note is 650m upstream of Fabdens Ford to the Armoury lane extension to the river, deep in the heart of the Rib Valley.

The Rib Valley is, of course, well served by many public footpaths, but the vast majority simply cross the river or are separated from it by private land and too far away for it to be seen. 

However, it is visible in Buntingford south of The Causeway and from Footpath 027 between Chapel End and the Aspenden Road, north of Riversmeet at Braughing on the 022, Paper Mill Lane in Standon, on the road south of Latchford, and along Gore Lane to Barwick Ford. There is a path of 675m without any official status off the 011 north of Standon, and 022 and 023 cross the private Hanbury Manor Golf Course, but do not follow the riverbank. Walkers are welcome at Westmill Farm where the river is at its best for almost a kilometre, but this is still private property. Hartham Common is open land owned by East Herts District Council. 

The River Quin, which is about 15km long, is also poorly served by public footpaths. 

Source towards Barkway: 001, 1km

Barkway Golf Course: 023, 0.5km

Before Hare Street: 002 and 003, 350m

Ford Street, Braughing: 150m

West of B1368, Braughing: 023, 150m

These sections total 2.15km, about 14% of the river. However, if the first kilometre is ignored because the river near its source is no more than a ditch and can hardly be seen, it reduces to 7.7%, the same as the Rib.

My special thanks to Emma Blowers, Hugh Howes, Christopher Melluish, Jeffrey Pearman, Brian Taylor, Mark Wilkinson, and for inspiration, Robert Macfarlane, George Monbiot and Guy Shrubsole.

Sources

25-inch OS maps: Hertfordshire XIV.6, revised 1896, published 1898, courtesy of National Library of Scotland CC-BY (NLS), https://maps.nls.uk

‘Notes on the River Rib from Standon to its Junction with the Lea.’ By Arthur Giles Puller, M.A., F.S.A., F.Z.S., F.R.G.S. Read at Ware, 30th March, 1882. Transactions of the Hertfordshire Natural History Society and Field Club, edited by John Hopkinson, F.L.S., F.G.S.. Vol. II. October, 1881, to October, 1883. London: David Rogue, pp. 131-136.

Advisory Visit: River Rib, Latchford Lake Fishery, Latchford, Herts., by Rob Mungovan for the Wild Trout Trust, 27pp., February 2021, https://www.wildtrout.org/av/river-rib-latchford-lake-fishery, accessed 10 February 2022.

Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, and of the Museum of Practical Geology. The Geology of the N.W. Part of Essex and the N.E. Part of Herts., with Parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. (Explanation of Sheet 47 of the Map (one-inch) of the Geological Survey of England and Wales.) by W. Whitaker, B.A., F.G.S., W. H. Penning, F.G.S., W. H. Dalton, F.G.S,; and F. J. Bennett, F.G.S. London: HMSO, 1878

Around Cold Christmas by Emma Blowers, self-published 2010, 4th edition 2020, pp. 15, 18, 53, 58, 65.

Thundridge and Wadesmill in Hertfordshire: A Brief History by Eileen Lynch. Published by the Thundridge and High Cross Society, 2001, 69pp.

Four Ermine Street Villages: Thundridge, High Cross, Wadesmill and Colliers End. Compiled by Pamela Ruggles and published by the Thundridge and High Cross Society, 2002, 99pp.

Dr Bryan Lovell, quoting from a Hafren Water report, July 2014, https://stopbengeoquarry.org.uk/chalk-gravel-sand-and-water-the-proposed-bengeo-quarry/ 

“I grew convinced that following water, flowing with it, would be a way of getting under the skin of things. Of learning something new. I might learn about myself too.”

Roger Deakin – Waterlog

2 thoughts on “The River Rib from Braughing to the River Lea”

  1. Thank you for completing and then sharing such detailed research into the Rivers and providing a snapshot of their roles in our local history. Having had the pleasure to restore the water mill site where the Rib, Beane and Lea meet it is always humbling to understand our place in these great stories spanning 100’s of years as humans harnessed the power of nature in the production of food and goods – but as always nature, operating over longer time spans – eventually returns to claim and control its rivers and surrounding lands. (At least if we humans don’t prevent the natural order of things). Lots of valuable lessons in your article and so relevant in 2022 when many be asking what the future holds? I hope it reassures to know that given time, and if we help a little and keep out of the way a little more, Nature will do it’s job as always.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking a moment to read it. It was fun and I learned a lot as I did it – and met some interesting people on the way. In addition to Wadesmill, my family had a flour mill at Amwell End before John Whyman French set up his extensive mills there in 1897. One side of my family started Sun Flour Mills in Waltham Abbey, which later moved to Bromley by Bow, and another set up Clanrye Mills in Newry, so mills have become quite an interest – and of course the rivers. See https://new.millsarchive.org/product/the-brown-family/ and https://new.millsarchive.org/product/corn-and-flour-milling-in-newry/

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