The River Rib from Therfield to Braughing

After completing his survey of the (mighty) Quin earlier this, Peter Sinclair continued straight into the task of documenting the River Rib, from its source near Therfield down to where it is joined by the Quin south of Braughing. Below are his reports from the field.

1 – Hay Farm, Therfield, to Chapel Green, Friday 23 April 2021

NOTES ON THE UPPER PORTION  OF THE RIVER RIB AND ITS AFFLUENT THE QUIN. Read at  Ware, 30th March 1882 

The River Rib rises as far north as Kelshal Woods, near Therfield, and another of its head-waters can be traced to Reed End. Therfield Hill, on the water-parting of the basins of the Thames and Great Ouse, is nearly 550 feet above sea-level

The Rib begins its journey from Therfield at 160m, close to Hay Farm (Grid Ref TL 34144 37174). It joins a footpath towards Washingditch Green on Haywood Lane at 150m (where there is a small pond). Before the pond it turns east and crosses two fields where it is joined by another dry stream from the east. Then it flows under the Therfield road at 140m at Brook Farm (Grid Ref TL 34590 36465). For most of this distance there is just a trickle and some ponding.

It follows the Dane End road, flowing under it from the west to the east side at Holborn Farm. At Dane End (130m) it flows behind gardens until it reappears just beyond Chapel Green.

Cussans adds in a note, in reference to this reduction in the volume of the Rib of late years, owing to increased field-draining and stubbing-up of the fences and springs, that there is also a great scarcity of water in many parts during the summer months, especially in parts of Buckland, Therfield, and Sandon.

At Chapel Green the Rib is joined by a stream from Kelshall Lane towards the west. This stream, though just a trickle during dry periods, is fed by a spring from what remains of a dry moat at 130m once belonging to the vanished Wood Hall at the eastern edge of Philpott’s Wood. From there it continues northeast past Hawkins Wood (byway 041), a nature reserve managed by the Herts and Middx Wildlife Trust at Collins Green, and is joined by a stream rising from between Kelshall and Therfield.

The stream crosses Kelshall Lane (byway 036) at a ford (Grid Ref TL 34141 35271), now dry, and turns southeast to join the Rib at Chapel Green.

The Hertfordshire Way follows the lane from Philpott’s Wood to the ford and then turns northwest on Kelshall Lane.

Fallow deer at Philpott’s Wood

2 – Chapel Green to Chipping Bridge, Tuesday 27 April 2021

The meadow-pasturage in the valley liable to occasional flooding is generally of a much superior quality to the pastures of the higher lands.

On the rising ground along the river-banks, and on the flatter lands beyond, drinking-water is seldom obtainable, except from wells about 150 feet in depth, probably at about the level of the river-beds of the Rib and Quin.

Still dry, the river follows the road south until it reaches the Therfield Sewage Treatment Works. Here, water enters the river from the Works and creates a small stream on the river bed (Grid Ref TL 34278 34703). The river continues at a short distance from the road, and follows it along the 120m contour.

Between the Works and the lane to Slate Hall, which crosses the river on a flat agricultural bridge, frog spawn was seen, and the first and only sign of aquatic life – possibly a frog. It should be noted that all the upper sources of the Rib and Quin that dry out in the summer months are known as ‘winterbournes’. Most of the dry streams feeding them are draining water from higher ground and were mapped in detail over 150 years ago. There are few active springs in the summer months.

Where the Sandon road crosses the river there are galvanised pipes on both sides of the bridge that were once used to pump water out of the river for irrigation purposes.

A large coarse fishing lake (Grid Ref TL 34400 33695) has been created by Five House Farm between West Wood and the river, fed from a borehole. A small stream flows from West Wood close to the northwest corner of the lake directly into the Rib, but most of the other streams from the west are dry.

Between the Sandon road bridge and Whiteley Lane, a tributary joins the river under the road from the east (Grid Ref TL 34845 33621). Although dry, its sources are near Brandish Wood west of the A10 and Reed Wood east of the A10.

At Whiteley Lane the road turns sharp left towards the east and Buckland, and the river continues southeast along the 110m contour. At the bridge where Whiteley Lane continues to Hyde Hall Farm the water flow is slow.

Soon after, the river enters Buckland Bottom. Here it is more difficult to follow on the west bank because of undergrowth. However, the riverbed broadens out significantly and is no longer an obvious cut. Presumably this is the older riverbed. The water ponds where it flows slowly and there are more trees – some older and quite large.

It is joined by another dry tributary from the west and Hyde Hall Farm.

Children have created a cycle play area within its broader banks and a clearing in the undergrowth. A footpath (002) from Whiteley Lane follows the west bank of the river and crosses to the east bank at a ford that has now been concreted (Grid Ref TL 35188 32458). After the ford the river is dry.

Before it reaches Chipping, the dry riverbed is made up of clean gravel, and bounded on its northeast bank by gardens.

It crosses under the A10 (Ermine Street) at Chipping Bridge (Grid Ref TL 35561 32014) and is joined by a dry tributary from the east, entering the river by a culvert close to the bridge.

The river turns directly south behind Chipping Cottages towards Buntingford along the 100m contour and is crossed by a well-used agricultural ford (Grid Ref TL 35594 31698) from the A10 to Wyddial (1 mile) via a Public Restricted Byway (013). Just beyond the ford and along the Byway is a Conservation Headland.

3 – Chipping Bridge to The Causeway, Buntingford, Friday 7 and Wednesday 12 May 2021

From the junction of its head-waters the Rib flows through Chipping and Corneybury, but in summer is often dry as far as the latter place, and thence to Buntingford (301 feet), where its stream formerly worked a small water-mill. During the summer of 1874, for the first time in the memory of living man, the body of the stream was entirely dry as far as Westmill railway-station, more than a mile below this town, and in 1879 occurred the greatest flood ever remembered, 3.2 inches of rain falling at Buntingford in four hours, and very much damage being done.

From the dry ford, the river follows Ermine Street on its east side towards Buntingford and the A10 branches off to the west, bypassing the town.

A dry tributary from Mill End and near Hyde Hall Farm at 120m flows east across fields and then follows the south side of the road towards Chipping. It crosses under a renovated bridge, a field, under the A10, and then turns towards Buntingford on the west side of Ermine Street. It crosses Ermine Street under Brick Bridge and joins the Rib on the east side where the one-way section of the road becomes two-way. At the bridge there is a rebuilt weir.

Nearby Brick Bridge is Affinity’s Chipping pumping station for abstracting water from the chalk aquifer.

What is noticeable is that the riverbeds of both the dry Rib and its tributary from the west  are almost the same width and depth, suggesting that similar volumes of water flow here. (After rain it was noticed that more water flowed from the tributary.)

There are some similarities between the dry riverbeds of the River Quin and River Rib. Both are made up of a mix of chalk and gravel of varying sizes. However, there is little vegetation growing on exposed sections of the Rib riverbed. 

A dry tributary joins the Rib a short distance after it turns southeast and away from Ermine Street. It rises from Capons Wood, between and north of Wyddial and Chipping.

The owner of Corneybury Farm refused access to the river where it enters his fields to the east of Ermine Street. Where the river exits them to the south, water is flowing, which means that somewhere in the fields water enters the river.

Along this section the river meanders across the fields and through Corneybury Farm between low-lying grassy banks. After it leaves the fields it flows through a small woodland area before reaching the bridge at Vicarage Road. In the woods it runs deeper and is picturesque.

An outlet from the Layston (Buntingford) Sewage Pumping Station enters the river from the west and north of the Vicarage Road bridge. A small stream follows the north side of the road to  Wyddial and joins the Rib from the east close to the Vicarage Road bridge.

A small dry stream from the Throcking Road to the west crosses under the A10 and Ermine Street close to the southern entrance of Parkrise before joining the Rib. The only tributary with some flowing water seems to rise near the A10 to the west, follows Norris Way in the new housing estate, crosses Ermine Street and the fields to the east to join the Rib. This water is not enough to provide the flow at the south of the fields.

“The most interesting feature connected with the sketch [the engraving of Little Court, between Corneybury and Buntingford, given in Chauncy] is the River Rib, which flows before the house.It is represented as being nearly on a level with the banks, and three figures appear fishing in the stream. At the present time the bed of the river is quite dry for the greater part of the year . . . Fishing, it need hardly be said, is out of the question; though I am informed by William Butt, Esquire [of Corneybury], that forty years ago the river contained an abundance of pike, roach, perch, and trout.”

.

There is no access to the river between Vicarage Road and The Causeway because it flows through private land, but a small weir can be seen under Little Court bridge (Grid Ref TL 36351 29718).

From Chipping to the north of Buntingford to the A10 just after Aspenden Bridge south of the town the river follows the 100m contour.

4 – The Causeway to Luynes Rise, Buntingford, Sunday 2 and Friday 7 May 2021

The management of the river in Buntingford is mixed. Where The Causeway crosses the Rib, water flows through pipes embedded in concrete to provide a dry crossing (Grid Ref TL 36344 29681). Although practical, it is not very attractive. Thankfully, plans have been drawn up to restore some of the river’s natural beauty where it flows through the town. In the background can be seen the Little Court bridge and further downstream there is a small weir.

Where the footpath follows the river its banks are mostly brick walls. They were built in the early 1980s after the area round St Peters, the Jolly Sailors, parts of the High Street and property along Pig’s Nose were flooded up to a depth of three feet in 1968 because debris under the Market Hill bridge blocked the river. 

The River Green Bridge is Grade II listed (Grid Ref TL 36346 29638). According to Historic England it is an ‘18th century, red brick, 3-ring, 3-centred arch bridge, with arch incurved at base and brick parapet walls in Flemish bond with special brick copings. Outswept wing walls terminating in square piers with stone copings. Dentilled brick course below brick coping and central pilaster on S. GR postbox built into NE pier.’

The river flows under the Market Hill bridge (Grid Ref TL 36341 29298) which has carved stone panels in its parapet walls: “N M 1766/W E 1766/Hertfordshire County Council 1937”; and “RIVER RIB” on both sides. The initials stand for Nehemiah Mayes of Buntingford and William Edwards of Braughing who built the previous humpback bridge.

An early photograph shows the bridge, looking south, with the wall of St Peter’s Church on the right and the bay window of the Sailor Beerhouse and Common Lodging House on the left.

After the bridge and Chapel End the river meanders along a wider riverbed, backed on the southeast by gardens at a higher level, and trees and undergrowth on the high opposite bank. Here it is at its most natural.

The saddest section is reached at Luynes Rise. Here a high concrete wall forms an ugly and impassable weir beneath a footbridge, and concrete blocks trap debris (Grid Ref TL 36324 28975).

There was always a weir here, and a footbridge in the 18th to 19th centuries. Water flowed to the west of the weir and under a watermill, controlled by a sluice. A mill race returned water to the river, still seen to the left of a storm drain from the nearby housing estate.

Below the weir there was a deep pool, known as Sandy Hole, which older townsfolk remembered being used as a natural swimming pool in the 1940s and 50s.

The mill, then newly built, was operated by William Body in 1670 and continued in the same family until it ceased working in 1895. It was later converted to a private residence and some of its milling machinery retained.

Woodley Body operated the Old Windmill in 1886, just south of the Hare Street Road near Mill Cottages (previously Boddy’s Cottages) and now Parker Drive (Grid Ref TL 36761 28650).

5 – Luynes Rise, Buntingford, to Aspenden, Sunday 9 and Wednesday 12 May 2021

The Rib follows the Aspenden Road on its west side (path 027), passes the Watermill Industrial Estate and what used to be called Scott’s Green, and then crosses under the road to the east. Water flows into the river from the Buntingford Sewage Treatment Works in the industrial estate.

In 2019, this sewer storm overflow spilled 11 times for a total of 16 hours. In 2020, it spilled 20 times for 61.26 hours.

Aspenden Bridge (Grid Ref TL 36339 28549) is also Grade II listed: ‘Plaque on SE parapet wall reads “ASPENDEN BRIDGE/BUILT BY/PRIVATE SUBSCRIPTION/AD1878/W WATSON ESQ.” Red brick abutments supporting parallel iron I-beams as deck with jack arches and tie-rods between beams. 4-bay trellis open work iron balustrade, with short brick parapet walls over the abutments with blue brick and stone copings. Projecting ramped wing walls in red brick along sides of river rebuilt c1983. Large cast iron plaque on NE parapet giving notice of weight restriction by the County Council dated 1899, No “256”.

Below Buntingford the Rib is increased by a small stream from Tannis and Wakeley farms, often dry in summer, which passes through Aspenden village near Aspenden Hall, the seat of Sir Henry Lushington, which is prettily situated at the head of a little glen. Below this junction the scenery is of a very pleasing character.

The Rib is joined by the Tannis Court Tributary south of Aspenden recreation ground. This tributary rises from Berkesdongreen Spring to the west of Aspenden near Tannis Court at 130m, and flows east. The stream is in a shallow cut, sometimes  with older trees growing on the south bank. It is joined at 100m from the north by Aspenden Brook. This brook rises near the Baldock Road (A507) at 130m.

The tributary continues east through The Bourne (path 003), a wooded area where the banks are steeper and wider apart. It meets the road through Aspenden just south of St Mary’s Church (Grid Ref TL 35367 28392). The tributary separates the houses to the south from the road, and has to be crossed by small bridges.

The Thistley Vale Brook joins it from the northwest opposite Aspenden House. This brook rises at 140m near the Throcking Road, flows south, crosses under the Baldock Road and passes east of a lake at Aspenden Hall (path 001) before joining the Tannis Court Tributary in Aspenden at 90m.

All the brooks or streams feeding the tributary are dry. A little water flows after Tannis Court, but dries up before Aspenden Brook joins it. The tributary turns south and west after The Fox public house, and when it reaches the recreation ground crosses under the road to Westmill and follows it south to join the Rib.

6 – Aspenden to Westmill, Wednesday 19 May 2021

Where the Rib flows under the A10, after the new Keepers Chase housing estate, it is used as a play area and is scattered with debris (pallets, empty gas tanks etc.) accumulating after periodic storms. This is an area that deserves to be cleaned up and made safe.

The river continues south to the east of the Aspenden recreation ground through inaccessible fields to be joined by the Tannis Court Tributary at Pine Hill Farm (Grid Ref TL 36467 27849).

Further south it is joined by the Haley Hill Ditch from the east. This rises beyond Beauchamps Plantation near Wyddial at 120m, passes Alswick Hall, under Owles Lane, and then under the A10 at the dip south of Buntingford after the bypass roundabout.

Another stream joins the river from Whatbarns Farm to the west at 115m, and then flows parallel to Cherry Green Lane.

Both streams have a little flowing water and join the Rib at 90m.

7 – Westmill to Hamels, Wednesday 19 May 2021

The first village through which the river runs is Westmill, and here it receives a considerable addition to its stream from various perennial springs which rise in a meadow on the farm of Westmill Bury; below this, as above stated, the river is never dry.

After the northernmost Westmill road bridge at 80m (Grid Ref TL 37048 27501), the river flows along the east side of the Westmill recreation ground to the second bridge and a weir beneath it (Grid Ref TL 37229 27140).

A short tributary/drain rises close to the road north of Westmill Bury Farm, and passes the Westmill (Buntingford) Sewage Pumping Station. Water may enter the tributary here but it is not accessible.

The next place of interest is Coles Park ; here are vestiges of two water-mills; and from Domesday we learn that in Westmele (Westmill) there were three such mills. It is curious to note that although the water in the park is slightly dammed back, yet it has hardly ever been known to freeze, probably on account of the amount of spring-water received at Westmill

After the second road bridge, on Station Hill (the station was on the GER Buntingford branch), the river meanders through a protected wildlife conservation ‘corridor’ on the western edge of a large water meadow.

It is joined by a stream from Westmill Lodge and Thrift Wood to the west at 110m, nearby to which used to be an ‘osier bed’, where  willows were coppiced to make ‘withies’ for basket making. Both banks are grass, gentle and lined with mature trees before the river reaches Norwich Grove to the south, where it is joined by a stream from Langley Wood on higher ground to the east of the meadow.

The river continues its course through Millcroft Wood before it flows under the A10 at New Bridge. There is one double weir in the woods, but it is not easy to access the river between Frosts Lodge and the bridge.

New Bridge is an unsightly  concrete box-like structure  beneath the dual carriageway.

Beyond New Bridge at 70m the river flows into The Moors woodland where the GER railway line ran close to its east bank.

8 – Hamels to Riversmeet, Wednesday 19 May 2021

The Rib next flows through Hamels. The mansion, described by Chauncy as “glorying on the western hill,” is on the right bank, and a very fine avenue of elms and limes extends therefrom to the river near Hamels Mill. An old man, now living on the estate, remembers the last deer being removed from Hamels, which was formerly an extensive deer-park

After The Moors the river flows across pasture and into Hamels Mead. It is joined from the east by a stream draining water from Larks Hill north of Bingles Wood.   

The river used to form a mill pond which was controlled by a sluice. The water flowed under Hamels Mill and a mill race joined the river to the south. The river now follows a course a few metres to the east of what was the mill pond in the past.

Hamels Mill (Grid Ref TL 38587 24842) has been converted to a private residence and the last section of the mill race survives as an ornamental pond. When Hamels estate was auctioned in 1916 reference was made to trout fishing here: “Trout up to four lbs. weight have been taken in the River Rib, the more general size of fish is up to about two lbs.”

A restricted byway (023) crosses the river at a ford and agricultural bridge just after the mill race joined the river.

Nearly opposite Hamels the Rib receives its most important tributary, the Quin, and on the promontory formed by their junction are the remains of an ancient fortification, probably Roman.

The river is crossed by  footpath (022) just beyond Bingles Wood, where clumps of a rare sedge (Carex cespitosa) have been found. A short distance further south it is joined by the River Quin from the north (the left river in the photograph) at Riversmeet (Grid Ref TL 38963 24486).

The Rib continues under the B1638 at Ford Bridge, passes the old Braughing Station, south towards what was Gatesbury Mill, and then east of Puckeridge to Standon.

“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

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

31 May 2021

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 Upper Portion of the River Rib and its Affluent the Quin.’ By R. P. Greg, F.S.A., F.G.S., F.R.A.S., and R. B. Croft, R.N., F.L.S., F.R.M.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. 126-130.

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

Early photograph of the Market Hill humpback bridge in Buntingford, courtesy of Buntingford in Old Photographs, https://www.facebook.com/BuntingfordInOldPhotographs, accessed 12 May 2021.

River Green Bridge and Aspenden Bridge details, courtesy of Historic England, https://historicengland.org.uk/, accessed 12 May 2021.

My thanks to Charlie Hodge for details about his coarse fishing lake off the Sandon Road, Brian Lemay for information about plans to improve the river in Buntingford, Michael Singleton for photographs of The Water Mill and Sandy Hole, Anne Rowe for information about Hamels Mill, and Mark Wilkinson for the Carex cespitosa research.

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