Catalogue ReferenceD/TC
TitleRecords of the Thames Conservancy
RepositoryBerkshire Record Office (code: GB 005)
Extent525 vols, 81 bdls, 69 rolls, 42 docs
Admin HistoryIn the 11th Century the Thames was designated as one of the four Royal Rivers in England, along with the Severn, Trent and Ouse, with the Crown claiming control. Early jurisdiction and management of the river from its seaward limit to Staines was granted to the City of London Corporation by King Richard I. The City of London Corporation maintained this jurisdiction over the lower river until the passing of the first Thames Conservancy Act, 1857, whereby a new body was incorporated with jurisdiction over the river from Yantlet Creek to the City Stone above Staines Bridge.

Early management of sections of the upper river fell to the Oxford to Burcot Commission, formed in 1605. The Commission was the first administration to make improvements to the Navigation of the upper river. Under the provision of an Act of Parliament in 1623, the earliest pound locks along the Thames were constructed by the Commission, including those at Iffley and Sandford.

Throughout the mid-eighteenth into the nineteenth century, the Upper Navigation, from Cricklade to the point of the river managed by the City of London Corporation (and later the Conservators) was managed by the Thames Navigation Commissioners, a body constituted in 1751 through the Thames and Isis Navigation Act (under King George II). The powers granted by the Act were limited in scope and no significant lock building took place until the 1770s.

The Commission was granted further powers by an Act of Parliament, which gained royal assent on 22nd April 1771 (under King George III), replacing the earlier Act. The Act provided the Commissioners with the authority ‘For improving and completing the Navigation of the Rivers Thames and Isis from the City of London to the Town of Cricklade’. The Commissioners gained greater powers to improve the physical state of the river, allowing them to control traffic and to regulate the users of the river and towpath owners. With their newfound powers, they set about building some of the first pound locks along the Upper Navigation, including Boulter’s, Hambleden and Sonning Locks. Old flash weirs, which were often private and used by mill owners to regulate water, as well as existing towpaths were also purchased and were replaced with new pound locks.

The Commissioners’ attempts at improvement of the Upper Navigation were beset with problems, however, as various groups and individuals retained an interest in the way in which the Navigation was managed. Riparian land owners, mill owners and those who used the river to fish or transport goods voiced their opposition to improvements that would risk their interests. Bargemasters, who required a freely flowing river were also often in conflict with mill owners, over their regulation of the water levels around their mills. The Commissioners also suffered with issues in raising the required funds necessary to complete works, as well as financial mismanagement by their banker, John Mason. The lock-keepers who had been charged with managing the pound locks built by the Commissioners were also unreliable, often neglecting their duties.

By 1788, a further Act extended the financial powers of the Commissioners, providing for more borrowing and enabling tolls to be levied on any lock. This opened up sources of income for the Commissioners to complete further works and improvements.

The emergence of the railway meant that river traffic dramatically declined in the 19th century. Barges and the traffic of goods along the Thames were heavily diminished, unable to compete with the speed and efficiency of the railway. As a result, greater numbers of pleasure craft users grew along the Navigation.

The Thames Conservancy was incorporated by the Thames Conservancy Act, 1857, with jurisdiction from Yantlet Creek to the City Stone above Staines Bridge. The Conservancy’s jurisdiction was further extended under the Thames Navigation Act, 1866, whereby the Thames Navigation Commission’s powers and jurisdiction were transferred to the Conservators and their management over the whole river began.

The Conservancy continued and strengthened the work completed by earlier administrations, particularly as the early pound locks and weirs built by the Commissioners were by this time dangerous and falling into disrepair. The Conservators set about replacing these pound locks, which were built using materials such as timber, having rotted and degraded over time.

A further Act in 1878 provided for additional payments to be made to the Conservators by water companies in London, who were permitted to abstract water from the river. These funds were used to undertake repair work and improvements to the river above Oxford.

Main navigation functions of the Conservators comprise the construction and maintenance of locks, weirs and dredging with the purpose of maintaining and improving the navigation and flow of the river. Particularly this meant the removal of obstructions and regulation of water levels, as well as the prevention of pollution in the river and its tributaries and streams. The prevention of pollution was actioned through means including serving notices, with non-compliance followed up with legal proceedings. Extended river purification powers were derived from sections 90 to 108 of the Thames Conservancy Act, 1894 (the powers granted under previous Acts were consolidated under this Act).

The Conservators’ jurisdiction extended over the whole river for four decades until 1909, when the Port of London Act, 1908 was passed and the control of the river below Staines was transferred to the Port of London Authority. The Thames Conservancy was reconstituted, becoming the Thames Conservancy Board. Conservators were chosen by certain appointing authorities, including local authorities (from the Act of 1894 this was amended and limited to 38 appointed and seven elected). The first woman to be appointed a Conservator (Mrs M.M. Ashdown) was nominated by Middlesex County Council in 1946.

The reconstitution of the organisation meant the establishment of four standing committees, which were the River Purification Committee; the Finance and General Purposes Committee; the Parliamentary Committee and the Works Navigation and Regulation of Water Committee. The River Purification and Finance and General Purposes Committees were reconstituted, as these committees were established at an earlier date, with pollution prevention powers conferred to the Conservators in the Act of 1894. Later standing committees included the Land Drainage Committee, constituted in 1931 and the Establishment Committee, which followed in 1938.

Thames Conservancy officers included Engineers, Navigation and River Purification Inspectors and lock staff. The staff were organised by departments including the Secretary’s Department, of which included both head office and outdoor River Purification and Navigation inspection staff. The staff were divided between districts, monitoring river users, pollution and the general condition of the river within the boundary of each district. Conservancy staff collected tolls from river users and the registration of vessels and permanent moorings, which included motor launches and houseboats. Similarly, the Conservancy also charged for licences for private individuals to complete work, including dredging and the installation of landing stages, rafts and steps along the towpath.

Early lock staff were faced with heavy manual work, harsh conditions in winter with little pay and only a basic standard of living. Lock-keepers were also expected to serve river users at all hours of the day, providing them with little respite from their duties. By the twentieth century, lock staff were represented in several different committees, including the Lock-keepers’ and Ferryman’s Welfare Committee, Lock Staff Special Committee and the Lock-keepers’ Gardens Committee. The latter committee was involved in the annual competition (first established in 1898) for the best lock garden and the awarding of cash prizes and the Sir Reginald Hanson Challenge Cup. Lock-keepers and ferrymen were also encouraged to grow their own vegetables within lock gardens, with visiting inspectors routinely presenting them with seeds.

By the 20th Century lock staff were heavily involved in serving the pleasure craft users, so the Conservancy began standardising their dress and duties. To present a professional team of officials who represented the Conservancy, lock staff were issued with uniforms and instruction booklets, which contained information on daily duties and expected conduct and behaviours to adhere to whilst assisting the public. Although conditions had improved, lock staff still struggled financially, particularly after the First World War when the cost of living had risen. On several occasions, lock staff petitioned to the Conservators for an increase in pay and better working conditions.

The Land Drainage Act, 1930 provided for exclusive powers and jurisdiction, with the Conservators gaining authority as the Drainage Board of the Thames Catchment Area (including tributaries). This meant the improvement of existing works and construction of new works including the cleansing, repairing, deepening, widening and straightening of the main river and general maintenance. As the Conservancy was designated the overall authority over the Thames Catchment Area, the Act also abolished drainage boards, including the Thames Valley Drainage Commission and other individual Drainage Boards.

During the 1940s the Conservancy’s improvements to the Navigation slowed, owing to the events of the Second World War. Many officials and members of staff were called up to active service, with the lock staff replaced with relief lock-keepers, often being pensioned former staff or the wives of those in service. During this time, remaining Conservancy employees volunteered for a special section of the Home Guard, with the aim of protecting the river, the Upper Thames Patrol. Land Drainage work accelerated during this period, however, owing to a greater need to provide food from agricultural land. Owing to a lack of British labour, the Conservancy utilised prisoners of war to undertake clearance work and later employed European volunteer workers. The work largely concentrated on general maintenance works along the main river, with tree clearance, hand dredging, weed cutting, fencing, culverting, formation of flood banks, weir control and removal of obstructions undertaken on the tributaries.

During the post-war years the Conservancy embarked upon a programme of modernisation work, replacing locks and weirs, some of which were over one hundred years old by this time and building new lock-houses and facilities for lock-keepers. Hydraulic operating systems were installed in the 1960s, allowing for the opening and closing of lock gates with greater ease.

The Thames Conservancy was abolished under section 33 of the Water Act, 1973, with the Navigation and powers conferred under the Act transferred to the new nationalised body the Thames Water Authority. The Conservancy ceased operating from 1 April 1974 but continued symbolically as the Thames Conservancy Division under the new Authority.
AcquisitionDeposited in May 1955 (acc. 648); September 1955 (acc. 666); December 1957 (acc. 749); April 1967 (acc. 1305); August 1969 (acc. 1507); May 1975 (acc. 2016); March 1976 (acc. 2084); May 1976 (acc. 2120); October 1982 (acc. 3136); November 1983 (acc. 3335); September 1989 (acc. 4467); April 1990 (acc. 4520); Mach 1991 (acc. 4748); April 1992 (acc. 5002); May 1992 (acc. 5017); July 1994 (acc. 5470); May 1995 (acc. 5623); February 2003 (acc. 7146); March 2003 (acc. 7177); June 2007 (acc. 8044); July 2007 (acc. 8061); March 2008 (acc. 8191); April 2012 (acc. 9007); July 2012 (acc. 9050); September 2012 (acc. 9071); November 2012 (acc. 9118); July 2012 (acc. 9259); November 2014 (acc. 9495); December 2014 (acc. 9518); April 2018 (acc. 10289); and March 2020 (acc. 10676)

Schedule of accessions:

Accs. 648 and 666 B9/1/2; E2/2/3; I6/2; J1/1/1-10, 12-15, 17; I1/2/1-6; J1/3/1; J1/5/1-5; J1/7/8; J2/1/2-5, 7; J2/2/1-13, 15-16; J3/1/1-2; J3/3/1; J3/4/1
Acc. 749 J1/1/11; J1/3/2; J2/1/1; J2/3/1-5; J2/4/2
Acc. 1305 E2/1/1-3; E2/2/5-6; E3/1/1-3; J2/4/3
Acc. 1507 E2/2/4; E3/2/1-3; H2/1/1/1-2
Acc. 2016 A2/1-8; B1/1-5, 7-13, B2/1/1-18; B3/1/1; B8/1/1-3; D1/1; F2/1; G1/6/1; H1/1/1-2, 4-8; H1/2/1, 3-8; H1/3/2; H1/4/1; H1/4/3; H1/5/2; I1/1/1-10; I1/2/1-3; I1/3/3; I2/6; I4/5; I5/1-2; I1/1/16; J1/4/1; J2/3/6; J3/1/3; J3/2/1-2
Acc. 2084 J4/1/1-3
Acc. 2120 C6/3/5/4
Acc. 3136 A1/1-39; A2/9; A3/1, 3-5; B2/1/19-42; B2/3/2; B3/1/2-7, 9-28, 38-39; B4/1-7; B5/1-17; B6/1/1-9; B6/2/1; B7/1-4; B8/1/4; B8/3/1-2; B8/4/1-3; B8/5/1; B9/1/1; B9/2/1; E1/4/1; I2/2; I3/1/1-10, 12-13; I3/2/1-3; I5/3-4
Acc. 3335 G3/1/1-8; G3/2/1-2; G3/3/1
Acc. 4467 E2/2/2; J1/7/1-2, 4, 6-7, 9, 13-15; J1/8/2, 10; J1/8/12/2; J2/7/1-3, 6-8, 15
Acc. 4520 J1/7/3, 5, 10-12, 16-18; J1/8/1/1; J1/8/3; J1/8/8/1; J1/8/12/1; J1/8/13-14; J2/7/4-5, 9-14, 16-17
Acc. 4748 D1/2; D5/1; E1/1/1-2; E3/1/4; F1/1; G1/1/1-8; G1/2/1-2; G1/3/5; H1/1/3; H1/2/2; H1/3/3; H1/4/2
Acc. 5002 J4/3/1
Acc. 5017 J4/2/1-6
Acc. 5623 C1/2/1-15; E1/2/1-3; E1/3/1-2; I6/5
Acc. 7146 B2/1/43-50; B3/1/29-37; B4/8; B5/18-24; B6/1/10-19; B7/5-9; B8/1/5; B8/3/3; B8/6/1-5; B9/2/2; C1/1/1-17; C1/3/1; C1/3/3/2; C1/3/4; C1/4/1; C1/4/5-6; C2/1-2; G2/2/2/2; I1/3/1-2; I5/5; I6/1, 3
Acc. 7177 C1/4/2; G2/2/2/1
Acc. 8044 H4/1; J1/8/15-16; J2/7/18
Acc. 8061 J1/8/7; J1/8/8/2; J1/8/9
Acc. 8191 J1/8/1/2; J1/8/11
Acc. 9007 C1/3/2; H1/3/1
Acc. 9050 C1/4/3
Acc. 9071 J2/5/1-11
Acc. 9118 J2/6/1-4
Acc. 9259 A3/2; B2/3/1; B2/4/1; B3/2/1; B8/2/1-2; C1/3/3/1; C1/4/4; C1/5/1; D1/3; D3/2/1-4; E2/2/1; F1/2; F3/1; G1/5/1-2; G2/2/2/3; H1/5/1; I2/1, 3-5; I3/1/11; I6/4, 6; J1/4/2-3; J1/6/1; J2/4/1; Z1
Acc. 9495 I4/1/1-10, I4/2-4
Acc. 9518 G2/1/1-81
Acc. 10289 D1/4; D3/1; E4/1
Acc. 10676 D2/1; D4/1; G1/3/1-4; G1/4/1-7; G2/2/1; H2/1/2-4; H2/2/1; H3/1-5

A Board meetings
A1 Minutes
A2 Attendance registers
A3 Special meetings

B Committee records
B1 Upper River Committee
B2 River Purification Committee
B3 Finance and General Purposes Committee
B4 Parliamentary Committee
B5 Works, Navigation and Regulation of Water Committee
B6 Land Drainage Committee
B7 Establishment Committee
B8 Special Committees and sub-committees
B9 Other river authorities and associations

C Engineer’s Department
C1 Report
C2 Memoranda
C3 Plans of works to locks, weirs and ferries
C4 Maps and plans of land, premises, bridges, vessels and machinery
C5 Maps and plans of the river
C6 Maps and plans not created by the Thames Conservancy

D Staff
D1 Staff lists
D2 Wage books
D3 Records of staff duties
D4 Lock staff forms and lists
D5 Photographs

E Finance
E1 Annual accounts
E2 Records of expenditure
E3 Records of income
E4 Treasurer’s administrative records

F Property and land
F1 Deeds and mortgages
F2 Registers of land charges
F3 Evidence of property

G Inspection and Monitoring
G1 Records of the Navigation Inspectors
G2 Water level monitoring records
G3 Statistics relating to river traffic

H Licensing and registration
H1 Licences issued
H2 Registrations and records of launches
H3 Registrations of accommodations
H4 Registrations of club colours

I Legal
I1 Parliamentary inquiries
I2 Public inquiries and proceedings of the Board
I3 River pollution legal proceedings
I4 Thames Conservancy byelaws
I5 Actions
I6 Printed material relating to Bills and Acts of Parliament

J Inherited Powers
J1 Thames Navigation Commission
J2 Thames Valley Drainage Commission
J3 Records of individual Drainage Boards
J4 Records of Reading Waterworks

Z Miscellaneous
Related MaterialRecords in other collections

The largest collection of records relating to the Thames outside of this archive is the records of the Treacher family, surveyors to the Thames Navigation, 1666-1922, reference D/EX1457.

Small numbers of other records can be found in many other collections.

Thames Conservancy related records:

BR/GS17: Plan by the Thames Conservancy of the proposed line of the river bank after the reconstruction of the Goring and Streatley Bridge, 1917

C/CL/C3/1/2: Minutes of the Berkshire County Council Thames Conservancy Bill Committee, 1894

C/CL/G1/110: Berkshire County Council papers relating to opposition to the Thames Conservancy Bill, 1924-1926; the upkeep of towpaths, 1920-1923; and revenue, 1921-1952

C/CL/G1/115/29-30, 32: Berkshire County Council papers relating to the Land Drainage Bill, 1950-1971

D/EGL/O149-174: Papers of Lord Glyn relating to the Upper Thames Patrol, 1940-1945

D/EGL/O166/7: List of lock staff, 1944

D/EH/E37: Thames Riparian Owners Association papers, 1884-1888

D/EH/O8: Papers connected with J K Hedges’ election and term as a Thames Conservator, 19C

D/EKM/E8: Thames Navigation Act, 1866

D/ELS/E12/4: Extracts relating to legal position of fisheries following order made by the Thames Conservators, 1869

D/EMO/Z1: Report from the Select Committee on the Thames River Preservation, 1884

D/EP7/137: Correspondence relating to the rebuilding of Abingdon Bridge, 1914-1929

D/EU1/1/3/14: Papers relating to the Thames Conservancy Groundwater Development Scheme, Stage 1, 1971-1973

D/EX73/1/7/43: Agreements relating to landing stages at Bisham, 1925-1933

D/EX423: Records of the Thames and Tributaries Power Users’ Association, 1866-1972 (including plans of the Thames Catchment Area, 1920-1930)

D/EX707/1: Printed papers of the Thames Conservancy including annual accounts, 1972; and Chairman’s Reports, 1955-1957

D/EX860/1: Map of the catchment area of the River Thames, 1946

D/EX1485/14/10: Photographs of the Thames Conservancy headquarters and staff helping during flooding in 1947

D/EX1534: Printed papers including byelaws, 1947; annual reports, 1951-1956 and 1962; ‘Welcome to the Thames’ booklet, 1961; Launch Digests, 1961 and 1962; and list of members of officers, 1969

D/EX2085: Papers belonging to B J Hardcastle, Divisional Engineer, including catchment area map, 1946; Land Drainage Act, revised 1961; byelaws, 1957 and 1969; Instructions to lock staff, 1960; and sepia watercolour sketches of locks by John Mansel, c.1950s

D/EX2176/32: Thames Navigation and general bye-laws, 1957

D/EX2346/1: Launch Digest, 1963

PS/FT1A/16: Forest Division Petty Session papers relating to case of Thames Conservancy Board v Gilbert and Strange, 1953

WA/SB1/19: Plans for Ferry House at Chalmore Hole, Wallingford, 1913

WI/SB1/639: Plans for lock-keeper’s house, Romney Lock, 1919

WI/SW2/18: Plans for repairs to protective works at Cutler’s Ait, Windsor, 1941-1951

Thames Navigation Commission related records:

D/EBB/O2: Minutes of the 3rd District of the Thames Navigation, 1856-1865

D/ECH/O1: Printed byelaws concerning flashing of water at locks, 1842

D/ECH/T68: Petition to the Thames Navigation Commission relating to tolls at Eaton and Newlock Weirs, c.1751

D/ELV/B7: Accounts of repair works at St Johns Bridge and Buscot Lock, 1789-1791 (paid by Edward Loveden Loveden)

D/ELV/B8: Specification and estimate by John Treacher of work required between Lechlade and Oxford, 1813

D/ELV/C1-3: Miscellaneous correspondence of Edward Loveden Loveden with references to the Thames Navigation, 1777-1822

D/ELV/E139/5: Letter relating to freight on the river, 1791

D/EP7/170: Printed orders of the Thames Navigation Commissioners, 1754

D/EP171: Printed scheme for payment of tolls at locks on the Thames between Maidenhead and Goring, c.1754

D/EX1466/4/18: Securities for £200 lent by Catherine May of Reading, 1827

D/EX2066/1/pp.81 and 97-99: Copy letters from Henry Allnutt, on behalf of the Thames Navigation Commissioners concerning status of land used for a towing path at Purley, 1794-1795

Q/RZ2: Reading Quarter Sessions inquisition regarding the Thames Navigation, including map of Caversham Lock, 1817-1819

R/D205/39: Copy will of George Treacher, General Surveyor of the Thames Navigation, 1862

Miscellaneous records

D/EX1915/4/2: Plans and reports on the Thames flood of 1947

D/EX1942/8/6: Commissioner’s order book for the management of the section of the river from Reading to Windsor, 1731

D/EX2102/2: Photographic copies of aquatint engravings of ‘A Series of Picturesque Views of the River Thames’ by William Havell, dedicated to the Commissioners of Thames Navigation, originally produced 1818

D/EX2179/3: Letters to Thomas Merriman reporting on barge traffic and water levels between Abingdon and Staines, 1825-1826

D/EZ15/1: Final page of petition from the proprietors of Sutton Locks to the Commissioners for more favourable regulations for working of their locks, c.1730

WI/D201/5/5: Invitation card to Thames Conservancy Ball at Windsor Town Hal, 1839

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