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Lee & Stort Navigations

The River Lee runs from the River Thames at Limehouse Basin to a terminus at Hertford and the River Stort joins the Lee near Hoddesdon and runs to a terminus at Bishops Stortford.

Map showing the Lee and Stort Navigations

Limehouse Basin
IWA London Walks guide, Charlie Forman
Limehouse Basin

Facts & Stats

27.8 miles


The length of the River Lee that is navigable.

13.8 miles


The length of the River Stort that is navigable.

18 locks

River Lee

There are 15 locks on the River Stort.

From the River Thames to Hertford and Bishops Stortford

Bow Creek (the original tidal outlet of the Lee) joins the Navigation at Three Mills and joins the tidal Thames at Barking Road Bridge, after 1.3 miles (2.0 km) and Bow Locks. 

There is also a network of Bow Back Rivers, restored as part of the 2012 Olympics site, which connect to the Navigation above Three Mills. With the reopening of Carpenter’s Road Lock in 2017 the waterways are now navigable and passage can be booked through Canal & River Trust.

The Lee was an important waterway from Saxon times. About 1190, the Abbot of Waltham was permitted to make a cut to improve the navigation. In 1424 and 1430, it became subject to the very first Acts for the navigational improvement of any river. More improvements were made in the eighteenth century, which furthered the development of industry along the route. The Lee also provided an important supply of water to London.

History of the rivers

Richard Thomas has compiled a very informative website with very comprehensive information on the history of the Rivers Lee and Stort. 

In the early 1930s, significant investment was injected into the Bow Backs to improve their ability to accommodate both floodwaters and navigation. At this time two new locks were constructed at City Mills and Carpenters Road. In addition the Prescott Channel was constructed with a sluice gate at its southern end to retain water. In the 1950s the Prescott Channel sluice was removed when the mills ceased working and retained water was no longer required.  Commercial traffic ceased to use the Bow Backs after the Second World War, and they were largely left to silt up and deteriorate.

Olympic Park Waterways

In November 2003, consultation plans were published for the potential site for an Olympic park. These were firmed up following the announcement in 2005 that the Olympics games were to be hosted in London in 2012. The Olympic works included a new lock, subsequently named Three Mills Lock, on the Prescott Channel for the transportation of construction materials.

Prior to the Olympic development of the park, British Waterways had dredged the City Mill River.  With the subsequent restoration of City Mill and Carpenters Road Locks, and the the Bow Back Rivers, a second cruising loop was created.

Built in 1776, a tide mill museum on the Bow Back Rivers known as the House Mill, is the world’s largest surviving tidal mill and one of the best kept secrets in London



Maximum boat sizes

River Lee

  • Length: 85′ 4″ (26.0 metres) – Old Ford Lock
  • Beam: 16′ 1″ (4.9 metres) – Hardmead Lock
  • Height: 7′ 8″ (2.33 metres) – Kings Weir Bridge
  • Draught: 5′ 11″ (1.8 metres) – cill of Hardmead Lock

River Stort

  • Length: 89′ 9″ (27.4 metres) – Brick Lock
  • Beam: 13′ 4″ (4.1 metres) – Brick Lock
  • Height: 6’10” – Keck’s Bridge
  • Draught: 4′ 1″ (1.24 metres)

Navigation authority

Canal & River Trust


Useful Info

  • A Sanitary Station key is required to operate locks 19 (Old Ford) to 12 (Rammey Marsh) on the River Lee, and locks 10 (Burnt Mill) and 6 (Sheering Mill) on the River Stort.
  • A booking with Canal & River Trust (7 days notice) is required to go through Carpenters Road, City Mill or Three Mills Lock.

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.