AN ANGRY RIVER BEANE
Watton at Stone - The Flood of 1968
By Terry Askew
Having lived in the Village since the early 1990’s I have been well aware that the River Beane is now just a shadow of the chalk stream which it once was. Reading accounts that the Beane once supported trout fishing, and listening to a resident who claimed to have been able to canoe from Walkern to Hertford during his boyhood, I found it rather sad, a year or so ago, to join a band of concerned residents in their demonstration walk for a mile along the dried up river-bed in Aston.
The River Beane has its source south west of Sandon and joins the River Lea at Hartham Common. Its misfortune is that water for Stevenage has been greedily abstracted below ground near Aston over the years, resulting in only seasonal flow to there from Walkern. Fortunately, further down-river, some water enters and allows Watton at Stone to have a modest semblance of the river which once provided power for a mill in the centre of the village.
Very occasionally, heavy and sustained rainfall in the locality will increase the flow and the sound of gushing under the two bridges and over the artificial cills can be heard.
September 1968, however, was a very different story, when the effects of a heavy head of water were magnified many times by a chicken shed being carried downstream and wedged against the bridge at the mill. Over the years I have heard accounts of the flood and the resultant damage, but only very recently some forgotten photographs have been copied to me, which I reproduce here.
In one of them, the image of the flood water surging through where the centre of the watermill had previously existed is strangly reminiscent of the Moehne Dam after the ‘Dambusters’ raid.
The latest information seems to be that abstraction of water at Aston is to be gradually reduced over a period which should do much to restore this natural amenity for the locality. Who knows, in time the odd fish may be caught again in the Beane – be it trout or stickleback ?