Mystery Island or Boterys Lock

<<Tidings, April 2019>>

“All the years I’ve lived here I’ve often wondered what that island on the river was about”. Brian’s words stirred memories of when, as teenagers, my friend Kevin and I paddled a dinghy along the Waveney between Geldeston and Ellingham.

Two thirds of the way to Ellingham we came across a small island. There wasn’t much on it, except for a swan’s nest. Peering through the waters, however, we could see traces of worked wood. We might have explored longer but were seen off by an irate swan!

Boterys Lock
hand-drawn from 1815 OS map, showing Daniel Mills’ (Boterys) Lock

The history of navigation along this part of the Waveney is well-known and has been documented by Douglas Pluck (1994) and, more recently, by Jo Gooderham (2002). Only old maps give a clue about the name and purpose of this curious island.

For years the river was navigable all the way from Yarmouth to Bungay. Over time the Waveney became silted and blocked. Boats with a deeper draught could no longer reach Bungay, so goods had to be transported by land from Beccles. In 1670 an Act of Parliament was passed to improve navigation between Beccles and Bungay and locks were constructed at Shipmeadow (Geldeston), Ellingham and Wainford. They can still be identified today.

Yet there is a fourth and older lock on 18th and 19th century maps. A 1783 map identifies our island between Geldeston and Ellingham as “Boterys” Lock. A document of 1815 refers to it as Daniel Mills’ Lock (the name of the lock-keeper, perhaps?) and in 1884 it appears, again, as Mills’ Lock.


With the rise of the railway and improved roads, the use of the wherries declined as the HGV of preference. In 1934 navigation between Geldeston Lock and Bungay came to an end, leaving Daniel Mills (Boterys) Lock a mysterious reminder of an earlier time in the Waveney’s history.

Iain Wright
Editor, Signpost website


Douglas F. Pluck, The River Waveney, Its Watermills and Navigation,
Morrow publishers: Bungay (Suffolk), 1994.

Jo Gooderham (compiler & illustrator),
2,000 Years: A chronology of Ellingham and Kirby Cane,
SJLHS Reprographics Department, 2005 (3rd edition).

(Mrs Gooderham’s Chronology has also been uploaded to Signpost website.)

History pages on Signpost website.