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Village sign outside library

Mersea Island

Village sign outside library

Whilst West Mersea is not my hometown it's where I've lived (See Slideshow) and worked for the last forty-odd years and doubt now that I'll ever live anywhere else. The following is merely a brief description of the Island which is approximately 5 miles long by 2 miles wide — some 10 miles along the B1025 from Colchester.

The village sign, shown above, was carved in oak by Dennis Smy and depicts - an oyster catcher - the Mersea Barrow - a sheaf of corn with scythe and a fishing Smack - all surmounted by the Parish Church. The sign was placed on the forecourt of the Library with due ceremony in 1984.

The brown sailed fishing smack is typical of hundreds which dredged oysters in the tidal waters of the Colne and Blackwater. The wheatsheaf, scythe and wild flowers emphasize the island's farming connections The Barrow - a Romano Celtic burial mound, the Oyster Catcher - one of Mersea's more well known wading birds, the black weatherboarded building in the distance behind the Oyster Catcher is the Packing Shed where oysters were sorted and packed.

Mersea Island (pop. 6925, 2008) with a current electorate of 5778, lies between the estuaries of the rivers Colne and Blackwater, and is deservedly regarded as a place to be visited, and uniquely so, as it is separated from the mainland by the Pyefleet channel and reached by an ancient causeway called the Strood, the only road on to it, and even that is submerged beneath several tides every month. The Pyefleet is the historic breeding ground of Colchester oysters. Being divided into two sections, East and West Mersea, it is the most easterly inhabited island in Britain, and at its highest point is 75 feet above sea level.

Mersea Island is twinned with Akersloot in Holland (Akersloot) and St Leger les Domart (St Leger les Domart) in France. As an alternative link for Akersloot try (Castricum).
Akersloot is a town in the Dutch province of North Holland. It is now a part of the municipality of Castricum, and lies about 9 km south of Alkmaar. Until 1 January 2002, Akersloot was a separate municipality. The municipality of Castricum is made up of the following towns, villages and/or districts: Castricum, Akersloot, Bakkum, De Woude, Limmen.

sun

swimmer

rain

The climate is healthily dry, with a rainfall averaging 20 inches annually. Facing the river Blackwater to the south and the river Colne to the east the beach is a designated bathing beach mostly of sand and shingle, with mudflats and sandbanks exposed at low tide, with the most westerly point being a conservation area. The Blackwater Estuary is an appointed site of special scientific interest with breeding and feeding grounds for oysters and wading birds.

dandelion

mallard

monarch butterflies

geese

dragonfly

ducks

daisies

The Island's principal occupations are in fishing and farming, plus oyster cultivation, boatbuilding, yacht design and restoration, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter interior repair and restoration, sail-making. There are many shops for life's usual necessities, including a large chemists, two banks, two garages, surgery, vets, dentist, clinic, two parish churches (one east, one west), plus Methodist, Free, Brethern, Anglican and Catholic churches, and a renowned vineyard. Mersea has always had a sea faring tradition which still probably provides the largest employment on the island. About 15 fishing boats work out from the waterfront making it the largest longshore fishing port between Lowestoft and Brixham. The main catch - Sole - Skate - Bass and Mullett (in summer) with Herring and Cod in winter.


The Wild Edge of Essex

The numerous farms on the island grow crops of Barley, Oil Seed Rape, Potatoes, Sugar Beet and Wheat. A small amount of land is used for grazing store cattle and sheep. Pigs are also reared intensively. Mersea has always been a seed growing area with up to eighty species of flower seeds grown annually and sold commercially.

There is a library, museum, primary school, (In 1871 the West Mersea School [See Here] was built in Barfield Road and many of the original buildings are still there today and some are still used for classrooms whilst others house the Youth Centre. A new part of the School was officially opened in 1980 to the South of the old School for Infants, with a large assembly hall) community centre, youth club, windsurfing centre, riding stables, three playgrounds, two bowls clubs, tennis, cricket and hockey clubs, two sailing clubs and several day centres. There are four public toilets, two on the Esplanade, one behind the library and one at the Causeway near the harbour.  There is an inshore lifeboat (West Mersea Lifeboat Station).  Also jet-skiing in the summer season, plus I'm sure many more things I've not mentioned, for it's not my intention to compile a directory.

link to Mersea Island slideshow

My late father-in-law wheeling his bicycle through West Mersea village centre

The launching of boats is allowed at the Hard, with windsurfing launching from designated areas, but as parking is restricted in this area consideration must be shown, with fishermen going about their business having priority, especially at the hammerhead causeway.

East Mersea, with a population of about 350, is almost entirely agricultural as it has been for centuries, but recently there has been some increase in fishing and Colchester Oyster Fisheries have put under construction oyster beds on ground bordering the Colne estuary. There has been little residential development, but there are some attractive old buildings and an Elizabethan Hall next to the Parish Church which stands away from the centre of the village. The parish Church, dedicated to St Edmund, the East Anglian king and martyr, is some six centuries old and has remained structurally sound with no more than normal repair work. On the outside of the building gargoyles of sheep and calves' heads reflect the agricultural nature of the parish through the centuries. The Foot Ferry provides a service between Brightlingsea, Point Clear and East Mersea for foot passengers, dogs, bicycles and pushchairs.

Water Ferry
See Timetable Here

At the Essex County Youth Camp, founded after the Second World War, organised groups of youngsters can learn much from the rural surroundings through field study and leisure time.  Essex County Council has also developed some 35 acres of land at the south-eastern end of the island as a County Park. Cudmore Grove Country Park is to be found at the eastern end of Mersea Island (Bromans Lane, East Mersea) with fine views across the Colne and Blackwater estuaries.

Strood   Webcam

During Celtic times Mersea Island, which was mostly wooded, had a fairly settled population existing mainly by fishing and farming and the remains of their salt workings are visible today, with the abundance of oyster shells by these sites confirming the lengthy popularity of the Mersea native oyster.

Not until Roman times, and the building of brick and stone residences, did Mersea enter written history. Large mosaics have been uncovered in the area of West Mersea Church and West Mersea Hall with the most famous existing Roman relic being the Barrow beside East Mersea Road at the north end of Dawes Lane.  Mersea's most famous relic of the Roman occupation can be seen every day by people arriving at or leaving the Island. It is not a building, it is the Mersea Barrow - also known as the Mersea Mount - which stands off East Mersea Road a short distance from the Strood, almost opposite Dawes Lane. It is a typical Romano-British burial mound, dated to AD 100-120, which originally stood twenty-three feet high and was one hundred and ten feet in diameter. There is an entrance protected by an iron gate and a passage leading to a tiny chamber. Its contents were excavated in 1912 and an entrance passage built. In the centre was a small burial chamber built of Roman bricks capped by septaria (clay nodules) and inside was a lead box with a wooden lid.

The Roman Burial Mound The entrance to the passageway
 
The lead container was welded by a technique which was not rediscovered for many years, and contained an urn of green glass about 15 inches high containing the cremated remains of a child. The lead box and urn are now on display in the Castle Museum in Colchester.

At East Mersea though there is evidence of a Danish encampment it wasn't until the 1980's that any certainty of Roman occupation came to light with the discovery of a horde of Roman coins dating from the latter half of the 4th century.

Local legend tells that the ghosts of two Viking brothers are doomed to fight each night for the love of the same woman. The haunting of the Strood causeway goes back to the time of the Danes, and the victims of a tragic love-triangle buried in Barrow Hill. The story was told by the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, rector of East Mersea, in the 1880s that, in olden times, when the Danes wintered on Mersea, and in summer cruised along the coast, burning and plundering, their two leaders were twin brothers. One spring they sailed up the creek to St Osyth's nunnery, where they killed Osyth but carried off her beautiful sister. When they got back to Mersea, each wanted her for his own, and their love turned to jealousy. Drawing their swords, they hacked at one another and, by nightfall, both were dead.

Then the Danes drew their ship up to the top of a hill just above the Strood, and put the woman in the hold with a dead brother on either side, raised a barrow above them "and buried them all, the living and the dead together. When the new moon appears, the flesh grows on their bones, and the blood staunches, and the wounds close, and breath comes back behind their ribs... and if you listen at full moon... you can hear the brothers fighting. But when the moon wanes, their armour falls to bits, their flesh drops away, the blood oozes out of the veins, and at last all is still."

After A.D. 61 and the eventual defeat of Queen Boudicca the Roman peace continued for another 350 years with Saxon pirates being kept at bay by building forts such as Othona at the entrance to the Blackwater on Bradwell Point opposite Mersea, but with the decline in Roman influence the Saxon reign began, bringing  the Dark Ages with little written history and even less Christianity. Then a monk called Cedd was sent to bring the people back to Christianity with the founding of one of his first churches at Othona (Bradwell) which still stands today and was probably constructed on the site of, and using material from, the old fort.

It wasn't until the 9th century that the Danes became more active in East Anglia and in A.D. 880 made a settlement there as well as encamping at Mersea before taking their ships up the Thames, and some 15 years later  were responsible for damaging the West Mersea church, later restored by the Aelfar family and left in the will of King Edmund's wife to her sister in A.D. 950. The Saxon dynasty being ousted from the throne in A.D. 1003.

Whilst staying in Normandy, where he heard of his succession to the throne in 1046, Edward the Confessor, to commemorate the event, granted West Mersea, along with Pete Tye and part of Fingringhoe to the French Abbey of St. Ouen.

As the people of West Mersea were already under the rule of the Norman house of St Ouen the 1066 Norman Conquest was of small consequence, while the Doomsday book in 1086 acknowledged West Mersea (2400 acres) as being owned by the Abbey, with its Church being valued at £6 13s 4d.

During the mediaeval times although there was a great deal of warring going on it seemed not to affect the lives of ordinary folks, being seemingly remote from these activities. In 1232 The Priory still held Manor at West Mersea and the Black Death of 1349 greatly reduced the population with high taxes, prices and labour shortages leading to the Peasant's revolt in 1381. Priories such as Mersea with its French connection were dissolved about 1415.

All religious houses were dissolved by Henry VIII and in 1542 West Mersea Priory and the Church passed to a Robert D'Acres and the appointment of the Vicar stayed in lay hands until 1926 when the patron resigned it to the Bishop of Chelmsford. With the passing away of the manorial system the secular and administrative power of the Parish came into being and under Queen Elizabeth's Poor Relief Act a workhouse was built in Waldegraves Lane.

The Strood Lands Charity, possibly founded in 1460, used the rents from 81 acres of land in the Waldegraves area to upkeep both the Strood and West Mersea Church and the charity still exists today.

Many Dutch and French settled in Mersea during the 16th and 17th centuries with anglicised versions of their names remaining today. While smuggling tales abounded during the 18th century, the local Coastguard in conjunction with modern communications had reduced much of that which was more than just tales by the 1850's.

The Hard looking towards the Dabchicks sailing club The High Street looking north St. Peter and St. Paul church Low tide looking towards the Saltings and Wigborough

In East Mersea the Parish church dedicated to St Edmund was where the Rev Sabine Baring Gould (author of several well-known hymns including "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Now the day is over" as well as "Mehalah" a story of violence and tragedy set locally) was Rector from 1870-1881.

Many of the original buildings built in 1871 as part of the West Mersea School are still there today, some still being used as classrooms, others as the Youth Centre. The first policeman on Mersea came in November 1844 and the Police houses and station as the population increased, in 1952. Main sewerage drainage was not put in until 1924. Main water coming in 1925 with a 230 feet bore hole under the water tower in Upland Road. Prior to this the main water supply was from St. Peter's Well on Coast Road which has never been known to fail in providing the Island's water. Today the site of the well is marked with a plaque and wood surround and is situated below the old Coastguards post, now a sitting area, on Coast Road, to the West of the Church.

A severe winter in 1947 destroyed most of the oysters and it took many years for them to be rebuilt and in 1953 in common with many east coast villages and towns suffered severe flooding, meanwhile the population has continued to grow but is still below 7000.


The Harbour at West Mersea



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