|MORE ABOUT MERSEA
PAST AND PRESENT
A few facts about Mersea picked at random from my hysterical
sorry - historical - filing system!!
is five miles long and two miles wide, has a land mass of 2,683 acres and is shaped like the oysters - for which it is famous
faces south to the River Blackwater - east to the River Colne - west to the Strood channel and north to the Pyefleet channel
is (allegedly) the most easterly inhabited island in Britain
has a central ridge running from east to west along its length - rising to 70 feet above sea level (this is what passes for a hill in this flat part of the UK)
Mersea lives by the lunar cycle of the moon.
At full moon and new moon high tides may cover the main causeway - the only road onto the island. When this happens, for a while, Mersea becomes a real island.
Mersea has a healthy dry climate with an average rainfall of 20 inches per year - (except in 2007 - when it broke the rules and rained and rained!).
Longevity of Locals
The indigenous inhabitants were/are famous for their longevity
West Mersea has a population of 6,925 people - and there are more women than men - 48% men and 52% women
A Two Car Island!
15.3% of the population of West Mersea do not have a car - however - 39.9% have two cars or more
West Mersea has the highest percentage of over 75 year olds in the Colchester area - having said this it is WELL UNDER A QUARTER OF THE POPULATION.
At the time of writing sixty seven people in Mersea are over 90 years old.
Messing About on River
Boating and Yachting feature highly on Mersea's Agenda. There are about a thousand moorings in the surrounding fleets. Small dinghy sailing is also very popular - youngsters learn to sail in the relatively safe waters of the Blackwater estuary.
The Main Drains
Mersea was connected to mains sewage and mains water in 1924. When the main well of the island - famous for never having dried up - St Peter's - was finally sealed.
Electricity came to Mersea Island in the mid 1930's but not to East Mersea until 1946
did not arrive in Mersea until 1989
Bradwell Power Station was built in 1962
an excerpt from "The Building Trade" Journal 1907 under the title "A new Essex island" says:-
During the few weeks I stayed on the island I was struck by the freshness of complexions of the women whom I saw - not browned and sunburnt - but fresh and bonny - a mute testimony to the ozonic qualities of the air
The Fountain Hotel
which once stood on Queens Corner was a luxurious, state of the art, Edwardian hotel, with electric light and central heating (powered by a Generator.) West Mersea Council voted against it being replaced by a housing complex and tried to save it as a pub - to no avail - it was pulled down in 1999.
were once an integral part of Mersea life.
An Essex Punt is a grey, flat bottomed, undecked, craft - driven by paddles or a culling oar - occasionally setting a small spritsail. Punt building and racing has recently been revived in Mersea
The Concrete Road
In 1938 West Mersea Parish Council were instructed by the Ministry of Defence to authorise the construction of a proper "concrete road" along a rough track above the beach. Broomhills Road was also hard surfaced - much to the annoyance of the residents. The country was under threat of war and the road was needed for the military traffic that would require easy access to defend this part of the shoreline. This road is now Victoria Esplanade
2nd World War
During WW2 there were about 2000 troops stationed in Mersea
Gone With The Wind
Thousand of Londoners queued through the Blitz to see the famous film "Gone With the Wind" but when it was shown in the "cinema" at the Legion Hall in Mersea many left before the end complaining that it was too long (and the seats were too hard).
When you sit on the wooden seats above the Two Sugars Cafe on the Esplanade you are sitting ontop of a sealed, cavernous underground chamber that was once a WW11 Ammunition Store.
End of Term
Mersea School - in July 1960 the last children of Secondary School age left MErsea School. The next term it became purely a Primary school.
The main route into the centre of Mersea - Mill Road - has had numerous names - among them Shelleys Lane - Meeting Lane - Chapel Lane
The last recorded air raid siren to warn of enemy action was sounded in Mersea on 19th March 1942. The sirens have sounded since - once a year since -as a Flood Warning. They will soon be silenced as they are analogue and spare parts cannot be found
In 1927 School Gardens opposite the school was opened to the public. It contained 400 species of trees and shrubs plus an avairy.
Mersea's first Policeman arrived to take up his duties in 1844 - his name was William Francis and he was 22 years old.
The Montessori Nursery
now housed in the building behind the Council Offices in Melrose Road was previously the Surveyors Office for the Urban District Council. At one time it had been a private school run by Miss Frances - called the "Tin School" due to its corrugated iron roof
The discoloured teeth of some of the children living in West Mersea during the 1950's was said to be due to the excessive amounts of fluoride in the water
Mersea's Cricket Team is one of the oldest established clubs in England. At one time the whole of Mersea First 11 team were Mussetts
In 1914 Commander Hudson - resident of Mersea - took part in the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition
To celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 - Squire Gilbert of Mersea - who lived at Orleans - donated a pipe and half ounce of tobacco to every man in West Mersea and a quarter pound of tea to every woman.
At one time Edwardian Mersea was set to become a Temperance Resort - no drinking - dancing or gaming. Thankfully - if that's the right word - the first World War put the kibosh on this scheme
In 1932 Mersea School produced its very own School Magazine - it was called "This Happy Isle". East Mersea school already had a School magazine called "The Eastonians".
Originally - the 1930's the prize for winning the Greasy Pole contest at the Regatta was a live pig. Later the prize became a Leg of Mutton
In 1957 Mersea Dramatic Club put on a play based on the Victorian gothic novel Mehalah by Baring Gould - a story set in Mersea - the tickets went on sale at 7am and all the seats were sold by noon.
From East to West
In April 1939 nine children transferred from East Mersea School to West Mersea School. The School at East Mersea was then officially closed down
Manor Going Gone
The title of Lord of the Manor of Mersea is held by a Mr. G.W.Cattermole of Abbots Manor - Chapel. He bought the title at Auction
in September 1938 all children in Mersea were issued with Respirators (gas masks)
Shelved Merchant Ships
During the Depression Years - 1920's and 30's - the Blackwater River became a dumping ground for redundant merchant ships when no fewer than 43 large steamers sheltered offshore at Mersea
West Mersea has about 50 Listed Buildings. East Mersea has about 12 Listed Buildings
The Big Freeze
The winter of 1962/63 saw "The Great Freeze" occurred - when all the creeks froze over.
Oysters in Distress
Today the oyster industry is thriving but up to the early 1900's it had been in decline - mainly due to overfishing and neglect of the spawning beds. A couple of really harsh winters not to mention the effects of using TBT (an anti fouling paint used on Yachts) didn't help the poor old oyster.
In 1915 the Well at Mersea School was declared unfit to drink. Water was then fetched every day from St Peter's Well in Coast Road - and taken to the school by handcart. This continued until 1925.
The deep water channel into Mersea Hard is called the Besom Fleet - Besom is pronounced locally as "Buzzen".
Mersea is in the county of Essex
1.6 million people live in the County of Essex
First Ever Regatta
The first Mersea Regatta was held on Thursday 28th July 1838 - to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria
The Army's Navy!
During World War 2 West Mersea was the Headquarters of the Royal Army Corps Motor Boat Company - known as the Army's Navy.
Mersea once had three more pubs than it has now. The Old Ship in the Lane. The Fountain Hotel at Queens Corner and the Two Tides at the beach end of Seaview Avenue. The old Fountain pub (now a row of cottages in East Road) was closed when the new Fountain was built.
The Spinney Tea Gardens
once stood on the grassy slope down to the beach below Willoughby Avenue. If you look carefully you can still see the steps that led up to the entrance
The Two Tides Pub once stood on this site of the flats known today as Charleston Court in Seaview Avenue. The flats were named after the Landlord of the Pub (at his own request) who sold off the site for development.
|The Mersea Fishing Smack - Boadicea CK213
owned by the Frost family for three generations, is two hundred years old
and one of the oldest sailing vessels in Europe. She is still in regular use.
Many Mersea and Blackwater River Fishing Smacks have been restored in recent years, quite a few are owned by descendents of the men who once worked and fished under sail. During the sailing season these lovely antique boats take part in regular "Smack Challenge Races" most linked to local Regattas - along with Winklebrigs, Bumkins and Bawleys.
the smallest cottage in Mersea
|THE WAR MEMORIAL
was donated to Mersea by Mrs Egerton Green and dedicated by the Bishop of Colchester in 1917. Responsibility for its upkeep is shared between the British Legion and the Town Council - although most is carried out by the British Legion. The memorial was completely refurbished in 1990 and re dedicated by the Rev John Swallow.
Roger Bullen's book "Not Just A Name"
gives chapter and verse on the background of the men of Mersea who sacrificed their lives in the 1st World War.
On the nearest Sunday to the 11th day of the 11th month - Remembrance Sunday War Veterans from the British Legion and young people from the Mersea Island Scout Group march to the War Memorial where they are joined by Councillors, The Vicar and Church Choir and members of the public gather on the small green for a memorial service, the laying of poppy wreaths, the bugle playing of the Last Post and Reveille. This is followed by a Service of Remembrance in the Parish Church and later a reception in the British Legion. On the actualRemembrance day - the 11th day of the 11th month the British Legion hold their own service at the War Memorial.
|WEST MERSEA OYSTER DREDGING MATCH
The Mersea Dredging Match for Smacks, Bawleys and Bumkins takes place in September every year. Up to twenty working craft work under sail on the common grounds off the Esplanade. The Match is opened by the Mayor of Colchester and the Mayor of Mersea aboard the Foreman Smack who cast their nets simultaneously. The fleet work for two hours before sailing to the Packing Shed for Weigh In and Prizegiving - the prize is for the greatest weight of native oysters - Gigas or Rock Oysters do not count. The Smack that is judged the most professionally handled vessel becomes the Foreman Smack for next year. The oldest working smack on the river is the 198 year old "Boadicea".
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|SEA WALLS AND SEA DEFENCES
Mersea Island has a coastline of 18 kilometres - 10 kilometres are sea wall. Essex has 330 kilometres of sea wall -the burden of maintanance falls to the taxpayer and the cost is high. Sea walls were first built in the 17th century to reclaim saltmarsh for growing crops and were little more than earth banks
Mersea has lost half of its saltmarsh in the last century due to rising sea levels and it continues to wash away
|THE WHEEL TOMB
is a barely visible Roman Mausoleum located 150 yards east of the Parish Church in the garden of a house which lies back from Yorick Road (the Parish Church is built on the site of a Roman Villa)
A circular structure twenty metres in diameter it was made of Roman bricks and tiles with thick outer walls. Radiating from the centre six inner buttresses extended out to twelve outer ones. It must have been an elaborate building looking a bit like a pyramidal wedding cake
At one time it was thought to be a Lighthouse but it is in fact a Roman Mausoleum built to house the deceased remains of a high profile, well to do, Roman family. A family who lived in some splendour in a large Roman villa, with central heating, mosaic floors, tessallated pavements and terraced gardens leading down to the river - some 2000 years ago.
|FISHING IN MERSEA
Mersea has always had a sea faring tradition and still probably provides the largest employment on the island. About 10 fishing boats work from the waterfront but the trade is fading fast. Not long ago Mersea was 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.
Several "Rod and Line" Charter Fishing Boats operate from Mersea
|THE WATER TOWER
West Mersea Water Tower was built on Uplands Fields by local men with local bricks made at the local brickworks in Kingsland Road (behind Underwoods) in 1925. The men were employed by Clifford White's the Mersea Builders.
An artesian well 230 ft deep was bored and pipes were laid under Mersea's roads - some 16 ft down some only 4 ft down - the joints were filled with pug and sealed with red hot lead - then pressure tested. The cost of the whole project - £24,000
At last Mains water had come to Mersea! Many complained that it had a salty taste and made tea taste peculiar - some people are never satisfied!
|THE COBMARSH MARATHON
is usually held about two weeks before the annual Regatta and is very much a "locals" event
The race mainly features a pair oared rowing race in Smack boats not exceeding 14ft rowing around Cobmarsh Island - not as easy as it looks!
The main race is followed by other "light hearted" races for any type of boat
The afternoon's events include a sculling match competing for the Don Mole Plate
Races start at Ted Woolf's shed on Coast Road and are open to anyone who turns up on the day.
Spectators usually sit under the trees on the grassy bank above the oyster pits
For more details see Regatta Programme
|THE VILLAGE SIGN
began as a project by Mersea Island Society when Dr Roy Compton Smith was Chairman. The Town Council backed the idea and several designs were submitted. The final one 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>br>
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
|THE MERSEA BARROW
The Barrow is probably the most important ancient monument on the island. It stands beside the East Mersea Road just beyond Barrow Hill Cottage. In 1966 the owners of the land gave the Barrow to the Mersea Island Society whose members worked hard to tidy up the area. In 1975 Colchester Borough Council took over the site and it is now in the care of the Museum Department - the original inner contents on show in the Castle Museum Colchester.
The Barrow is Romano-British - 1st century AD. It was built by hand - on a rising platform. There is evidence of charcoal fires nearby - oyster shells - lunch for the workmen perhaps. Inside the Barrow - a round glass jar with a lipped lid - inside the jar the cremated remains of a local Chieftain or one of his family. The jar stood inside a lead casket which had been welded - welding was a forgotten craft not redisovered until the early 1800's.
The Barrow was excavated in 1912 - the mound had never been disturbed
The Barrow is half a mile from the Strood and there is evidence of a Ford across the Pyefleet - lying to the east of the Strood and emerging behind the Barrow site.
There are several local legends connected to this burial site - one slightly gruesome tale is told in the book "Mehalah".