MARCH 2001
EDITORIAL
CHURCHWARDEN
CHORAL COMMENT
CHURCHES TOGETHER
CHURCH FRIENDS
FESTIVAL IDEAS
BRITISH LEGION
OPEN GARDENS DAYS
HISTORICAL SOCIETY
GARDENING
MAGAZINE COMPETITION.
FROM ESSEX C. C.
NATURE NOTES
HORTICULTURAL SOCY.
100 YR GARDEN DIARY
D.E.R.A.
FOULNESS
YOUR VILLAGE HALL.
YESTERDAYS BROWNIES
STROKE ASSOCIATION
GUIDING HANDS
THE BROOK - THEN & NOW
2001 CENSUS
*DIARY DATES*
TOOSEY ROOTS
TENDRING NEWS & NOTES
PARISH COUNCIL REPORT
CATTLE 'SHOWMEN'
SCHOOL NEWS
WOMEN'S INSTITUTE
W.R.V.S. OVER 60'S
DUMONT LUNCHEONS
CRICKET CLUB
PRE-SCHOOL PLAYGROUP
'OLD' MONEY
CHAIN OF SURVIVAL
MESSAGE IN BOTTLE
EVENTS 1910-1919
MANAGED RETREAT
APPLES & PEARS
COOKERY
VARIOUS SHORT NOTES
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

FOULNESS
Where the BANGS come from!

 
Foulness is a large island, 7 miles by five with 6-7000 acres, with a fascinating history. It is run today by the Agency DERA for the Ministry of Defence.  It is a restricted area where you need a pass to get on to the island - you show it at the security gate at Shoebury, at the eastern end of Southend-on-Sea.  Even residents must get passes for visitors to see them.  But you can ring up the George & Dragon, the only pub on the island and the only pub owned by the M.O.D., which will take your particulars, and these will be checked at the gate!  You can then visit the pub, which is like going back in time. In fact the whole island feels like that; there is very little traffic and all of the 200 inhabitants know each other and feels very safe.
 
After leaving the security gate, it is two miles to a modern bascule bridge (which opens for boats) on to Havengore island, then two causeways over New England Island to Foulness itself.  Herons can often be seen in these creeks.  There are few trees and the flat farmland is uninterrupted except for military installations - low concrete buildings and tall masts.  There are several farms on the island and the soil is very productive. There is usually an abundance of wildlife visible from the road, pheasants and snipe enjoy the peace. Unfortunately there are too many hares.
 
The road runs a further 4 straight miles to Church End and the George and Dragon. The landlord is now also the postman and he sells a few provisions since the last shop closed a few years ago. The weather-boarded building was built in the 18th century, and is as far as one is allowed to go on Foulness. 

Next door to the pub is Foulness Church, built in 1848 to replace an older one.  Its spire is a clear landmark.  A vicar comes every fortnight to take a service.  Beyond the church is the old school, capable of taking 100 children, but that closed 12 years ago.
 
The residents, mainly here and at Courts End, another one and a half miles further on, take all the bangs in their stride. They are told when the red flags go up, and cannot travel on certain roads or cultivate the fields. Many of the tests are underground.
 
The Romans were the first to settle on Foulness and the first sea-walls were probably built in the 12th & 13th centuries.  The island was extended by further 'innings' of the marshes in the 15th, 17th and 19th centuries, and the earlier lines of sea-walls can still be traced. 

Foulness might seem remote now, but before the bridges were first built in 1926, the only ways on to the island were by boat or across the Maplin Sands, where a hard track, called the Broomway was used.  This started at Wakering Stairs (near the security gate) and was 6 miles long.  It was marked with broom branches every 30-50 feet, but high tides and strong winds could easily dislodge them.  

The postman brought the letters this way by horse and cart, according to the tides.  He also took passengers to Wakering where they could walk across the fields to catch a train or tram to Southend.  The journey had to be done as the tide was going out for safety.  If it was foggy two people were needed - one to drive, the other to look for the markers - and could be very hazardous.  Several lives were lost on the Broomway, by losing the track or misjudging how fast the tide swept in over the sands. 

The other transport was by boat, usually from Burnham on Crouch, or by walking along the Dengie sea-wall to Holliwell Point, opposite Foulness, to be rowed across. This was a long way in bad weather. 
 
The population had grown in the 19th century to a peak of 754 in 1871, falling to 537 in 1901.  It was important to keep well as a man would have to leave the island on horseback or by boat when a Doctor was needed, the Doctor returning the same way.  Either route depended on tide and weather!  The arrival of the telephone in the 1900s must have been a real godsend.
 
Most men worked on the farms.  After the last sheaves were harvested, the women and children went gleaning for heads of corn for their chickens.  The great threshing machines trundled over the Broomway, more than one being caught by the tides.  The corn went either to the windmill on the island, or again had to cross the Broomway.  Barges sometimes carried cargoes to and from the quay, but they must have been a common sight, either at anchor in the shelter of the river Crouch, or making their way to and from the tide mills at Stambridge and Battlesbridge.
 
About 1900 some 75 children attended the school.  They made their own entertainment as they would have had few toys.  They played on the shore, picking up driftwood for the fire (coal came by barge).  They would have watched the fishermen working his 'kiddle' on the sands.  This was made of large hurdles shaped in a V, with a netted central opening to catch fish on the falling tide.  Remains of kiddles dating from Saxon times have been found.  Eels and clams could be caught in the creeks and ditches. Fish was an important part of the diet: plaice, dabs, flounders, skate etc.
 
The island had its own baker and a general provision shop.  An outfitter came over from Burnham to measure for suits, and the best boots came from there too.  There was shopping by catalogue, and Bishops of Rochford came over by horse and cart to take orders for drapery and household goods on a Tuesday which were then delivered on the Friday.
 
In more recent times, the Great Tide of 1953 flooded virtually the whole island through many breaches, one a mile long.  The island was cut off by the flooding of all the islands in the area and of the mainland marshes.  Two lives were lost.  Then in 1969, Foulness's isolation was threatened by the proposals for the Third London Airport on the Maplin Sands!  While the runways were to have been on reclaimed land, the ancillary facilities would have swamped the island.  The flight-path incidentally would have been just off the coastline at St Osyth.
 
Despite the new bridges, Foulness retains its detachment due to its military constraints.  Every kind of wildlife thrives in the protection this offers and takes no notice of the bangs!
 
Postscript 
One of the few times the island is open is for the Rochford Hundred Ploughing Match.  This year the County Ploughing Match will be at Rugwood, Foulness Island - Saturday, September 29th, 10am - 2pm.  Apart from modern and vintage tractors ploughing there are several teams of horses, ploughing as well as other attractions.  It is an interesting event.
 
Rosemary Roberts.
 


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