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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Foulness Island, Essex, UK

St Mary the Virgin Church
I had never been to Foulness Island, even though it is close to where I live in Leigh-on-Sea. There is not much over there from what I've been told except some old British Army ranges and farm fields. I think because there are army ranges, the isolated islanders enjoy protection from the, so called, 'rat race' of modern life. This is not uncommon in the Highlands of Scotland or some of the areas of North Wales and North England, but down in the bustling South East corner of Britain and only 50 miles east of London - well...
Foulness is cut off from mainland by river Crouch and the river Roach tributaries that flow back round into the sea

Most places are rather populated, but once you venture past Southend and Shoeburyness, things become a little more sparse. There is a town called Great Wakering, which is rather small - mainly a high road and a few side streets that end at farm fields. Beyond this is the river tributary ( the Roach, I think) from the river Crouch leading back out to the sea. This is what cuts Foulness from the mainland as an island.

Down one such side street in Great Wakering; one can drive to a fenced off enclosure. This stops people getting into the army area where test shooting goes on. Therefore a restricted area where one needs permission to pass at a checkpoint.

On Thursday 6th April 2012, I went to this check point for the first time because I had a van and a trailer with grass cutting equipment aboard. A triple mower that a work mate used plus a push mower and a petrol operated strimmer. We had to cut the grass of the old church on the island of Foulness but had to pass the checkpoint on the mainland before driving over a bridge and onto the isolated island of Foulness. When we gave our reasons for going onto the island, we were given a pass and went on our way. I was surprised at how big the island was and the small community of island dwellers that worked the farms and some that lived in a village called Churchend. There was a sea wall to our right as we went through the small community of the village and my work mates met another grass cutter working on some verges here. We stopped and exchanged a few pleasantries before moving onto to St Mary the Virgin Church. As I drove along the island was mostly farms and flat coastal marshland with scattered trees.

Next to the old church was an old pub - no longer in use, and an old looking groceries store (All in above pictures.) The old Scottish security guard at the checkpoint was telling us that the church had no one looking after it anymore but there were preservation people interested in buying the building. However, there was no solid foundation to the church and it was sinking a bit and was fenced off around the building. Evidently St Mary the Virgin Church needs to be underpinned.

We went into the cemetery and cut the overgrown grass and I was trimming all around the grave stones. This took us a few hours, but was very pleasant work on the isolated island. The place was teaming with the more rare birds and a huge hare darted up from behind one of the old grave stones as we worked. Some of the stones were so old and weathered that they could not be read. I did make one out as departing this world in 1769 at the age of eighty. There were some more modern grave stones too.

There is also a small museum further along from the church which was once a school that closed in 1988. In this museum, there are artifacts that offer evidence of a Roman-Briton settlement upon the island. It was also flooded in 1953 during the great flood of this time. Two people were killed and the rest of the islanders had to be evacuated from the high point by the church where most of the islanders had to gather. Some had to be forcefully removed because they did not want to leave their live stock.

All these things seemed far removed from the quite of this island when I was working in St Mary the Virgin church grave yard. Also the TV series of Sharpe was once filmed here during the story of Sharpe's Regiment with Sean Bean. 

Gravestone of Ionas Allin
(I remember this one, but I'm certain I saw one saying aged 80 in passing.)

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