A considerable amount of nonsense has in the past been written and published about Foulness Island. I trust the
following will be read by those who seek the truth rather than the myth.
Patrick Arnold. Hon Sec. - Friends of Foulness
Foulness is the largest of the six islands that form an archipelago in southeast Essex. The island is bound by the River Crouch to the north, the River Thames to the east and south and the River Roach and Shelford Creek to the west.
The island is 5.28 miles in length from Smallports Point in the west to Foulness Point in the east and 2.67 miles in breadth from the seawall between Eastwick and Rugwood Heads in the south to Nase Point in the north.
The area of the island in 1847 was 425 acres of salting outside the sea wall and 5,885 acres within the sea wall, totalling 6,310 acres. Since that survey about 100 acres of salting has been eroded away by the sea.
Most of the island is below high water level and is therefore encompassed by a sea wall 13 miles and 5 furlongs in length. The sea wall is an earthen dyke protected on the sea face with either stones or concrete. The island is gravity drained through a network of ditches. In 1847 the drainage ditches fed into 18 gutters (sluices). Today there are 10 gutters in use as those on the south side have silted up.
When sea walls were first constructed is not known. They may have been preceded by mounds of earth on which the islanders and their livestock took refuge at high water. It is known that several of the marshes, which were in effect independent islands, had their own sea walls by the beginning of the 13th century. The last "innings" took place in the 1830's along the southern side of the island.
The sea wall is maintained by the Ministry of Defence.
Foulness Sands are about 25,000 acres in area and lie to the south east of the island as far as the East and West Swins. The sands are marked at the seaward end by the Whitaker Beacon. The sea floods the sands on every tide. The freehold of the sands and the right to "wreckage" belongs to the manor of Foulness.
In 1719 Trinity House was given a "grant of lights" on the island but they do not seemed to have exercised this grant. In 1838 the Maplin lighthouse was constructed on the sands. This lighthouse was abandoned in August 1931 when the West Swin moved northward and eroded away the sand into which the piles were screwed. The following year the lighthouse collapsed.
Trinity House (circa 1850) donated £100 towards the construction of the spire of the new "church" on Foulness.
In 1851 a project to construct a sea wall to enclose the Maplin and Foulness Sands was promoted by the Essex Estuary Reclamation Company. This project came to nothing. Other similar projects were promoted in the years that followed.
In 1973 an Act of Parliament authorised the construction of an airport on the sands. This authorisation was later withdrawn.
Foulness, being part of the Thames delta, is alluvial marshland. The average depth of sand and silt between the surface and the strata of London Clay is about 60 feet. In 1725 it is claimed that a well was bored to a depth of 474 feet before reaching the base of the London Clay.
Foulness Sands are composed of sand and silt which varies in compactness between loose and firm depending on the location. The sands along the edge of the Swin are unstable and move with every tide.
On the seaward side of Foulness Head alias Foulness Point there is a large bank of cockleshells. This bank covers several acres and is designated as a "site of special scientific interest".
The following years are when the island was flooded or is assumed to have been flooded by a high tide. 1099, 1236, 1287, 1327, 1551, 1565, 1570, 1736, 1764, 1778, 1791, 1897 & 1953.
There are 3 freeholders on the island. The principal freeholder is the Ministry of Defence, the others are the Parish Council and the Church of England.
The freeholds owned by the Ministry of Defence are subject to the "Shoeburyness and District Military Lands Bye-laws" SR&O No 1189 of 1935. These bye-laws do not apply to the public rights of way.
Some of the public rights of way on the island are subject to the "Shoeburyness Artillery Range Bye-laws" SR&O No 714 of 1936. In these bye-laws the island is divided into five areas. The public rights of way are closed in land areas 1,2,3 and 4 when the range flags are flying. In the fifth area (un-numbered) the public rights of way are never (lawfully) closed.
Unfortunately and knowingly in breach of the bye-laws the range flags are flown from about 8 am until about 5 pm every week day whether or not firing is scheduled to take place. Also flags are flown in unauthorised places. This causes confusion and tends to reduce the whole system of flag signals to a meaningless ritual.
Unlawful experimental firing takes place in the un-numbered or civil area.
The island is a civil parish electing 5 members to form the Parish Council. The island is within the jurisdiction of the Rochford District Council. Three members of this council represent the ward of Great Wakering and Foulness.
The island is often stated to be an ecclesiastical parish. This is incorrect as the island is shared among the upland parishes of Rochford, Lt Stambridge, Sutton, Shopland, Lt Wakering and Creeksea.
The "church" at the hamlet of Churchend is in fact a "chapel of ease" originally dedicated to St Mary, St Thomas the Martyr and All Saints. The first chapel was built circa 1283 when Hamo de Bocland was Prior of Prittlewell and John de Rochford held the marshes of Foulness. The second chapel was built circa 1374 at the expense of Simon, Bishop of London. A third chapel may have been built circa 1650 at the expense of Lord Rich, lord of the manor. The present chapel was consecrated 3 July 1853.
In the early Middle Ages the various marshes fell within the manors of the upland parishes. The first mention of the manor of Foulness is 1235. However the manor did not and does not incorporate the whole island and other manors such as Nazewick and Middlewick are mentioned.
The lordship of Foulness (if it still exists) is owned by the Ministry of Defence.
Foulness as a haven or port was first mentioned in 1326. In the 1850ís there was a regular fortnightly barge service to London. Almost within living memory it was still possible to get a passage on a passing vessel bound for London or the northern ports or at certain times of the year on oyster smacks bound for Ostende or Dunkirk. A ferry between Burnham and Foulness was operated by the Harvey brothers until about 1927.
From Shelford Creek there is one public landing place but this can only be used at high water by a boat with a shallow draught. From this landing place a public highway goes to Churchend.
From the River Roach there are two public landing places:
1. White House Landing (where the steps were removed some years ago). From this landing a public footpath runs over the fields to Churchend. This footpath is now unmarked and the bridges over the ditches have been removed.
2. The Quay is the principal loading place for people and goods moving between the river and Churchend. The Quay has a set of steps and a handrail. From the Quay a public highway runs to Churchend. Also from the Quay a public footpath runs to Courts End via the seawall and the Crouch Road.
From the River Crouch there are two public landing places:
1. Clarke's Hard is a stone causeway laid on the mud from the saltings to near the low water mark. This hard is served by the footpath on the seawall.
2. Crouch Landing is at the end of the Crouch Road which is a public highway to the hamlet of Courts End. At one time a ferry ran from this landing place over the River Crouch to enable people to get to Southminster or Burnham.
From about 1800 until about 1953 there was a landing place serving East Newlands. This has disappeared along with several barge loadings.
From the Thames there is only one public landing place. This is at Fishermans Head which is served by the public highways from Courts End and Churchend. This landing is only available when the artillery ranges are not in use.
The Ordnance Survey sheet 109 published in 1908 shows there to be approximately 39 miles of road and about 7 miles of footpath on the island. In 1969 the Essex County Council brought an action against the Ministry of Defence to establish the existence of public highways on the island.
The Ordnance Survey sheet 178 published in 1974 shows approximately 13 miles of public road open to all traffic and about 12 miles of public footpath.
The Ordnance Survey sheet 178 published in 1999 shows there to be 9 miles of public road open to all traffic, 4 miles of bridle path and about 12 miles of footpath. Why 3 miles of public road open to all traffic was downgraded to bridle path is not known.
Only about 50% of the public right of ways are now passable. The rest have been allowed to fall into disrepair or have been destroyed. There are approximately 8 miles of road constructed and maintained by the Ministry of Defence. These military roads are dedicated for public use when the ranges are not in action.
The Broomway was for centuries the principal land route between the mainland and the island. This highway (flooded about 3 hours each side of high water) crosses the Maplin and Foulness sands. It leaves Wakering Stairs on the mainland and runs parallel to the coast to connect with various branch routes which served the "headways" on the island.
In February 1913 following an inquiry concerning artillery shells falling on or near the Broomway the Secretary of State for War declared an intention to construct a new road to give the public full access to the island when the Broomway was under fire. This new road opened in stages and by the summer of 1922 the public were using it. The first named member of the public to use the new road was Mr. C. Pilington who in December 1924 rode a tricycle from Forest Gate to Churchend.
The bus service to and from Southend commenced on 12 September 1925. The new road was used by all classes of traffic until 1935 when it was decided that because the new road was "breaking up" the use of mechanically propelled vehicles would be restricted to those drivers who had been issued with permits. There were no restrictions on any other class of traffic or upon the passengers in mechanically propelled vehicles until the beginning of 1992 when the Ministry of Defence decided the "public" road was now a "private" road and all classes of traffic would require permission to use it. A letter to the Prime Minister (John Major) brought a rapid reversal of that decision.
At the beginning of 2002 QinetiQ reimposed the restrictions upon all classes of traffic. This time a letter to the Prime Minister had no effect. The question of the status of the new road is still unresolved.
The Broomway (subject to the range bye-laws) is now the principal public highway to and from the island.
The population of the island in the Middle Ages was about 200. In 1801 it had risen to 396. It reached 754 in 1871, thereafter it declined to the present population of about 200.
The will of John Edwardes of Foulness, who died in 1580, requested that his son John was to bear the cost of schooling Michael (John's younger brother) until he could "write, read and cast accounts". Who was to do the teaching is not stated but it is possible that schooling was available on the island.
The burial register records that on 28 October 1766 Matthew Pattison, a schoolmaster, was buried. Where he taught on the island is not known.
In 1846 a National school was opened and Clement Cater and his wife Mary Ann were appointed as teachers. The school remained open until August 1988. Children now attend school on the mainland.
The marshes of Foulness supported a considerable number of sheep during the Middle Ages. At a time prior to 1270 areas of the marshes were being enclosed within sea walls and arable farming slowly replaced the sheep as the principal industry. Arable crops were always of a high quality winning national and international prizes.
On the Foulness sands fishermen employed weirs (traps made from osiers) staked nets (kettles alias kiddles) and baited hooks on "long lines" anchored to pegs. In the creeks "peter" nets and boats were in use. The catches being transported to local markets and Billingsgate, London. Decoy ponds were used to capture wildfowl. There were also "pans" in use to recover salt from the sea water.
A windmill was built in 1802 at Churchend. The mill was a post mill that fell derelict and was demolished circa 1915. For a short while circa 1888 a brick kiln was in production and it is assumed that the bricks were loaded at the Quay.
At present about 6% of the population is employed in agriculture, about 7% is employed in the military establishments and about 40% is employed on the mainland. The remainder are schoolchildren, pensioners etc.