Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Colin's Little Known Facts: The Islands of Essex

The county of Essex has more islands than any other English county.

Some of them are quite well known. You’ll be surprised how many you have heard of.

Foulness Island is the largest of the English inshore islands, as distinct from the Isle of Wight which lies some miles off the Hampshire coast. It has a mediaeval church, but unfortunately you can’t visit it unless you have a very good reason to acquire a permit. The island is off limits, and under the control of the Ministry of Defence. There is a road leading onto the island from Great Wakering, and for centuries there has been another way of getting there, the famous Broomway running offshore parallel to the coast. Foulness is one of the world’s most important breeding grounds for Brent geese.

Canvey Island is the nearest seaside resort to London, even nearer than Southend. It was largely reclaimed in the 17th century by the great Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, and retains two Dutch cottages. The “Lobster Smack” at Hole Haven features in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”. In the terrible East Coast floods of 1953, 58 people on the island lost their lives.

Mersea Island contains a small resort, West Mersea. The island is joined to the mainland by an ancient causeway known as The Strood. East Mersea had as its Rector the Rev Sabine Baring Gould, who wrote the words for “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

Northey Island is where the Danish army were quartered before being allowed across the causeway by Britnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, in 991, at the outset of the Battle of Maldon, disastrous for the English, which was the subject of the earliest known narrative poem in the English language.

Osea Island was bought by the brewery heir Frederick Charrington, to be a centre for rehabilitation of alcoholics. He had been horrified to see the effects of his family’s business.

Wallasea Island has a wharf used for imports of timber from the Baltic, and it is from here that the ferry boats cross to Burnham-on-Crouch.

Potton Island, Havengore Island, New England Island and Rushley Island are a group of islands between Foulness and the mainland.