Mersea Island

Mersea Island / m ɜːr z i / [1] is an island in Essex , England, in the Blackwater and Colne estuaries to the south-east of Colchester . Its name comes from the Old English word meresig , meaning “island of the pool”. The island is divided into two main areas, West Mersea and East Mersea , and connected to the mainland by the Strood, a cause that can flood at high tide.

The island has been inhabited since pre-Roman times. It was used as a holiday destination in Roman Britain for occupants of Camulodunum (Colchester). Fishing has-been a key industry on the island since then, PARTICULARLY oysters , and along with tourism Makes up a significant share of the island’s economy. The Church of St Peter & St Paul in West Mersea is thought to have existed since the 7th century, while the Church of St. Edmund in East Mersea dates from around the 12th or 13th centuries. The island became popular with smugglers from the 16th to the 19th century. It became a focal point for troops in both world wars, and a number of comments can still be found on the island. Tourism remains popular, and there are a number of beach huts and holiday parks on the island. A week-long festival of boat racing, Mersea Week, takes place every summer.


The island lies 9 miles (14 km) south-east of Colchester and 26 miles east of the county town, Chelmsford . It is The Most easterly inhabited island and Publicly available in the United Kingdom [a] [3] and is one of 43 (unbridged) tidal islands qui peut être accessed by road or one foot from the British mainland. [4] It is situated in the area of ​​the Blackwater and Colne rivers and has an area of ​​around 7 square miles (18 km 2 ). [5] It is formed by the Pyefleet Channel to the north and the Strood Channel to the west, which connects the Blackwater to the Colne. The much smaller Ray Islandadjacent to the north [6] while the uninhabited Packing Marsh and Cobmarsh Islands is linked to the southwest. [7]Mudflats is a major sanctuary for wading and migratory birds. [8] The island itself is a mix of London Clay , chalky boulder clay, sand and gravel. [9]

Internally, the island is split between West Mersea , which is the main inhabited area of ​​the jetty and marina, and East Mersea , which is predominantly farmland [10] and includes Cudmore Grove County Park to the east. [11] There is also a small hamlet at Barrow Hill to the north of West Mersea. The land immediately facing the Blackwater is known as the Mersea flats, which is mostly at low tide. [12] The Bradwell Power Station train can be seen on the other side. [13]West Mersea can be further divided into three areas. The Old City in the West of West Mersea serves the fishing and yachting industries and contains a number of listed buildings . [14] The center contains the church of St Peter & St Paul, while the beach and esplanade are to the south. [15]

The name ‘Mersea’ is derived from the Old English word meresig meaning ‘island of the pool’. [16] It is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Meresai . [17] The Strood is derived from strod , meaning ‘marshy land’. [16]


The main industries on Mersea are farming , fishing and servicing the leisure boating and yachting industry. [10] Oysters have been harvested off the island since Roman times , and are shipped worldwide. The extensive history and association with the oyster trade attracts a significant number of tourists each year, though today the trade is predominantly with Pacific Americans having been introduced to the area. [18] The Essex oyster fishery is opened by the Mayor of Colchester every September. [19]

The Company Shed restaurant on the west side of the island seafood fresh to order [20] and Jamie Oliver . [21] Many small shops and ice cream businesses serve the tourism on Mersea’s seafront. The Two Sugars Cafe is located on the World War II pillbox near the beach. [22]

There are six camping and caravanning sites on the island, which help towards the island’s economy during the summer months. The largest is Cooper’s Beach, which caters to 3,000 residents. [23]


There is evidence of pre-Roman settlement on Mersea in the form of ” red hills ” that are the remains of Celtic salt workings. [16] A wide Romano-British round barrow near the Strood contained the remains of a cremated adult in a glass urn, within a leading casket, [24] [25] now in the local Mersea Museum. In 1730, a large mosaic floor was found in the Church of St. Peter & St Paul at West Mersea and in 1764, Richard Gough was discovered in Roman remains around the church. [25] West Mersea was believed to be a holiday destination for Romans staying at Camulodunum (Colchester). [16]

Evidence has shown to be a number of fish traps exist around the island, which date from around the 7th century. [26] [27] The Anglo-Saxons established a large fish weir at Besom Fleet to the southwest of the island [28] and built the church at West Mersea. It was damaged by Norse raiders in 894 and rebuilt afterwards. [29] The west tower was added to the church around the 11th century, the south aisle in the 15th and various other rebuilds continued towards the end of the 18th century. [25]

The Strood cause was also built by the Saxons ; oak piles discovered in 1978 have been dated to between 684 and 702 using dendrochronology . [30] [31] By 950, there was a Benedictinepriory at West Mersea and landed in the Abbey of St Ouen in France by Edward the Confessor in 1046. [32] The priory survived until the dissolution of the Monasteries in 1542. [33] The Parish Church of St Edmund in East Mersea dates from around the 12th or 13th century, with extensions in the late 15th or 16th. [34]The church and the hall are a part of a Danish refuge after their defeat by King Alfred at Farnham . [35]

In the English Civil War , the Parliamentary Army built a blockhouse at East Mersea in 1648, with the aim of blockading the Column River during the Siege of Colchester . Some ruins of this blockhouse remain and are known to the Block House Stone, [36] which is legally protected by English Heritage . [37] Fishing grew in importance on the island during this time, with numerous fish weirs being installed. [17] During the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch and French settlers arrived on the island. [35]Some locals supplemented their income from the trade by smuggling , which remained popular until the mid-19th century. Smugglers favored the Pink Peldon, immediately north of the Strood, where they would contraband in the pond alongside the inn. [38] [39] In the early nineteenth century, the bulk of the price was still high, and there were still a number of other players in the market. [40]

By the end of the 19th century, the land reclaimed, allowing easier access. [41] A police officer for the island was appointed in 1844 and a school was opened in 1871. [42]

In the First World War, 320 soldiers came from Mersea Island, from which 50 lost their lives. [43] They are commemorated at the War Memorial at the parish church. [44] Troops were stationed at Mersea Island during the war. In 1916, a Zeppelin crash landed at nearby Great Wigborough to the northwest of the island. The survivors were stationed at Mersea before moving to prisoner-of-war camps. [45] In 2013, the Mersea Island Tales Educational Trust obtained a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to set up a First World War exhibition at Ivy Farm, which features a 1916 Sopwith Pup biplane and information about Mersea soldiers who took part in the war. [43]

In 1926, West Mersea became a self-governing urban district , which allowed it to set up a self-contained water and sewer system. [46] Unlike many other coastal resorts, the island did not immediately develop any holiday resort or beach resort. [45]

At the outbreak of World War II, the island became part of the front line for invasion and was heavily fortified. Along with other coastal resorts, the island drew in evacuees from London, but the war progressed, these were moved to safer settlements further inland. [46] 2000 troops were stationed on the island to guard against invasion. [47] A battery of 4.7 inch guns was installed along with a battery of battery packs. Several of these installations are still in existence in the south of the island. [46] After the war, the island suffered severe weather in 1947which was much better, and from the flooding of 1953 , where many beach huts were swept out to sea. [46]

In 1963, a lifeboat service was initiated following an initiative by “Diggle” Hayward who had approached the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) about a lifeboat capability on Mersea. The West Mersea Lifeboat Station operates an Atlantic 85 class lifeboat , the Just George B-879 RNLB. [48]

Since the 1960s, the population HAS Increased considerably, with the population of West Mersea rising from 3,140 in 1961 to 6,925 in 2001. Mersea Island HAS Suffered less from the Increased popularity of holidaying abroad When Compared To nearby resorts Such As Clacton and Southend , Predominantly and the continued popularity of sailing. [49] In 2006, more than a thousand locals signed a petition against the proposed opening of a Tesco Express store on the island, expressing concern that it would take trade away from local businesses. [50]Planning permission was granted the following year. [51]

On June 4, 2012, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the island declared a mock independence from the UK for that day. Anyone traveling to the island across the Strood paid 50p for a “passport”, the proceeds of which went to the war veteran charity Help for Heroes . [52]


Mersea Island School is a primary school in West Mersea with 450 pupils aged 4-11. The school has an additional nursery for 52 children aged 2-4. [53] The school was built by Horace Darken in 1871-72, with additional classrooms added in 1897. [54]

There are no secondary schools in the island. The nearest are Thomas Lord Audley School in Colchester [55] and Thurstable School in Tiptree .


The main access to the island is via a causeway known as the Strood, carrying the Mersea-Colchester road ( B1025 ). The road is often covered at high tides and especially during spring tides . [56] On average the causeway is flooded for a week per month on average. [57] During the 1953 North Sea flood, the Strood was submerged under over 6 feet (2 m) of water, cutting off access to the mainland. [46] In 2012, West Mersea Lifeboats complained to Essex County Council about the lack of adequate signage after 13 people had to be rescued from the Strood at high tide in less than 24 hours. [58] A webcamprovides a view of access across the Strood, while a corresponding website lists upcoming high tides and the likelihood of obstructing the road. [59]

There was never a railway to Mersea Island. During the railway of the mid-19th century, goods were transported by boat and barge. [60] In 1911, local businessmen proposed a railway between Colchester and the island, which would have ended up at the Esplanade in the south, with an additional station in West Mersea on East Road. The plans were abandoned to the First World War. [45]

A regular bus service links West and East Mersea to Colchester via the Strood and Abberton . [61] A foot ferry runs from East Mersea to Clear Point and Brightlingsea on the other side of the Colne estuary, including a scheduled service in the summer and a dial-on-demand service in the spring and autumn. [62]


The island is used by Margery Allingham , who spent childhood holidays on the island. These include her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick , published in 1923 when she was 19, and her 1930 novel Mystery Mile , though the plot disguises the location as being in Suffolk . Between 1870 and 1881 the Rector of East Mersea was Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould . [42] Baring-Gould was the writer of the hymn ” Onward, Christian Soldiers ” and the author of the novel Mehalah: A Story of the Salt Marshes which was set in Mersea. [63]

The Mersea Week is a week-long August festival of boat racing organized by the West Mersea Yacht Club and Dabchicks Sailing Club, established in 1973. [64] During the week, starting on Monday, there are races for many boat classes in the Blackwater Estuary , from Optimist dinghies to large yachts. The most celebrated event is the Round-the-Island race, where you can go on a tour of the island in one of the following directions. On Saturday, there is a regatta at West Mersea, followed by a selection of water sports and a firework display at dusk. [64] Thames sailing barge is one of the popular events on the Thames. [65]

The Mersea Island Food, Drink & Leisure Festival takes place in May in the Mersea Vineyard. It combines food theater with various meals, particularly oysters, with local live music and storytelling. [3]

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