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The Canals of Fambridge

On 2nd December 2014 Chris Travers took us on a very interesting walk entitled The Lost Footpaths of the Essex Marshes.

On this walk we looked at an area of marsh to the west of South Fambridge which has a number of straight cuts in it which I have flippantly entitled The Canals of Fambridge in memory of when the lines on Mars were assumed to be a vast area of canals and thus named.
We speculated on what these gulleys are and how they had appeared. I suggested that we might get some information by looking at old maps. Well I was wrong, the maps don't answer the question but you may be interested in what I have found anyway. You can click on any of the images to get a better zoomed in view.

First, here is a current aerial view of the area in question. You will see that there are a number of straight gulleys that are obviously man made.

Current aerial photograph

As Chris pointed out to us the old sea wall used to go around the area so perhaps they were made when it was enclosed land?

I next looked at an Ordnance Survey map from 1895. This shows the land enclosed but there is no trace on the map of any cut areas or any reference to workings of any kind.


Next I found an Ordnance Survey map from 1930. On this you will see that the sea wall breaching has occurred so we know that this happened in the early part of the 20th. century but again, no gulleys or workings shown.


Next we move on to the Ordnance Survey map of 1945 and once again there is no sign of the gulleys. Does this mean that they occurred later on or just that they aren't shown on any of the maps?



Finally we have the current Ordnance Survey map of the area. Note that the gulleys aren't shown on here either which suggests that my whole idea was a failure and perhaps they are just too small to appear on the maps?
But note that the modern map, as Chris explained to us, still shows the footpath and right of way as going around the sea wall which, it appears, was breached perhaps a hundred years ago, certainly by 85 years ago.

Current OS 1:25000

If anyone is able to find out any more about these strange gulleys then please let me know and I will update this web page.

Update #1

From Arthur Cook:
An initial reaction is the amount of land reclamation that was done in the
18th and 19th centuries which may have involved a lot of dykes as you see
when you visit places like Spalding in Lincolnshire. It was the only way to
reclaim and served the advantage of raising the rest of the land with the
excavated soil. Also some of these ventures were not successful. A book I
read about the late 18th Century include a description of land reclamation
which was described as an island but following exceptional spring tides it
became breached and the author was ruined financially. He lived at
Stambridge, Broom House and I often wondered where the island was. I will
look up my notes on the book to see if it gives me more ideas

Also there was much excavation for clay for bricks and that might account
for it, Never thought of it before but the clay was transported by boat and
canals for inland quarries might have been possible? When you walk the
Crouch there is an island and the remains of chimneys are still visible.
Food for thought!

Update #2
From Bernie & Cliff
Hi Ralph
Bernie told Chris she thought the features were old oyster beds and found a lot of
pictures of oyster beds which appear to back this up.
Look up ancient oyster beds and you will find examples in the area.

Well done Bernie, I think this must be right. Problem solved! It seems that production stopped in 1963 See http://www.brandyholeoysters.co.uk/ for some more info.