Red Hills

Red Hills are low mounds, found near creeks and rivers, composed of soil burnt red in marked contrast to the clay on which they stand.

Over 300 red hill sites have been identified in Essex, but many have disappeared. However, they can still be found. There is one within a few yards of the West Mersea road onto the island.

Red Hills have been studied for many years, and a number of theories put forward to explain them. They have been thought to be salt pans, potters' kilns, glassworks fish curing sites... But, now it is generally accepted that they are salt panning sites.

Salt was and is valuable. In hot countries, salt water can be left to evaporate until all that is left is a residue of salt crystals. But in our climate, it needs a helping hand - a fire.

The Blackwater is a salty river. Saltwater would be put in a crude earthenware pot, often made from local clay, and the pot placed on top of a fire. The pots could break and the earth underneath would be burnt by the fire - leaving a red earthy area containing many fragments of pottery. A characteristic red hill.

The pottery helps date the red hills and they are thought to range between 50 BC and 100 AD.

The Red Hill shown in the lower right hand photographs is particularly interesting. It is large - and you can still see it, now registered on the Sites and Monuments Records. It is thought to be the Burnt Hill used in Baring Gould's novel Mehalah, though for the novel it is on Ray Island. The hill is on the edge of the Pyefleet Channel close to a spot where the bottom of the creek is known to be hard. It was possibly a Roman crossing onto the island. Burnt Hill is in a large ditched enclosure, though this may be later than the hill itself.

The hill can be seen from the sea wall, just over half a mile East from the Strood.

Author: Tony Millatt

Related Images

 Burnt Hill
 
This prominent mound or Red Hill lies on the edge of the salt marsh on the Mersea side of the Pyefleet channel, just over half a mile east from the Strood (Grid Reference TM 0226715466).
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The height of the mound is such that it is seldom covered by water except at very exceptional tides and consequently is overgrown by scrub and hawthorn. Although a red hill, briquetage can only be seen in the face of the salt edge cant some 20 yards from the mound.
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Its local name is The Burnt Hill', this being derived from that classical novel of Mersea and the salt marshes, 'Mehalah', by the Reverent Sabine Baring Gould, Rector of East Mersea 1871-1881. For the story, he moves the hill to Ray Island where, in chapter 14, Mehalah meets the evil Elijah Rebow who has stolen her sheep. A lovely and well written story but read it for yourselves!
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In chapter 14, he presents an interesting theory that as well as for evaporating sea water for salt, red hills might also have been used for burning marsh samphire or glasswort. The Romans used the ash for making glass.
</p><p>This view of the 'Burnt Hill' is looking towards Langenhoe. The Pyefleet Channel is just beyond the hill.
</p><p>From the 2012 Red Hills display at Mersea Museum.
</p>  DIS2012_RDH_001DIS2012_RDH_001
Burnt Hill
This prominent mound or "Red Hill" lies on the edge of the salt marsh on the Mersea side of the Pyefleet channel, just over half a mile east from the Strood (Grid Reference TM 0226715466).

The height of the mound is such that it is seldom covered by water except at very exceptional tides and consequently is overgrown by scrub and hawthorn. Although a red hill, briquetage can only be seen in the face of the salt edge cant some 20 yards from the mound.

Its local name is The Burnt Hill', this being derived from that classical novel of Mersea and the salt marshes, 'Mehalah', by the Reverent Sabine Baring Gould, Rector of East Mersea 1871-1881. For the story, he moves the hill to Ray Island where, in chapter 14, Mehalah meets the evil Elijah Rebow who has stolen her sheep. A lovely and well written story but read it for yourselves!

In chapter 14, he presents an interesting theory that as well as for evaporating sea water for salt, red hills might also have been used for burning marsh samphire or glasswort. The Romans used the ash for making glass.

This view of the 'Burnt Hill' is looking towards Langenhoe. The Pyefleet Channel is just beyond the hill.

From the 2012 Red Hills display at Mersea Museum.

 Burnt Hill. 
A view of the mound or Red Hill from the edge of the marsh.
</p><p>From 2012 Red Hills display  DIS2012_RDH_003DIS2012_RDH_003
Burnt Hill. A view of the mound or "Red Hill" from the edge of the marsh.

From 2012 Red Hills display

 Burnt Hill. Red hill briquetage show in the face of the cant. 
</p><p>From 2012 Red Hills display
</p>  DIS2012_RDH_005DIS2012_RDH_005
Burnt Hill. Red hill briquetage show in the face of the cant.

From 2012 Red Hills display

 The large Red Hill on the north side of Mersea Island, east of the Strood. Google maps places this at 51 48'04.5N and 0 55'55.3E. The image here is a simple view of the area with North and the Pyefleet Channel near the top. The area is actually mapped in 3 dimensions.  JPL_005JPL_005
The large Red Hill on the north side of Mersea Island, east of the Strood. Google maps places this at 51 48'04.5N and 0 55'55.3E. The image here is a simple view of the area with North and the Pyefleet Channel near the top. The area is actually mapped in 3 dimensions.
c2014
 Pyefleet Channel with Bower Hall in distance. The large Red Hill and enclosure in the centre is near a stoney part of the Pyefleet Channel which was once possibly a route off the Island towards Colchester.
 The view islooking south and the Strood is about half a mile to the right.
 Part of a collection of aerial views of Mersea taken by Stacey Belbin. If you are interested in purchasing any of these photographs, please contact Stacey at ladygraceboat.trips @ gmail.com  SBB_3325SBB_3325
Pyefleet Channel with Bower Hall in distance. The large Red Hill and enclosure in the centre is near a stoney part of the Pyefleet Channel which was once possibly a route off the Island towards Colchester.
The view islooking south and the Strood is about half a mile to the right.
Part of a collection of aerial views of Mersea taken by Stacey Belbin. If you are interested in purchasing any of these photographs, please contact Stacey at ladygraceboat.trips @ gmail.com
27 April 2014
ID: DIS2012_RDH
Source: Mersea Museum