|It was heartening to read in Courier no. 666 of the Strood Charity's generous donation to Mersea Island Museum, towards the preservation and display of timbers from an ancient Bronze Age walkway. Discovered in the mud off Cooper's Beach by Oysterman, Daniel French, the surviving 4-metre section of boardwalk must once have allowed prehistoric islanders to cross surrounding marshland around 4,000 years ago. Now, if the public appeal for funding is successful, 21st century visitors to Mersea Museum may soon be able to walk above these very timbers, displayed beneath a reinforced glass floor.
Section of the timber walkway recently uncovered in the Mersea Mud (Photo courtesy of CITiZAN).
This gift is particularly appropriate, since the Strood Charity was established to improve and maintain a more well known, but significantly younger trackway crossing the mud between Mersea Island and the mainland. The Strood causeway was first constructed by Anglo-Saxons around the year 700 AD, as a means of reaching Mersea's important Minster church of St Peter's. For several centuries it was probably maintained by West Mersea Priory, but by the time of the Reformation, when Henry VIII confiscated all monastic lands and property, the Strood and parish church were supported by a charity later known as the Strood and Church Lands Charity. The charity's origin and benefactor's name are unknown, although 'A Short History of Mersea' by Elsie Karbacz suggests a foundation date of around 1460.
Many of the Strood Charity's archives, spanning five centuries and now in the Essex Record Office, list its ownership of fields including Stroodlands, Churchfields, Mosses and Carters, which were rented out to local farmers. These receipts were used to maintain the parish church and to pay for repairs to the Strood. Timber for the causeway piles came from Strood Wood, 26 acres of woodland near Waldegraves , listed in the 1839 Tithe Award Map as the property of 'Trustees of Church Lands'. In Tudor times, one or two 'Stroodkeepers' were elected to oversee essential work, and for a time a small house or hut was provided for them. From Strood Charity accounts, dating from reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, we can read the precise costs and elaborate processes involved in constructing and repairing this essential link with the mainland.
It is interesting to note that these accounts refer to a Mill House beside the Strood. 18th century maps show a windmill near the road junction by the Peldon Rose, but it is more likely that this Tudor mill, 'at the furdest end of the strowd' on the eastern side, was powered by the tide, similar to the Tide Mill which survives today at Thorrington.
When modern islanders complain of delays caused by roadworks at the Strood, it is fascinating to imagine the scene that must have taken place centuries ago, when scores of oak piles had to be cut down and shaped by hand, taken by cart to the Strood, driven into the mud, and the roadway reinforced with dozens of loads of stones and gravel. Today, I am sure we all appreciate the work of Essex Highways in allowing us to travel freely on and off the island. But for around five centuries, maintenance of the Strood was funded by the charity which today supports community projects on Mersea Island, not least the preservation of an timber trackway which predates the Strood by several thousand years.
Published in Courier 668 11 November 2017
Widening the Strood
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