Friday, June 29, 2018

A Real Foul Ness

When I was researching locations for Never Borrow a Baronet, I wanted a remote place on the Essex coast, which could have been used by smugglers. My hero, Sir Harry Atwood, fights a family reputation for dark deeds, so any history that aligned with villainy would have been most welcome as well. But what I stumbled upon exceeded even my hopes.

Foulness Island.

Foulness Island is a low-lying area on the east coast of Essex, cut off from the mainland by creeks and marshes that were once used by smugglers. (I raised Sir Harry’s home, Foulness Manor, and the mythical village of Foulness considerably higher in the book.) The name relates to a nesting area for waterfowl, today, most notably, a long-legged, black and white seabird called the avocet. Unless you had a boat, the only access to the island was via a track called the Broomway.

The Broomway runs out from the mainland across the treacherous Maplin Sands, mud flats that are completely submerged on high tide. From the picture, it appears wagons once braved the path, which was marked by brooms driven in on either side. Legend, and even current warning signs along the path, would have it that the tide comes in faster than a person can run. Heavy fog and sea mist compound the problem and make it even easier to lose your way. The Broomway is credited with at least 100 deaths over the years.

During the Regency period, Foulness Island boasted a post office, a store, and a church. The Church of England built a school in 1846, when the island had a population of 674, 120 of them children. One of the most popular spots on the island was the George and Dragon Pub, which hosted bare-knuckle brawls. The island itself was renowned as a home for outlaws and villainy, including wrecking, purposely leading ships in to land to wreck upon rocks so you could seize the cargo.

Foulness Island has yet to give up all its secrets. The land was purchased during World War I by the UK Ministry of Defence, which has conducted a number of tests, from the usual explosives to things atomic. The island is still only accessible through permit. Signs in the area warn travelers not to pick up anything, because it might go off!

May you get real bang out of your Fourth of July! Marissa and I will be off next week celebrating. See you the week of July 9th.

1 comment:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Wow--this place is begging for stories to be written about it! Enjoy!