Tuesday, 5 November 2013

ESAH Q&A: Mystery Marks on Mersea Island

Parch marks at Coopers Beach, East Mersea, Mersea Island
The Essex Society for Archaeology and History has members who are professional historians, archaeologists, archivists and specialists in the heritage field.  It also has many members who as amateur enthusiasts love the history of the county.  So we were pleased to receive a query from one of our visitors to this blog.

Blogger enquiry:
“Hi, some time ago I noticed a large parch-mark circle near Coopers Beach. A few days ago, a noticed a row of mounds, which could be North-South burials. I have some photos if you would like to see them.
“Roger Fordham”

AS: “Dear Roger
“Thank you for your e mail.  Would like to see your photos and publish them on our blog.
“I should know where Coopers Beach is.  Can you remind me.
“Andrew Smith
“Essex Society for Archaeology and History”

Roger Fordham: 
Hi Andrew,
“Thank you for the reply.
“I have attached a couple of photos. They are not of the best quality, but, hopefully, they will pique the interest of someone knowledgeable to come to see them. Was it an Iron Age house? Are they pagan burials? Have I watched too much 'Time Team'? J I would love to know!
“Coopers Beach is the holiday park at the end of Church Lane, East Mersea. The curiosities are on Shell Beach, nearby. They would have been much further inland years ago, as there has been a lot of erosion of the coastline.
“Hope you find the photos useful and interesting. How will I know what happens/ keep track?

AS: “Dear members
“Can anyone help with this query please which I received via the blog? 
“Andrew Smith

PS: “I may be able to assist, however a six figure grid reference is required to ensure I view the exact site. The photograph indicates the location overlooks the Colne estuary, this was heavily defended during WWII, the site may be military?”

AS: “Dear Roger
“Like you I am an amateur enthusiast with knowledge of archaeology limited to ‘Time Team’ – but there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s a shame that the programme is no longer made.
I have forwarded your e mail to a few people in the Society who may be able to help us, and received a query:
[e mail above copied]
“Do please let me know.  Also I wonder how large in diameter these circles are.
“Nice photo by the way of the Mersea coastline. Very Essex!”

Roger Fordham: “The circle is about 10 mtrs in diameter. There is an outer circle and one less than a metre inside.
“I don't have map coordinates, but I've taken a GPS reading:
Lat N 51° 47' 11.699"
Lon E 000° 58' 57.982"
“I contacted the Colchester Museum a couple of years ago. They contacted someone who could not find any war references.
“It was the discovery of the mounds which prompted me to try again.”

JK: “Iron Age round houses?  Possibly but such parch marks usually indicated buried structures such as stone.  What about 2nd WW defences?  Have you consulted Essex Heritage Environment Record which can be searched at http://unlockingessex.essexcc.gov.uk.”

ML: “I can't make much of the first photo which looks like colonised beach or sand dune. Second photo seems to show a definite ring, possibly marked by a slight bank. It has been covered on the sea side by what I assume is sea wall, or maybe upturn by storms. Its form is so perfect that I suspect it may be modern, perhaps WWII?”

PS: “I have viewed via Internet the location indicated by Roger. The site has clearly been substantially eroded over the years. Coopers Beach was the site of a Royal Artillery battery during WWII. The site appears to have been a gun position. Please check with Fred Nash via ECC Archaeology unit, he has made a study of WWII gun/pill box locations. 
“If Roger lives near to the site it will be worthwhile to check the beach below the mark for any artefacts.
“Please keep me updated regarding interesting comments.”

NB: “Parch marks can be a bit tricky to interpret but your best bet would be to try someone with a specialist knowledge of air photo interpretation, Helen Saunders might be a good place to start  helen.saunders@essex.gov.uk “.

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