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Monday, 25 May 2015

Essex Society for Archaeology and History. Visit to Mersea Island and its Museum, 16 May 2015

Oyster beds, West Mersea
Oysters, fish and salt for preservation.  These are three reasons why man has inhabited Mersea Island since at least the Iron Age where pottery has been found.  On its coast are red hills where salt was extracted from seawater.  A Roman Villa was excavated next to West Mersea Church in 1923 and a burial urn found. A Roman wheel tomb was discovered in 1896 but destroyed for house building in the 1960s.  The Strood, the causeway onto the Island which is regularly flooded at high tide, dates from the seventh century. 
St Peter & St Paul Church, West Mersea
St Peter and St Paul’s Church West Mersea dates from 1050 replacing the Minster originally constructed in the seventh century. The tower contains septaria and Roman tiles taken from the aforementioned villa.  Fishing is illustrated by fish weirs dating from Anglo-Saxon times.  Down the coast road fish restaurants and an Oyster Bar demonstrate the ongoing history of the island. The native oyster is available when there is not an ‘R’ in the month: between May and August the oyster spawns.  By the Victory public house is a property flying a Welsh flag. It was here that the blueprint of the Mulberry Harbour was secretly drawn.
Where the Mulberry Harbour was designed
The pencil drawings were found many years later in the loft-space. Mulberry harbours were used in the D-Day landings of 1944. Winston Churchill is said to have come to Mersea Island in the dead of night to meet and enjoyed a brandy or two after hours at the pub. East Mersea was the parish of the Victorian clergyman, Sabine Baring-Gould, writer of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and novelist of the atmospheric ‘Mehalah’, a story of salt-marshes.   

The Essex Society for Archaeology and History has a strong association with the Island and, in particular, the publication of the archaeological research at the Mersea Barrow, excavated 1912. 
Lead box and glass bowl
Mersea Museum
The cremated remains it contained were taken to the Colchester Museum at the time, but a century later have been subject to a reassessment which discovered that prior to burial frankincense was poured over the remains. Rhea Brettell, of Bradford University, the author of an item which appears in the current (4th Series, 4th volume) Transactions, explained its significance in relation to the under-researched area of Romano-British mortuary practices.  The interment was of a wealthy, adult male, around late first early second century.  It is the earliest burial with a resin, to date, outside of Egypt.
West Mersea cottages
The lead-lined box and glass bowl containing the remains are now on long term loan at the Mersea Museum, and was seen on the visit. 


Several members went to the Mersea Barrow during the afternoon while others were given a blue badge guide of West Mersea.


The day was hosted by Sue Howlett and members of Mersea Museum. 

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