The path to Hadleigh Castle is uphill but well worth the slog as the view always take you by surprise and is heart stirring. Without doubt this is the best view on the estuary. The sky is big with the river and marsh land below stretching out along the horizon. The sun’s rays pierce the clouds and gild the river. The marshland still showing evidence of the heavy winter rainfall with swollen ponds. Look carefully and the river’s long history is revealed.
From this vantage point invaders can be spotted from a long way. The remains of the ancient castle built in C13th a reminder of the strategic importance of high ground along the Thames’ banks. Built on unstable clay the signs of subsidy can still be detected on the ruins.
To the east Southend’s pier extends far into the sea. In the C19th this was a favourite destination for day trippers from London, well for East Enders and became known as “Whitechapel-on-Sea”. The bulk of the excurtionists, according to Dickens (1880), would be children brought by their parson or Sunday school teacher. Their journey would be a steamboat from Fenchurch Street costing two old pence.
Over to the south you can see the North Kent Coast. Not the “Garden of England” landscape you normally associate with Kent but a place of river fogs, atmospheric marshland described so well by Dickens in Great Expectations. It’s also a place with a manufacturing past; gunpowder, cement and paper.
A large skeletal pagoda dominates the riverscape to the east; LondonThames Gateway the new deep water port. It promises to restore London’s past glory as the centre of World Trade welcoming some of the biggest ships and creating new jobs in this part of Essex. Funded through investment from Dubai the project is set to de-stabalise industry in other parts of the country. The planned logistics park is dependent upon hauliers and distributors shifting their businesses from the Midlands. Felixstowe a deep water port on the East coast is set to lose out as is Thamesport. Readers may scratch their heads trying to remember the name Thamesport but back in the 1990s this was the new port on the block. It’s not visible from Hadleigh but on the Isle of Grain on the Kent side of the Thames. It’s so close it does make you question why another deep water port is needed.
Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames from Oxford to The Nore, 1880: An unconventional Handbook Issue 2