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South Woodham Ferrers foreshore, SOUTH WOODHAM FERRERS, Chelmsford District, TQ804956, Notified Local Geological Site
Site name: South Woodham Ferrers foreshore
Grid reference: TQ 804956
Brief description of site:
The foreshore at South Woodham Ferrer is an exceptionally important site with many fine sections of recent alluvial deposits, resting on London Clay, beautifully exposed and constantly being eroded. (See also Hullbridge Foreshore on the opposite bank of the river).
About 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last glacial stage (the Devensian), large areas of the North Sea basin were dry land and human hunter-gatherers migrated to Britain as the climate improved. The ice sheets were rapidly melting around the world and raising sea level by as much as 2 metres (6 feet) per century, finally breaching the Straits of Dover and isolating Britain from the rest of the continent. The period from the end of the last glacial stage to about 5,000 years ago is called the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age and during this time hunter-gatherers spread into Essex and occupied sites that are now well below present sea level.
River erosion at several places around the coast has exposed evidence of these settlements below high tide level and the most important of these is at Hullbridge where a prehistoric land surface, possibly as much as 7,000 years old, is exposed at the base of a low cliff on the foreshore of the River Crouch. The site then lay well inland, adjacent to a freshwater river, and the abundance of flint flakes and blades suggests that this was a ‘base camp’ to exploit the wildlife of the then-existing North Sea lowlands.
The sites can only be examined at low tide and extreme care should be taken to avoid getting stuck in the intertidal mud.
History of research
Mr. William Henry Rand apparently first explored this site in the early 1900s. Later collectors included F.N. Haward, A. Wright, and the famous Essex prehistorian S.H. Warren who, with F.W. Reader, published papers on the site in the Essex Naturalist in 1911. In the late 1970s Stephen Vincent and Bill George collected from the site and published a short account of it in their pamphlet entitled Some Mesolithic Sites along the Rivers Blackwater and Crouch, Essex which appeared in 1980. This aroused considerable interest in the site which culminated in the publication, by the Essex County Council in 1995, of Messrs. Wilkinson and Murphy’s Archaeology of the Essex Coast, Volume 1: The Hullbridge Survey. This fascinating work, which dated many of the deposits and examined the environmental evidence from the Holocene deposits, greatly influenced the appearance of England’s Coastal Heritage: A survey for English Heritage and the RCHME in 1997.
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Reference: George & Vincent 1980, Wilkinson & Murphy 1995, George 2004.
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