When Beyond the Point was first established in 2011, we started investigating some strange patterns on Upper Horse Island, situated to the west of Canvey Island. They appear to be the same colour to the marsh surrounding, but are clearly shaped by humans, it being square, with circles and lines inside. This lead us to believe that it was very old, and had been overgrown by the surrounding vegetation. It’s been suggested that although the exact purpose us unknown, the site is likely to be Roman. No images have been taken of the island as far as we’re aware, apart from those of the view from Canvey’s edge, adjacent to the location. It seems that the only way to ‘check it out’ is to sail/float there so if anyone has been there, or has some great shots of the island, please send them to us! Likewise, if you have a boat…
Firstly, we were contacted by Robin Howie who supplied us with the map photos and information below. In 2017, we were fortunate enough to receive video footage (right) and aerial photos from Terry Kent, who flew his drone over the island to capture some remarkable photos. These are probably the clearest ever taken and the closest that someone has been to stepping onto the island for a long time.
From left to right: The first two maps date back to 1863/67. They show a small square building or enclosure within the main enclosure, which can be seen in the bottom right of it. The third map from 1876 clearly shows the enclosure with a sea wall and footpath, which cannot be seen in the 1905/15 image suggesting it was removed by this time. It does not however show the smaller enclosure, which is more likely to be of Victorian origin. The small enclosure and footpath could have been used as a coastguard site, although this is only speculation based on similarity to Canvey’s coastguard cottages. And the final map from the early 20th Century shows the island as having a square flat area, which is the area inside the enclosure, suggesting it was man-made foundations.
A 1512 document says how Upper Horse and part of Canvey was paid to be deforested by Lord Appleton. It seems that the mystery island’s past will never be revealed to us entirely, although thanks to Robin’s research, we have got far closer to the truth. The conclusion has now been come to that the main enclosure is certainly that of a Roman fort, in which the enclosed area would have held around 200 men, of which the strips of marsh that can be seen today are likely to be the foundations of. The maps were shown to Time Team’s Professor Phil Harding, who believes the structure may have been used by the Romans to gather salt, but then again the mystery continues, as why would they use such a hard-to-access place instead of the mainland?
On passing the island from Canvey’s Western Sea Wall, only a grassy raised area, with longer light brown grass, can be seen, were the enclosure remains. This is also the only area on the island which is not marsh, showing that the Roman enclosure was artificially built up with mud in which more mainland foliage has grown on. The satellite image is from 2006 and clearly shows the peculiar man-made earthworks.
If you have any photos or suggestions to add to our investigation, then please comment below.