The Landscape of Ashingdon Parish
The landscape of Ashingdon Parish is very beautiful, green, rural and undulating. From many elevated vantage points, one can see beautiful views of farmland, woods and the River Crouch and its valley. One can see the sails of yachts on the River Crouch and the hills on the other side of the valley. Other views are the hills in Hockey visible from Lower Road and from Footpath 16. The distant Hockley Woods are visible from Footpath 4. The church and village on the hill in Canewdon visible from Ashingdon Minster, Canewdon Road and Fambridge Road. There are views of Southend on Sea and even Southend Airport visible from Rectory Avenue.
The highest elevation in the Parish is 55 metres (180 feet) on Footpath 16 which crosses a field above The Chase. Another steep hill is inside and beside Beckney Wood where it is about 50 metres (164 feet). The height at St Andrew’s Church on another hill is about 40 metres (135 feet). Much of the southern part of the parish is about 30 metres (100 feet).
The tidal River Crouch forms the northern boundary of Ashingdon Parish. The part of the River Crouch in Ashingdon Parish is about 3.9 km (2.4 miles) long from the west to east boundary limits of our Parish. The river is quite straight here and approximately 300 metres (330 yards) wide for most of that distance. It is a great natural amenity for bird watching, fishing, wind-surfing, rowing, sailing, water skiing and motor boating.
The River Crouch is famous for sailing and especially famous for the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at Burnham on Crouch. There are several boatyards, yacht clubs. marinas and other boating activities along both sides of The Crouch near our Parish.
The Crouch supports a wide variety of plants, fish, shellfish, marine birds, insects, and mammals including otters and seals. The largest fish species include dogfish, flatfish, rays and porpoises. It is one of the largest UK habitats for brent geese and many other migratory and over-wintering marine birds.
The River Crouch is about 46km (28 miles) long from its source near Stockwell Hall in Little Burstead, southwest of Billericay. Its various origins are fed by springs and streams from the Burstead, Dunton, Langdon and Ramsden Hills. The first 15km (9.3 miles) are fresh water. This part is protected by The River Crouch Trust. It becomes tidal at the railway bridge between Runwell and Battlesbridge, where the river becomes the property and responsibility of the Crouch Harbour Authority. The River Crouch and River Roach tidal river system has a total coastline of 243 km (151 miles), out of a total of 565 km (350 miles) for Essex.
The River Roach is a tributory of The Crouch and some of our streams flow into the Roach, then into The Crouch before going out to sea.
Ashingdon Parish’s northern boundary runs along nearly 4 km (over 2.5 miles) of the large tidal River Crouch. The Parish boundary runs along the middle of the river. This river and the neighbouring creeks in the Brandyhole Saltings marshes have raised and reinforced seawalls to protect the coast and the neighbouring farmland from periodic flooding. The seawalls were built and raised long ago, perhaps as early as during the Roman period. They were made by digging out soil alongside the river banks and placing it along the edge of the tidal riverside to make the raised seawall or “dyke”. The wide trench or depression left by digging out the soil to make the seawall dyke is called a “borrow dyke”. The borrow dykes can fill with fresh water from brooks or groundwater, or sometimes they can fill with seawater which seeps through the seawall from the tidal river. They form a long linear body of water resembling a canal. Borrow dykes provide perfect habitats for all kinds flora, fauna and insects including from all of the main types of landscape that we have in our Parish. These include rich wildlife from farmland, woodland, riverside, maritime and migratory bird habitats. Ashingdon Parish has a total of 5.1 km (3.18 miles) of seawall starting inland from near Beckney Farm, then along The River Crouch to our boundary with Canewdon Parish at Shortpole Reach opposite Bridgemarsh Creek. The borrow dyke ditches, ponds and waters extend alongside nearly the entire 5.1 km seawall length and they provide an ideal shelter, home, paradise and food source for fish, eels, molluscs, micro-organisms, newts, frogs, toads, snakes, birds, mammals, insects, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, water plants, wild-flowers and grasses.
Within living memory, we know of two major occasions when the sea wall defences were breached by severe weather conditions. In 1872, severe storms and surge tides caused a breach in the sea wall between South Fambridge and Brandyhole Saltings. It flooded 65 hectares (160 acres) of land on the west side of Fambridge Road, land owned by Mr Willans of Brickhouse Farm. At high tide, the water was so deep that river craft could sail up to opposite Fambridge's All Saints Church. After that flood, the sea wall was raised. In 1953, during the flood disaster which struck Canvey Island and coastal areas throughout England, the sea wall was breached again in the same area and the sea flooded several hundreds of acres of farmland. After that flood, the sea wall was raised again even higher.
Fine old buildings in Ashingdon include : Ashingdon Minster known as Saint Andrew’s Church built in 1020 and Ashingdon Hall in the heart of the village; Rouncefall is in The Chase; Along the road to Fambridge there are Rectory Farm House, All Saints Church built in 1846, South Fambridge Hall, Brickhouse Farm, The Old Ferry House, Coach House, a row of Victorian cottages and two rows of cottages of fascinating design in South Fambridge. The Anchor Inn was demolished for flats in 2004; New Hall, Linden Lea, Beckney Wood House, Beckney Farm and Uguess are in or near Lower Road; Brooks Cottages, Old Farm House, Smithey’s Cottage and The Forge are found along Greensward Lane; Also in Greensward lane are the ruins of a beautiful mediaeval thatched cottage which was destroyed by fire about 1995; Moon’s Cottages, now one house, are in Canewdon Road; and, Hydewood Farm and a few fine old houses are in Hyde Wood Lane. Local people call it “Hydie” Wood Lane, pronouncing the final “e” in Hyde.
Some of the farms shown on the map in Ashingdon still work as farms and a few have lost their function as a working farm. The farms of Ashingdon are : Beckney Farm, Brenham Farm, Brickhouse Farm, Homefield Farm, Hydewood Farm, Lowlands Farm, Moons Farm, New Hall Farm, Pulpits Farm, Rectory Farm, Rouncefall Farm, South Fambridge Hall Farm and The Mink Farm. Some farmers in neighbouring parishes farm in Ashingdon Parish or own fields here, they include Little Doggetts Farm in Hyde Wood Lane, Scaldhurst Farm and others.
The several farms, small holdings and nurseries within the parish, produce arable root and corn crops, garden plants, potatoes, vegetables, cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. Among the agricultural products suppliers, there is a potatoes and eggs supplier, a pigs and rare eggs suppliers whose eggs have every colour from white, grey, blue, green, pink, brown, etc. and a goat farm selling goat products. Nurseries in Ashingdon produce and sell bedding and house plants, vegetable seedlings, trees and shrubs.
There are several small streams running through Ashingdon Parish. Some appear to be no more than a trickle in the summer and some look like a ditch. The most important are :
Hawkwell Brook - It has its source near Bett's Wood in Hockley, then it runs through Marylands Wood and Marylands Nature reserve in Hockley. It then runs mostly underground past Plumberow School, then enters Ashingdon, it runs under the Harrogate and Broadlands Estates, then it can be seen running east through beautiful countryside beside woods and Footpath 15 until it enters Hawkwell at Footpath 7 and continues on through Hawkwell and joins The River Roach in Rochford beside the Bradley Way Lake, where it continues and meets the tidal River Roach at Stambridge Mills.
Beckney Brook - It has its source in Ashingdon Common near Cavendish Road and Beckney Wood. It runs through fields near Woodside Road, under Clarendon Road and Granville Road, northwards alongside Lower Road where it is our Parish boundary with Hockley Parish, then beside the lane to Beckney Farm, where it is our Parish boundary with Hullbridge Parish, and it continues north to the tidal Brandyhole saltings marshland, where oysters used to be cultivated and harvested. and salt was produced. It runs through there as Beckney Creek to the The River Crouch opposite Stow Creek.
Fambridge Brook - It has several sources between Ashingdon and South Fambridge from Lowlands Farm, Rochelles Farm and near All Saints Church. They flow werstwards, south of Fambridge Road and Brenham Farm, then northwards where it flows into The River Crouch opposite Port Moor Cottage, 625m (675yds) west of South Fambridge.
Trinity Brook - It has its source below Trinity Wood and flows under the Fambridge Road and Canewdon Road junction, then runs beside Fambridge Road, passes behind the old Rectory Farm, then it runs north to The River Crouch opposite Bridgemarsh Creek, 2.25km (1.40 miles) east of South Fambridge. But, now, it also has a diversion into The Old Fleet.
The Old Fleet - This is a river which has its source in Ashingdon near Moons Close. It runs east, then passes under our King George's Field recreation ground, then under Canewdon Road. It then runs north along our Parish boundary with Canewdon Parish before it enters Canewdon Parish and runs past Pudsey Hall, Upper Raypits, Lower Raypits, then past the old Lion Wharf - where boats used to load and unload cargos - to Lion Creek and into the tidal River Crouch opposite Creeksea.
There are a few open spaces of recreational land in our Parish.
King George's Field is a beautiful recreation ground parkland in Ashingdon Road. It has a children's playground, football pitches during the season and room for the village cricket pitch, sadly now unused.
The open space in Malvern Road is for walking, playing and to gain access to the footpaths and Beckney Wood.
The seawall and Beckney Wood and Boundary wood are open to publis access.
Magnolia Park lies beside our boundary. It has a playing field, a children's playground, woods, heathland and a lake.
There are about a dozen woods in Ashingdon Parish and about as many more spinneys. A great number of properties in our Parish have wooded gardens. There have always been woods in Ashingdon and some are mentioned in The Domesday Book survey in 1086. In particular, Beckney Wood which was a detached part of Beckney Manor and its farm. The manor owned Beckney Wood and the road from the manor ran as it does now southward from near the River Crouch shore, past Beckney Manor (now Beckney Farm) along a short stretch of Lower Road, then along the green lane past the house now called Westonbridge into the Wood. Beckney Wood is a bluebell wood - a sea of blue and full of rich fragrance in Spring.
The woods in Ashingdon Parish make up a total area of nearly 33 hectares or about 80 acres and vary from the largest – Beckney Wood at 14 hectares (35 acres) to the woods beside St Andrew’s Churchyard at 0.25 hectare (0.6 acre). The spinneys and the wooded gardens are in addition to those areas and add about another 20 hectares (50 acres).
Beckney Wood - is an ancient wood. It has an area of 14 hectares (35 acres). It is a bluebell wood. It used to be part of the ancient manor of Beckney, mentioned in The Domesday Book. For some time until the 1800s, Beckney Wood belonged to the Parish of Kew in Middlesex, west of London.
Trinity Wood - is an ancient wood. It has an area of 4.5 hectares (11 acres). It is a bluebell wood which belonged to Trinity College, Cambridge. It is private, but it has a public right of way road and a footpath alongside it.
Kew Great Wood - is an ancient wood. It has an area of about 4 hectares (10 acres). It is a hillside wood which belonged to Rouncefall Manor. It is private, but it has a public right of way road Durham Road leading to it and Footpath 7 / Footpath 2 alongside it.
Boundary Wood - is a more recent wood. It has been cut and regrown many times. It has an area of 1.5 hectares (3.5 acres). It lies alongside our Footpath 2 / Footpath 7 and beside Hawkwell's Magnolia Park. It is in our Parish and it is surrounded by the Hawkwell Parish boundary on 3 of its 4 sides.
Kew Little Wood - is an ancient wood. It has an area of about 1 hectare (2 acres). It is a hillside wood behind Rectory Avenue which belonged to Rouncefall Manor. It is private, but it has a public right of way Footpath 2 alongside it.
Kangle Wood - was another ancient wood in Hockley and Ashingdon. It was still in in existence in the 1700s. It was larger than Beckney Wood and possibly as large as 20 hectares (50 acres). It was south of Greensward Lane and probably belonged to the Chamberlains Manor which has long since gone. Chamberlains was north of Greensward Lane in the area south of Beckney Wood near Harrogate Farm. Chamberlains Manor occupied the Leamington, Harrogate and Tonbridge Roads housing area. Kangle Wood was south of Greensward Lane in the area now partly occupied by the Broadlands Estate and it extended over the area of Footpaths 7, 14 and 15 towards the east.
Two small woods still exist in Ashingdon which must have been part of Kangle Wood - the small 1 hectare (2.5 acres)wood between Footpaths 14 and 15 at TQ852929; and the larger but sparser wood opposite it, north of Footpath 15 at TQ853930.
There is one more nearby remnant of wood opposite and southeast in Hawkwell Parish at TQ854927. That may also have been part of the large lost Kangle Wood.
This example of our lost ancient Kangle Wood must illustrate the importance of preserving woods, because once the woods are cleared they are difficult to restore and once they are occupied, they are lost forever. Those important woods provide habitat for wildlife, they support biodiversity, they give out oxygen, they absorb carbon dioxide, they are beautiful and they provide recreation, tranquility and peace. Whether ancient or more recent, if the woods are not cared for and preserved, they can be lost forever.