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Notes on Bradwell

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A place of spiritual and temporal power

The Chapel of St Peter on the Wall was founded by St Cedd. Cedd had been ordained at Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland. He trained as a missionary, and walked the lanes and tracks of ancient England talking to people he met along the way, trying to re-awaken their interest in Christianity, which had become a minority religion since the retreat of the Romans.

Cedd was sent to Essex at the request of Sigbert, King of the East Saxons. He arrived in Bradwell (a busy port at that time) in 653 A. D. As he explored the area he came across the ruins of a Roman fort and decided to use the stones to build a permanent church in the region. From there he established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster.

In 659, on a visit back to the north, Cedd was asked to establish another monastery. He chose a remote site at Lastingham on the Yorkshire moors, which seemed fit only for 'wild beasts, robbers and demons'. In 664, while in Yorkshire, Cedd caught the plague. As he lay dying 30 of his monks from Bradwell came to be with him. They too caught the plague. Only one young boy survived and returned to Bradwell. Despite this setback, the mission survived, becoming part of a Benedictine monastery before being sold to William of Wykeham in 1391.

In Tudor times, the church was abandoned and for hundreds of years the building was used by local farmers as a barn, but in 1920 it was restored and re-consecrated as a place of worship.

At the time St Cedd was building his church, the land he was building on was a narrow promontory into the North Sea. The coastal land to the south and to the west was salt marsh. This boggy land was reclaimed by Dutch engineers during the 17th century by draining the marsh and building the sea wall. A borrowdyke snakes alongside the sea wall for much of its length, adding visual interest and another wildlife habitat to the area.

The saltmashes and mudflats beyond the sea wall are a Special Protection Area, of international importance for wildlife including many species of bird. The nature reserve includes 30 acres of shell bank and extensive mudflats (saltings), and was established to help shore nesting birds, especially the little tern. A rare British breeding sea bird, the little tern suffers from 'people pressure' on shingle beaches where they nest. Bar-tailed godwit, hen harrier, dunlin, oystercatcher and lapwing also thrive here, and winter visitors to the Dengie coast include knot, sanderling and grey plover.

Bradwell Power Station
Bradwell Power Station

Bradwell nuclear power station was built at a location where the land was of little agricultural value, road access was good, the area was geologically sound and there was an unlimited source of cooling water from the North Sea. Building started in 1957, and from 1962 to 2002, a total of 60TWh of electricity was generated from the twin Magnox reactors. It is currently decommissioned and the site is planned to be cleared by 2092. The clearance work is staged: from 2002 to 2005 the site was left for the fuel rods to cool down and subsequently be reprocessed at Sellafield. Then in 2009 the cooling pond was partially drained down. In 2011 the plant in the turbine hall was removed and the hall itself demolished, and in 2015 the site entered a Care and Maintenance phase. This involves leaving the reactors to cool, removing most of the other structures, and leaving the reactor building in a safe state requiring minimum supervision. Final site clearance will occur during the period 2083 - 2092. It took 5 years to build: there were 40 years of operation: it will take 90 years to make the site safe and clear it. And, at the time of writing this in 2017 there is still no plan in place for the management of the residual nuclear material. A new nuclear reactor imaginatively named Bradwell B is planned for the site.