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Notes on Point Clear

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Sun, sand, sea and sky

At the mouth of the River Colne, south of Brightlingsea and opposite Mersea Island, lie the sand and saltmarsh peninsula of Point Clear. Right at the tip is a sand bar reaching out into the estuary, surrounded on all sides by water. It's a beautiful spot, empty and potentially bleak, although it's hard to get the full Essex wilderness feel with the jaunty beach huts and bustling marina of Brightlingsea just across the water. Point Clear itself is a small village, mostly post-war, with a huge caravan park attached. Most people come here to enjoy the old fashioned charms of sand, sea and sunlight on the Essex coast. Although walking along the sea wall beside Brightlingsea Creek a very different side to Point Clear is revealed; one of lonely salt marshes and defunct oyster beds and poverty.

There was a time when the Essex Coast didn't exist. In Palaeolithic times, sea levels were lower and East Anglia and the Netherlands were connected by land. The Thames flowed eastwards across Essex, over the top of what is now Mersea Island, over Point Clear, over Clacton, and half way to Amsterdam before turning to head south. Over many thousands of years the course of the Thames moved progressively southwards towards its current channel, leaving behind great sheets of sand, gravel and alluvial soil in an essentially flat landscape.

At some time during those thousands of years, humans and animals walked over this flat land from Europe and settled in Essex. The oldest manmade implement ever discovered in Britain is a wooden spear left behind in Jaywick 400,000 years ago, and fossilised remains of monkey, bison, beaver, wolf, bear, narrow-nosed rhinoceros and giant deer have been found in the East Mersea cliffs. It wasn't until around 6300 BC that water levels rose sufficiently to create the North Sea, separate Britain from Europe and so form the Essex coast.

Lying between Jaywick and Mersea, Point Clear would have been inhabited in those distant times, and several ancient, primitive tools have been discovered in the area. However until quite recently Point Clear does not seem to have been a settlement as such.

A couple of miles away lies the village of St Osyth, with a recorded history stretching back to King Cnut. Similarly, Brightlingsea can trace its history back to the Domesday Book, and Mersea Island, to Roman times. Some of the oyster beds in Point Clear are believed to be 13th century, but of the people, there seems no record until much more recently.

Martello Tower

In the early 18th century a series of Martello Towers – small, circular forts - were built along the Essex coast to defend the land from a threatened Napoleonic invasion. One of the first of these was at Point Clear, built in 1805. The area around the tower was in use as a rifle range in the 1860s, which might indicate continued military usage. And the tower was called back into service during WII when a small battery was housed on the roof. It is now a museum.

Point Clear Ferry
Point Clear Foot Ferry

By the mid-19th century, Brightlingsea's fishing fleet had expanded until there were about 200 vessels, and the biggest employer in town was the Aldous shipyard. Some of the workers chose to settle on Point Clear at around the beginning of the 20th century. A ferry across Brightlingsea Creek took the men to and from work. The shipyards continued to expand and by WWII, more than 650 workers were involved in the construction of landing craft, motor torpedo boats, harbour launches and airborne lifeboats for the RAF. Sadly, in 1962, after 129 years in business, the shipyard was forced to close. It has re-opened recently producing multi-purpose offshore workboats.

The ferry which used to take workers across the creek also closed for a few years but has now re-opened and carries foot passengers between the three destinations of Point Clear (operating from the tip of the sandy peninsula, called Stone Point), Brightlingsea and East Mersea throughout the summer months.