Upper Horse Island

For many months, I have been looking at the strange patterns on Upper Horse 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 me to believe that it was very old, and had been overgrown by the surrounding vegetation. Recently, I found a thread on the canvey.org forum, detailing it, although it’s exact purpose is unknown. It was decided that it was Roman. No images have been taken of the island that I can find, apart from those of the view from Canvey’s edge, adjacent to the location I will soon visit – being the Oil Refinery. I will see if I can either see, or get some good photos, of it, although I cannot remember seeing anthing much on our previous visit (although being unaware of it at the time). It seems that the only way to ‘check it out’ is to sail/float there. If anyone has been there, or has some great shots of the island, please say so! The forum thread hyperlink can be seen below.


Firstly, I would like to thank Robin Howie who contacted us and supplied us with the following rare images and information on Upper Horse Island.

A building once stood near the ‘enclosure’ structure, but now exists in what appears only to be rubble, and can be seen on Google Maps as just some black rocks. The below 1905/1915 image shows the island as having a square flat area, which is the area inside the enclosure, suggesting it was man-made foundations.


The next images show Upper Horse Island in 1863 and 1867. They display a small square building or enclosure within the main enclosure, which can be seen in the bottom right of it.



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 ma have been used by the Romans to gather slat, but then again the mystery continues, as why would they use such a hard-to-access place instead of the mainland?

 The below 1876 map shows the enclosure clearly, with a sea wall and footpath, which cannot be seen in the 1905/15 image, as it was removed since. 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.



Also, 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 will never be  revealed to us entirely, although thanks to Robin’s research, we have got far closer to the truth.

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. Here is a satellite image of the island today (2006):

  1. WAYNE says:

    I visited here on a dingy in the late 70’s, the old man who took us there used to work on a boat from Vange wharf. He was told by his father that it was a very old oyster farm?

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