Kent marshes are a desolate, liminal place described by Dickens as a “dark, flat, wilderness….intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it.” Much the same as it is today although there are signs that the developers are moving in.
This remote village is in transition. The Church of St Helen dates back to 774 AD but over the centuries vicars assigned to this marshy land were reluctant to take up their office. For this place was left to a desperate population who had no option but to live on this fertile but fatal land. On both sides of the estuary the marshes were a treacherous place to live.
Marsh Fever or argue introduced a defining silhouette on the estuary landscape. The last outbreak of indigenous malaria on the Isle of Grain was in 1918. In the Church grounds stand the charnal house which received the bodies awaiting burial. In some parishes burials far exceeded baptisms. Now people requiring executive homes are moving in. A gated community is being built and marketed as within easy reach of Ebbsfleet International and a short journey to Central London.
North of the village are the marshes and despite the advancement of developers remain a remote and strange landscape. A sheep farm occupies the site of a former explosives factory which at one time employed hundreds of people. The Curtis and Harvey factory founded in 1901 thrived during the First World war and was eventually closed in 1922. The remnants of old buildings are scattered across the landscape. An isolated metal barn is the only sign of human life in this wilderness.
Strangely still; perhaps because its rival Felixstowe still offers a cheaper gateway into the UK. The lichen encrusted river wall keeps the river at bay but is obviously no defense against the perilous river surges experienced so frequently last winter. Along the wall’s edge stands a marker to the eastern boundary of the jurisdiction of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames erected 1861: London’s influence ever present.