Its fairly common knowledge in local circles that The Beagle, the ship which Charles Darwin sailed around the world on making his scientific studies, ended its days in the creeks of Essex. But this is as much as we knew so decided to make a few enquiries and do a bit of research to see if we could find it, or at the very least, it's final resting place.
We soon found the general consensus was that Paglesham was the most likely place for it to have been moored. The ship was recommissioned for use as a watch vessel by the Excise and Customs forces, to try and prevent and monitor smuggling activities, which has been rife in the area for many centuries. Many stories abound as to where timbers of the boat may have been taken when it was dismantled, and its exact resting place is also still subject of some conjecture. But armed with a few hints as to where this may be, and with a pointer that one of the anchors was in someones' front garden, we set off in earnest to see if we could find it ourselves.
Alan and I parked up outside the Plough and Sail and took the unmade road that head off round behind the pub. As we headed towards the river, discussing the leads we had so far, we kept an eye out for the anchor. It wasn't until much further down the road that we saw it displayed outside someones front door. We were pleased that our newly learned local knowledge had proved to be spot on and this bode well for the next stage...finding the resting place of the ship. We walked through the boat yard and finally ended up at the hard next to a large shed. Our sources were a bit confusing as it said we had to walk 150 yards west of the hard, but the river Roach runs NE / SW. We decided to walk SW towards a small area of saltings which looked like it may have provided a place to put the large vessel.
For a short way there was a rudimentary walkway onto the saltings, which we followed, passing a lovely bench made from the upturned front end of a boat. After the walk way ran out we were left to navigate the small run ways of water and the old abandoned oyster pits to reach a large area of mud which we thought may have been big enough to rest a ship in. Since more than a hundred years have passed since the boat would have been there, we knew we had very little clues to follow and would have been clutching at straws if we were to try and glean any pointers from the land itself. But after jumping the water ways and nearly falling in the mud several times, we managed to get some photographs of the area we thought was most likely. The fact that a derelict and sunken boat was also lodged there helped to substantiate the idea.
Pleased with our efforts we made our way out and sat silently on the sea wall for 10 minutes taking in the atmosphere. Walking back up the road we decided to go and knock on the door of the house where the anchor was and ask if we could take a picture of it. A man (Rodney Choppin) came to the door and after we explained our interest in the anchor he was very happy to put on some shoes and come and chat to us. He explained how in 2006, he had found the anchor on the saltings of Potton Island, on the opposite bank of the River Roach. The fluke had been sticking out of the mud and judging by its size it looked to be a fairly big anchor. So after consultation with his boss (he was working at the time) he and a few other men dug it out and washed it down. There were a few feint markings on the anchor, most notably a crown and '8/22', which Rodney showed us. He recalled a story about how WV7 ended up on the saltings: the ship was originally moored in the centre of the river, floating on the water, with an anchor at each corner keeping it in place. It's position next to the oyster beds rather annoyed the oystermen, who were fed up with being watch continuously. Rumour has it that one of the anchor ropes was accidentally cut, which made the ship unstable on the remaining three. So the Excise and Customs men pulled the ship onto the saltings, still next to the oyster beds, where it stayed until the end of its service. This, he said, could explain why the anchor came to be left there and then found all these years later. He also mentioned the he, his partner Anne and several others, had helped a Geophys team survey the area for a television programme a few years before and they found evidence of timbers below the mud, which had helped to consolidate the other stories around this particular site.
Rodney asked if we had been to see the final resting place on the saltings and we said we weren't sure where that was. He said to walk 150 yards north east from the hard, exactly the opposite way that we had walked earlier. Rodney showed us the exact point on an OS map, and so after taking a picture of him with the anchor, we walked back to the sea wall and walked the other way. The oyster pits here are much more defined, and also fenced off to protect them from interference from ne'er-do-wells. We located the spot and could just make out boat shape in the features of the saltings. During the incoming tide, the area becomes much more defined by the water but at the moment that we were there the tide was out, leaving us again with just a feeling of tantalising and feint possibility.
Local authors Mark and Rosemary Roberts gave us the nod about an anchor being situated in a front garden and the owner of the garden Rodney Choppin, gave us a first hand account of the rediscovery of the sunken anchor after we knocked on his front door.