There is a wooded area called the Wilderness which is situated on a golf course in the parish of Little Burstead, just over 2 miles SSW of the Essex town of Billericay. Here the water table breaks the surface producing springs which are the source of the River Crouch. For the first part of its journey across the Essex countryside the river is narrow and often obscured by trees.
On approaching Wickford it flows under the A129 near Barleylands and then under roads off the A129, such as Church Lane, Church Road, Sugden Avenue and Castledon Road. It is perhaps on leaving Castledon Road that the river comes into its own and is most accessible to Wickford residents where it crosses the London Road just west of the town. Here botanists can enjoy the different species of flora which grace its banks during the summer months. For those who are simply out for a summer stroll along the designated Nature Trail a glimpse may be had of the different fauna from a water vole to a fox. Ornithologists may be interested to catch sight of the resident egret, a visiting heron or a kingfisher in flight. Those interested in fishing may cast a line to catch a roach, chub, perch or perhaps one of the other species of fish swimming in this part of the river. There is also a wealth of insects on the banks of the river to delight the entomologist.
The part of the river between Castledon Road and where it turns south to cross the London Road runs parallel to Riverside Walk and, at a greater distance, the London Road itself. The river flows east and is crossed by a concrete bridge. This replaced a wooden one after the flow of the river was altered in the 1960s and it allowed the farmer to easily take his Friesian cows across the water so they could be milked at a building in the London Road. The building, opposite St Peters Terrace, was completed in 1955 and still stands today. It is occupied by Just Imagine.
Beyond the concrete bridge is where the river turns south, past the allotments and the Wickford Junior School. It then leaves the Nature Trail area and flows under the A129 (London Road). At this point the river enters a concrete culvert 6 feet wide and 8 inches deep. The channel was built during the 1960s and flows within a much wider and much deeper channel designed to cope with the high water levels experienced during excessive rain, or melting snow, thus protecting the town from floods like those it experienced in 1958 when parts of the town were under eight feet of water or more. The town had actually flooded twice in three weeks, four times in two months and, according to the Daily Mirror, ten times in a year. Passengers had to climb onto the railway track to reach the station as Station Approach was under water. Ironically, in September, a meeting to be held at the Public Hall to protest about the floods had to be abandoned because properties in the area were again flooded. Some properties had over 2 feet of water in the kitchen. The Illustrated London News of September 13 has a picture of a milkman handing a bottle of milk to a lady leaning out of an upstairs window. He is standing on the shoulders of another man, knee deep in water. In another picture a Duck (DUKW) is used to transport people. It is not known for how long this amphibious vehicle was used. In the High Street rowing boats replaced buses and cars. The river is nowadays constantly monitored. The monitoring station is near the car park behind the High Street where the river is crossed by Gibraltar Walk.
On leaving the London Road bridge the culvert floor slopes to a depth of 12 inches, giving a total depth of 20 inches as the concrete channel then extends around the town’s south and east side taking in more bridges on its way, including one which carries the railway line.
At the beginning of the twentieth century a dam was constructed across the river near where the monitoring station is today. A sluice gate allowed water to enter a reservoir which was sited between the river and the High Street, behind the railway cottages, close to the south side of the railway embankment, now part of the car park. The reservoir covered an area just in excess of two acres and contained 2.25 million gallons of water at full capacity. It was built by A. Fassey and Son of Leytonstone and London for the Great Eastern Railway Company under the instruction of Mr Chapman, the chief engineer. It was completed in 1907 and the first flow of water was let in by the Reverend Francis Dormer Pierce, rector of St Catherine’s.
The next bridge the river passes under is at Lower Southend Road, immediately after which the concrete channel ends and the river flows in a more natural state towards Wickford Memorial Park, creating a boundary on that park’s west and north sides. On leaving the park the river passes a wooded area and then flows under the centre arch of a three arch bridge carrying the Crouch Valley railway line, before making its way to Battlesbridge. Just west of Battlesbridge the river passes the lock gates which were at one time referred to as the ‘old man’. Before the tide gates were constructed the river was tidal to Runwell, within one mile of Wickford. On passing the gates the river enters the mill pond on the west side of Hawk Road Bridge. The bridge here collapsed on May 22, 1871 when being crossed by a traction engine owned by Sadd & Co of Maldon. David Greenling, the driver, fell into the river with the engine, injuring his knee. The stoker, John Wisbey, also fell into the river and was hit by one of the falling girders, receiving a scalp wound. Greenling’s injury was superficial but Wisbey’s was more serious.
The following year, having recovered, Wisbey was back working at the wharf and nearly severed a part of his thumb from his hand. The wound was dressed. Years previous his father lost fingers and his brother had lost the sight of one eye. Health and Safety at Sadd’s wharf was clearly not what it should have been, which is probably true of other wharfs up and down the country at the time. The collapsed bridge was in the river for 21 weeks, acting as a dam, holding back the water from the mill wheel, causing the mill owner, James Pavitt, to lose grinding power which he claimed caused him to lose income of £3 per week. He put in a claim for compensation which was rejected. Pavitt had planned to take the matter to arbitration at which time his claim reached £100, the fallen bridge remaining in the river. However, an agreement was later reached for Pavitt to receive a compensation payment of £50. In 1872 a Mr Webster of Trafalgar Square, London, was appointed to build the new bridge for a total sum of £3,564 after the leading tender was withdrawn due to the initial cost of the build being underestimated by £200.
During the nineteenth century Battlesbridge was well known for its wharfs, granaries and lime kilns. Corn was shipped from here to the London market with the vessels making their way to the mouth of the river, then down the coast to the River Thames. The lime, with chalk, was used for manure. John Deeley, who was bankrupt in 1836, held a mill here from at least 1803. It had 4 floors and an 18 feet high breast wheel which measured 10 feet wide. There was a fall of 9 feet. Today, the village is known as a place to buy antiques.
Battlesbridge was also a place to fish. In the eighteenth century (1775) a flying fish was caught by a mill wright from Chelmsford. Mr Jasper’s fish measured fifteen and a quarter inches long with a wing span of eighteen inches. In 1914 a six feet long porpoise was stranded on the bank. In 1946, a porpoise of 5 feet was forked by Italian prisoners who were at Battesbridge digging the foundation for a sea wall.
On leaving Battlesbridge the river flows through that stretch known as Long Reach and then onto Hullbridge on its south bank and Marsh Farm Country Park on its north bank, with the town of South Woodham Ferrers sitting further back from the river. It then flows through that stretch known as Brandy Hole and then Brandy Hole Reach before coming to North Fambridge where there is a marina. South Fambridge is on the opposite bank.
The river then travels along Longpole Reach, Shortpole Reach, Raypits Reach, Easter Reach and Cliff Reach. Between the last two is Althorne Creek which also has its own marina. The river front is a short distance from the railway station, but Althorne village is some distance away to the north. On passing Althorne Creek the river comes to the old harbour town of Burnham on Crouch. In the early nineteenth century Burnham was well known for its oyster beds, the produce of which was exported to Flanders. Nowadays Burnham is perhaps best known for its yachting. The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club is here. The building which houses the club was designed by Joseph Emberton ARIBA (later FRIBA) who won the RIBA bronze medal and diploma for his efforts. He also designed Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the building occupied by Simpsons of Piccadilly (now Waterstones).
Margaret Gatty (1809-1873), who wrote books for children under the name of Aunt Judy, was born at Burnham and she was baptized at the local 11th century church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. Her name also appears in the baptismal records for St Leonards, Southminster, where her father, Alexander John Scott, was vicar. Scott, incidentally, was Chaplin to Lord Nelson on the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar and he was with Nelson when he died. As well as an author, Gatty was a pioneering phycologist [student of algae, including seaweeds]. She corresponded with the renowned Irish phycologist William Harvey and had a species of seaweed named after her. Some of the specimens of seaweed she collected are archived at the Natural History Museum (BM) in Kensington. None of the seaweeds, however, were collected from the Crouch, as she did not take an interest in such matters until long after she moved away from the area.
Having passed the town of Burnham on Crouch the river is joined by the River Roach which separates Wallasea Island from Foulness Island. The river then continues on its journey towards the North Sea, entering that expanse of water at a place where Holliwell Point is on its north bank and Foulness point is on its south bank. This stretch of the river is often used for commercial shipping, small cargo boats which dock at Wallasea Island on the south side of the river, opposite Creeksea, and almost opposite but west of Burnham Yacht Harbour. The navigable part of the river, from Holliwell Point to Battlesbridge is 17.5 miles. It is, however, around 28 miles from the river mouth to the Wilderness.