Maplin Sands

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The Maplin Sands are mudflats on the northern bank of the Thames estuary, off Foulness Island, near Southend-on-Sea in Essex, England, though they actually lie within the neighbouring borough of Rochford. They form a part of the Essex Estuaries Special Area of Conservation due to their value for nature conservation, with a large colony of dwarf eelgrass (Zostera noltei) and associated animal communities.[1]

A walker on the Broomway

To the northeast, the Maplin sands are contiguous with the Foulness sands, which are bordered to the north by the Whitaker Channel; the seaward continuation of the River Crouch.[2] To the south runs the Swin Channel.[3]


Maplin Sands is crossed by the ancient trackway known as The Broomway.[4]

Maplin Screw Pile Lighthouse

A screw-pile lighthouse was built on the sands in 1838[5] by Messrs. Mitchel and Sons (sic- more often Mitchell and Sons) on the recommendation of James Walker of Trinity House. It was the first screwpile lighthouse ever to be designed. Although construction of the Maplin Sands Light had started before, the Wyre Light (Fleetwood) was completed first, as it was built in a much shorter period of time.[6] Excessive scouring of the Thames by the strength and direction of the tidal streams caused the lighthouse to become undermined and it was completely swept away in 1932. [7]

Maplin sand lighthouse as per drawing by José Eugenio Ribera.[8]

In the later part of the 19th century John I. Thornycroft & Company and Yarrow Shipbuilders used the sands for the measured mile speed trials of their destroyers.[9] The shallow waters resulted in a flow of water that could add up to a knot to the ship's speed.[9] When the Admiralty found out they required that all future trials be carried out in deep water.[9]

Following the report of the 1968 Roskill Commission, in 1973 plans were proposed and approved for a third airport for London, the Thames Estuary Airport, but were abandoned in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. The project would also have included a deep-water harbour suitable for the container ships then coming into use, a high-speed rail link to London, and a new town for the accommodation of the thousands of workers who would be required.[10]

The Maplin Sands were at that time, and remain, a military testing ground belonging to the Ministry of Defence, as does Foulness Island.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Essex Estuaries Site details". JNCC. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  2. ^ Crouch (River) inc Burnham and Fambridge at, accessed 1 April 2018
  3. ^ Prostar Sailing Directions 2006 North Sea Enroute (Tenth ed.). 2006. p. 89. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Macfarlane, Robert (11 January 2017). "This desolate English path has killed more than 100 people". BBC. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
  5. ^ "Messrs. Mitchell and Sons Screw-pile Battery, and Light-House", Belfast News Letter, p. 1, Jan 30, 1844, That the first of such foundations was fixed on the Maplin Sands by these engineers (Messrs. Mitchel and Son), in the summer of 1838 by order of the corporation of Trinity House, at the recommendation of their engineer, James Walker, Esq. F.R.S., &c. Who has since erected on it the Maplin lighthouse
  6. ^ Tomlinson, ed. (1852–54). Tomlinson's Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts. London: Virtue & Co. p. 177.
  7. ^ Maplin Lighthouse at, accessed 11 March 2018
  8. ^ Eugenio Ribera, José (1895). Puentes de hierro económicos, muelles y faros sobre palizadas y pilotes mecánicos Economic iron bridges, piers and lighthouses on palisades and mechanical piles. Madrid: Librería Editorial de Bailly-Bailliere e Hijos. pp. 299 (Lámina XIII).
  9. ^ a b c Preston, Antony (2002). The World's Worst Warships. Conway Maritime Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-85177-754-6.
  10. ^ Needham, Duncan (27 October 2014). "Maplin: the Treasury and London's third airport in the 1970s". History & Policy. History & Policy. Retrieved 27 July 2016.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°33′44″N 0°53′49″E / 51.56228°N 0.89703°E / 51.56228; 0.89703

Maplin Sands screw-pile lighthouse (drawing published by Alexander Mitchell & Son in 1848)