Estuary english

For linguists, Estuary English is a dialect of English widely spoken in south east England, especially along the River Thames and its estuary.

It can be heard in London, Kent, north Surrey and south Essex. Estuary English shares many features with Cockney, and there is some debate among linguists as to where Cockney ends and Estuary English begins. Studies have indicated that Estuary English is not a single coherent form of English; rather, the reality behind the construct consists of some (but not all) phonetic features of working-class London speech spreading at various rates socially into middle-class speech and geographically into other accents of south eastern England, innit.

Burnham-on-Crouch Estuaries, themselves, form a transition zone between river environments and maritime environments and are subject to both marine influences, such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water; and riverine influences, such as flows of fresh water and sediment.

The inflows of both sea water and fresh water provide high levels of nutrients in both the water column and sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world. Most existing estuaries were formed during the Holocene epoch by the flooding of river-eroded or glacially scoured valleys when the sea level began to rise about 10,000-12,000 years ago.

The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene at 11,700 calendar years BP and continues to the present. (BP stands for Before Present and for geologists the ‘present’ began in 1950). So the Holocene for geologists, who routinely talk in millions of years, is like yesterday. Because estuaries abound with life, human and everything else, they are great places to walk alongside with a pair of binoculars readily to hand to observe it all.

To experience all these phenomena, me and Clare of Inner London Ramblers visited Burnham-on-Crouch on a gunmetal grey overcast Sunday with thankfully little rain but plenty of breeze. A short walk down to the marina reminded me of a Hilary Mantel description from Wolf Hall (or Bring Up the Bodies): "There is a tentative, icy sun; loops of vapour coil across the river; a scribble of mist." Burnham-on-Crouch is in south Essex, but not the Essex of spray-on tans and tattoos, enthusiastically portrayed in TOWIE, but the Essex of Royal Yachting clubs and bijou restaurants.

As Ian Dury put it in 1977 in Billericay Dickie: “Oh golly, oh gosh come and lie on the couch with a nice bit of posh from Burnham-on-Crouch” .

The town is proud to be part of the Dengie Peninsula which is bordered by the River Crouch to the south, the Blackwater to the north and the North Sea to the east and is reached by travelling through the heartlands of Estuary English. Moreover, many organisations view this area as part of the wider Thames Estuary. Incidentally their local football team is the Burnham Ramblers, who are currently enjoying mid-table obscurity in 14th place in the Ryman Isthmian League North. 

Je Thames plaqueThe area is protected from flooding by a sea wall. Gazing across the landscape you can still see evidence of its many predecessors breached over the years. The floods of 1897 and 1953 figure prominently in local history. With rainfall of biblical proportions and widespread flooding once more in the news it’s easy, standing and looking out over the river, to realise how villages like Burnham-on-Crouch are at the mercy of the elements.

The east coast flooding in January 1953 is often described as Britain’s worst national peacetime disaster with a tidal surge down the North Sea which locally exceeded 5.6 metres (18.4 ft) above mean sea level. The winds also generated very large waves that damaged coastal defences. In England, 307 people were killed in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, 19 died in Scotland, whilst 1800 people lost their lives in the Netherlands. Additionally 32,000 people were evacuated and 160,000 acres of land was inundated with sea water and not usable for several years. Estimated damage ran to £50 million at 1953 prices, approximately £1.2 billion today, while infrastructure including power stations, gasworks, roads, railways, sewage services and water services was put out of action.

As you follow the sea wall out of the village the environment that is home to redshank, spoonbills and, during the spring and summer, avocet unfolds before you. Across the river is Wallasea Island. In December 2008, the RSPB, as part of their Futurescapes project, submitted a planning application to Essex County Council for a £12 million scheme to break open Wallasea's remaining sea walls and turn the rest of the island's farmland into a 670-hectare (1,500-acre) wetland bird reserve. Construction on this landmark engineering and conservation project for the 21st century began in 2012. Using 4.5 million tonnes of earth excavated from the Crossrail project the land will be transformed into marshes, lagoons and mudflats to attract birds and other wildlife as well as creating a contrasting solution to the problem of flooding.

Burham-on-CrouchFor the walk back we chose respite from the biting wind and strolled alongside the sea wall. Here it became very evident how much below sea level the land actually is – the other walkers must have been about 20 feet above us.

The Wallasea project is due for completion in 2020 and thinking of the devastation wrought across the UK by the recent heavy rainfall coupled with climate change widely expected to increase the frequency and ferocity of such storms in the future you can’t help feeling that DEFRA, the Environment Agency and local government need to give more thought to innovative schemes to alleviate flooding.

The increasingly embattled Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP, has been widely ridiculed for his stance on the badger cull and bio-diversity off-setting and accused of ‘re-dimensioning the truth’, has been criticised by a Commons select committee for "an increased lack of confidence in the management and leadership of the department".

The same select committee also asked this: "Recent flooding over the Christmas and New Year period reinforce the Committee's concerns about cuts to the DEFRA budget and how these will be realised."

Concerns many walkers share.

Walking class hero’s playlist:

Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury & the Blockheads
A13, Trunk Road to the Sea by Billy Bragg
Holocene by Bon Iver
The Wall by Bruce Springsteen
High Tide or Low Tide by Bob Marley
Down By The Waterside by Wilko Johnson

Walking Class Hero is a regular blog contributor. Find out more about him, including his previous blog posts. You can also follow him on twitter @walkngclasshero