Prittlebrook
In the mid 60s a survey of the Prittlebrook was made to identify its course; this feature is a summary of the work and makes fascinating reading some fifty five plus years on. Reference to the Ogilby and Morgan map of Essex (1678) shows a river flowing due east from the south of Eastwood and turning due north at Prittlewell Priory to join the River Roach east of Rochford. It is familiar knowledge that the Roach joins the Crouch via the salt marshes of the hundred and thence flows into the North Sea. The map of Essex by Joannes Blaeu (1645) fails to show the Prittlebrook flowing from the west; it appears to start near Porters. John Norden’s map of Essex (1594) shown right, which I believe is the oldest map we have of the county, shows a river of considerable size flowing as portrayed in the 1678 map. Comparisons with modern Ordnance Survey maps 6in, 21/4in and 1in to the mile- make one wonder what the course of the Prittlebrook really is or was: people will say “The brook, you know, comes all the way from London”; or “it rises at Ilford (or maybe Wickford)” etc. Now we know that Prittlewell village has existed since pagan- Saxon times, and it may be that its former name of Prytilswielle, meaning spring or stream of Prytil, is derived from a surname Pritel. Also it has been assumed that the spring of the smaller of the two ponds within Priory Park was the origin of the brook. During the latter part of the Roman occupation in Britain, Saxons raiding the district in flat-bottomed boats may have reached Prittlewell via Porter’s Creek (Blaeu 1645 map) or via the Roach and Prittlebrook. It was in the twelfth century that Robert Fitzsweyn founded the priory of Prittlewell as a residence for the monks of the order of Cluny in France and as a cell of Lewes. This must have had great influence on the Prittlebrook. With some of these points in mind, the junior sections of the South Essex Natural History Society decided to trace the present course of the Prittlebrook from Thundersley and Hadleigh to the Roach near Stambridge. The following account sets out exactly what we discovered between September 1963 and April 1964 in a series of Saturday afternoon primary surveys. Reconnaissance work was undertaken at odd times, facilitate transport and to divide up the course in a practical manner. Throughout the brook has a gravel silt base and contains water which is clear and neutral to slightly alkaline and which flows at speeds varying from .55ft per second to 5.6ft per second when in flood. At Sutton the salinity is .074 gms per cc. Near the Thundersley reservoirs and between Little and Great Commons, in heavy rainfall there occurs a very large puddle in a small copse. The depth is only about six to nine inches and the overflow is via Common Lane ditch; very soon, however, the water is conduited under newly built houses, but, as the 2 ¼ in map indicates, the water flows downhill south-east and south to the Rayleigh bridge. Just west of the bridge this conduited water joins up with a very small river flowing east after having made a right-angled bend as it descended from the main London Road at Hadleigh, at the back of the houses in Cranbrook Road, at a height of 225 feet. We think that this latter source is a man made drainage ditch. Our researches have necessitated walking in the water, crawling through thickets and entering gardens and houses on the estate. We think, too, that subsidiary tributaries arise on the Thundersley church height, but this has still to be investigated. After passing under Rayleigh Road, the brook flows steadily eastwards through West Wood to Dawes Heath Road. The wood forms a beautiful setting, but it is not always easy to follow the river as parts are now conduited because of recent house building. After Dawes Heath Road the river gurgles alongside some gardens in a steep-sided meandering course. It borders agricultural land to the north, then passes through Dodd’s Grove, a copse of the local nature reserve, to Poors Lane. This is a really lovely, unspoilt part of the brook. Still meandering and flowing eastwards the brook borders the north side of the major part of the nature reserve, receiving two tributaries from the southern watershed; but it turns south east and south as it approaches Agnes Avenue and the golf links. A prattling tributary from Highlands on the south west joins the brook just before Agnes Avenue Bridge, and here man has recently straightened and concreted the floor and sides of the brook. The result has been the formation of an artificial “ox-bow lake.” Probably the concreting has helped the brook flow better in times of flood water as it courses in an easterly direction to Eastwood Road. All along here the trees are really beautiful. From Eastwood Road to Victoria Avenue, Prittlewell, the brook flows in an easterly course and is concreted most of the way. There is one conduited tributary from the south-west, and although the brook flows between the dwellings of a built up area all along Manchester Drive and Fairfax Drive one can walk along its course by means of a beautiful tree-lined path for some two and a half miles. There are eighteen road bridges for the young to crawl under. The Essex River Board tries to prevent dumping of rubbish by notice boards carrying the threat of fines, but it is not entirely successful. At last our brook enters the beautiful Priory Park, meanders some twelve times, connects up with the two fish ponds, bends east-north-east and in an obviously artificial straight course reaches Priory Crescent (a main road). Traces of the original bend and course are visible by the little stone bridge. In the Ekco forecourt are a weir and the concreted sides which made an ARP fire- fighting reservoir in World War II. In four drainage pipes from the factory live the “wild cats” with their canteen bins and water close to hand. Permission was readily granted to follow the brook through Ekco, under the railway alongside the sewage works (where again the river has been straightened as it flows northwards, to allow a huge dust-heap to be tipped) and over the Sutton fields of the farmer, Mr Alec Steel, where beautiful meanders run naturally and lovely trees and birds were found. Then, at the last meander, the river becomes tidal and has dyke walls to Sutton Road Bridge and beyond, where, at Fleet Hall Farm, we saw it join the River Roach opposite Stambridge mill.

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