The Local Oyster Industry

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c1700. A fisherman named Joseph Outing discovered by accident that the foreshore of the adjoining manor of Southchurch was good feeding and fattening ground for oysters. He secured a lease of part of the that foreshore and started what soon was to become a prosperous local industry in oyster cultivation. The first group of buildings near the shore at Southend were the huts erected by Joseph Outing for the use of his men and for the storage of their gear. For centuries the oyster has been associated with Essex. As early as 1434, Chalkwell Manor was granted the right to maintain the oyster-beds, and cultivation continued until about 1890. Prior to the eighteenth century, how ever, there was little or no real scientific application to their cultivation in Essex waters, but early in that century Colchester began to give thought to the possibilities. Local cultivation at Southchurch began by mere chance when a fisherman named Joseph Outing threw overboard some small oysters. Later he discovered that they had thrived and had gained much in size. He experimented and came to the conclusion that cultivation was worth while at this site, so obtained a lease. Outing did well and his success was followed by that of other men along the foreshore. As a result of continually improving methods of cultivation, they prospered. Demand was considerable with the result that large quantities of young oysters had to be imported from other parts of England, and from the north west coast of France in order to maintain the Southchurch beds. The Essex oyster trade reached such dimensions in the north bank of the Thames that it aroused the envy of the oyster-men in Kent. Rivalry concerning estuary oysters had persisted then for some time. In 1724, a great raid was made on the “South End” oyster beds by five hundred fishermen from Milton, Queensborough and Faversham, headed by Capt. Evans, M.P., Mayor of Queensborough, in a fleet of sloops and small craft, in endeavour to force their claim that the beds were public property. Local Magistrates mustered all the parish constables of the Rochford Hundred, and through reading of the Riot Act on the beach, there was fortunately no violence. During the next ten or eleven days the Kentish men set to work, in consequence of which the beds were seriously depleted and damaged. On one day alone, five large sloops of this Kentish Armarda carried off full loads of oysters to sell in London. In the following year three actions for trespass were brought against the raiders the first by Outing, a second by William Hutton of Leigh, and the third by another person holding a lease of the foreshore off Southend. The first two actions were held at Brentwood, when Outing and Hutton were awarded damages and costs. The local oyster-men also won the third case, which was heard at Westminster. The raid of the Kentish Armada cost the Kent men more than £7,000, but the result settled beyond any doubt the rights of the north coast oyster-men. The private fisheries of the Essex coast were developed and the foreshore opposite Southchurch and Old Southend provided important fattening grounds. In 1770, extensive oyster beds were laid at Milton, and although these were abandoned about 1830, cultivation continued at Southchurch until about 1895. By then, ceaseless dredging had rooted out the oysters until only two banks of any great size survived in the Rochford Hundred, one on the River Crouch and the other on the River Roach. The contamination of oyster-beds through sewage seriously affected the trade, and gradually caused the extinction of the industry off Southend.
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