Regular readers of this blog will have noticed an absence of posts recently, which can be explained by a house move to this tiny Essex village. Salcott-cum-Virley is mentioned in the Domesday book; the name Salcott comes from the salt-cotes or huts in which salt was stored, the area having been important for the industry since the Iron Age. Salcott itself was referred to as Salcott Wigborough, only dropping the Wigborough in the 19th century.
Robert de Verli owned land in what’s now Virley, adding his family name to the village of Salcota and making it Salcote Verly. His name is mentioned in Edward Marston’s novel “The Ravens of Blackwater” set a couple of decades after the Norman Conquest.
Spellings weren’t especially consistent in those times, it would seem. Records from the 16th century refer to the place as Salcote Virley and later Virley. In this part of the village lies a ruined church, built in the 13th century but a casualty of the 1884 earthquake. It was already derelict by the time the ground shook, but after sustaining further damage it was never rebuilt. There’s an interesting account of the quake, plus a retelling of the tale of the Devil of Salcott here:
Like many coastal settlements, there was an ingrained tradition of smuggling, with the loot hidden at the bottom of a pond with a wooden bottom which enabled it to be drained when required. One story claims that villagers found an customs boat floating off nearby Sunken Island. The 22-man crew were all dead, their throats slit. The bodies were allegedly buried in the church graveyard and the hull of their boat placed upside down on top of their final resting place. This is likely to have been the church at Virley, though it’s hard to find anything to verify the story.
These days, it’s a sleepy place and home to a couple of hundred or so people. The northern part of the village backs onto tidal Salcott Creek while the south enjoys views over the surrounding farmland and across to the Dengie. It’s possible to take a walk across the salt marshes with views of Mersea Island and the imposing structure of Bradwell Power Station.
Other than the church, which unlike Virley’s was repaired after the quake, Salcott has only a few notable buildings. Amongst the housing stock is a half timbered home with overhanging first floor. A pub, The Sun, closed back in the 1990s. The village hall, once the old school house, was built back in 1869; the school opened a year later. As you might expect from its location, the mortar used was mixed with salt water. Life was very different for the school children then: holidays were arranged around the farming calendar, with pea-picking week in June and blackberry-picking week in September. Sadly, the school closed when in 1938, the then headmistress committed suicide, leaving her pupils to commute to school in the nearby village of Birch.
An old film dating from 1975 takes a tour of the village. You can watch it here: