Two Tree Island – The Last Landing Place on the Thames

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Over the last couple of years, I have been writing about a number of the Thames stairs in central London, however for today’s post in my weird obsession with these places on the river, I am visiting Two Tree Island in Essex, to find the last landing place on the Thames.

I need to clarify the definition of last landing place. I am using the list of steps, stairs and landing places on the tidal Thames, as listed in the book on access to the river published by the Port of London Authority:

The book lists all the landing places, steps and stairs on the tidal river, which is the area of the PLA’s responsibility, so from Teddington in the west, to near Southend in the east.

The definition of the last landing place could be at either extreme of the tidal river, depending on which way along the river you were heading, however for the last landing place, I am using the location on the last page in the book, and furthest east on the maps within the book.

And using that definition, the last landing place on the River Thames is a causeway on Two Tree Island in Essex, the location of which is being pointed to by the arrow in the following map (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

A couple of weeks ago, we were going to a concert in Southend, so it was the perfect opportunity for a diversion to find Two Tree Island, and the causeway.

Two Tree Island is, as the name suggests, an island, and is located between Southend and Leigh-on-Sea, and Canvey Island.

The island nature of the place can be seen on the one road to the island, with the need to cross a bridge which takes you over the channel which runs to the north of Two Tree Island:

Looking west as you cross the bridge, and the nature of area becomes clear, low-lying, channels of water, and subject to the changing of the tide:

Looking over the eastern side of the bridge, there is a small marina on the left. This often dries out when the tide is low, but during my visit, the tide was coming in and the width of the channel was widening:

Having crossed the bridge, and we can look back and see the edge of one of the housing estates that surround Leigh-on-Sea, on the high land that centuries ago was the natural barrier to the Thames:

Two Tree Island has not always been land. It was reclaimed from the river in the 18th century and used as farmland. In 1910, a sewage works was built on the north east edge of the island, and for parts of the 20th century, it was also used for landfill.

Two Tree Island was flooded during the major flooding of the east coast and Thames estuary during 1953.

Once over the bridge, there is a sign welcoming you to Two Tree Island, and the sign indicates the current use of the land as it is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust:

I can find no confirmed source for the name of the island. There are may trees on the island today, perhaps when the land was first reclaimed, when it was farmland, there may have been two distinctive trees. The first written reference to the name I can find is from 1967, when the site was included in a list of reserves set-up by the Essex Naturalists’ Trust.

The site was also called Leigh Marsh, and there are older references to this name, for example in 1836, when the the owner of the land had died, and their executor was selling the farm and farm land that the deceased had owned, which included: “Also 179 acres, 1 rood, 36 perches of valuable marshland, situate in the parishes of Leigh and Hadleigh, called Leigh Marsh, with a dwelling house and out-buildings, which is let until Lady-day next, £120 per annum.”

The land was valuable as it was good grazing land, and the mud flats and sea bed of the estuary off Two Tree Island was also used as shell fish beds, so the whole area was a valuable, agricultural site.

There has always been the threat of development in places along the river. In 1973, Maplin Airport, further east, off Foulness Island, was being considered as a new London Airport, and Southend Council put forward Two Tree Island, and the surrounding marshes, as a new nature reserve to compensate for the loss of land at Foulness and in the Thames Estuary.

The previous year, 1971, a “massive yacht marina” was proposed for Two Tree Island, however this was thrown out by Southend Council.

The majority of the island is now nature reserve, with plenty of tracks to walk, there is a small air strip for a model aircraft club, and a slowly decaying Pill Box as a reminder of the threat of invasion along the estuary in the last war.

The remains of the old sewage works are now providing a haven for birds, including nesting Egrets.

I have now reached the southern side of the island to find the causeway, where there is a Port of London information sign:

With the map showing the area in detail, and a helpful “You Are Here”:

And it is here that I find the causeway, the last landing place on the River Thames, within the area of responsibility of the Port of London Authority:

Not that impressive, compared to many of the stairs in central London, however this is a simple, functional place which is still in use. A concrete strip running out into the water from which boats can be launched and recovered.

The land in the distance in the above photo is Canvey Island, and as we look around, we can see other infrastructure that is only there because of the River Thames.

Looking to the east, directly over Canvey Island, are the container cranes of the London Gateway, the latest port on the river, having opened in 2013, and offering a deep water channel, and mooring along side, for the very large container ships that use the river today:

And looking to the south, the storage tanks for liquefied natural gas (LNG) are on the Isle of Grain on the southern side of the Thames. LNG is brought by ship from across the world to be stored in these tanks before being distributed to homes and industry across the country, or via undersea pipe to Europe:

The Thames Estuary has been the entry point for goods and commodities for centuries, and today this includes gas to power the country, and container ships full of all manner of products.

Looking east, and in the distance, we can see the City of Southend-on-Sea:

A look back along the causeway:

Although the causeway is a firm stretch of concrete, it is always good to remember just how far and how quickly the tide comes in along the Thames, and the tide was rising and washing over the causeway:

And within a few minutes, water was covering half of the causeway:

So that was the last place of access to the River Thames, according to the Port of London Authority listing – just a few hundred more to go along the river.

I have written a number of posts about this area of the river. You may be interested in:

As a postscript to the post, all my posts on Thames stairs have attempted to show how important the River Thames has been in the history and development of London, and how the river was once such a key part of the life of the so many Londoners.

We have tended to loose that connection with the river. The Thames is the reason why London is located where it is, and also why London has developed as much as it has.

There is not that much traffic on the river in central London, however towards the estuary, the docks at Tilbury and London Gateway are still busy.

The river is much cleaner than it was when industry lined the river and so much of London’s rubbish entered the river.

Although today, the river is a good way to travel on Thames Clippers, views along the river are good, and the river adds value to the properties built along side, it is also a river that is viewed as a potential risk from rising sea levels and flooding, it is used as a dumping ground for sewage from sewer overflows, and we have built into the river so it is channeled for much of its route through the city.

Whilst writing today’s post, I had BBC Radio 4 on for a change, and by chance there was a fascinating programme on the rights of natural features such as rivers, and how a number of rivers have been give the legal rights of personhood, which basically states that rivers have certain rights, such as the right to flow, the right not to be polluted etc.

It is a fascinating concept with a number of rivers in places such as New Zealand, India and Mexico having already been granted similar rights to that of a person.

In the UK, there is currently an initiative to develop a Rights of River motion for the River Ouse in Sussex.

It is a fascinating concept, and interesting to consider how this could apply to the River Thames, and how the river could be considered as an end to end entity, with rights, from source to estuary.

Some background on the River Ouse initiative can be found here

And the BBC programme Rivers and the Rights of Nature is here

9 thoughts on “Two Tree Island – The Last Landing Place on the Thames

  1. Marc Ruse

    Another interesting and fascinating article, thank you.
    But as a Southend – boy, I must of course disagree with you – it’s the FIRST landing place on the Thames.
    It’s years since I’ve visited the area, so thanks for the inspiration to visit again.

  2. Susie Flanders

    Fantastic article about Two Tree Island. I love reading your posts: seeing the many photographs and being inspired to actually visit the places you speak of. It’s all so very interesting. Thank you.

  3. Robert Wells

    Interesting,I shall get back to the blogs mentioned above when I have a bit more time.
    The knowledge of the rivers importance to London and the lives of the people who worked on and along it for centuries past has been a good part of the history of this country, but sadly we are more concerned with the wealth it brings than we are with the amenity it is, but also the threat it represents if it’s needs are not met. It is good to be reminded of these facts from time to time.

  4. Susie Flanders

    Fantastic article about Two Tree Island. I love reading your posts: seeing the many photographs and being inspired to actually visit the places you speak of, especially in London. It’s all so very interesting. Thank you.

  5. John Campbell

    Very interesting post as always, yet another place on my ‘to visit’ list. Being nosey but what was the concert you attended? You may be interested in a podcast i listened to recently about the ‘Psychogeography’ i suppose of the Thames estuary and its link to the gas industry and with it’s soundtrack of Wilko’s guitar. Well worth a listen. (The Essay Podcast (episode 22/3/24) ‘Gas, Oil, and the Essex Blues)

  6. Caroline Greenwell

    A few months back I took a friend to Southend – she’d never been before. I drove her along the coast from Shoeburyness as far as we could go hugging the water and I think we ended up here. It was a fascinating ride, the nature of the coast changes so much along the way. I couldn’t get over just how lush the marshes were, I can understand why it was considered ” a valuable, agricultural site”.

  7. Greg

    Thank you for the series on the Thames stairs. I grew up in Canada on the shores of Lake Ontario, so always feel connected to water. That’s why when moving to London, I have often chosen housing near water, whether the Isle of Dogs, Battersea or even a spell in a flat overlooking the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross.

    Currently live in Hammersmith overlooking the Thames, and have loved learning the history of the place. From Brandenburg House where Caroline of Brunswick, wife of George IV, died to a wharf for the nearby distillery to an increasingly growing number of new build high-end flats (not the ones I live in, I don’t have the means).

  8. Graham Gibbs

    Interesting as always – thanks for a fascinating series about features so easily overlooked but which form such an important part of the history of the city. BTW, I hope the concert wasn’t the awful Dionne Warwick show that we left halfway through…


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