Mersea Island: Walkers sought to recreate historic race around island

Veronique Eckstein is organising a 15-mile race around Mersea Island  to commemorate a race that

Veronique Eckstein is organising a 15-mile race around Mersea Island to commemorate a race that took place 100 years ago.

An author with a penchant for local history is set to recreate a 15-mile race on the north Essex coast that took place 100 years ago.

While researching through old newspapers, East Mersea-based writer Veronique Eckstein discovered details of a competition that was held to find the person who could make their way around the perimeter of Mersea Island in the shortest time possible.

In response to a number of young men boasting about their athletic prowess, local man John Nook organised the walk on December 13, 1913, “in order to settle once and for all how quickly it could be done”, according to the report.

A total of 23 Mersea men entered the challenge, which was eventually won by Chas Prigg, who had completed the estimated 15 miles in two hours 39 minutes.

The entrants celebrated with a sausage supper at the island’s Victory Hotel, while walking sticks were awarded as prizes and songs were sung.

Now Mrs Eckstein is recruiting robust individuals to take on the same trial this Saturday December 14 – exactly 100 years and one day after the original.

She says she has between 20 to 30 people already signed up but wants others to get involved.

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“There’s a public footpath that leads all around the island and there are some lovely views,” she said.

“I don’t expect everyone to race – it will just be a chance to enjoy some fresh air and recreate a bit of local history. It will be interesting to see if anyone can beat the time because in general people were fitter in those times.

“They worked on the land and if they needed to get to anywhere, like Colchester, they had to walk.”

But for Mrs Eckstein, who has even organised walking sticks as prizes to chime with history, there is also a poignant footnote to the tale.

She has been involved in researching the island’s past in preparation of the First World War commemorations next year and says it is likely that the vast majority of the young men who took part in the original race, would have found themselves fighting in the trenches only 12 months later.

She added: “It’s a sobering thought that these men were so fancy-free one year and then one year later more than 70 young men from the island were fighting abroad and two were already dead.

“By the end of the war 320 men from the island had seen action and 50 had died.”

Those interested in taking part in Saturday’s walk are asked to meet at Ivy’s Farm near Cudmore Grove at 9am. Spectators are welcome and sausages and soup will be served.

People can register beforehand or turn up on the day. Visit details.