About Sunk Island

Sunk Island is neither sunken nor an island but is a flat, open area, on the way to nowhere, with skies that go on forever. It started out as a sandbar in the Humber estuary and is now a Dutch style landscape of rich agricultural land and deep drainage dykes. It is dotted with houses and is centred around a crossroads with a red brick church. A sandbar first rose from the Humber in 1560. Mud is constantly flowing into the estuary from erosion of the east coast so the Humber mudflats and margins are in a constant state of flux. Deposits were added to the sandbar and it became known locally as Sonke Sande.

By 1660 it was big enough to be flooded only at high tide. Since it had been created from the bed of a tidal estuary it was claimed as Crown property and, as such, was leased to Col Anthony Gilby in 1668. He started the process of land reclamation and the island stayed in his family for 165 years until, in 1833 the lease on the island expired and the farmers and smallholders became direct tenants of the Crown. Reclamation has continued sporadically since the days of Gilby until as late as 1965 when the most recent piece of land was included in Sunk Island.

Access to the island had always been a problem but in 1841 and 1852 a series of roads was built which effectively joined Sunk Island to the mainland. This improved access meant that Stone Creek could become an established port with new wharves and a weighbridge being built and a harbour master appointed. In 1869 the fishermen from Patrington Haven moved to Stone Creek as their own port became silted up and inaccessible. They continued commercial fishing from there until the early 1950s.

Modern day Sunk Island is around 8000 acres of fields and marshlands in the shape of an oval eye with Stone Creek at the western corner and, apart from some individual houses that have been sold off to private owners, it remains Crown property. It is a birders’ and naturalists’ paradise with a rich population of resident and visiting birds and animals. In 1983, Holy Trinity church, at the crossroads, closed and is now a heritage centre.

One of Sunk Island’s few claims to fame is that it was imortalised by Winifred Holtby in her novel South Riding, where it took on the name of Cold Harbour Colony. Parts of the recent BBC series of the book were filmed at Stone Creek and surrounding areas – I think the most excitement the Creek has ever seen! She evokes in her book the strange sight of large ships and ferries, coming up the Humber, appearing to be travelling along in the next field because of the high banking. This is still seen today and appears no less strange now.

If you would like to know more about this fascinating area have a look at ‘Sunk Island, the land that rose from the Humber’ by John Whitehead, published by Highgate Publications (Beverley) Ltd, 1991.