Facts and Figures
By D M Dowd
© D M Dowd
Chapter 25 - Prehistoric
Item 1 - Early Times
Seasonal visits for shell-fish gathering seems to have been the limit of interest in the island for the local mainland population, until the Hallstatt salt-making industry started up; this appears to have been one of the main bones of contention between the Catevellauni (who ran the industry on Canvey) and the Trinovantes (in whose domain it theoretically was and who supervised the industry over the rest of Essex). Then, as later, fish and wildfowl abounded and would have been cropped as a sideline to the shellfish gathering.
Item 2 - Roman
Mainly supervision of the established salt-making industry here, taken over from the Catevellauni tribe; some coarse pottery to do with extracting and shipping the salt was made on the spot; possibly salting and drying of fish; suspected importation of finer pottery from the Continent for shipping inland - indeed Canvey is said to have been a major port for this. As Benfleet has been shown to have imported Italian wine in the usual amphoras, perhaps through the Roman port at Canvey Point, we may expect to find some remains of these here, too, along with the ever-popular Samian Ware. The garrison, supervised from a nearby site on the mainland, would have been expected to be self-sufficient so they would have fished, fowled, and gathered shellfish as before.
Chapter 26 - Mediæval
Item 1 - Saxon
After the salt-making industry had been wiped out by subsidence, and made obsolete by the development of salt-panning (there was at least one salt-pan on Canvey), we have no direct evidence of what living was to be derived from Canvey until Norman times - except that, since we know the island was taken over by Saxons in 800 (i.e., Cana’s folk, an important tribe who had dairy-farmed other large tracts (1) for the preceding 3 or 4 centuries), it must have been seen as a worthwhile agricutural investment.
Item 2 - Norman
In Norman times, the main produce of the island seems to have been cheese, wool, rushes, fish, eels and some wild-fowl. At this time huge cheeses were made from ewe’s milk, which was available only in Summer since traditionally milking ceased at Lammas. These ‘magni casei’ (great cheeses) were sold, as early as 1173, for 6 d. (2) as against the normal 2 d. (3).
Dairy farming of cattle was possible from about 800 A.D. but more importantly sheep farming, then, was carried out from at least the 1100s, and probably earlier. Walter de Hemingford (or Hemingburgh) wrote in 1250 that cows fed on salt marsh ought to yield half a whey of cheese and a quarter of a gallon of butter per week; whereas it would take 10 ewes to do the same. Wicks as dairy-sheds to be used for milking ewes and making cheese first appear in 1263; the word later was applied to the whole dairy farm.
The cockle-shell deposits, relics of our prehistoric visitors, were much in demand for the making of cement and pargetting from at least the 1200s until their use was banned in 1791. They were also spread upon the land to improve the lime content.
From the 13th Century nets were used at the thin end of lakes to drive wildfowl into net ‘pipes’ for capture.
1. e.g., Canewdon (‘hill of Cana’s people’); Great Canfield (‘open land of Cana’s folk’); Canford (Dorset, ‘Cana’s ford’); All Cannings and Bishops Cannings (Wilts. ‘settlement of Cana’s followers’); Canwick (Lincs., ‘dairy-farm belonging to Cana’).
2. 2½ p.
3. 5/6 p.
Again from Foulness it was reported that 104 Hektares (1) were then arable with wheat and oats predominating, next beans and mustard, and it is thought Canvey had a similar agriculture. Harvesters were hired at 6 d. per day (2) and it cost 7 d. an acre (3) to harvest wheat and 6 d. an acre (4) for oats. At that time cheeses sold at 11 s. per whey of 336 lbs. (5); by 1512 the price had dropped to 10 s. (6). By 1524 annual taxation had risen in this part of Essex to 25 shillings per square mile (7).
The wool industry peaked in late C 15 to late C 16, extending need for enclosed fields and destroying a third of the remaining villages - but those that survived thrived and a spate of building lasted 1570 to 1640.
Item 4 - PreVictorian
Joan Thirsk (8) states that from 1500 to 1640 :-
'In addition to their grazing pastures, all the Essex marshland parishes had extensive (9) cornlands'.
The first actual mention of arable land on Canvey occurs in 1557 when SCARHOUSE FARM was permanently occupied, indicating the efficacy of the pre-Dutch sea-walls at that time and site. James Baker bought about 500 acres of so-called ‘salt-marsh’ in 1569, the wording being taken to indicate that there were at the time enough fresh-water marshes (10) to warrant the differentiation
In 1577 William Harrison, then rector of Radwinter, in his ‘A Description of England’ explains the later decline of the cheese-making industry in Essex as being due to increased sophistication of consumers’ palates:-
'... white meats, as milk, butter, and cheese, which were never so dear (11) as in my time and
wont to be accounted of as one of our chief stays (12) throughout the island (13), are now
reported of as food apertinent only to the inferior sort, whilst such as are more wealthy do
feed upon the flesh of all kinds of cattle ...fish ... wild and tame fowls ...'.
It has been noted, by those who have reproduced meals exactly to mediæval recipes, that they tend to be very bland, explained by the proposition that peoples’ palates had not been dulled by our sophisticated foods so they still appreciate subtle tastes - yet Canvey could have kept pace with the change in taste if the dairy-farming industry as a whole had not moved to the south-west of Essex to be nearer London, leaving the marshes to the growing of arable crops and rearing of meat-stock.
The famous Canvey Island fat-tailed sheep began to appear in the late 1500s, bearing exceptionally fine long wool and yielding peculiarly rich milk and superior mutton - so much so that an annual fair was inaugurated every 25th June to sell Canvey produce.
William Camden mentions in his 1586 Britannia that even at the highest tides some parts of Canvey remained above water, artificial hillocks (14) remained for the sheep to survive upon. 4,000 sheep of best quality meat- stock were milked by young men because ague (15) kept women from the island.
John Norden's 1594 account of the Rochford Hundred (which included half of Canvey) describes it as yielding : -
‘...milke, butter and cheese in admirable abundance, and in these parts are the great and
huge cheeses made, wondered at for their massiveness and thickness’
In his 1594 ‘Speculi Britanniae Pars’ (16) he tells us that:-
‘Nere the Thames mouth, below BEAMFLETE, are certain ilandes, called CANVEY ILANDES, low merishe grounds; and for that the passage ouer the creek is unfit for cattle, it is onlie conuerted to the feeding of ews, which men milke, and thereof make cheese(such as it is) and of the curdes of the whey they make butter once in the year which serveth the clothiers (17).’
His 1606 edition adds :-
'It (Canvey) is indeed so low-lying, that often it is overflowen, except for the higher hillocks on which there is a safe retreat for the sheep. For it pastures about 4,000 sheep of very delicate flavour ...’
1. 260 acres
2. 2½ p/day
3. 71/3 p/Ha
4. 6¼ p/Ha
5. 9/25 p/Kg
6. 1/3 p/Kg
7. 49 p/Km2
8. in her ‘The Agrarian History of England and Wales, iv, 53-4, 1967’.
9. by which she meant about 30 %
10. i.e., enclosures
11. i.e., favoured
12. i.e., staples
13. i.e., Britain as a whole, not just Canvey
14. presumably the Red Hills which were far more obvious before the recent developments hid them.
15. i.e., malaria (the cause of which, as its name implies, was put down to ‘bad air’).
16. ed. Ellis, Camden Society, 1840, p.10.
17. i.e., of Colchester.
In 1600 the population of Essex was more than 10% above the average for the country. In that part of Essex near to Canvey over 70% of the land had been enclosed for mixed farming with stock-fattening.
William Camden, in the 1607 (last) edition of ‘Speculi Britanniae’, states that:
‘(Essex marshland) is plentifull in grasse, and rich in Cattaille, but sheepe especially where all their doing is in making of Cheese: and there shall ye have men take the womenns office in hand and milke Ewes; whence those huge thick Cheeses are made that are vented and sould (1) not onely into all parts of England, but into forraign nations also, for the rusticall people, labourers, and handicraftesmen to fill their bellies, and feed upon.’
‘(On Canvey) we have seen youths ... milk, with small stools fastened to their buttocks, and make ewes’ cheeses in those cheese sheds which they call there “wiches”’.
It was Camden, by the way, who started the myth that ‘Counos’ on Ptolemy's map of 100 A.D., was Canvey. It is now thought to have been Thanet, as Canvey was not even an island when the map was drawn, but Thanet was.
Daniel Defoe attempted to start the first English pantile factory near Tilbury Fort to avoid importing them from Holland and had a house built near the river to oversee this work. Local opposition, in spite of his employing 100 poor people, forced him to close with a loss of £ 3,000.
Before 1700 a private grant of the seashore was made to the public, so that no visitor may be considered a tresspasser below the sea-wall - in spite of at least one land-owner attempting to dispute this in the 1890s - and boats may bring up anywhere in the channel.
About 1700, a Southchurch fisherman called Outing accidentally discovered the feasibility of cultivating artificial oyster-beds as opposed to merely fishing the natural accumulations - and by 1713 oyster-beds were being rented out at 154p per Hectare per month (2). Oysters had been fished for at Canvey since at least Roman times as previously noted, but could now be imported from Sussex and Dorset when small and 'grown' here for 7 to 8 months - poor people being employed to pick them in February, March and April.
Thomas Cox, topographer and rector of Stock-Harvard, Essex, in 1720 mentions :-
‘In Mr. Camden's time, the Farmers milked their ews and made cheese of the Milk, as they did also in many other places of this country; but now that Custom is disus’d, because their Milk makes the Cheese strong.’
Malaria as a limiting factor for the economy has been mentioned a few times up to now and its effect is further illustrated in Daniel Defoe’s 1722 ‘A Tour Through England and Wales’ (3) :-
'... in the marshes on the other side of the river over against CANDY ISLAND there was a farmer then living with the five-and-twentieth wife, and that his son, who was then about thirty-five years old had already had about 14 ... the reason, as a merry fellow told me, was this. That they being bred in the marshes themselves and seasoned to that place did pretty well by it, but that they always went up into the hilly country ... for a wife. That when they took the young lasses out of the wholesome and fresh air they were healthy and fresh, clear and well but when they came ... into the marshes among fogs and damps they presently changed their complexion, got an ague or two, and seldom held it above half a year or a year at the most.’
1. sic, vended & sold
2. £ 7.5 per acre per annum
3. George Walpole in 'New British Traveller’, Vol.1, p.74, 1784, tells exactly the same story.
After the 1791 floods previously mentioned, and a petition to Parliament, the 1792 Act of Parliament established ‘Commissioners of Sewers for Canvey Island’ and recognised the agricultural worth of Canvey, prohibiting the ‘export’ of cockle-shells from Shell Beach. A report of that year says :-
‘Production of the land is considerable and many families are maintained in the cultivation therof.’
Charles Vancouver the American agriculturalist, in his 1795 report on Essex to the Board of Agriculture, remarked that in the embanked marshes of Essex, white or brown mustard was sown at 1,5 pecks per acre (5) on oat-stubble land. Cutting and thraving seed cost 10/6d per acre (6); threshing 5/- per quarter (7); yielding 24 bushels per acre (8). In 1797 people were warned against damaging the sea-walls with their lobster-chests, so local lobstering may have been thriving (9).
Although in April of 1806 Montague Burton (no relation to the Lithuanian tailor) of Mark Hall wrote :-
‘We are all converting our tillage to pasture as the price of grain has not kept pace with the farmer’s expenses’,
Nevertheless, money was found to build ‘insetts’ behind vulnerable sections of the sea-walls in 1808, and in 1812 to 1815 when the Commissioners paid £ 40 an acre (£ 99 per Hectare) to owners in compensation for land lost to the sea during this period.
From agriculturalist Arthur Young’s ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Essex’ of 1813 we learn that:-
‘marsh islands yielded 30 bushels per acre (10) of wheat, 40 (11) of oats, and 32 (12) of beans.’
Young also mentions that most riverside farmers had ‘hoys’- broad-bottomed boats based on the Dutch ‘heu’ - used mainly for transporting produce but handy, also, for the smuggling that continued on Canvey until the 1900s (13). Fishing-boats from Holland would throw jorums of spirits overboard, marked by feather-and- bladder floats with line-and-sinker anchors, to be picked up later by the Benfleet Creek open boats and smuggled ashore hidden in lobster-pots. Sailing barges, known as ‘stackies’, had hay piled 6 feet (14) high on deck and plied the Creek, some delivering their load to feed Derby winners, it was claimed (15).
1. 117 p/Ha.
2. 0.5 p/Kg.
3. 0.25 p/Kg
4. 62.5 p/tonne
5. 138 litre/Ha
6. 22,3 p/Ha.
7. 1,1 p/10 m3.
8. 2,2 m3/Ha
9. or perhaps Dutch lobster-smacks were off-loading here when contrary winds prevented their sailing to London
10. 2,7 m3/Ha
11. 3,6 m3/Ha
12. 2,9 m3/Ha.
13. commemorated in the name of the nearest Benfleet public house - The Hoy and Helmet.
14. 1,8 metres.
15. perhaps meaning those paddocked near the Haystack.
Item 1 - Agricultural
In 1815 Wreck Hall was sold for £ 1,300, having been bought in 1770 for £ 110. It was originally intended to let it go for about £ 800 but too much drink had been imbibed at the Lion Inn, Rayleigh, and a competition between bidders sprang up. The farm building had been built of timbers salvaged from the wreck of the ‘Ajax’, driven ashore at South Shoebury, hence the name (1).
Agriculture was in a bad way in the first quarter of the nineteenth century throughout Britain but especially here, and a warrant of distress was taken out against John Took on Oct. 8, 1823. The Widow Allday and James Ford lost their tenancies as several rates were in arrears. The ‘Steamboat Companion’ of that year remarks in contrast that most of Canvey was then the property of William Calcraft (2), and it grew good pulse, beans, vetches, etc. Its Central Lake was the haunt of wild-fowlers in winter and entomologists (3) in spring and summer, the insect proliferation rivalling any in Europe.
Matters improved later and from 1839 to 1860 William Hilton of Danbury (4), increased his acreage by 10% by reclamation, and purchased Leigh fishing rights from Lady Sparrow of Leigh to stop legal quibbles over their disturbance. He also bored several artesian wells 250 feet (5) deep and drained much of his land to abolish malaria. His total holding on Canvey was 1,850 acres of the 3,800 available in 1840. (6)
In 1839 landowners in the Prittlewell Parish area of Canvey, which covered 616 acres (7) were: Jonathan Wood (mentioned above), George Bullas, John Alliston, William Hilton (see above), Emma Kerr, the Rev. Roiland Berkeley and Charles Berkeley. Henery Comyns Berkeley of Lincolns Inn Fields sold Leigh Beck Farm to Henry Wood of Hadleigh Park. By 1848 the names Spitty (8), Ballie and Curtis occur.
Withy-beds appear on the Ordnance Survey map for 1843, north-east of Pantiles and also south-east of Knightswick Farm Lake. They were used for growing osiers for basket- making. The first recorded shop- keeper on Canvey was John Hart in 1843, an otherwise part-time labourer of the Pitsea Parish area (9) - perhaps his premises were on or near the site of the Orange Stores & Cafe which later boasted of being ‘Canvey's First Shop’ (10).
During the ‘Golden Age’ of British agriculture, Philip Benton mentions that in 1867 a ‘Third-Acre’ (11) farm in the south-east corner of Canvey - bought a short time previously for £ 250 - went for £ 2,500. The same year, Mr. Asplin piped water from his spring to several grazing marshes.
Philip Benton remarked of Canvey:-
`The soil of the island is heavy, but good corn land, and the arable portion is laid up in beds from 3 to 4 rods (12) in width.'
However, the period 1875 to 1881 was another disastrous one for South Essex agriculturally - profits were down to 1/760 th., and sale prices for farms down to 1/20 th. of former times - many farms being left to go derelict.
In 1875 the Census showed 2/3rds of the land as arable, growing mostly wheat, oats, barley, beans and brown mustard. When BRICK HOUSE (13) was sold to Charles Asplin of Tilbury in 1860, it was said to be plagued with tuberous vetchling (14), an edible-bulb plant thought to have been introduced by the Dutch - in any case it is not a native plant but its fuchsia flowers bloom from June to August, especially in the fields about the Fyfield area - it is distinguished from the more common Wild Pea by its short fat leaves. That part of Brick House Farm most affected was known as Gay Marsh from the appearance of these flowers there. In 1881 (15) the harvest failed and the population dropped to the 1861 level.
1. often mis-spelled, due to dialect pronunciation, as Rack Hall
2. (1800-1879) ex-cobbler, watchman, butler, hawker; self-styled ‘M.P.’ but actually Common Hangman for London, 1829-1874, having graduated from flogging young boys at Newgate.
3. called ‘Aurelians’.
4. descendant of the 1787 William Hilton.
5. 76 metres.
6. 748 of 1530 Hectares
7. 250 Hectares.
8. whose forebear witnessed the Earl of Warwick’s signature on the curious document of 1626.
9. presumably Canvey Village.
10. because of its position on Canvey Road rather than age ?
11. i.e., part of the original 1/3 of Canvey given to the Dutch
12. 15 to 20 metres.
13. shared between Pitsea and South Benfleet Parishes.
14. Lathyrus Tuberosus.
15. which began with a severe flood
Item 2 - Commercial
By 1908 Canvey could boast the following amenities and services, showing the change from a purely agricultural usage:-
i) a carman/contractor/coal-merchant at Leigh Beck (1).
ii) a post office/grocer/draper at Shell Beach (2).
iii) a caterer/guide at the Village (3), who published an illustrated guide to Canvey Island at 2 d
iv) a large hotel (4). Their tariff, with food supplied from their own farm, reads:-
Board residence from 6/- (30 p) per day
Week-ends from 12/- (60 p)
Table d'Hôte lunch 2/- (10 p)
Bedrooms 2/6d (12,5p)
v) another, much smaller, hotel (‘Beach House’, run by Miss Humberstone - she later had a wooden beach cafe).
Item 3 - The (explosives) Hulks
In 1875, since explosives were wisely no longer allowed to be shipped up the Thames beyond Mucking Point, the Thames Conservators licensed storage hulks to moor in Hole Haven Creek, where the explosives were transferred to barges. The first license was given to the British Dynamite Company in April 1875 against the wishes of the Commissioners of Canvey and those of Fobbing Levels. More than a dozen hulks were moored between Hole Haven Point and Pitsea, gunpowder being transferred from them to caves along Benfleet Creek. Those vessels on the Canvey side of the Creek were named Swift, Amy, Mineroa, Pilgrim, Diamond, Gem and Woodpark. Three others lay on the Corringham side.
Sir Max Pemberton featured them in his ‘Diamond Ship’ of 1907; Coulson Kernahan said in his ‘Captain Shannon’ of 1897:-
‘No-one who has not visited Canvey would believe that so lonely and out of the world a spot could be discovered at a distance of thirty miles from London’.
He then describes the
‘evil-looking dynamite hulks, which lie scowling on the water, like huge red coffins’.
How the explosives firm of George Kynoch and Co. Ltd. got possession of Brick House Farm is unclear - two stories are told, either:
i) Allan Charles Cole sold it to Dulcibella Louisa (5) in 1894, she selling it on to Kynoch’s -
ii) or, in 1900, it was sold directly to them by the then owner, Charles Asplin who had purchased it in 1860.
1. H.W.W. Burchfield, who also hired out pony-traps and boats, sold houses, fencing and beer.
2. Walter Cox, who also sold refreshments, let apartments, sold & rented out bungalows, sold insurance, toys and the famous Canvey Crest china. In 1848 the nearest Post Office had been Simeon Daine’s at Benfleet with daily despatches at 2.30 p.m. via Rochford
3. E. & M. Scott, who met parties at Benfleet Station and transported them to Shell Beach.
4. Kynoch’s, well away from popular areas, built for the use of important company clients but by now open to the public, on the south shore to the west of the island.
5. Viscomtesse Xavier de Kerrabiec.
Kynoch’s Hotel had a flat promenade roof, an observation dome for excellent views of the Thames panorama, and was built of brick and stone, boasting a renowned sewage disposal system that drew many interested observers (from photographs of the very obvious pipework, it was presumably pumped up and over the sea-wall). The cost-estimate for this palatial hotel had been £ 2,000 but Kynoch’s got little change from £ 8,000! The ‘clock- tower’ was found to have a clock mechanism when demolished but never sported hands or dials! They also built a 388-foot (3) jetty in front of the hotel in 1907 when they were endeavouring to sell the latter, and had plans for a wharf and railway which were, as always, thwarted by the P.L.A. in 1917.
Item 4 - The Customs Men
In 1813 a Watch (4) vessel was moored up Hole Haven Creek to prevent smuggling, manned by Cornish, Devonish and Ulster men (5). In 1822 the Watch became the Coastguard Service under the Board of Customs and from 1856 to 1925 was run by the Admiralty, when it passed to the Ministry of Works. The Canvey vessel was the 'Emilous' and it had a sister ship, the ‘Pembcote’, based at Leigh-on-Sea - neither of them had much success in thwarting the local smuggling industry.
The Admiralty therefore bought 3 acres of land in the westmost part of Drunken Marsh (6) with access along Manor Way - from the Rev. G.T.C. Barlow and others on 12/6/1882, for £ 300. An officer's house, a 7-cottage terrace in the ‘Lobster Smack’ style, with outbuildings and a stubby observation tower on the sea-wall, were erected and occupied from 24/3/1883 to 1910. The establishment was: an officer of the Preventive Service, a chief boatman, two commissioned boatmen, four boatmen, and three ‘men’. A bridged footpath led past their flagpost (7), allotments and look-out tower, to the Lobster Smack and access to the ‘sea’.
To facilitate their seaborne interceptions, Canvey Island Wall Commissioners allowed the Admiralty to construct a jetty and slipway upon the wall in 1902; the slipway was extended in 1904 and the observation tower replaced by a hut on the landward side of the sea-wall, within feet of the Lobster Smack (typically of the Admiralty, all done not long before abandoning the station).
It is not known that they ever caught any smugglers in their 97 years here, but no doubt their very presence at least limited the trade.
After abandonment by the Admiralty in 1910 the cottages were let to private tenants at 3 s. per week (8), in 1924 the jetty and slipway were sold for scrap and removal and on 10/10/1924 the cottages were sold to Rev. W. Nöel Lambert - they are now in the grounds of a private caravan park. These seven cottages became listed buildings of the Department of the Environment in 1973 - with the two remaining Dutch Cottages and the Lobster Smack itself (and, 1980s rumour had it, are to be renovated).
1. from 1897 just Kynoch Ltd., later Imperial Metal Industries (Kynoch) Ltd. of Birmingham.
2. now renamed Coryton after another company.
3. 118 metres.
4. so the Coastguard Service was called from 1813 to 1822.
5. no doubt on the premise ‘set a thief to catch a thief’!
6. south of Brick House Farm, in the South Benfleet parish area
7. it generally flew, not the Coastguard Ensign (which existed), but the White Ensign, signifying an Admiralty shore establishment.
8. 15 p..
The Rev. Hayes, an ex officio member of the Permanent Parish Pump Committee from 1887 was instrumental in getting the pump constructed as a commemoration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. In 1889 the Public Water Supply pump was opened by the chairman of the Port Sanitary Committee on 5th December - it had been financed by public subscription and a grant from the City of London for 50 guineas (1).
The bore was 312 feet (2), at the junction of Canvey and Hole Haven Roads. The well-head’ thatched mock-Dutch roof was of a type unique in Essex and had been designed by Clement Skilbeck; the structure housed wooden slatted seats; and an inscription read: ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst’.
A photograph of the plaque thereon appears in ‘Essex Countryside’ (3); when the well was demolished in the the 1930s for a road-widening scheme (4), the plaque was set into the road surface (presumably to allow motorists to show what they thought of something which had until then slightly hindered them) - it has since been rescued and is now safe in the Dutch Museum.
1. £ 52.5.
2. 95 metres
3. No 172 (1971), p.30.
4. even then, the interests of the motorist came before anyone else’s.
Item 1 - Development apart from Hester’s
In 1909 J.W. Burrows, referring to the Hester Speculation, wrote in his ‘Southend and District’ :-
'Canvey is rapidly losing the charm of solitude and picturesqueness. Several of the farms have been sold to land speculators and at the present time it is being developed as a summer resort; wooden bungalows being built for the temporary convenience of the visitor at its eastern end'.
The yachting and rowing clubs had been established for five years when Burrows wrote, and the farms he mentioned were auctioned in April 15, 1882:-
· KIBCAPS due to high rates; KITCOTTS due to flooding; KNIGHTSWICK due to high rates; LUBBINGS due to flooding; NORTHWICK due to high rates; SCAR HOUSE due to flooding.
In 1921 ‘splendid, stout, as new’ galvanised corrugated iron sheets for bungalows were sold at 1 p./sq.ft. Telegraph poles ‘suitable for bridges’ referring to the foot-bridges necessary to cross drainage ditches from the road to bungalows) were sold for 7 p./ft. Canvey Point clay excavation caused a lagoon to form, attracting many wildfowl and their predators, the wildfowlers, who constructed stone ‘hides’.
Development as such, rather than the piecemeal construction of farm and housing buildings, had already begun in Edwardian times, but escalated after the First World War. For the grandiose scheme started by Hester see ‘Schemes and Speculations’ in the Appendices
Plots of land 60 feet by 15 (1) had an average price in 1918 of 11/6d. (2) and no bungalow was to be erected on less than four plots, i.e., an area of 3,600 square feet (3). After the Port of London Authority in 1927 sold part of Brickhouse Farm near the Village and west of Hole Haven Road, in plots for £ 100 each, the first brick-built bungalows were erected and sold for £ 300 each (4). Large mock-Tudor houses in Long Road went for £ 2,000 each.
In 1919 a Mr. E.E.O. Lawrence started what is now the Canvey Supply Co. Ltd., which supplied much of the ‘tween-wars building timber for 1,500 dwellings. Their deliveries were made by horse- drawn sledge-cart as the roads were so poor they would often not take heavy wheeled traffic; and most of their goods camed by Thames barge to their own wharf.
Canvey Point was excavated for clay used in cement-making - a process now more associated with the south side of the Thames at its tributary, the Medway - causing a lagoon· to form, attracting many wildfowl and their predators, the wildfowlers, who constructed stone ‘hides’. Wild duck, plover and curlew were a common target for ‘sportsmen’ (5) at the turn of the century, but the area is now an Essex Naturalists Trust reserve.
The P.L.A. in 9/1928, having sold Brick House Farm, for some reason then bought 63 acres more of riverside land from Arthur Mayhew Clark for £ 4,000, no doubt with an eye on future oil storage developments. They have a long history of scotching any enterprise which might benefit Canvey residents to their own slight disadvantage, whilst vigorously promoting schemes which were abhorred by Canveyites but to P.L.A. advantage.
1. 18 by 4,5 metres.
2. 57,5 p.
3. 330 square metres.
4. or £50 down, 11/6d per week.
5. the word had entirely different connotations at this time, their activities are now regarded as being as far removed from sportsmanship as imaginable (except by M.Ps.).
The ANNUAL FAIR for toys, ribbons, gingerbread, fruit, etc., was held every 25th. June outside the Lobster Smack and was well-established by at least 1797 but had died out by 1888. It is listed in Owen’s ‘New Book of Fairs’ for 1767; Keymer’s ‘Memorandum Book’ (1) for 1797 and 1807; and Cooke’s ‘List of Essex Fairs’ of 1810 - which calls it a ‘toy fair’, as does the old ‘Guide to Southend’. It failed to get a mention in the Government's 2-volume ‘Market Rights and Tolls’ for 1889.
A London newspaper (2) in its ‘Small Talk’ column had this to say about Canvey:
‘How many, or perhaps I should say, how few of my readers, can tell me where is Canvey
Island? I must confess that a few weeks ago I could not have answered my own question,
being absolutely ignorant of its existence.
'The pleasures of Canvey Island were revealed to me by two lady artists whose work is well-
known in several London papers, and who have the happy knack of finding out places that
are ‘far from the madding crowd’ though within a few miles of the Metropolis.
‘Canvey Island, then, is close to the mouth of the Thames, on the Essex coast and if one can
enjoy a holiday minus smart folks and fashionable frocks, plus some 5 miles by 2 (3) of
marsh and pasture land, of sweet salt breezes, glorious sunsets, a constant procession of the
shipping of the greatest commercial river in the world, and the bed and board of a
comfortable farmhouse, then by all means make your arrangements for a holiday on
Another source recommends the many hares and rabbits as a 'sporting' attraction (for shooters). The rabbits have fully recovered from the myxomatosis bacteriological-genocidal warfare, especially near Waterside, where they can be seen in almost invulnerable seclusion on the grass-covered roundabout.
Canvey was then at least well-enough known to have been chosen as the new name for Essex Street in 1891. This had been laid down about 1840 from Sumner Street to Zoar Street on the site of the Bishop of Winchester’s estate (4) in Southwark, SE 1.
About the turn of the century ‘The Way About Essex’ in its Shooting Information states:-
‘Sportsmen here must confine themselves to the sea-wall and to the shore but sailing or
punting round the island may be indulged in without hindrance. There are always
quantities of curlews and other shore birds round the island, and on the Thames shore
many Brent geese may generally be found as well as many other kind of fowl’. (5)
The ‘sportsmen’ were advised of excursions from Southend round the north of Canvey and along Chapman Sands for duck, teal, widgeon, and geese. Though freshwater eel-fishing disappeared after the A.W.A. filled-in all their favourite ditches, fishing is, of course, still practised here by:
i) rod & line from the sea-walls
ii) boat (be wary of the swift currents)
iii) night-lines (fixed strings of baited hooks set out as the tide comes in and retrieved before the gulls arrive).
E. & M. Scott & Co., of The Village, published an illustrated guide to the island and a programme for the Regatta on 1/8/1908, extolling the virtues of ‘Holland-in-England’ as:-
‘A unique Health Resort. Beautiful Shell Beach, Good Bathing, Boating and Fishing.
A capital harbour for yachts in Hole Haven. The far end of the island confronts the
German Ocean (6), commanding a fine view of the shipping continually passing. Old
Dutch Farms & Cottages’.
Scott’s provided horse-drawn transport from Benfleet Station to any part of the island and at their premises one could purchase:-
§ Tea, with Cake, Jam, or Shrimps... ... 6 d. (2.5 p.)
§ Tea with New-laid Eggs &c. ... ... ... 9 d. (3.8 p.)
§ Ham & Beef per plate.. ... ... ... ... ... 4 to 6d. (2.1 p.)
1. Ref.: D/DU 459.
2. The ‘Sketch’ of Sept. 13, 1893.
3. 8 by 3.2 Km - an underestimate.
4. behind what is now Bankside Power Station
5. mainly duck and plover at that time.
6. renamed The North Sea in The Great War.
Before WW1, bathing-huts were provided in the lee of the sea-wall at Shell Beach. The Shell Beach boasted a number of wooden refreshment huts, such as Cox’s Floating Café and Miss Humberstone’s Café (1) and, in the 1920s, the Riverside Café (2) and the nearby “ ‘14-’18 Star Café” (3). The ‘30s saw the building of Labworth Café (4) an example of 1930s modernist architecture; and the Casino - separated at that time from the sea-wall by a dyke crossed by a foot-bridge - with attendant landward paddling pool.
On the glorious August Bank Holiday of 1924 15,000 visitors crossed to Canvey by rowing-boat ferry; by 1926 the figure had risen to 50,000 - lining up 6-abreast for an hour or more for the ferry. The sight of so many impatient holiday-makers must have influenced the decision to build a bridge 5 years later.
Fielder's Thorney Bay Beach Camp off Thorney Road was launched as a low-priced holiday camp based on WW2 barracks, but by the 1960 holiday season boasted a ‘Luxury Chalet Motel’ - it already had ‘the finest holiday village and caravan site in Essex’ in 30 acres (5) of grassland with direct access to the ‘beach’ (so-called). At that time a week’s holiday could be had for £ 1! Until this holiday camp was provided in 1951, those who did not wish to stay in the many bungalows and few farm-houses which took in holidaymakers in the season, would camp under canvas, especially near the Casino (6). Camping on Canvey was a tradition for Londoners which may have been inaugurated by the vicar who provided a tented camp for London boys on his glebe from Aug. 3, 1911.
The modern Canvey Carnival began in 1925 and replaced a similar institution to celebrate ‘the King of Canvey’ dating from around the beginning of the century, and the Eighteenth Century toy fare. Canvey Carnival always included a fund-raising procession for charities.
‘Joyflights’ in an aeroplane came in the form of a modified Avro 504K (7) whose rotary engine (8) had been replaced by a post-war radial engine. In the early 1930s it took off from a site which is now Furtherwick Park School; when its flying days were over the fuselage was supposedly used as a tea-room - rather cramped, one would imagine.
Canvey’s first Cinema, at the right-hand side of the approach to Small Gains Corner, going east, was opened by Henry Pettitt at the old Bohemia Hall in the early 1930s and was silent even after the advent of talkies. Having been superseded by the Rio Cinema in 1937 (1), it became the L.D.V. H.Q. in the 1940s (2); after the War it was converted to a clothing factory, then demolished for a development scheme.
1. next to the old jetty.
2. this building still stands (1985).
3. named from the proprietor's medal.
4. at the sea end of Furtherwick Road, which was diverted either side of a new greensward.
5. 12 Hectares.
6. at the east end of the Esplanade, on waste ground.
7. registration G-EBSC.
8. the commonest type in the Great War.
Item 3 - Post-War Canvey & the 1951 Census
Bombed-out refugees from the London Blitz came to live permanently in their erstwhile holiday homes and by 1947, the population having grown to 10,030, the Council began their estate-building schemes. They also purchased a number of buildings near the gun-site on Chambers’ Little Gypps Farm, converting them into accommodation for the elderly (Pickett’s Community Centre). Others followed, e.g., the house in Kitcatts Road named after Cllr. Beatrice Littlewood.
The 1951 census showed the total population had risen to 11,258 persons housed in 4,249 dwellings of various kinds: -
The population included 2,250 people over 60, many living alone, and a like number of children under14 years of age, so the proportion of able-bodied adults on Canvey was only 60%. In November it was resolved to supply 17 roads with mains water, thus serving 93% of the population, using 3,777 yards (3) of mains for a cost of just over £ 2,000.
Col. Fielder fostered the Dagenham/Walthamstow Council Estate which somewhat increased the inhabitants, but this growth was somewhat hampered by Government building restrictions on private dwellings until the mid-50s. Canvey’s allocation during 1945 to 1955 was only four private houses a year!
Senior citizens formed a committee under Cllr. Harry Whitcomb to raise the £ 23,000 subscriptions necessary for a Day Centre - a seemingly Herculean task, yet CISCA House was opened at The Paddocks in 1969 (after £ 1,000 had been donated by Help The Aged; £ 1,500 by the Nuffield Trust; £ 6,500 [and lease of the site at a peppercorn rent] by Canvey Council).
1. in Furtherwick Shopping Arcade, and now degenerated into the inevitable Bingo Hall
2. before and after the Local Defence Volunteers became the Home Guard.
3. 3,454 metres
Chapter 29 - Prehistoric, Tribal administration
Item 1 – Bell-Beaker Folk (Proto-Celtic, 1400 to 400BC)
Though this Early Bronze Age (Northern European) people inhabited the Thames Valley and South Essex Coast, there is no evidence yet of them visiting Canvey (nearest sites are Riviera Drive, Southchurch Thorpe Hall and Thundersley) and in any case tribal boundaries may not yet have been important.
Item 2 - Hallstatt Folk (Alpine Celts, 750 to 550 BC)
Controlled by the local Trinovantes, a Late Bronze Age (Celtic) culture with capital at Lexden Park, Colchester. Introduced the salt-making industry to Canvey and thought to have actually carried on manufacturing throughout all the later conquests.
Item 3 - Belgic (hybrid Germano-Celts, 550 BC to 43 AD)
Chapter 30 - Historic
Item 1 - Romans (43 to 410 AD)
Item 2 - Saxons (410 to 1016 AD)
Item 3 - Norse
Item 4 - Normans (related to Norse but based in France; 1066-)
The Normans employed a Danish Sherriff of Essex, who ruled from his castle at Rayleigh and under whom Canvey was divided up between what became eight mainland parishes. The county as a whole, like others, was also later divided up into Hundreds (areas responsible for providing armed men as soldiers on request) and, because of the previous parish divisions, Canvey found itself divided between two hundreds - West Canvey was in Barstable Hundred (administered from Barstable), whereas East Canvey became part of Rochford Hundred (administered from Rochford). This hundred boundary is first mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Since Barstable Hundred later became part of the Royal Forest (of which Epping is a tiny remnant), so did West Canvey and to avoid all the limitations and dues payable because of this, all rights were purchased from the Crown (by a the legal process ‘disafforestation’ [not deforestation]) in 1563 by the Appleton family (a mainland family who had owned parts of Canvey from 1317 and whose seat was Jarvis Hall).
The first known Norman landowners on Canvey were the Mowbray family, from before 1100. After the disgraceful conduct in 1166 of the Sherriff’s grandson, the Earl of Essex, his lands were sold off and most of Canvey went to the de Camvilles, Lords of Fobbing. Shortly after, the Law of the Marsh (which operated from 1210 to 1930) required each tenant to be responsible for his own sea-defences in proportion to the land area they protected. The Chief Justiciary of Essex began to build his castle at Hadleigh in 1232, so we may assume control of Canvey moved there.
Item 5 - Dutch
Although the Dutch were here from before 1610 and eventually owned at least a third of the island, they had no political significance, being here under sufferance - always with the implication that, when things got better at home, they would return (though it is not thought that the Canvey Dutch did in any great numbers). Their financial and economic effect on Canvey, however, was enormous and long-lasting.
Chapter 31 - Recent
Item 1 - General
In 1742 rates were about 1 p in the pound (1.05 %) but shot up to 2½ p to pay for the 1761 gravel loads (and a futher nine). ‘Scots’ were levied from Free Lands only in 1792-1812, 1837-1839 and from 1881 - the difference between Freelands and Outsands being abolished in 1883. From 1881 to 1926 Canvey was a Civil and Ecclesiastic Parish, returning a member to Rochford District Council (and 2 in 1926).
Canvey Medical Association was founded in December 1911 to assist in providing treatment for the poor - Benfleet’s doctor having to visit on horseback. A hundered people subscribed and the General Committee had 32 members. Canvey Child Welfare Clinic was founded at Whittier Hall in the High Street on 18/11/1925, the opening attended by about 40 mums and their babies.
A meeting of members of Canvey Public Interests and Ratepayers’ Association (CPIRA) was told in 1924 that flour prices had risen from 38 to 51 shillings a bag (i.e., 34.2 %) from June to August so residents were consequently (supposedly like Marie Antoinette’s subjects) to ‘eat cake’ since bread prices had risen by three farthings a two-pound loaf in 8 days!
The rateable value of Canvey in 1951 was £ 49,000 and rose to £ 50,175 in September 1952 (1.01 % p.a.), when the island was split into 5 wards with 15 councillors.
In 1926 Canvey became an Urban District Council of 9 members, but until 1952 these had to share their seats on the Essex Council with Benfleet. In 1974 Canvey combined with Benfleet to become Castle Point District (the district name felicitously combining Hadleigh Castle with Canvey Point).
Item 3 - The Texaco Bombing
An explosion occurred at 10.30 on Jan. 17,1979 and was heard 8 Km (1) away; it holed a 5 million litre (2) kerosene tank in the laxly-guarded 18½ Hectare (3) Texaco site on Canvey. Allegedly it was an I.R.A. device, they having unwittingly chosen a high-flash-point liquid (i.e., safer) container holding only 600,000 litres (4) at that time.
Although as far back as Nov. 13, 1973 explosives devices had been found in Grays Paktank depôt; on a Canvey road tanker on Jan. 12, 1974 and a year later at Shellhaven Refinery - the 1979 Texaco spokesman Clive Turner still felt himself able to declare they constituted a ‘new type of threat to security’ (whereas in fact it was the lack of security which posed the threat, more especially to the Canvey population than at anywhere else in the world).
Fawley, Grangemouth (and even Canvey) refineries had been more heavily guarded for a short time after terrorist threats on July 27, 1974 but interest waned, even after an Isle of Grain B.P. Refinery security pass was found in the possession of I.R.A. members accused of bomb plots on Dec. 7, 1974.
1. 5 miles
4. 130,000 gallons
Canvey Island Essex
Facts and Figures