Canvey Island Essex

The History Of Canvey Island


The Island of Cana’s People

Canvey can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times. Canvey was originally made up of five islands. Canvey is not mentioned in the Doomsday Book, however, the coastal marshes of South Essex, were. Here was grazing for some 18,000 sheep. Sheep farming was a thriving industry. The fat-tailed variety was the favourite breed. The ewe’s milk was used to make cheese which was very popular in London.


The Romans

A lot of Roman pottery has been found on Canvey. The Romans produced salt here and remainders of these can be found in the ‘Red Hills’ scattered about the island. It is also thought there was a burial ground at ‘Dead Man’s Point’.


Recently coins and pottery which may perhaps be from a temple or some residence of a higher class than was thought to be on Canvey has been found. The area near Thorney Bay is thought to have been a port in Roman times. In the past it had been rumoured a mosaic floor had been found somewhere on the island. But as far as I know no one knows the truth of this tale. Perhaps this will yet be uncovered.


The Dutch

A Dutchman, by the name of Julius Sludder is thought to have been responsible for building the Dutch cottage in 1618, by 1622 he had also become the owner of part of Canvey. Joas Croppenburg, a Dutch Haberdasher of Cheapside, financed the reclamation of Canvey. Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutch Engineer and relative of Croppenburg was called in to oversee the work. Some 300 workmen were brought over from Holland. His name lives on with a lake being named after him. Croppenburg Lake in the Smallgains area not far from the new Canvey Heights, has now all but disappeared but still shows up on plans of the area. Croppenburg Walk is off Harvest Road. There was also a Sluice name after him but as yet I have not identified it.


Dutch names are very prevalent on the island. Cornelius Vermuyden is now the name of one of our local Senior Schools.


The Dutch Cottages

When the Dutch occupied the Island in the 17th century, they left their mark, not only with the dykes and sea walls. Two round Dutch Cottages, still standing today a third blew away in the 19th century. The surviving ones are dated 1618 and 1621. The one built in 1618 in Canvey Road is now a museum. The other is a private dwelling. The three other round cottages on the Island are copies of a much later date.


Daniel Defoe

Canvey Island and the ‘fever’ was referred to in the writings of Daniel Defoe, in the 18th century. He said that he frequently met with men who had taken a huge number of brides in quick succession. Apparently the men of Canvey took many brides because of a form of malaria that struck their wives soon after the women arrived from the mainland. Some came from the south, Kent. Numbers of wives have been said to range from 14 and 15 to possibly as many as 35. Not many lived for more than a year in their new homes. I have found many references to the fever and the number of wives the men of Canvey professed to have. Some only lasted a few months. There must be some truth to this story!!!!


Chapman Lighthouse

The Chapman lighthouse was demolished in 1957. It first came in to use in 1851, to warn passing boats of the off shore mud flats replacing a lightship that was moored in the area. The lighthouse was made entirely of iron. The ‘hexagonal-shaped’ living accommodation consisted of a living room, bedroom, kitchen/washroom and storeroom. The lighthouse keeper and his assistant had to use a rowing boat to get to shore. Eventually the lighthouse was in danger of collapsing and was demolished. It was replaced by a single bell buoy that can be found 800 yards off shore.


The Village School

The first village school was built in 1874 near St Katherine’s Church. The timber-framed building was closed when Long Road school was built (William Read School). The old school was then used as a Village Hall until it was almost completely gutted by a fire. The hall has since been demolished.


The Village aka The Hills

The village was the main central part of Canvey for many decades. The first church, first school, shops and the first Post Office were all here and very well established in the 1800s. In early records it is sometimes called “The Hills” a name found in the area at Hill Hall Farm and there was also a Hill House in the village. Is this where the name comes from or is it to do with the red-hills made by the Romans or the fact the village is on the highest part of the island?


The Village Pump

In 1889 perhaps one of Henry’s greatest achievements was bringing fresh water to the Island. The only water supply the Islanders had access to at the time was from collecting rainwater and from the ditches. Financed by public subscription and 50 guineas from the Corporation of the City of London the parish pump was opened on the 5th December 1889 by the Chairman of the Port Sanitary Committee. There was a permanent committee set up of which Rev Hayes was an ex-officio member along with William Collingridge MD, Abraham Manning and Arthur Mayhew Clark.

The well was sunk some 312 feet through layers of sand and stodgy clay and positioned at what is now the junction of Long Road, Canvey Road and Haven Road. It was built with a thatched roof in a Dutch design. It had an inscription on the trough which read ‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst’. It became the focal point of the village and stood at the road junction of Long Road and Haven Road, where the Red Cow stood (renamed King Canute in 1953).

The pump was dismantled in 1920s when mains water came to the island but the trough and the thatched roof survived until 1937 when the roads at the junction were widened to accommodate the tankers going to the new oil storage depot.
The Red Cow was also demolished and rebuilt as the building that exists today.

St Katherine’s Church

From the 17th to the 19th century there have been four churches on the site of St Katherine’s in Long Road. The first church was a wooden structure built by the Dutch. The English had to travel off the island to worship. On Whit Monday 1656, the two communities met in conflict. The English demanded the keys to the church. A fight broke out. But the Dutch would not give the English the keys and they remained in possession of the church until it fell into disrepair. It was demolished in 1712. By this time many of the Dutch had returned to Holland.

A new church was built in 1712 by Canvey Islanders, the first English Church and it was called St Catherine’s. Another church was built in 1845 called St Peter’s. St Katherine’s, as we know it today was built in 1875. The spelling differed from the previous St Catherine’s. Some of the old church was used in the new building. (The stained glass and old porch.) The church was finally closed in the 1960’s. Today it is The Heritage Centre.


The Lobster Smack Inn

The Lobster Smack Inn previously known as the Sluice House and The World’s End, is believed to be built in the 17th century although there is a date on the building of 1510. It is locally known as the Lobby.

Ship’s Captains and pilots were frequent patrons, to escape the higher prices elsewhere. Smuggling in the area was rife, even with a coastguard station next to the Inn. The Inn was apparently referred to in
Charles Dicken’s ‘Great Expectations’.

The annual fair was also held here, taking place on the 25th June each year. About the same time as our local show is now held. The fair was well established by the 1760’s with regular bare-knuckle prize fights in the 1800s. Some bouts lasted nearly 90 rounds.

The Lobster Smack today


Frederick Hester

Frederick Hester was an Estate Agent from Prittlewell. The son of a Carpenter born in Fulham, London in 1854, he had a vision of Canvey Island as a holiday resort. He bought up farm properties, at knockdown prices, as the agricultural depression set in. Working with his son he divided them into plots, which they then sold to people to build holiday homes and shops.

Hester built a
Tower-bungalow at the entrance to his Famous Winter Gardens with panoramic views of Canvey and the surrounding area. His Winter Gardens was to cover six square miles with the glass conservatories housing exotic plants, birds and fish.

monorail was installed carrying holidaymakers through the gardens and the main theme of the resort was Dutch, with the workers in Dutch national costumes and many of the older roads given Dutch names. These can be seen today.


He was helped by his son Frederick William Brewster Hester (the FWB Hester on advertising posters) who lived on the island first at ‘Sea View’ Leigh Beck then at 'St Omar', Winter Gardens until his sudden death in 1911. He is buried in St Katherine’s Churchyard.

Hester snr even wanted to have a Venetian canal, with gondolas. Hester’s dream was never finished and he was made bankrupt in 1905. But he had made his mark on Canvey.

The Crossing

Before the bridge connecting Canvey to Benfleet was built, the only way for pedestrians to cross to Canvey was by ferry or stepping-stones at low tide. Passengers paid 1d for the trip. For 2d they could take across their bikes.

Animals and large vehicles were driven across the ‘gravel hard’ at low tide. Some vehicles were abandoned when they were caught unawares by the incoming tide. The bridge was officially opened on 21 May 1931.

The Colvin swing bridge was in use until 1973 when the present bridge replaced it. The last time the swing bridge was opened was in 1968. A second bridge also opened in 1973 with a large demonstration against the Oil Refineries taking advantage of the event to express their anger.

Unfortunately both exits use the same roundabout. Hopefully a third exit will not be too long coming.


The Red Cow aka The King Canute

There has been a Public House or Beer House on or near the site of the King Canute since at least 1867 when Thomas Drawbridge was first noted in the Post Office Directory of that year as a Beer Retailer and Grocer.


The Old Red Cow pub was demolished in 1937 when the roads were widened to accommodate the oil tankers that were now going down Haven Road to the oil storage depot. The new building, the one we know today was built further back from the junction. The old village pump was dismantled.

The Red Cow PH and grounds were taken over by the armed forces as their HQ during the floods of 1953. The area was the highest on the island and did not flood so it was the ideal location for the rescue and repair operations. Because of the pubs importance during the flood it was later renamed ‘The King Canute’.


The 1920/30s

The 1920/30s were a very busy time at the Concord/Shell Beach area with the building of the Casino and the Monico in the 30s. The Ozonia Hotel a Temperance Hotel was also built in the late 30s and the Beach House which was built in the 1920s. The Labworth Cafe on the seawall was built in the early 30s and still survives toady. With 1,000s of people flocking to the beaches of Canvey there were traffic jams waiting to get on and off the Island, even after the bridge was built in 1931 there were still hold-ups when the bridge was opened to let the laden barges through.

Floods of 1953Memorials

Canvey Island has been flooded many times. Despite repeated raising of the sea walls the sea keeps winning the fight. In 1888, then again 1897 after a high tide part of Canvey was flooded.

On 1st February 1953 the great storms hit the North sea and much of the east coast of England was flooded. Many lives were lost that night. Canvey suffered the worst with 58 people dead. Survivors, many of whom were on roof tops or huddled in lofts, it was a long cold night. Many were eventually evacuated to the mainland and given temporary dwellings, or stayed with friends or relatives until the enormous task of rebuilding, not only the sea walls, but much of Canvey’s infrastructure, was completed.


In the 80’s Canvey’s Sea Walls were once again raised. Hopefully this time we can sleep safer in our beds. But we are always aware of the powerful forces that could once again visit this Island.


Murder on Canvey

In 1964 bones were found when men were working on the new sewerage plant in Thames Road. It is believed to be the remains of one of two revenue officers who were murder in the latter part of the 18th century.


The Oil Refineries fight
For several decades Canvey Islanders had to fight to stop refineries being built to the west of the Island. In the 70s one such refinery was half built before it was abandoned. That was the Occidental refinery. What was left was a half built derelict site with tanks and a very high chimney. The site was eventually cleared of its chimney and tanks but roadways and a mile+ long iron jetty are still there. With lots of piles of concrete etc it has become a haven for wildlife. The Occidental site


We already had gas storage on the island. With that and the proposed refineries they were also sinking bore holes to see if there was coal under our feet.


The Canvey Island Chimney Disaster

In the 70s they planned to knock down the chimney from the unfinished oil refinery. The chimney had other ideas.


The Olympics

We have had several entrants in the Olympics over the years. The latest being Dean Macey in 2000 Sydney in the Decathlon. He came 4th.


In 1952 the Prout brothers Roland and Francis competed in the Canoe races in Helsinki.

This year 2012 saw the Olympics come to the Borough of Castle Point of which Canvey Island is part of.

Canvey’s Coat of Arms

The motto ‘Ex Mare Dei Gratia’ means ‘From the sea by the Grace of God’