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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Essex revisted - Part 2

Canvey Island lies on the north bank of the Thames Estuary, just a little closer to London than Southend. In the 17th Century the low-lying land was reclaimed from the sea by Dutch workmen under the supervision of the engineer Cornellus Vermuyden. There are just two of the original Dutch cottages that remain today. The island is protected by a sea wall, the breach of which had fateful consequences in 1953. You can read more of Canvey's history here.

One of the two re- maining Dutch cottages

Shellbeach Road, now in the affluent commuter belt rather then a holiday home

The reason that Canvey is important to me is that my grandmother lived there when my sister and I were small, and we used to go there for up to four weeks at a time in the summer holidays. Her home (and others) in Shellbeach Road was demolished and rebuilt after the Great Flood of 1953. I visited Canvey again on July 22nd to see what memories I could recall.

My lingering impression of a seawall and miles of mud, edged by a strip of "sand" (actually the ground up remains of shellfish shells) is borne out. The dark strip along the water's edge is the "old sea wall", reduced to a line of boulders, happy hunting grounds for crabs, shrimps and rag worms.

The swimming pool, refreshed with sea water at every high tide, still today used by kids catching crabs with a lump of bacon fat on a string

At high tide the reflection of the sky belies the muddy water of the Thames Estuary

Artificial surf: the wash from an oil tanker like this passing up the Thames to London docks gave an exciting episode on a calm day

The red-sailed Thames barges still ply their way, but more now as sailing instruction vessels than for commerce

The Monico - a den of drinking, gambling and debauchery - we were never allowed near it....

...instead we went here on a Sunday to pray for a good catch of crabs. Our Lady of Canvey and the English Martyrs, the Mass was said in Latin in those days
The Admiral Jellicoe is a landmark I remember

The King Canute was formerly the Red Cow but renamed after the Great Flood of 1953. Standing at the highest point on Canvey is was one of the few buildings the sea didn't reach

The Lobster Smack - the pub that Charles Dickens is said to have had in mind in his novel Great Expectations when Pip and Abel Magwitch attempted to board the Packet Steamer leaving London

Canvey North Point, still largely unspoiled
Despite considerable development of Canvey as a satellite town of London, I was pleased to see that there were considerable areas of salt marsh, vital for migrating wading birds, that remained unspoiled.

I found this uncommon Marbled White butterfly feeding on ragwort in one of the new nature reserves on Canvey

A group of Starlings take a bathe in a rain puddle

As I have mentioned, disaster struck Canvey in February 1953 when tidal and meteorological conditions conspired to cause unprecedentedly high tides. The sea wall was breached and, except for a little higher ground around Canvey Village, the island was inundated, resulting in the loss of 58 lives.

I still remember well arriving at the higher ground at Hadleigh overlooking Canvey, and seeing the sight recorded in the London Illustrated News (below), not knowing the fate of our grandmother. Thankfully, it turned out that she had waded, waste deep in a torrent of sea water, to her next door neighbour's house which, unlike our grandmothers, had an "upstairs". Shortly after this traumatic event, she moved and came to live with us in Lexden, in the cream-painted part of the cottages shown in the post below.
The Great Flood of Canvey in February 1953


Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Oh, great lump in my throat! Poor old grandmother's house gone. I loved that house so much.
Is there still sheeps' parsley on the sea wall?
Is there still a light-ship in the channel? Do you remember the occasional treat when we were taken for a ride in the boat round the light-ship?
Do you remember that our grandmother used to play the organ in the church? I lost my precious little teddy bear in that church once. I was heartbroken!

9:31 pm  
Blogger Tina said...

another fantastic and interesting post Maalie!

9:41 pm  
Blogger simon said...

Gawd! Maalie! are you getting very nostalgic!?????

Did you go into the pub?

11:39 pm  
Anonymous cleverclogs! said...

second day running I have known the real meaning of wordimperfect's word! Made up the meaning of course.
Love cleverclogs

7:11 pm  
Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Oh Maalie, Lorenzo.

So beautiful - such a tragedy


10:01 am  

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