Dowd's Canvey Cyclopaedia

The Dutch Period 1600s

Chapter 17 – Sea Defences

DUTCH pre-reclamation interests in the area

Cornelius Vermuyden

Flemings (1) having shown their utility in establishing the English brick industry in about 1230, the tradition of Lowlanders coming to England was firmly founded a century later when Edward III invited more Flemings to set up the cloth industry of Colchester, so that later, during times of religious persecution, Flemings and Hollanders (2) naturally settled here, especially from 1565.

Prior to the work of Vermuyden there is evidence of Dutch involvement in our area at Fobbing and Pitsea, and the first known ‘round’ (octagonal) house was built at Hill Hall Farm on Canvey in 1618, of plastered timber framing with central brick chimney and thatched roof. This Dutch cottage is thought to have belonged to the Dutch Canvey land-owner Julius Sludder previously mentioned. Another example in Hole Haven Road dates from 1621 and the Round House just south of Northwick Road (3) vanished about 1890. The two in Deepwater Road are Georgian copies, however, as are those at Finching Field (1710) and Rayleigh (1821) on the mainland – but that does not mean they were not built by resident Dutchmen, perhaps on the sites of previous Dutch cottages.

Remains of another early Dutch cottage have been found on the edge of Shepland Marsh near Rochford, along with 17th. Century pottery; and a thatched octagonal cottage is in Little Bentley’s main street. No-one, however, could mistake Mr. Linder’s ‘replica’ in Ferndale Crescent for the real thing! Although we are told there are no examples of this style of building in the Dutch home-land, it is interesting to note that John of Groat’s (4) house is also octagonal, though far bigger.

The ‘Honeymoon Period’, – VERMUYDEN and the Sea Defences

On starting work, assisted by Cornelius Vandervanker (5), Vermuyden dug deep and broad ‘delfs’ (6), using the excavated clay to build banks upon chalk foundations and facing with grey-green Kent rag-stone (sandy limestone) on the seaward side – the stones costing £ 10,000 – provided with several sluice-gates (cf. SLUICE FARM). The banks built by Vermuyden became known as Commissioners’ Dykes because they did not belong to the farms through which they passed. A system of ditches fed ‘fleets’ which in turn spilled into sluices – which were well built and did not need renewing until shortly before the Second World War.

During excavation of the old Dutch Central Wall for the drainage improvement scheme of 1971, at 2.4 metres (6) down the original wooden sluice pipe was found, made of two elm trunks, one 3.2 metres (7) the other 6.4 metres (8) in length, halved and hollowed out with adzes and pinned together with trenails. It was about 62 centimetres (9) outside with a 41 by 28 centimetres (10) bore and a wooden one-way flap to prevent ingress by seawater. It is now on show in the grounds of the Dutch Museum.

Work completed, Cropenberch was duly paid in land as promised (11), a total of 191 Hectares (12) – in particular WESTWICKE, SHO(R)NARES, WESTATNES, CHAFFLEET, WELLISPITT, DARLETTE, CASTLEWEEKE MARSHES (these so spelt at the time). Brouwer, too, received a sixteenth share. At this time Canvey comprised 3,600 acres (13) of walled area, plus the Outsands.


1. a word derived from French flamand, meaning ‘tall’ and applied to the inhabitants of Flanders ( now in Belgium)                      

2. locally indiscriminately referred to as ‘Dutch’.

3. east of Little Brickhouse footpath.              

4. Jan de Groot’s.

5. commemorated, in garbled form, by a Canvey property name.

6. later one of them, the DELPH DIKE, was used for drainage – as the DELTH DITCH it was still visible at Leigh Beck until destroyed by the 1981 wall improvements.

7. 8 feet.                                                      

8. 21 feet

9. 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches                       

10. 16 inch by 11 inch                                         

11. as recorded in Chancery Close Rolls, P.R.O. c 54 : 2535.

12. 147 Hectares

The embanking now allowed the growing of crops as well as pasture for fat cattle. Malaria, however, was still rife: the following year a Dutchman ‘Powell’ died at Ooze, 3 more in 1624, 3 in 1625, and 14 between 1625 and 1641 – some at Fobbing and Vange.

Further work was done and, according to the 1700 map at the Essex Records Office, Vermuyden’s wall became known in part as the ‘Counter Wall or Old Sea Wall’ and a later wall already enclosed SMALLGAINS (then called NEW LAND).

Now comes the time to mention a most curious and inexplicable item which I have been unable to resolve. Although most authorities would accept the events leading up to the Dutch wall-building as outlined above, there is a reference by Philip Benton (1):-

‘In 1626 the Earl of Warwick (2) was engaged in reclamation of Canvey Island and executed a deed wherein John Bucke of London engages to recover the island. The witnesses to his lordship’s signature were Richard Pulley, William Goughe, Richard Spitty, Joseph Attwood, John Brooke and others.’

As far as I know, this is the only mention of the Earl’s involvement, though the witness Spitty’s family connection reoccurs much later; this looks suspiciously like a very garbled account, unless there were rival reclaimers at work!


1. ‘The History of Rochford Hundred’ (Rochford, 58 parts, 1867-1888)

2. Robert, the (2nd) ‘Puritan Earl’ of Rochford Hall

Chapter 18 – The Dutch Church on Canvey

The Initial period

In 1627, 200 ‘Low Country Strangers’ (Dutchmen) were employed in tilling and husbanding Canvey, Fobbing and Vange; and those on Canvey petitioned to the Bishop of London through the King for religious services to be held in a Dutch house set aside for the purpose, in the Dutch language. The following year on the 6th.of January, Vermuyden was knighted by King Charles at Whitehall for his services in saving much of East Anglia: his portrait may be seen in facsimile hanging in the living-room of the Dutch Museum.

Following the 1627 petition mentioned above, a small Dutch timber chapel was completed on Dec. 21, 1631, on the highest point of the island – where stock used to be driven in time of floods – and Cornelius Jacobsen was elected ‘Minister of the Divine Word in England in the Netherlandish Community on Canvey Island ‘. He was supposed to derive his living from managing a farm for Brouwer but was most unsuccessful at this. His electors, all Dutch residents of Canvey, are recorded as:-

Table 24List of Dutch Church electors on Canvey
Lenaert AdriaensenAdriaen JanssenJan Pieterssen
Morinus AertsenBartolomeus “Morinus “
Herman ClaessenBalthazar “Boudewyn van Pachtenweghe
Teunis “Jan “Simeon Pawelssen
Jan van CollenberchWouter “Rutger Shuller
Adriaan CornelissenWilliam KeyBoudewijn Stekelorum
Peter “Jan LawrenssenHugo Teunissen
Geraert HenrucksenJacob LievenssenHenryck Thomassen
Lieven JacobsenPeter Martenssen

Peter Priem (1), and Anthony Richardson, Canvey residents, were indicted at the Quarter Sessions of 1631 ‘for not repairing the hoirse-dam (2) in the parish of South Benfleet leading to Canvey Island, about 40 perches’ (3). Jacobsen reported in 1638 to the Netherlands’ London Community on the poor quality of Brouwer’s farm, and in the next year became tenant of another Dutchman, Nicholas Pelseere. He and Priem petitioned King Charles again in 1641 for religious freedom.

It was reconfirmed after several mainland parishes had attempted to levy road-rates in 1694, that Canvey residents should not have to pay these rates towards the upkeep of mainland roads, but were responsible only for their own road maintenance, surveyors’ fees and foot-bridge upkeep. The dispensation invoked by the Canveyites had originated in the fifteenth year of the reign of King Charles I when a group of surveyors was established.

In 1644 Jacobsen died and Priem was sent to the Dutch Church in London for a new minister, returning with Mathyas van der Westhuise, who unfortunately died of malaria after only six months here. The following January, Canvey, unable to find a Dutch minister resident in Britain and willing to risk his health here, petitioned the Netherlands for help. George Meunix of Middleburg (4), a very learned and devout young man, was sent here for a year, being replaced in 1646 by Dom Ketelaers and from 1647 to 1649 by Isack Snijers; no-one however could be coerced for the period 1649 to 1654.

The Register of the London Dutch Church (5), reads:-

Tuesday, 16 (6) Adriaen Munninx, Ecclesiastes in the Dutch Community in CANVEY-EYLANT, in the name of the Consistory.

           (signed) Chrysostijmus Hamelton,

           Of the Brethren of the Dutch Community at London.

           Dated Canvey Eylant, 16 December, 1645.’



1. a church elder and the wealthiest Canvey Dutchman.          

2. causeway.

3. 256 metres                                                         

4. capital of Zeeland.

5. entry for December (No 708)                                   

6. New Style = 12th December.

Dom Johannes Beutacq arrived from Nieuwkerck under a cloud of suspicion in 1654, to become the first minister to reside actually on the island, lodging in the house of Pieter van Belle’s widow – he seemed quite willing to leave his native land (1). But, whatever he had been guilty of in Holland, he was very popular here and his supporters in Canvey on 7/10/1655 threatened forcible entry if the church elders did not surrender the chapel keys to allow him to conduct services in the Dutch Chapel, though the London Dutch would never confirm his appointment.

At the time Gillis van Belle, Antheunis Diericksen and Franchoise Mannandijse were the church elders, standing in for Priem who by then was very advanced in years. Johannes Malstaff and Anthoinis de Smith were the deacons. The keys were relinquished as requested but in fact Beutacq never did take services in the chapel: the English residents held their services in a farmhouse and invited Beutacq to conduct them – this attracted many Dutch worshippers, necessitating a move to a larger building.

The Canvey Colloquy wrote to London in defence of Beutacq:

‘He has accommodated himself to this place. For whereas all former ministers have resided far away from us, which was very inconvenient in cases of illness and death, this man resides with us and is content with our food and drink …’

‘The brethren and sisters of the Fobbing side, as well as those of the Island, mostly declare that they will not allow preaching to be stopped till the old offences are proved, or till he has given fresh occasion for considering him unworthy of the ministry.’

Later, the Colloquy wrote:-

‘John Beutacq has been an exemplary minister to us … and is liked by the English among whom we live. If we cannot have our wish we will not contribute towards the maintenance of another minister. We intend to let him preach as we derive great benefit in illness and other respects as former ministers very seldom visited our sick.’

Notwithstanding this special pleading, and in the manner of all establishments everywhere, Beutacq was replaced the following year as the resident minister by Dom Lambertius Schenkius, a theological student; it is not known what happened to Beutacq thereafter. The proprietor of the Dutch Chapel at that time was Abraham Otgaer (later Anglicised as Edgar), a London merchant, of whom more later.


1. it was said he had had a child by his dead wife’s maid.

ANTI-DUTCH REACTION; the Whit Monday ‘Battle of Canvey’.

The Battle of Canvey

Although the Dutch were refugees from Spanish Catholic persecution from about 1526 and therefore welcome here at first, the 1623 Dutch massacre of English traders at Amboyna (1) caused much ill-feeling in England, even though Cromwell received compensation from the Netherlands. These sentiments expressed themselves in a ballad popular in England in 1661, during a severe drought:-

‘The upland people are full of thoughts,

‘And do despair of after rain;

‘Now the sun is robbed of his morning draughts,

‘They’re afraid they shall never have showers again.

‘Our smaller rivers are now dry land

‘The eels are turned to serpents there

‘And if Old Father Thames play not the man

‘Then farewell to all good English beer.

‘Why should we stay then and perish with thirst?

‘To th’New World in the moon then away let us goe

‘For if the Dutch Colony get thither first

‘Tis a thousand-to-one that they’ll drain that too.’

Another source of conflict, hinted at in the ballad, was the fact that Dutch arable farming practise ‘disinherited’ eels and wildfowl from their accustomed haunts, so reducing traditional secondary sources of income for the English shepherds on Canvey. Furthermore the English stock-rearers would rather have had the water-level in the ditches high in order to water their flocks and herds, whereas the Dutch arable farmers would drain them. In the Fen Country feelings were so aroused as to cause armed revolt.

Since they otherwise had to worship at St. Mary the Virgin (1) in South Benfleet, and had to have their children baptised by one of nine parish priests on the mainland, depending on which parish property their farms lay in, the English Canvey residents on Whit Monday in 1657 stormed the Dutch Chapel, demanding to share its use – but were driven off after a melee.

The Dutch presbyterians were naturally worried about their right to services in their mother tongue. Towards the end of the year Dom Joannis Lodewyck was elected minister, lasting until April 1658, when he was posted to Sandwich. A Peter Lodwick tenanted half of Eastwick Marsh in Foulness 30 years later and John Lodwick tenanted Newick Marsh.


2. now Ambon in the Moluccas

3. alias Bemfleet-cum-Canvey

Chapter 19 – The Anglo-Dutch Wars

Anglo-Dutch Wars 1667

In 1651 the Elders of Canvey Chapel wrote to the London Dutch Church:-

‘On the 16th. inst., we received your letter asking as to our opinion as to convoking the triennal collegue (1). It having been put off last year on account of the then existing troubles, and these seem to have increased rather than diminished, whereas we now have this deplorable war and discord with our nation, such an assembly might easily be regarded with distrust. Hence we think it should be postponed to better times, perhaps next year.’

The Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaanzoon de Ruyter (2), commander of the Dutch Fleet, in 28/6/1667 sailed up the Thames a second time and destroyed our finest ships at anchor in the Medway – the roar of cannon was heard as far as London. Some of his men under Lieutenant-Admiral Willem Joseph van Ghent, in charge of frigates, later crossed the Thames with a squadron of light vessels to Hole Haven, being prevented by contrary winds from proceding further to harrass London (3).

They therefore landed on Canvey near the Lobster Smack, destroying eight houses and barns, including those belonging to the Rev. George Maul (4), and stole several sheep and small boats. For this de Ruyter had them severely punished. The nearest Essex militia, mobilised at Leigh, were powerless to prevent these incursions, so despatch riders raced to Chelmsford raising the alarm along the way.

Sir John Bramston (5) wrote from Chelmsford:-

‘The enemie hath burnt barns and a house at Canvie.’

Sir Henry Appleton wrote to the Secretary of State:-

‘The Dutch have landed at Canvey and plundered it to the extent of eight inconsiderable houses, they have also taken several small boats.’

This warning to Parliament, rather than encouraging them to better organise the defence of the Thames area, merely resulted in their making plans to evacuate London (6).

Rumours of a Leigh boat warning the Dutch of British fire-boat manoeuvres were false, but John and Rosamund Cole and Thomas Jennings (7) reported Canvey resident Jan of Gentbrijg (8) to the Rochford authorities for attempting to join the Dutch raiders by waving his hat to a Dutch vessel after the invasion (from neighbourly spite, probably).

The English fleet, as yet unpaid, openly threatened mutiny and to join with the Dutch, as related by Andrew Marvell (9) in his ‘Instructions to a Painter’ :-

‘Our seamen, whom no dangers shape can fright,

‘Unpaid, refuse to mount their ships for spite.

‘Or, to their fellows swim on board the Dutch,

‘Who shew them tempting metal in their clutch.’


1. sic, triennial colloquy

2. 1607-1676.

3. though a few vessels got as far as East Tilbury where they destroyed the church tower.

4. or Maule, rector of Vange; as related in his will of 23/9/1667.

5. the younger (1611-1700), M.P. for Maldon, Deputy Lieutenant 1662 &1676, Vice-admiral of Essex1661-1680

6. especially and firstly, of course, themselves

7. or Jannings, a husbandman.

8. alias John Gentbridge.

9. the younger (1621-1678), pre-Restoration poet and satirist.


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