Years of work gone to blazes

Echo Clippings 1999

The coastguard cottages as they looked in 1920

The Coastguard Cottages, badly damaged in yes­terday’s fire, were given historic building status more than 25 years ago to pre­serve them for future generations. Yet despite the damage caused by yesterday’s blaze, there is hope they can be returned to their former glory. The cottages, built some­time in the mid-late 19th cen­tury to house local coast­guards, were a significant landmark on Canvey. Ian Burchill, planning director at Castle Point Council, said the cottages at Haven Road were given list­ed building status in 1973.

They were then described as being timber framed and weather-boarded structures with grey slate roofs. The ten terraced cottages had six first floor doors in pairs which at one time led onto a timber balcony. Five chimney stacks were shared between all the two-storey homes. Around late 1986, the council gave consent for the buildings to be renovated as part of a project to repair two hundred historic buildings in Essex.

The then owner, John Holdgate, who also owns the neighbouring Holehaven caravan park, spent nearly four years renovating each home before selling them to private individuals. Mr Holdgate, 41, said his family bought three or four of the homes back in the early 80s and one by one acquired the whole row of cottages. He said: “They were derelict at the time, in a right state. But thanks to the help of Castle Point Council and county councillor Ray Howard, we were able to bring them up to scratch. It cost quite a bit of money over the years. I was in Wakering at the time when my wife phoned to say they were on fire. By the time I arrived the end of the cottages were alight and the fire brigade were struggling because of the wind. It was pushing the flames across the roofs, igniting each one in turn.  The first two or three have a lot of roof damage, but from the back about five have been damaged. Obviously it’s a terrible shame. But as long as they can be put right it is not a complete disaster. These cottages are part of the country’s heritage and certainly among the most historical important build­ings in the borough. I assume they are all insured but you feel sorry for the people who live in them. They are certainly unique buildings on Canvey. It would have been a terrible shame if they were beyond repair. But in my opinion, they will all come back to their former glory.”

Councillor Ray Howard played a major part in the long process of restoring the cottages and having them listed as historic buildings. The Canvey West council­lor said: “As someone who was born in the area, I am deeply shocked and sad­dened. The fire has destroyed much of the restoration work completed ten years ago. They are a landmark on Canvey, a symbol of the place. I shall be asking Essex County Council if they can help. I don’t know what level of insurance is involved but I hope it is the maximum.”

Local historian Margaret Payne said: “It’s a dreadful shame – I hope someone can rebuild them.” Margaret said Canvey was a notorious haven for smug­glers at the turn of the centu­ry, prompting the authori­ties to station coast guards at the site.  Margaret said: “No-one wanted to give coastguards house room because you were seen as a snitch if you were a coastguard.” This meant accommoda­tion had to be purpose-built and the cottages were in use until the 1950s when they closed down and sold off.

How the buildings looked as a coastguard station at the turn of the 19th century

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