Essex Floods 1953

From the East Anglia Film Archive

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A look into the after effects of the 1953 Essex floods.

This film opens with shots of the water surging through broken banks and along streets. There are scenes of firemen carrying a boat and of the flood waters around houses, with people and a dog being rescued by boat. Houses, some of which are prefabs, are piled up and in a house-to-house search for casualties an elderly woman is helped from her bungalow. There is a long shot of an ambulance and a stretcher is seen (with a fatality) being put aboard.

Various shots follow of cars going along flooded roads, policemen directing traffic and some shots of rescuers’ cars that themselves needed rescuing. An exterior shot of Canvey Island Secondary Modern School with water rushing in.There follows a sequence on the help given to the homeless. People wait for transport and boarding buses. The homeless, including whole families, are shown in a large dormitory. Piles of clothing and shoes that was collected for those who had lost their belongings are shown. Medicines were also collected and the film shows nurses looking after babies caught in the flood.

Volunteers prepare food in a school canteen and people are served their food and seen eating. The next sequence shows people returning to their homes. There are shots of policemen checking cars and the identities of people returning to the flooded areas. This was a precaution against looting. Some houses were unsuitable for habitation again. There is a close-up shot of a notice on a house in Harwich to this effect and scenes of houses with their contents washed into the garden. The cleaning up operation follows. Mud is shovelled out of the houses andfurniture and goods are stacked outside. A house is sprayed. Wheeled and tracked army vehicles bring in military personnel and civilian volunteers to assist with the clean up process. River board surveyors are seen assessing the damage to the banks and sea walls. The final sequence is of the men filling sandbags and then stacking them into walls, and finally re-inforcing them with timber.

Background Information:

Most of this film is shot at Canvey Island. Essex was hit hard by the floods of 1953. In Norfolk, the floods arrived during mid-evening; people were up and about and had some warning. In Essex, the floods arrived at midnight, creeping up on people whilst they slept. Eight people were drowned at Harwich – 5 were over 60 – and 1,700 were made homeless. Canvey Island, along with Jaywick at Clacton, was particularly hard hit. These were colonies of wooden chalets and beach huts designed for temporary, summer occupation. In 1953, because of the post-war housing shortage in London, many were occupied permanently. There was no register of this; no way of knowing how many people were trapped or had been swept away. 58 people died at Canvey Island.

Featured Buildings:

Canvey Island Secondary Modern School

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