Plaque Remembers Canvey's Flood Dead

Evening Echo 3rd February 1997

Vincent Heatherson's interview with the BBC 1997
Vincent Heatherson's interview with the BBC 1997

Hundreds of Canvey residents paid tribute to the islanders who per­ished in the 1953 floods with tears, flowers and a minute’s silence. They gathered at the library by the Knightswick Centre on Saturday afternoon to watch the unveiling of a plaque in memory of the 58 victims whose lives were claimed by the rav­ages of the sea.

It was exactly 44 years from that fateful night on February 1st when 24ft tides battered the East coast, swamping the island and Great Wakering, Foulness, Wallasea and Southend. In total 68 lives were lost and a memorial has now been erected to remember Canvey’s dead.

It was the idea of Vincent Heatherson, of Deepwater Road, who suggested to the council there should be a memor­ial on Canvey for those who lost their lives.

Crowds gather in remembrance

The young man offi­cially unveiled the plaque, watched by his proud family and other guests including the mayor, Dr Bob Spink MP and Father Neville Banks, the mayor’s chap­lain.

He said: “At last the day has come for the 58 victims of the flood to be remembered. I cannot believe that 44 years have gone by without a memo­rial, though I can under­stand why one was need­ed because of the huge amount of support I have had from the council and the people of the island.”

Vincent’s work was praised by Castle Point Mayor Dennis Williams and a minute’s silence was led by Father Banks. Vincent’s brother, James, 26, said: “The whole family are so proud of him.”

George Blackwell, 79, of Beach Road, is one of the four remaining fire­men alive out of the 10 who battled to save islanders from the sea. He said: “On the night we had a call at about 12.30 telling us there was a leak in the barrier in the Sunken Marsh area. As we drove towards it we could see the sea water gushing towards us down Rainbow Road. There was a boatyard nearby and we managed to get into these two-man canoes. We were the only ones who could do it until the army arrived the next morning. We spent four days in the freezing conditions, working against the snow and rain. I did not see my wife and children until I got back to the rescue centre four or five days after.”

Firemen George Blackwell, 79, Sunny Blackwell, 84 and Bill Hall, 80.

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The above plaque has now been placed in the care of The Bay Museum after being replace with a new plaque last year.

Comments about this page

  • Vincent Heatherson lost his battle with cancer yesterday aged just 33. Many will remember the young man in the article about not only for his politics but as a popular Canvey gardener. RIP

    By Janet Penn (05/07/2012)
  • I meet and corresponded with Vincent while he was starting his campaign for the Flood memorial, it was because of him that, Canvey has the Flood memorial today. It was unusual for such a young man to take an interest in such a project may Vincent rest in peace,  I send my sincere condolence to his family you may be justly proud of him. A wonderful young man

    By Margaret (07/07/2012)
  • Thank you very much. I am his nephew and I am sorting out a memorial plaque to be placed in the Canvey 2000 sensory gardens he majorly contributed to, and I will also do a biographical article for the site soon.

    By Liam Heatherson (08/07/2012)
  • Thank you for the posts and pictures of my husband. My husband would be so pleased. I can’t get to grips he’s gone. He was my world and always willx

    By Emily heatherson (19/07/2012)
  • Iam so pleased to know a plaque has been put up for those who lost their lives I lived on Canvey during the floods so know what it was like I was 8yrs old when it happened I remember my mum thinking she had left the tap on as when she looked down the stairs and saw all the water My family name was Austin we lived on Canvey all my childhood until I married

    By Yvonne Easton (03/10/2012)
  • This plaque has now been replace Yvonne. You can see the new one here

    By Janet Penn (03/10/2012)
  • Only came to this site in the last few days. Busy researching our family history, I stumbled across the item on the “Bullrush Baby”. Knew the Stevens family well. Looking at the photos of the memorial, two names leapt out, Violet and Leonard Starling. My brother often mentioned a Starling with whom he played, went swimming and roved around the Island and Hadleigh Castle with back then. Was he the Leonard mentioned ? Or was he the father ?
    By a really weird coincidence I am now living in the house once occupied by Fireman George Blackwell. For a while when we first moved in we received information about nursery schools, I think it was, addressed to his wife, possibly. New to the Island, or more correctly returning after nearly 50 years, we didn’t know the strong connection with David Blackwell and returned everything. It wasn’t until 2004 when I started working in the Costcutter Store in the High Street that I got to know David and his connection with my home. The then owner of the franchise bought his eggs from David and we later made great use of the now closed garden centre. Funny old world !

    By Dave Housden (13/04/2021)
  • Leonard Starling was 12 years old when he died in 1953. You can read his family story by clicking on his name.

    By Janet Penn (13/04/2021)
  • Thanks, Janet. I didn’t know Leonard but he was certainly one of my brother’s circle of mates. By the time of the flood, I was just over 7 years old. My brother was just starting his apprenticeship on the Glasgow ship yards. The story I had was that Leonard has gone back into the water to rescue someone and had either been trapped or overcome with exposure. He seemed a very popular lad and my father spoke kindly of him both before and after his sad death.

    By Dave Housden (13/04/2021)

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