1953 Flood

My Story

With any accident or calamity everyone’s memories of the same incident will be different, so these are my recollections and may differ from others or yours. There are however some facts scattered around that are just that. Facts

I have been nagged to put my memories of the flood on paper by people who shall be nameless, I have not done so before, as many others have already covered the subject more comprehensibly and I never thought that my actions at the time were anything other than the preservation of my wife, family and of course myself and still do.

Rainbow Road

At the time we were living in 9 Rainbow Road a timber framed pebble dashed bungalow with a corrugated iron roof and interior “Polite” walls for which I was paying £1 per week.

We were however due to start moving into a new bungalow at 15 The Avenue which had just been completed, that Sunday. My in laws, Arthur Lesadd Snr and his wife Jessie, were staying with us as their new house was being built in Furtherwick Road. It was obviously a little cramped.

When the shop (Grocers) in Furtherwick Road closed, I went home with what appeared to be the onset of a feverish cold or flu and it was agreed that Olive my wife, would sleep with the children Marion 3 and George 2, so that whatever I had would not spread to the others.

I went straight to bed, there was a very strong wind and we had heard about the sinking of the ferry in the Irish Sea in a gale.

Around 1/am I woke up, lying there wondering if I should get up and be sick or to wait and see if it would pass. Then I realised that there was a lot of noise and it was not the usual sound of rain on the metal roof, also  there were glugging  noises coming from the toilet, I looked out and saw water rushing past as if the bungalow was travelling at about 5 knots so I dived into the room where Olive and the children were, shouting at them to get up and grab some clothes, I was promptly told to go back to bed as I was delirious, so I pointed at the old wooden perforated zinc meat safe which was on a wooden table outside the back door, with the Sunday joint in it floating past the window, which stirred them all, including the in laws into action. The electric light was on for a short time until the water reached power points.

I discounted thoughts of the loft, as we had no idea of how high the water would rise and there was no way of getting out through a corrugated iron roof. B y then the carpets were starting to lift up, fortunately there was a ladder on the porch which I was able to get across to the garage roof. We managed to get across virtually dry, except for myself, plus blankets.

The garage was a very cheap angle iron, asbestos construction which I had bought and assembled, we all had doubts re its collapsing although we did not voice them at the time. My father in laws car being almost new was inside and I thought that it might help keep the garage from collapsing completely up if things got worse

There was a small holding nearby and the lady owner’s ducks and geese were swimming around us quacking having a wonderful time, it was bitterly cold and after a few hours we were beginning to suffer from hypothermia. Dealing with the others and the ladder etc, all I had on was pyjamas and a coat and that was wet to the waist.

People nearby had been banging off roof tiles and shouting for help for a long time, although who they thought could help at that time I have no idea, Much sadder was the sound of people calling for loved ones who had been swept away and were missing including a couple across the road in a bungalow, who had been called to take refuge in the house next door, the husband made it, sadly his wife did not, I can’t remember if she was swept away or tangled in the fence but they were calling for her for a long time.

At that time I was secretary of the Canvey Island Canoe Club and had a letter from the sea wall commission (or whatever the name was at that time) pointing out that in a recent gale with high tide, the concrete barge had moved and was resting on the foot of the sea wall and that we should move it at the earliest opp0rtunity if not sooner, there was no chance of doing that until the spring equinox so it stayed where it was. My first thoughts when I looked out had been that the bloody barge had smashed a hole in the seawall. While sitting on the roof I kept thinking that the Club members were going to spend the rest of our lives paying damages. Fortunately the conditions moved it around and parked it where it stayed until it was broken up.

Eventually, somehow we had to get out of the wind, and as I had been soaked to the waist fixing the ladder etc from the outset I could not get much wetter, I went back inside to see what I could arrange, the water level had dropped a couple of feet by then and I piled furniture up with a bed on top for us to sit on, it was wet but we were out of the wind.

In the process I discovered a drowned young pig in our bedroom together with loads of Farmyard type detritus and as it was not likely to be entertaining company he or she was ejected via a fan light window. The in-laws terrier had survived by climbing on to a floating table. All this was made possible by moonlight filtering in.

The water level had by then dropped to just below the level of the burners on the gas cooker and I discovered there was gas, so with the aid of one of those flint type igniters lit one of the burners, there was a jar of Bovril in the Easywork I asked if anyone wanted some? My father in law said yes so I lit the Gas under the kettle. Unfortunately I did not consider that as the kettle was full, it was full of dirty sea water which was promptly spat out, we did not feel up to trying to clean out the kettle and start again. We sat there in the dark in a state of misery awaiting dawn and whatever lay ahead.

Not long after this we heard a voice calling our names, it turned out to be Arthur Lesadd, Olives brother who had waded down Rainbow Avenue, to Rainbow Road which was chest deep, with news that my Father Horace Chambers was at the High Street end of Rainbow Avenue with his car and that the water had not reached the Farm, (That was Furtherwick farm where the Job centre is now) the fires were all lit, all we had to do was to get there.

By then I was not thinking straight, he asked where are the canoes?  I replied that they were on their racks in the back garden before all the problems started, but heaven knows if they still there, so off we went, now for some reason in all the kerfuffle I had lost my pyjama bottoms and I had not noticed until we went through the raspberry canes, when it was bought painfully to my attention. The cold water had not numbed me enough.

We got mother in law and the children in the double canoe presumably with the dog and Olive in a single one, and waded up Rainbow avenue to the High Street to the car. Then warmth at last at the farm.

While on the garage roof we noticed that my car on the grass verge which was slightly above the road was completely submerged with just the roof racks showing.

The people who built the farms built them on the high spots- they knew what they were doing.

The next day the local doctor decided that I was suffering from exposure on top of whatever else it was and that I had and should stay in bed until my temperature went down.

This caused problems as we needed children’s clothes etc as well as some for the adults, so Olive decided to go back to Rainbow Avenue, collect the canoe from where we had left it and recover whatever she could, all this in deep very cold water including inside the bungalow (and we call them the weaker sex).

On the way back to the Farm she was stopped by a Police Constable on suspicion of being a looter, probably on account of the load of stuff over her shoulder in a sheet. He accompanied her to make sure she was who she said she was and not a looter, I believe even helping her with her Loot including her mother’s corsets which apparently were of prime importance.

The following day I was fit enough to go with my father to try to salvage some of the stock etc in the High Street shop, which had been really hit and was going to take some days to complete, as there was chaos, labels off tins, biscuits which were loose in tins in those days, everything in paper or cardboard had come apart. As rationing was still in force we had to account for it all to be able to purchase replacements.

Chambers Shop, Chamberlain Avenue

The main shop was in Furtherwick Road next to the Rio cinema and only had around 1-2 inches in the store and none in the shop, the Farmhouse which was next to the shop and on a rise had none at all. While working at the high street the local undertaker asked me if I could take him in the canoe, which was at the shop, down to Rainbow Road, as someone reported that they had seen what looked like a body in a front room. It turned out to be rolled up bedding, never the less we checked some others while we were there, thankfully we did not find any. This photo shows coffins being unloaded onto our forecourt on the corner of Chamberlain Avenue and the High Street.

Olive and the children stayed with relations and friends on the mainland for about two weeks, then decided that they would be better at the farm in spite of the hosts kindness, we also felt that it was probably safe for them to return.

Our nice new bungalow in the Avenue only received about an inch of water but that was enough to wreck the floor covering, very basic wood block in the lounge and hall, with cork tiles in the bedrooms.

As we had not moved in I had not thought to insure it, “tough” but compared with others who had lost their lives and others all their possessions, we were safe and had nothing to complain about, but of course being human we did. I was at that time an employee so the losses to the business were Dad’s problem (He was only insured for fire).

My floors stayed damaged for 13 years, until we moved, although the lounge and hall were covered with carpet for about the last four years. The contents of the bungalow in Rainbow road however were insured but it took over a month for the adjuster to arrive, who promptly decided to reduce the value of everything. Our lovely new Myers bed which we had bought for the new home he decided was perfectly ok, I lifted the mattress a pointed out the small dead fish trapped under the mattress and pointed out that after being under salt water for a few weeks it would never dry out and would he be prepared to sleep in a permanently damp bed? to which he did not reply only to keep saying that it was perfectly OK.

My father at that time was president of the Southend Grocers association and asked Olive to be his Lady at the annual Dinner. She conned me into buying what was to me. a very expensive dress, the flood was a few weeks prior to the dinner, so it had never been worn. Even showing him the dried out receipt he insisted it was only worth a fraction because, as soon as it left the shop it became second hand etc. needless to say we did not renew with that company.
Normally I try to write with a light touch, but this is too serious a subject and I was acquainted with many, quite a few of whom had been customers for years, although after 60 years many names have faded but not many faces. However I remember making someone happy if only for a short time. Dad and I were in the Furtherwick road shop, obviously suffering from a lack of customers when Vic Vandersteen (the fishmonger) came in and asked if we could help? Yvonne his wife had been evacuated with their children and had their ration books, could we help him with some tea and sugar?I can’t remember the ration after all this time but it would be considered derisible now, probably a couple of ounces a week, I asked him how much would he like? How much can I have? He went off up the road with a 14 x2lb package of sugar on one shoulder and 6 lb of tea cartons under the other, normally Vic had a dour expression, but on this occasion his face lit up Furtherwick road. We probably included them as damaged in the flood.

I don’t know if this explanation has been given (it probably has but I missed it) the areas that suffered worse were divided by old sea walls into saucers/basins the first one filled up very fast, then into the next and so on, finally over the High Street where there were large open areas where it could spread more slowly. Rainbow road being an old creek bed was quite deep, an extension in the west direction leads to the Lake and the council estate etc.

As I said in the beginning these are some of my memories and must confess that my thoughts were only for family and selfishly no one else.

Friends in Grand Drive in Leigh heard the news on the radio and went to look and looking down, said that they were horrified at what they saw but could not contact us, I have a feeling that the drier areas had telephone communication with the big outside world but I may be wrong.

George Chambers 1923–?

Comments about this page

  • Sad to see the photo of your shop with the coffin’s outside. This corner of the Avenue was the collection point for the unfortunate victims, it’s a sight I will never forget. Snap, on your dates George.

    By Ian Hawks (11/03/2013)
  • Quite out of left field but I noticed the name Lesadd. I am trying to trace the family and my mother’s mother came from the Lesadd line.  Trying to find out information about John and Thomas Lesadd.  I am back to this time.  Any help would be appreciated.  Enjoyed your story also.  My email address is brennanmarcella843@gmail.com. I am in Australia

    By Marcella Brennan (06/08/2014)
  • This really brought back memories – even though I was only 3 at the time. I remember the Chamber family well (especially Marion as we were the same age). I also remember the biscuits in the big open boxes!

    We lived in Labworth Road at the time and I vaguely remember we all clambered into our loft and my Grandma putting her foot through the asbestos ceiling! I also remember being carried out to an army truck, with dead fish and straw floating around, to be taken to Benfleet to stay in my uncle’s house.

    Thanks for this fascinating site.
    Roland Zilz

    By Roland Zilz (26/11/2022)

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