A shopping basket full of memories of Leigh Beck

Remembering shops, buildings and people from the 50s onwards

As there seems to be quite a lot of interest in this small shopping area (which has been, literally, the centre of our universe from 1947 to the present) my sister Jenny Stacey and myself decided to put our heads together and come up with as close to a definitve history as we can.

Chronologically we’ll start in the early 50s (cos that’s as far as our memories can stretch) and add as much previous history as we can.

Geographically, we’ll start on the north side of the High St (opp.Gafzelle Drive) heading in a easterly direction.

So here we go:

Whitier Hall Tennis Courts

The three shops that comprised our parade were built onto the front of the original shops and bakery (which he’d constructed from the early 20s) by my grandad, Oliver Stevens.

This second phase was started in the very early 30s after the High St (or London Rd, Main Rd, Station Approach, take your pick), no pun intended, was lowered. Granpa Stevens always had very individual ideas on building materials i.e anything that was cheap and available.

Reliance Bakery, shops construction 1930s phase

This resulted in some shop-walls being formed from shuttering of thick asbestos sheets filled with bakery-oven ash and others from pot-bricks and cement, all of which the Normans would have been proud of! In the late 40s/early50s the first shop was Mitchell’s Library owned by Mr McNeil (his grandson is Martin McNeil, Evening Echo editor).

Mr McNeil was balding with a small moustache and round spectacles.  He always wore a three-piece pin-striped suit and striped shirt with sleeves held up by silver bands. Occasionally he wore a brown warehouse coat (a la Arkwright) much favoured by shopkeepers of that era. The shop,although called Mitchell’s Library, sold very few books but had a varied stock, similar to the Clockhouse, i.e.secondhand mags and comics, toys, games and puzzles, beachgoods, ciggies and  lots of sweets in glass jars on shelves up to the ceiling.

It was rather dusty and disorganised and amongst all the paraphernalia Jenny even remembers__paraffin. Some kids used to buy a quarter of sherbert lemons from the top shelf and when old Mac came back down the ladder their mate would ask for a qtr of cough-candy from the same shelf. Old Mac was not a happy shopkeeper!

Stevens Parade a painting by Paul Smyth 1952

The middle shop was the Post-office down the left-hand side and the bakery occupied the rest. The bakery side must have sold other things besides bread and cakes cos I remember taking lots of Dairylea Cheese Triangles that had a bit of mould on them (not saleable) to Leigh Beck and giving them away to classmates __nobody turned their noses up! Rosa Webb was in charge of the Post-office and Molly Britnell and my Auntie Dot (then Dorothy Lording) worked in the bakery shop.

At this time the end shop was empty but had been used, for a short time, by my Uncle Ray (Stevens) for a bicycle repair-shop venture. In fact, the facia of the canopy was still sign-written to this effect. Mitchell’s Library and the Post Office/Bakery were also sign-written and the post-box was situated in front of the middle shop. Probably about 1950 the P.O was moved to the end shop with access into the bakery shop. Fortunately the floodwater of 1953 did not enter the bakery or shop premises. For a couple of years from c1954 I delivered telegrams on Saturdays and in school holidays, a job I shared with and then took over from Denise Cunningham. Auntie Rosa (Rosa Webb) was still in charge of the P.O. and I also remember; Mrs Argent, Mrs Quin,a lady called Pat and Miss Stuckey worked there too on apart-time basis.

THE 50s to 70s SHOP-SWOP.

Trying to put this sequence of events in order proved to be quite difficult for us, so I hope it’s not too confusing for the reader:  dates have to be approximate:

Sometime in the middle 50s when Mr McNeill retired the P.O.was transferred to that vacant shop which had been re-furbished. We are a little vague about the fate of the ex-Post-office shop but I believe the bakery moved onto that side and the firm expanded into more grocery items, using both shops.

Late 60s Gpa Stevens Wolseley in front of P.O

The most significant event of this time was on June 1st 1960 when a serious fire severely damaged the interior of the old bakery but the shops were unscathed. Because the bakery was unusable bread and cakes were ‘bought in’ from Dossetts of Leigh and Grandpa Stevens (then 76yrs) set too, repairing the damage with the help of some casual labour (Ernie Rushforth, I remember.) Amazingly baking was possible by the end of June.

Shortly after the fire c1961 both shops were completely re-furbished by Collins building firm (Richard ‘Dick’ Powell was a chippy on this job). They were also re-fitted, the centre shop which became a self-service store and the bakery shop was much improved. My mum, Kay, managed all the retail side and the firm’s accounts (ever since the early 50s). Also about this time Elkingtons’ two shops and accommodation in the next parade came up for sale, originally a general-store, I believe the premises had become very run-down. After some deliberation my mum and dad thought it a good idea to acquire Elkingtons and Grandpa Stevens bought the freehold c1963.

Reliance Cottage

The property needed a lot of building work and it was probably about 18 months before the Post-office was moved to this site where it has remained to this day. At the age of 80, Grandpa Stevens had retired from bakery work but remained as Sub-postmaster, an active and responsible role, illustrated by his purchase of a motor-cyclists’ crash helmet which he wore for protection when carrying money and P.O. documents back to the safe at his home at Reliance Cottage. Later on the Royal Mail must have considered the position of the P.O. to be permanent as it moved the post-box to it’s present location.

Last day of the Grocery Dept 1974 . l-r Vi Clarke,Ada Bellett, Kay Stevens,Dolly Smith, Queenie Elliot.

With the removal of the P.O. from the former Mitchell’s Library, the Bakery shop was despatched to that end of the parade and the area it had occupied became the hardware dept of the self-service store. In 1974 my mum decided it was time to take things a little easier so reluctantly, after 12yrs trading, she closed the grocery self-service.

So, following another refit, back came the Bakery shop to it’s former location with addition of a brand new shop-front in 1978. The middle shop was used as the pastrycook’s warehouse and the empty shop was used, temporarily, by schoolteacher Doug de Cruz’s Swan Theatre Group for fund-raising activities. The canopy in front of the parade must have been pulled down c 1978.

New shop-front post 1978

The building of the new bakery in the long hot summer of 76 really heralded the end of the shop-swopping of the previous decades. In the early 70s it was becoming increasingly obvious most of the old bakery building was untenable, therefore, using the original flour-store as a link to the bakery shop a 2000 sq ft building was constructed on the east side of the site. The old bakery behind the two shops was pulled down and individual storerooms added to each shop. During this process the builders fell foul of one of Grandpa Stevens unique construction methods when an avalanche of ash and cinders came down out of a wall they were demolishing. The new configuration of the site also gave us the advantage of a large tarmac car-park.

The middle shop tenancy was taken by the Collette Charity (later Mencap) in the care of Pauline Watts, Janet?, Kay?, Clarice and Nora. Barry and Mary Burns opened Target Hire in the end shop.

Target Hire, Mencap and Bakery -April 87(Oct 17 trees in background had dissappeared)

Having withstood Flood and Fire the bakery business coped with ‘not exactly Famine’ but the bread shortages caused by the plant bakery strike of Sept 77. Long hours were worked and bread had to be rationed.

In the following two decades there were no major changes. Our parents Aubrey and Kay remained actively involved and dedicated to the business until they passed away in 1986 and 1994 respectively.

At this juncture I think it’s the right time to mention people who worked in the bakery and shops, some for more than 20 yrs, others for shorter periods, sometimes just to help us out.

Bread strike queue Sept 77

Over nearly 50yrs it’s quite a long list so I apologise if I I’ve forgotten anyone:
Uncle Eddie (Hall), Peter Webb, Tom (the Frenchman), ‘Butch’ Talbot, Peter Waghorn, Arthur Baker, Charlie Carey Mark Vincent, Paul Kent, Len Brazier, Bob Harwood, Aubrey Hawkins, Joe Overs, Doug Henderson, Wally Manning,Wally Kingsley  Maisie Talbot,’Smiler’ Talbot,Beattie Webb, Olive Hansford, Ada Bellett, Vi Clarke, Dolly Smith, Queenie Elliot, Joan Jeffreys, her daughter Elaine, Christine Davis, Mandy, Rene Townsend, Shirley?, Michele Henderson, Flo Bishop, her daughter Sylvie, Cynthia Baker and her daughter Carol, Wendy Milne, Maureen Hill and last but not least, my daughter Leanne.

Sometime in 1997 the Charity Shop called it a day and the middle shop became Needfull Things, a gift and novelty shop run by Kay Hearn (from Maurice Rd P.O) and her sister-in-law.

Notice of closure and thanks to customers

Sadly after 76yrs trading I had to close the bakery on 24th April 1999, however my wife Sandra opened up Toys 4 U selling quality s/hand toys in the ex-bakery shop. Shortly after that Needfull Things closed and the toy shop was extended into that shop.The final nail in the coffin came when Target Hire moved to new  premises at the top of May Ave in 2000 and in 2001 the site was sold for residential development.

End of part one……………..to be continued

Comments about this page

  • You appear to have forgotten the Collins Bros who had a the green gorcers shop which was the last shop in the parade nearest the Jellicoe. That would be about 1948

    By CANVEY JOE (18/11/2008)
  • Hi Canvey Joe
    It’s not that I’ve forgotten the Collins brothers, Ernie and Dick or their Dad (who, like my Dad, kept racing pigeons)  they’ll be in the ‘to be continued’. I hope to go down to the Jellicoe, cross the road and come back, cos we’ve still got quite a few photos to use. Needed a holiday after the last effort, hope to start again soon!

    By Graham (19/11/2008)
  • I remember buying some salt n vineger crisps in the bakers some time in 1972. It wasn’t ’till I got them home I realised that the price on the pack was 7d and not 7p (we went decimal in ’71 but prices were in new money from about ’69 I think). I was all for eating them but my mother sent them off to Walkers (or Smiths or whoever) with a letter of complaint. They sent back a £1.50 voucher. Good result.

    The thing I’ll remember ’till my dying day is the smell of fresh bread cooking coming from the back of the buiding. Mmmmmmmm.

    By Marshman (19/11/2008)
  • Hi,
    I’m Ernie’s daughter. Dad and Uncle Dick often talked of Canvey. Both have now passed on. However there is still a contingent of ex-Canvey Island dwellers here in New Zealand. Will pass on the site reference to them.

    By Nee Collins (18/02/2009)
  • The Greengrocers shop was the model for Ronnie Barkers “Open All Hours” with “Arkwright” being based on George Collins. A laugh a minute in that shop. I will post some pictures once I have found them.

    By Tony Collins (04/04/2009)
  • It would be great if you can find them Tony they will go nicely with Grahams next page

    By Janet Penn (04/04/2009)
  • Hi
    Good to hear from members of the Collins family and of the contingent of ex-Canvey Island dwellers in N.Z. Hmm, ‘Graham’s next page’, could that be a subtle hint,Jan? I’ll start A.S.A.P, after yet another holiday! Graham.

    By Graham Stevens (11/04/2009)
  • Seeing the photos of Stevens Bakery brought back memories of when my brother and I used to go to the bakers on Good-Friday for Hot Cross Buns.
    Also remember the wool shop and mum taking us all in there to choose the wool for the jumpers or cardigans she would knit us.
    I have vague memories of the greengrocers and the butchers but what I remember of the butcher is the sawdust on the floor.
    Thanks for bringing back so many wonderful memories.

    By Janet Hynes (Nee Blundell) (24/08/2009)
  • My mother, Nacy (Annie) Wilson worked at STEVENS for a few years, I cant remember how long, she loved working there said it was like one big family, she was working there when my father died, she came home from work to find him gone, they were living in BEACH House caravan site at the time my Father, George Wilson died April 1966.

    There was another lady there at the time who lived with her and her daughters family, a lovely lady who was so kind to mum THINK it was ADA ?

    By margaret day" Mick " (10/01/2010)
  • Hello Jenny and Graham. I stumbled onto this site while looking for something else! How wonderful to read others memories. Stevens Bakery – couldn’t beat their jam doughnuts, I can taste them now.

    By Pauline Williams (nee Warren) (09/03/2013)
  • Dear Mr Stevens ,

    I have been reading about the Collins family. My Mum and Dad John and June Manly knew a Dick and Terry Colin’s and their two children Tony and Richard. In 1973 we went to New Zealand to visit them. I have some Great pictures of that holiday, before I try to send them, do I have the right family. Before they emergrated they lived on the main road roughly opposite the Liegh Beck school and the Bus Garage  and Dick  was a builder who extended our house in Hornesland road.

    Regards,

    Jane Parkin.

    By Jane parkin (17/02/2015)
  • Hi Jane, Yes, you’ve definitely got the right Collins family. I believe Dick built that house in the 60s and it didn’t seem long after that when they emigrated to New Zealand. Having seen all your information about the Manlys I feel I have to add my memories about your family.

    As youngsters playing in the Holbeck Rd area we were always fascinated by the bungalow inside the house in Westman Rd, never realised that it was a story in the local press when it was finished in the late 50s. At this time I was ‘going out ‘ with Pam Moloney who lived in Hornsland Rd and Fay and your Nan were very friendly with her Mum(also Doris) and her Grandad, Mr Wheeler. They used to to come across a bit of spare land from Westman.

    I also have memories of your Dad, John, with his ‘shock’ of blond hair when he occasionally visited them and further back some recollections of him at Whittier Hall with Dick Crane and Will and Mary McCave et al. Regards, Graham.

    By Graham Stevens (18/02/2015)
  • Oh how lovely to hear about the Manly family from someone who remembers them. I did not know Aunty Fay as she died before I was born, aged 32 but everyone says she was a wonderful person and it is a great sadness of mine that I missed that opportunity. She had a boyfriend called Lenny Carver but  they did not marry.

    I expect they came through from Westman because Grandma owned some land in Hornesland which she used as an orchard and this is where we built our house when we came back to Canvey from 1967 to 1973. Charles and I went to Liegh Beck as Fay and Dad did in the thirties. I unfortunately don’t know the people you mention. The names I remember are, Mrs Pointer, Mrs Good, Mrs Hards and her daughter Dillis, Bert Taylor and Mr and Mrs Moss.

    In his young days Dad played billiards twice a week at Whittier hall,you are right.

    His  friends were Jack Fennwick, Jean and Cathy Devonish, Fred and Bobby Knight, McDonald, Dave Attwell, Winnie who I think was called Windell or Windle, John and Jean Fisk nee Jones to name a few. There was another one he wrote about but his nick name is so politically incorrect I cannot mention it.

    I know all this because he wrote it all down for us his children so we would Know, in his words “about his paradise” Canvey Island .

    Charles and I both inherited the shock of blond hair but these days I have more of it than he does.

    We were all set to emigrate to New Zealand after our visit to see Dick and Terry but Family ties were too great  still it was an amazing place. Thank you for your memories .

    Regards ,

    Jane 

    By Jane Parkin (20/02/2015)
  • Dear Jane,

    My uncles were/are Fred and Bobby Knight.  Bobby emigrated to Australia back in the 60’s, he came home for a visit in 1994 and passed away in Australia in 1996.  I’d love to hear any stories your Dad might have written about them and their family. 

    Regards

    Elaine

    By Elaine Whitfield (29/07/2015)
  • Hi Elaine ,

    I do have a story that my father Wrote  about Fred and Bobby I will look it out .Watch this space .So lovely that I can tell you .

    I also went to Furtherwick Park with a Brian Knight ,any relation?

    Jane parkin

    By Jane parkin (29/07/2015)
  • Jane, Brian Knight was Fred Knights Son. My Mum was Fred and Bob Knights sister.

    By Joe Nash (26/01/2018)
  • I remember Len Carver very well, as I used to work with him.

    By Joe Nash (27/01/2018)
  • Hi Jo ,

    I do hope you come back to this page please put in the search box Fred and Bobby Knight and Jack Fenwick’s Gun. It is a story my Father wrote about them it is quite funny.

    Thank you for filling in the gaps, it is so interesting and I did not know that my Dad was friends with one generation of Knights and I was friends with the next.

    Jane 

    By Jane Parkin (09/02/2018)

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