The Memories of Clary Swann
With thanks to Liz Swann
Do you remember The Casino, the amusement park on the seafront at Canvey Island? Everyone that has visited Canvey up until the early 1990’s would remember passing or even visiting The Casino.
Its seaside location and abundance of slot machines and fairground rides was a must for every child and even a lot of adults to visit, but how did it start and who ran it and why did it close? There can only be one person to ask – a man who started almost at the beginning and closed its doors at the end. This man is Clary Swann and here are his memories of The Casino….
1932: Alexander Harold Beaumont (AHB) and Ernie Madle came together with an idea to build an amusement park to entertain visitors to Canvey. AHB was a very successful business man based at Wrights Wharf Salmon Lane London E14, his company maintained and built gas holders at power stations all over the country (this was big business at this time). Mr Madle was a showman with fairgrounds in his roots. The partnership purchased 200ft of frontage on Canvey seafront. Eugene Lawrence (founder of Canvey Supply) was commissioned as Architect to plan that the amusement park.
The original plan was a single storey complex to house two restaurants (one either side of the arcade at the front entrance) and through to an amusement park with fairground rides at the rear. This was soon re-designed to a two storey building to accommodate a state of the art ballroom.
The main frame of the building was constructed using a large steel frame with brickwork walls. This building covered just 100ft of the frontage purchased. The rest was to be developed at a later date.
As you can see from the photos AHB was very much hands on, he was on site overseeing all the work throughout – he was very much “hands on”.
Building started with one shovel of earth being lifted by AHB on a windswept seafront.
1933: The amusement park called “The Casino” was ready to open with a grand opening on 10 June 1933.
It was indeed a grand opening with a gala dinner. The Casino was officially opened by F J Leach Esq Chairman of Canvey UDC, supported by the Right Hon George Lansbury MP and Tom Groves Esq MP JP (Mayor of West Ham). Unfortunately at the last moment the Right Hon George Lansbury was unable to attend as he was called to duty in the House of Commons. As a point of interest the Right Hon George Lansbury was in fact father to that famous actress Angela Lansbury (of Murder She Wrote fame).
The opening dinner was attended by AHB, EH Madle, S Alderman, E Lawrence to name but a few. Jimmy Edmunds London dance Orchestra entertained the many guests who danced through from 8pm until 11.30pm. The cost of such a grand event was 2/- (10p) for a single ticket of 3/6 for a double.
The ballroom above The Casino was state of the art. There was enough space for 500 people to dance. The stairs, entrance way and room itself were all decorated with oak panelling with a grand art deco ceiling. The ballroom boasted 20 windows facing over the seawall. T he ballroom had to be licensed as a restaurant, to get round this requirement they sold a sandwich to have with a drink. Orchestras entertained guests at the regular tea dances that were held in the ballroom before the war.
The Casino was now up and running with the ballroom upstairs and restaurants and entertainment on the ground floor. There was a wealth of slot machines of all kinds, rides with all ages catered for. The completed building consisted of dodgems, boating pool, house of fun and children’s roundabouts.
After a year of trading Mr Madle decided to return to his roots of travelling with fun fairs and AHB bought out Mr Madle’s share of the business. AHB then became the “Sole Proprietor” of The Casino. AHB was a regular visitor to Canvey seafront his Rolls Royce Phantom III could often be seen parked in the grounds of the amusement park. Due to AHB’s other business interests he could not be on Canvey all the time and relied on his Manager John Austin to deal with the day to day running of the amusement park.
In 1935 Lily Swann (Sister to Clary) worked for AHB in his London office and also handled the books for The Casino. Clary worked in Clerkenwell at the time and Lily told him that AHB was looking for staff to work at the weekends in the amusement park on Canvey seafront. Clary Swann’s life at The Casino started that year. AHB goes on to rent land from the Council opposite The Casino, here he builds boating lake with wooden bridges across it for access to the beach (These bridges were dismantled during the war as they were seen by the authorities as an invasion threat). You could rent a rowing boat and paddle up and down the lake parallel with the seawall. This was a very popular pastime but was very labour intensive with constant repairs and maintenance needed. After the 1953 flood when the seawall was made higher the boating lake was filled in by the Council using Canvey’s waste. In fact this area was turned into an area with lots of juvenile rides and a train track. It created a family friendly atmosphere outside the main amusement park.
AHB was a man who commanded attention when entering a room, he was determined to make The Casino a success and nothing was to get in the way. During a period of heavy rain the drains became blocked at the front of the amusement park. The council were not to concerned of this until a team of workers from The Casino pumped the water from the drains in front of the amusement park and sent the photos to the Council members. An attraction across the road from The Monico and The Casino were two steam engines. These AHB bought from Poplar Gas Works, they were used at the gas works to transport coke across the site. AHB had the idea to run a narrow gauge railway line along the length of the seafront from The Monico to Seaview Road with visitors being able to get on and off all along the seafront. With the trains in place and the rail about to be laid AHB applied to the Council for permission for this latest venture. The Council decided that at each junction where the train met a road (i.e. May Avenue, Maurice Road etc) there would have to be a manned crossing at all times the trains were in operation. This made the project so uneconomical that the plan was abandoned. The trains were sited for visitors to climb on. During the war they were dismantled for the war effort.
The Casino was going from strength to strength but it was seen that less people visited the seafront later in the afternoons. The majority of people visited Canvey by bus, these stopped at the Haystack. Therefore visitors would walk down to the seafront in the morning sit on the beach, visit The Casino and enjoy the attractions. The dads would then walk back to the Haystack for a beer; they would then be followed by their wives and families who would visit the tearooms in that area for a bite to eat. Rather than walk all the way back to the seafront they would then make their way home from the Haystack. AHB on finding this out decided things had to change. He realised he needed his own pub right next door to the amusement park. And so the story of The Monico begins…
From the beginning AHB was on site, supervising every aspect of its construction. He bought the land, applied for the permissions and licences, built it and then ran it. The Monico had a large cellar, both gas and electric lighting and hot water together with gas cookers in the kitchens. The gas boiler system was installed to supply enough hot water to accommodate 26 bedrooms and all the baths. It was indeed a luxury hotel costing an estimated £18,000 to build. During The Monico’s construction winter came early in the November of 1937. AHB being a caring governor to all his workmen allowed them all the scrap wood on the site and a sack of coal each for their fires. 1938 sees the Monico nearing completion. The licence had been yet another challenge. The Licensing Committee sat only once a year. The first year the application was refused, the second time of application it was refused. Not to be beaten he applied for the third time, this time following advice that a hotel would sound better than public house applied under the name Hotel Monico.
One strong objection was from Charringtons, “What makes you think you could run a hotel?” AHB replied “Having stayed in hotels all over the country, if I couldn’t run a hotel better than any of them I wouldn’t apply for a licence”. The licence was finally granted in 1938
The Monico opened with a grand party and was another feather in AHB’s cap. AHB ran both The Casino and The Monico for many successful years – now there was somewhere for the dads to get a drink whilst mum and the kiddies were having fun in the amusement park. Having said they both ran for many years of course the year after The Monico opened war came. The Monico remained open but The Casino closed for the duration. The Monico and The Casino were both painted in camouflage paint courtesy of one Clary Swann and a fellow workman. Having said The Casino closed for the duration there is record of the ballroom being used for functions to help the war effort:
11 September 1942 – “Tanks for Attack Week” – a boxing tournament was held. A programme for tuppence. The officials were 2nd Liet. Heaser 438 Battery, Sergeant Instructor Kidd APTC, Sergeant AW Simpson Essex County Constabulary M C BSM Fenner 438 Battery, Time keeper Lieut. Quail;
1943 – “Wings for Victory Week” another boxing tournament.
The war ends and The Casino is up and running again. The ballroom gets a makeover with a new floor, and (well known locally) a big glittering ball hanging from the centre of the ceiling. There were now 1000’s of visitors to Canvey seafront with an astonishing (for that time) several hundred cars parked in the surrounding area. The Monico was eventually sold to Charringtons Brewery in 1946.
In 1948 John Austin (Manager of The Casino since it opened) dies and Clary Swann after his war service and working in the background of both The Monico and The Casino takes on the position of Manager of The Casino. AHB extended the land on which The Casino was built to make space for a car park at the rear, added to this was a ghost train, children’s motor car track with Austin cars, more kiddies roundabouts, a set of Gallopers and the Helter Skelter with its large bowl. The Helter Skelter was made of copper/aluminium alloy which made it light and easy to erect. The bowl which riders ended up in was made of highly polished wood. A bingo was also added. Snackbars, side shows and a fish & chip shop completed the area. AHB also built 4 flats on the newly extended front aspect. In 1952 one of the flats became home to Clary and his family, where he continued to live until The Casino closed down.
In 1958 AHB’s son Sidney dies suddenly, this together with AHB’s own failing health and advancing age he decides to sell The Casino. AHB had many business ventures and as The Casino was mainly a “weekend” venture became the business he chose to part with.
In 1959 AHB sells The Casino to Tom Harniess, a fairground family from Yorkshire. Tom, his wife Maudie and his mother all acquire shares in The Casino and informs everyone that he proposes to continue running the amusement park as it is at present and that the day to day running of The Casino would be in the capable hands of Clary Swann.
Clary continues to run the amusement park all through the “swinging sixties” – the time of The Beatles and fairgrounds were the place to be. In keeping with the times a jukebox was installed between the dodgem and the speedway track. This was very popular, often resulting in crowds gathering to watch the youngsters dance. The Wild Mouse was erected in the rear area and was a huge success, Canvey was now competing with The Kursall in Southend.
The Casino was very much a “family” run business. Tom Harniess’s wife and his children (Tommy, Rita, Vicky, Paula and young Stanley) together with Clary’s sister (Lily) and daughters (Liz and Lea) all worked in various change desks and on various rides. The dodgem loudspeaker being remembered – “Press the peddle and turn the steering wheel, one way round the track please and no deliberate bumping”. Lily also ran The Gift Shop in the slot machine arcade and for many years, the general shop on the front of The Casino.
The Wild Mouse was a large big dipper type ride. It was a wood structure which was taken down and painted every three years. The ride was very noisy and sparked complaints from the residents living behind the amusement park, this problem was soon overcome when residents in the immediate vicinity were given a rate reduction by the local authority. The Mouse came from a company in Scotland called George Maxwell and Co.
When it was first erected the idea was that it would be a ride for adults. Clary Swann tested the ride and to his amazement when he got off standing waiting to have a go were his young daughters. After much pleading they were allowed a ride, this persuaded Clary that the ride was suitable for youngsters as well and the age limit was lowered. Tragically Tom Harniess’s son Stanley is killed in a car accident in 1970. Tom’s health suffered and he decides to sell a lease on The Casino. Clary together with Peter Keeble take up the lease in 1972, the lease is for 22 years. Tom and Maudie together with their youngest son James maintain a flat in The Casino and spend their time between Canvey and their home in Doncaster.
Clary and Peter work together to run the amusement park. In 1974 The Wild Mouse is sold and the land it stood on also sold off for development. Summers were still very busy as the later photos show. In 1982 Clary’s daughter Lea takes over the donut kiosk outside The Casino – she still runs the donut kiosks situated outside Fantasy Amusements and Carousel Amusements. The donut machine in Fantasy kiosk is the original machine from outside The Casino – still in use after some 30 odd years
The seventies become the eighties and then the nineties and the lease is coming to an end. The era of amusement parks is beginning to pass and gradually theme parks become the order of the day. The building is also coming to the end of its life. The decision is made and Clary Swann and Peter Keeble retire.
Clary still lives on Canvey with his wife Margaret, his daughters Liz and Lea and their children also all live on the Island. Lea in fact owns the café on Concord Beach (opposite The Windjammer pub) and in warm weather Clary can often be found giving a helping hand there.
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It was lovely to read this account of The Casino’s history; I worked in the shop in the late 1960’s under Miss Swann. I was also a friend of Stanley Harniess and we were dating at the time of his tragic accident, I have never forgotten him or his family. Janette Sheern ne. Johnson.
It was so lovely to read these memories. The thing I must say is that my maiden name was Swann and I come from Clerkwell area which is so strange don’t you think
Hi there doing some research into the lighthouse helter skelter which was at Canvey Island and really want to know were it went after the amusements closed I have heard it still exists but have failed to track it down so if I knew who bought it I would have a starting place to look many thanks
I believe my Dad George Hayes took part in the building of the Monico. He also worked in the Casino and was on the door of the Ballroom for a time. I also worked in the Casino from 13 years old, working for Clary Swann and also Tommy Harniess. The late Stanley Harniess was a friend of mine, lovely guy and a great tragedy, think of him quite often, especially when I’m on the Island. I really miss the Casino and all the people I grew up with. MEMORIES.
What a wonderful account, with lots of things i didn’t know. I loved the Casino, the place to be in the 60’s. Clary (Mr Swann) gave me a partime job running the four small roundabouts at the back by the bumper cars, under the very strict guidance of a very stern lady siting in a kiosk. I remember the six little boats, going around in a circle, i used to have to pull them in, and let the people in and out just like the real thing, loved that job, and the doughnut kiosk in front of the two cowboy horses….so good, but so bad…! It must have left a lasting impression, because when i immigrated to NZ in 2007, I opened my own Casino ‘Silverdale Adventure Park’ with some of the same style rides.
Thanks for the memories…
Lovely to read this bringing back memories of my childhood. Mum and dad (Peter and Phyllis Owens) used to take me for a walk along the seawall on a Sunday afternoon and if I was lucky I got to go on a ride. Also used to go on a pony ride in the field next to the casino. As an older teenager my friend and I would go to the dances at the casino. I remember a great group who used to do Beach Boys covers. If I here that music now I always thinks of those dances.
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