Conversation on a Summer Afternoon, 2010

Canvey Characters

Whilst chatting to Dudley George one afternoon a couple of weeks ago the conversation turned to Canvey Characters and Dud told me a few anecdotes about two in particular; Arthur Reed and Madam Blackford.

Arthur will probably need no introduction to many older Canveyites, in fact he is almost  legendary. A true old ‘country boy’ tall and big-boned with a broad Essex accent, he could probably have taught Ray Mears a few lessons in outdoor survival techniques. He was known to be able to sleep in a ditch on freezing winter nights when the snow was on the ground and catch a wild rabbit for the pot with his bare hands. This was a lifestyle that he followed into his later years even when he was 80 plus. In the pre-war decade (and possibly during W.W.2) Arthur shared his local prominence with a big white horse, the latter was his work companion in the job of emptying rubbish from the big metal bins that were located at the end of some Canvey roads e.g. St Annes, Maurice Rd and May Ave. The big white horse pulled a cart which was owned by Scotts the Coal Merchants (the Council must have contracted out even in those days). Arthur used to drive it standing up and being Arthur, he’d rummaged through the rubbish and was often attired in a battered top hat and moth-eaten fur coat he’d found in it.

  • Quote: Arthur Reed walks into the Lobster Smack with a hessian sack over his shoulder and says to some drinkers ” If yew kin tell me ‘ ow many rabbits are in ‘ere I’ll give yew both of ‘ em!

Until Dudley told me about her Madam Blackford was not a character I’d heard of before. Apparently, she was a rather eccentric lady who lived on the Labworth Estate, one her idiosyncrasies was ultra royalism, given the slightest excuse (royal birthdays etc) she would festoon her bungalow in patriotic colours and slogans. She also had one or two other foibles of which we shall learn later.

Arthur Reed and the Barbedwired Badger

Dudley re-told this story he had heard from Frank Dent (his brother was ‘Sparrow’, the bus conductor). Frank was having a drink in the Jellicoe when Arthur Reed came in and told him about a badger that was tangled up in barbed-wire in a ditch down Northwick Lane. Arthur asked ”Can yew come down an’ gimme a hand to git ‘im owt”? Frank was not keen to go down to the other end of the Island for the badger’s sake but Arthur kept on and he eventually gave in and got the bus to Northwick after Arthur had left on his bike. He was even less keen when he got there and saw ‘Old Brock’ snarling, baring his teeth and thrashing around in the ditch. Arthur said ”I’ll put me boot on ‘is ‘ead an’ yew can git the wire off of ‘im.” Reluctantly, Frank undid the wire and as soon as he was free, in one bound and a mighty ”SNAP” of his jaws the badger was off. Frank looked at Arthur thinking the badger could have had his leg off but he was unscathed. Not so Arthur’s bike, which he had laid in the ditch close to ‘Old Brock’, that mighty ”SNAP” of the animal’s fangs had not only punctured the front-wheel tyre but pinched the rim together rendering it beyond repair. Arthur used a great deal of colourful local dialect berating the now departed badger for his ingratitude.

Madam Blackford and Arthur Reed


Lakeside Corner/High Street

It was a well known on the Island that Madam Blackford and Arthur did not get along and this was a story told to Dudley by his Mother.

One day there was such a commotion in Canvey High St, when Mrs George looked out she saw Arthur, coming from Lakeside, driving his cart in his usual stance, the white horse proceeding at a steady trot, behind ran Madam Blackford, arms waving and berating Arthur with a great deal of colourful language at the top of her voice. To which Arthur turned around from time to time with a well-aimed insult. The episode ended with Madam B., totally exhausted and breathless draped over the railing that ran alongside the ditch at the top of May Ave (Mrs George was worried Madam might have a heart attack) and Arthur trotting off merrily towards Small Gains Corner.

Madam Blackford in the Co-op


Co-op Shop Furtherwick Road

This story was related to Dudley by his sister June when she worked in the grocery dept of the London Co-op at the Haystack Corner. Madam Blackford was a regular customer, in fact according to Madam B she was much more than that, she owned the Co-op and she let this be known to all and sundry everytime she came into the shop. Often whilst she was half-way through this diatribe an employee (Bill Bearsly?) would creep up behind her and her large hat forward over eyes. However Madam did not react by tipping it back but would instead shout out ”Oh dear, Oh dear I can’t see , I can’t see” careering into other customers and displays and also saying what ‘the management’ would do about her mis-treatment. After a few minutes some kind soul would pull her hat back for her and comparatively normal service would be resumed. Not exactly P.C by today’s standards but certainly part of life’s rich pattern in Canvey’s past. I shouldn’t imagine many antics like this take place in ‘Iceland’ which now stands on the Co-op site but maybe the ghost of Madam Blackford pops in and moves some stock and bumps into some displays.

Comments about this page

  • Hi. Re Arthur Reed I’m not sure if I’ve told this story before but it was told to me by Wally Brown [of the cafe]. When Arthur was much younger, he and Fred Leach the farmer had a mates/rivals relationship. One day they both got plastered in the Red Cow and decided to have a race for money in their horse drawn traps or carts from there to the Haystack. For most of the race they were neck and neck but what Fred didn’t realise was that Arthur was leaning over and holding Fred’s brake lever partly on. This led to Fred’s horse becoming progressively exhausted so that a final burst gave Arthur the result. Dear old boy. Regards Sparrow

    By sparrow (03/10/2010)
  • Hi Until I read this page I had never heard of Sparrow the bus conductor. Who is or was he? Regards Sparrow

    By sparrow (03/10/2010)
  • Hi Sparrow Thanks for this great story about Arthur Reed, I was hoping for some more tales about him, so if anyone else has other stories, please let’s have ’em. Re your namesake Sparrow, he worked on the Canvey buses in the 50s and his wife was also a conductress. Generally known as ‘Sparrer Dent’ it’s probable that his nickname stemmed from his shortness of stature and possibly from his agility in being able to hop up and down the stairs and around the bus. Graham.

    By Graham (05/10/2010)
  • Hi, I remember Arthur Reed wielding a scythe (the old father time type) & cutting the reeds (how appropriate!) in the Canvey dykes, if there was a bridge over the dyke near to where he was working he would hide under it if he saw someone approaching who would normally be a woman, and, as she crossed he would shout a very loud BOO!

    One of the occasions I saw this on was the bridge over the dyke at the bottom of Labworth Road on the path leading to May Avenue!

    Now there was a true Canvey character.

    By Ian Newman (09/10/2010)
  • my dad new Arthur Reed well, dad worked for the essex riverboard as it was known then, and he had a works shed, which Arthur spent a lot of time in getting a warm and a cuppa, in return he would keep us supplied with rabbits For the pot!! My Dad would keep an eye out for him on cold mornings and made sure he had warm clothing and blankets, great character! Wish i had listened to my dads stories about Arthur , would have been nice to share them.

    Both my grandad and mum worked with sparrow dent on the buses, grandad was Bert Shelley, mum was Bonnie.

    By Donna spooner (12/07/2016)
  • I used to go poaching on Canvey farms with him, and had many a ride on his bike handle bars

    By Joe Nash (26/01/2018)
  • Just a little anecdote about Arthur Reed told to me by my dad( Harry Gill, a character himself!)
    He always said that AR could catch a rabbit in full flight….running after it in wellie boots!!

    By Lynda Cain (02/03/2020)
  • My dad Snowy Whitehouse was a coal man I can remember him taken us out with him

    By Andrea whitehouse (19/09/2020)
  • Great memory’s of Arthur he had a wonderfull Essex accent.
    He use to pick the garbage up with his big white horse in the 50s

    By Chris williams (16/05/2023)

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