June Debnam's Memories
The Debnam Family and Oysterfleet Stores
Thanks to Lorraine Debnam we are able to publish memories and detailed family history written by her mother June Debnam (nee George). After June passed away in 2010 Lorraine inherited a great deal of material relating to the history of both the George and Debnam families which she has sent to be recorded on the Archive.
June came to Canvey at 4yrs old with her father and mother Harry and Maye and younger brother Dudley. She was a Canvey Islander for the next 80yrs.During W.W 2 she worked at the Co-op in Furtherwick Rd and in 1950 married Ron Debnam. Later in the 50s and 60s they owned what was known as Gaylards Garage, the Fina petrol station in the High St at Lakeside Corner(where the back wall of Sainsburys is today). In her lifetime June was a member of many organisations on the Island. They included the 2nd Canvey Girls Life Brigade, Whittier Hall choir and the Distaff Club. She also with other members of her family was an active participant in theatrical productions by the Dolphin Theatre Group and the Pompadour Players.
Although June wrote in great detail about both sides of her family as we have covered much of the George family previously in her brother Dudley’s memories in this piece we would like to concentrate on her husband Ron’s family the Debnams and their connection to Canvey.
This is June’s narrative of her parents-in-law, Harry (Henry) and Alice Debnam (nee Hardcastle), who met when Alice was running a pub for her brother in Leytonstone:
She met Harry in 1911, he used to come into the Pub every night on his way home from work. They used to Walk Out, one afternoon a fortnight. He wanted to get married, but Alice said “its drink or me” Harry replied “No Problem” and never drank alcohol again. He had his leg pulled unmercifully. They married in 1912. Alice was 19 and Harry was 24. The marriage was at Leytonstone Church.
They set up home in a flat in Leyton. Harry was working as a motor mechanic. Winne was born a year latter and Fred a year after that. The 1914 war broke out and Harry joined the army. If you waited until you were “called up” you had to go were they sent you, if you volunteered you got the work you wanted, so he went in as an engineer. That was in January 1915. He was in France from March 1915 until November 1918. He used to make us laugh when he said that he made bloody sure he never got killed. He was fortunate, because he was never in the trenches, because of course being and engineer. He was a “Jack the lad”, apart from pinching the things he wanted, drink, food, women, warmth, etc. He did not have a bad time.
During this time Mum had shut up the flat and gone back to work for her brother, taking the 2 children with her, she only went back to the flat when Dad came home on leave. I think it was every 2 years when they were abroad. Because of the War the Engineering companies in England were so short of staff that Dads old boss was allowed to claim him out of the army, so he was Demobbed in January 1919 and went back to work at his old firm.
It was during the 1st World War that the licensing hours were changed, so on Sundays the Pubs didn’t open until 1pm, closed at 3pm and opened again at 6pm.
After Dad was demobbed they rented a house in Farmer Road, Leyton and it was there that Irene was born in 1920.
A few years later Dad wanted to go into business for himself so they bought a shop and flat in Stratford. It was a dreadful place, running alive with fleas, Mum had to work so hard to get and clean and presentable. She packed the children of to an auntie for a week. Dad used to Hire Bikes for 6d a week and mend and repair bikes. A cycle shop! It didn’t pay much and Mum used to do a sort of a Provident round to make ends meet, besides this she used to help in the shop and look after three children. They lived there for 10 years, during this time Ron and Ray .were born Ron in 1925 and Ray in 1929. Winnie was 16 by this time and she did not go to work, Mum kept her at home to clean and cook,
Mum was still working in the Pub in the evenings. Fred was 15 and an apprentice, so there was not any money there. Irene was 9, Ron 5 and Ray a baby.
When Ray was a few months old they moved out of the cycle shop and leased a house in Leytonstone Road. Mum could not stand the shop any longer and so they sold it and Dad got a job. A leased house was all that Mum could find and it was a lot of money each week for the rent. So when the 3 years were up she bought a house in Radlex Road, Leyton. The years from 1920 to 1932 were very lean years. They had lost all their money when they had the shop, and the rent on the leased house had taken even more. After moving things got a bit easier, Winnie who was now 19 went out to work. When Irene was 14 she went to work also (1934).
Winne married Fred Garner about 1935 and moved to Guilford. When Ron was 14 and Ray 10 the 2nd World War broke out (1939). Mum decided to move down to Winnie in Guilford and took the 2 boys. Dad and Fred stayed in Leyton. During this time all the 18 year olds plus had been called up and so Ron got a job in a factory in charge of about 20 women. They moved back from Guilford to Leyton. Irene married Jack Haylock and their son Paul was born. Ron Joined the army and Ray started his apprenteship as a Butcher. So there was Mum and Dad, Fred and Ray all at home. I don’t know how it came about but they took in a lodger, Stan. He must have lived with them for about 15 year’s altogether.
When Ray was about 14 months old Mum and Dad decided they needed a holiday, so being used to cycling (delivering shoe repairs, collecting money, going to work and back, cycling everywhere as well as being 8 month pregnant). Mum and Stan cycled to Canvey and found a holiday bungalow in Florence Road. After that holiday they liked Canvey so much they used to come down every year. Finally they bought a holiday bungalow on the corner of Thelma Avenue. That was in 1943. No roads only duckboards, no sewer and no water. This house I remember. No back door just a front one. Timber roughcast, corrugated roof. Up on stilts. The oven would warm the whole house. It was about 20ft wide and 30ft long. Some time after buying the bungalow. (1945) The house in Radlex Road was bombed and the upstairs was unstable, all the windows were boarded up, because if a bomb blast broke your windows they were boarded up till the war was over. Mum and Irene who had Paul as a baby and Jack in the forces decided to move to Canvey. Dad and Fred would eat in the works canteens and spent weekends on Canvey if possible.
After leaving the cycle shop Dad said he did not want to work at the bench anymore, I think he was a lathe operator and turner. So he got a job as a driver for George Munro’s carrying meat. It was a hard job, starting at 5am and getting home at 10pm. The cabs had no doors, roof or heater, just a windscreen. There were a few perks however, because he used to get a few sausages from one shop and a bit of offal or steak from elsewhere. Mum never used to buy any meat.
Ray then got a transfer from the Co-Op in Leyton to Canvey, so during the latter part of the war and the lean years after the war, meat was always plentiful in the Debnam house.
In the Canvey bungalow were Mum, Irene, Paul and Ray. Stan had stayed in London and found lodgings; Fred had married Barbara and was living in Leyton. By about 1947 Mum and Dads house in Leyton had been repaired, but Mum did not want to go back, so they sold it and settled on Canvey. By 1949 Dad was fed up travelling and The Oysterfleet Stores was going cheap. So with the money Mum had saved and the help of a good Bank Manager she bought it. Dad gave up his job and did all the rough and heavy work around the shop and Jack, who was now out of the army, went to work there as the manager. It was very hard work because food was still in short supply and Rations Books were still in use. Mum and Dad did all the heavy work, cleaning, delivering etc. Jack did the bookkeeping and served in the shop. Irene and Jack had bought a bungalow in Meta Avenue. Mum and Dad had the shop for 20 yrs, during that time I married Ron and worked there. Joyce married Ray and worked there.
When they bought it, it was a little old shop, dirty and scruffy. During the time that they had it, they made it into 3 shops with 2 rooms at the back for all the family, with a cooker and armchairs so they could eat and rest, you would often find Mum or Irene cooking for the children. It was a very happy time, lots of laughter and fun. With Ron’s Mum and Dad life was never dull. They then had a flat built over the top of the shops, sold the bungalow and moved into the flat. They decided to sell the shop lease because Jack had been in hospital with bad veins and had been told not to stand too much. Mum said she could not manage without Jack so they retired. With their pensions and the income from the shop the moved into a little bungalow at the bottom of Sydervelt Road. They lived there for 15 yrs, sold that and moved in with Irene and Jack, they had their own bedroom and lounge and eat with the rest of the family. Dad died there on the 6th June 1974, he was 86. He thought he had bad indigestion, but it was a heart attack. He was a lovely man, a rogue who always had a glint in his eye, said outrageous things that you just couldn’t take umbridge or offence at. He stained and put legs on the table I have that he made from a plank of wood. Jill still has this table(2008)
Mum is still alive at the time of writing this, she is 95 this August. Getting very frail now, can hardly walk, hard of hearing, losing her sight and sleeping quite a lot. She lives with Irene and Jack at 261 Furtherwick Road.
1988 Around Easter mum had to go into a home for the elderly in Rayleigh. Rene (Irene) could no longer cope.
1989 Mum died Wednesday 9th August. Aged 96. That was just before her 97th Birthday which would have been on the 16th.
As a post-script to June’s memories I can add that I used to deliver bread to the Oysterfleet Stores in the 60s. The property was then divided into three shops’ the grocery etc was in the middle and I believe at sometime a butchers and greengrocers on either side. The grocery shop was very much counter-service with Jack, Rene and Mrs Debnam serving and Mr Debnam (always with a twinkle in his eye) provided back-up. Jack was the ‘front-man’ and in the local area the shop was generally known as ‘Jack’s’. I regarded him as a mathematical genius as he could add up a bread bill upside-down correctly as soon as I’d finished the column of figures. I think he used to work at a bookmakers before the War.
Over the years since the 60s the shop, although changing ownership many times, has continued to serve the local community as a ‘corner-shop,’, a record probably held on Canvey by the similarly 1930s Art-Deco style construction Fortuna Stores (was Maurice Rd P.O). I can’t remember when the interior was changed to self-service’ probably mid 70s early 80s but whole area of the original 3 shops has been one larger store for some time.