Memories of Canvey Island

Written by Linda Perfect nee Sparkes

Thameside Crescent

I’ve lived on Canvey Island all my life and have many friends here. I was brought up in 2 Thameside Crescent and was one of 12 children. I had a very happy childhood, most of which was spent outside in the street. We played hopscotch and skipping and knock down ginger, hide and seek and of course with our dolls and pushchairs.

In the summer we all used to go over the nearest field to the farm and when the farmer wasn’t looking we used to climb up the ladder on to the roof of the barn which was thatched and slide down it and jump off the end to the ground. There would be a lot of cows in the field which we loved and also lots of cow pats. The field would be covered with buttercups and daisies. We would put the buttercups under each other’s chins and if it glowed yellow we would say ‘oh you like butter’. It was very safe those days, nothing ever happened to us.

Every summer the circus and the fair used to come to Canvey. Because we lived on the main road we were in a prime position for a good view. All the elephants used to walk all along the main road holding the one in fronts tail and I remember hearing their trumpeting for miles away and one day I ran out the front door and across the small green opposite and tried to jump the dyke but landed right in it and cut my foot on some glass and of course was taken home for first aid and was most upset because I missed the elephants going past.

Nurse Morgan

My mother Lily Sparkes had 12 children and I was the 2nd eldest so I had a lot of work to do indoors. I used to have to help get the children dressed in the morning and took many of them to school. I even bathed the new babies that my mother had. I was the one that had to go and get Nurse Morgan when mum went into labour but she only lived up the road at No.10. I remember the smell of Dettol when she was in the house.

We had a coal fire in the living room and gas fires in the wall of every other room but never had any heat in the bedrooms. I remember the coal being delivered and taken round the back and thrown into a special coal house. We had many callers at our house, there was the chimney sweep, the baker with a big wicker basket full of tempting bread and cakes. The Insurance man, the butcher, tally man were always trying to sell mum things. One day a man knocked at the door with an ‘unbreakable tea set’ in Pyrex, he said “let me give you a demonstration of this wonderful Tea Set madam” and said “watch” and threw one of the cups down on the step, at which point it promptly smashed into a million pieces. Leaving my mum to clean up the mess he quickly jumped into his van with a red face and sped off.

An early Canvey Carnival photo

I used to love the carnivals of my childhood, I was even in them a few times. My sister and I used to be in Georgettes Juveniles dance troop and used to be in the shows over Colonel Fielders Camp. I remember I loved singing and dancing and wore some beautiful coloured costumes. One year Valerie, my sister and I were in Cinderella and she was Prince Charming and wore a pale blue suit with gold buttons. When I wasn’t in the show I remember sitting in the front garden listening to the show on a still summers evening. They always sang ‘Goodnight Campers’ at the end. Val and I were also in the Girl Guides. She was Patrol leader and had a whistle and our Captain was called Miss Allbut. She used to take us up Benfleet Downs in the summer and we’d do tracking following her signs she’d made out of twigs. We used to meet weekly in Long Road School which was my school and we did first aid and marching and exercises etc. I loved it, we were 2nd Canvey Girl Guides.

I was also in the Girls Brigade. Which I thoroughly enjoyed, we did dancing with tambourines routines and gave our demonstrations up the Monico Ballroom. Everything was navy with red ribbons. On Sundays my brothers and sisters and I went to Sunday School down Sydervelt Road. Mr Hart was the teacher and in the evenings I went back to church to sing in the choir.

We never had holidays as a child but when my uncle came to see us he used to take me back home with him to Colney Hatch, that was my holiday staying with my cousin.

Monico and Casino

Another place we used to play in was the gun site. We’d play war games in the dark tunnels. The beach was a lovely place to go down to the bay by Fielders Camp. There was someone selling ice creams there I remember and all the day trippers used to park on the grass right the way round the Monico. There were many rides for kids those days and one of them was trains with a big bell on the front. There was the casino with the bumper cars and racing track, a good place for boys and music. There was a juke box playing all the rock and roll records of the time around which my friend Maureen McNulty and I used to jive all day.

There was the windy nook that was a moving floor out on the veranda type of thing with a wind machine blowing up through a hole which would throw your skirts above your heads, they were very full skirts in those days about 1961. Some of mine were worn over hooped petticoats. I remember one which had big sailing ships all over it and buttoned down the front.

There was a dance every Saturday night up the Monico Ballroom which is where I met my first real love, Mike Gregson in 1964. I went in for a Personality Girl Competition for Canvey Island football club in this ballroom and came 2nd. I really had a wonderful evening and our photo was in the local paper. The winner was Janet Morgan, a lovely brunette. This was 1966. Another good place to go was the Bay Club on the seafront. Downstairs was a big wooden floor where me and my sister used to go roller skating when I was about 14 and upstairs later in my teens I used to go for a drink and we could put our own records on the record player. I had some wonderful nights in there. It’s a shame they pulled it down.

My dad George Sparkes was very well known on the island and well liked, he started off as a painter and decorator after the war and ended up working for Fielder over his camp painting all the chalets. When the war started he and his unit had to march off the island.

Admiral Jellico

Dad was one of the builders on the island and built many houses down Mietsin, Letzen Metz and Temptin Avenues. He was always telling jokes after work in the Jellicoe and I often used to pop in there for a drink with him myself. Two other clubs on the island were the Corner Club (its still there) and the Kynox Club. I remember Green Glades Café in the High Street where I used to go dancing and Doreens Cafe and one along the seafront between May Avenue and Keer Avenue that was popular with day trippers.

Kings Holiday camp was popular. You could rent a chalet for a holiday or take your caravan there. I worked over there as a cleaner when my eldest girls were 10 and 5, this would be in 1982. Bobby Land was my boss, he used to do impressions of Norman Wisdom. He worked for Kings and also did all gardening and cleaning at Jacks House. Kings was the best on the island for night life and I used it from 1964 till it closed. I saw many famous people over there, including Marty Wilde, Joe Brown, The Searchers and many more.

Comments about this page

  • Wonderful memories – thanks for sharing them

    By David Bullock (01/02/2010)
  • Lovely story linda very intresting to see what my girlfriends mum was like as a child lol.

    By Clive Palmer (02/02/2010)
  • Reading your memories Linda, was like re-reading my memoirs – I even have the same photograph of Nurse Morgan in them!

    The Admiral Jellicoe was where I went every Saturday morning to, yes,I’m sure you’ve guessed, Georgette’s Juveniles dancing classes. I’m obviously older than you Linda, because I was in the first pantomime that Georgette’s did . That was ‘Babes In The Wood’ in 1949 – I was Maid Marion and my friend Barbara Rogers was Robin Hood. Ann Buckingham who is still my ‘best friend’ was the boy babe and Janet Wiseman the girl babe. The following year the pantomime was ‘Cinderella’ and I was Cinderella and Barbara was Prince Charming. I’ve still got the programmes and newspaper write-ups and photographs of these.

    I was in the Canvey Youth Club netball team and in 1954, we won the Southend and District League Cup. The Youth Club was at the Long Road Infant & Junior School, which was also my school. Mr. Benson was our headmaster and his wife was the teacher who took class 1.

    If I wasn’t playing netball on a Saturday, like you, I used to go roller skating at the Bay Country Club with my Dad. In the summer of 1951, I was asked by Marie Hyde, who helped organise the sports activities at the Youth Club, if I would represent them in the 100 and 150yards sprints at a South East Essex athletics meeting, in Laindon. I said ‘yes’, although I hadn’t done any running since leaving junior school and I was now 14. Anyway, I ran and broke the South East Essex records, in both races! Because of this, I then had to represent South East Essex in the 100 yards, in the Essex sports. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day! I arrived in my shorts and plimsolls and there were all these people wearing what I now know to be, tracksuits with athletic club names on the back of them and spiked running shoes! There was also this cinder running track and I’d only ever run on grass. I felt like crawling away and hiding – but, the show must go on, so I lined up with everyone else when my name was called for my heat. I stood with right foot forward, toe on the line while everyone else got down onto their running blocks! The gun went off and I nearly jumped out of my skin, as I’d only ever started a race to the sound of a whistle! But despite all these setbacks, I did manage to come third and go through to the final, where I came fifth. So I don’t think I did too badly really.

    I left Canvey when I married, at the age of nineteen, but I still think of it as home. We lived in Meynell Avenue and I still have an uncle and cousin living there. Thank you Linda, for bringing back so many memories.

    By Irene Bailey (nee Woodhouse) (03/02/2010)
  • Oh linda that was lovely to read your memories, which are my memories too, but you brought them to life. We had a lovely childhood didn’t we, remember how we shared the big bed in the front bedroom and played eye spy till we fell asleep. Lying awake sometimes counting the “bongs” from the bell bouy warning the ships about the rocks.

    By valerie Phillips, nee Sparkes (07/02/2010)
  • Great to read your memories of Canvey. I was in the same class as your sister Valerie at Long Road School. I well remember Miss Albut, she certainly was a character wasn’t she. I remember the floods too and the devastation it caused. I can remember seeing the mark on the walls where the water came up to indoors for many years after. I can remember looking across the fields towards Benfleet to see if a bus was coming, that was long before the ‘Dagenham’ estate was built. My mum’s bungalow also had a field behind it where we could see Fielder’s camp and on Sunday evenings we used to go out into the garden and watch the huge long traffic jam of daytrippers going home. From our back garden we could see the ‘Gas Ball’ next to what we used to call The Fort. If a beg liner was going past our neighbours would come out with binoculars to read the name of the ship on it’s way to or from Tilbury. We loved going to Thorney Bay too, and would often take a short cut through Fielders Camp, always wary if we would get told off. The back field used to be covered in big family tents which we could see from our garden. Nice to share some old memories. Thanks

    By Jan Guzzan (nee Randall) (28/03/2010)
  • Well ready the above brought back some memories of when I lived in East Crescent in the early 50’s. The Gun site was a favourite place but of course there was plenty to do on Canvey in those days and no time was wasted watching TV or playing on playstations. If you wanted something to play with, you made it yourself at no cost. The present generation does not realise how unlucky they are to have so much. I wonder if anyone remembers the wars that were held at the Gun Site between East/West Crescent and the enemy Cedar Road.

    By keith little (19/11/2011)
  • Blimey, Linda & Valerie. Your mum must have been nurse Morgans best customer! Great memories Linda. I remember your family living in the crescent. Myself, born in 1947, and my 2 brothers, born in 1948 & 1953, all had brothers of yours in the same years at school, but i can’t remember their names.

    By George Smith (20/11/2011)
  • Hi Linda I lived at number 13 Thameside Crescent with mum and dad, brother Cliff and sister Beverley from 1950 and Bev also attended the Georgette Juveniles. The gun site brings back many memories as we also played in the wars down there much to the disgust of mum as we always managed to come back filthy. Many memories of the floods and our family appearing on the missing persons register as we were turned away from King John as it was full and went to Fitzwymarc in Rayleigh but left there before being logged in. As a kid at William Read we received many gifts from the commonwealth as flood aid and the ginormous Arrowroot biscuits which came from Canada I believe.

    By Derek Reeve (26/11/2011)
  • Hi Derek I remember your family as most of my mates lived on your estate.[I lived in urmond rd] I too remember the kindness of the Canadians after the flood. We got a mystery box each that contained toys,sweets etc. I think some families also got blankets etc. Wonderful how such giving comes with crisis Regards Sparrow

    By Sparrow (26/11/2011)
  • Thank’s for the memories of Canvey Irene. We were all very lucky to have spent our childhood having such a wonderful place to play. Our imaginations created some wonderful games that sometimes ran for weeks. We went around in gangs, and had no worries about ‘dirty old men’ we knew who they were and steered well clear. Does any one remember Mr Vickers at William Reed school his favourite phrase was ‘Luke at the book and Lizzen’ in his Yorkshire accent, I had him for a form teacher one year and many a time he would send one of the pupils up to Jones Stores for a packet of Cigarettes.

    By val court(nee hazelton) (18/06/2013)
  • I was a fugitive from Dagenham coming to Canvey for holidays around 1959 and staying at my dad’s auntie’s bungalow with a veranda. It was on a Dutch sounding road not far from the sea front where I used to ride the horses that were beside the amusement arcades.  Does anyone remember them?  In 1973 we moved to South Benfleet so didn’t stay on Canvey any more but did drive over for short trips.  There I met my first husband, Ken Couldridge, whose parents kept a hardware shop.  Ken and his father used to do small building jobs and he supplied and polished the counter in Kings Country Club.  Canvey was a haven for me but looking at it now makes me sad as its so over developed.  

    By Janice Gale (13/02/2015)
  • I remember you Linda from Georgettes Juvaniles and the camp shows. Your article brought back wonderful memories. 

    By kathleen Danswan nee Owens (01/03/2016)
  • I’ve only just read this 2020. I lived at Tongres Road from mid 50s, also going to Georgette Juveniles when it was held at the British Legion Club, with shows at the War Memorial Hall. I played over at the lake, though not allowed, and was out all day on my bike with friends. I recall being scared stiff of the concrete boat cast up at the Point!
    My mother, Pam Bonner, was a Youth Club Leader, close friends with Marie Hyde who was previously mentioned. My mum also coached netball.
    I’ve not lived on Canvey for 40 plus years now but a piece of my heart remains.

    By Carol Smith (Bonner) (21/06/2020)
  • Well, Carol Smith née Bonner, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather when I read your comment about living in Tongres Road! Do you remember playing with a little girl from round the corner in Thielen Road? That was me, Janet. I can still remember your bungalow and garden. Didn’t your grandparents live there too? Tongres now is almost beyond recognition. I’m glad Canvey still holds a place in your heart. For my part I still live on the Island after all these years.

    By Janet Walden (21/06/2020)
  • Hi Carol Smith (Bonner), I am hoping that we might be in contact regarding family history – your Bonner family? Not sure if it is possible but I will contact and see. Here’s hoping…..

    By Janet Rooms (13/01/2021)
  • Does anyone have any info about my aunt Christine nee Westlake who lived at Soar House?
    She died many years ago but has grandchildren in New Zealand. She married George Griffith in 1934 and moved to Wiltshire.

    By Alison Bolton (30/05/2022)
  • Hi Janet,
    Lovely to hear from you.

    By Carol Smith (Bonner) (28/07/2022)
  • A really good well told story lots of lovely memories of living on canvey. I’m sure many people can relate to all the areas and people and must bring it all back. All well told by my mum.

    By Louise Dawson (16/06/2023)
  • Does anyone remember my parents and grandparents who lived on Canvey late 40’s until leaving after the flood in 1953. Our family name was Daniels, my father was George and he married my mother Lillian(Billie) Berg at St.Anne’s church in 1949. My grandparents were George and Olive Daniels.

    By GeorgeDaniels (02/08/2023)
  • There was a family by the name of Daniels who lived in Maurice road at the time of the flood. They also ran the ‘Golden Crust’ Bakery in Canvey Village around that time, They had two sons, I don’t remember their names but one of them married Marrion? Went, her Mum worked at the Library at Lakeside.
    Not sure if they are your family members.

    By Val Court (nee Hazelton) (18/11/2023)

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