My memories of Canvey Island

by Jeff Thomas

My name is Jeff Thomas and I am 73 (2008). I used to live in Tilburg Road on Canvey during the war but left about 1946 to move back to London. I was there during the great flood of 1953 but was staying on a houseboat in Benfleet near the station. I believe the little creek is now closed. I can remember the Canvey connecting bridge being completely submerged on that stormy night.

Jeff stayed in one of these Houseboats in 1953, pictured here in South Benfleet Creek during the harsh 1957 winter

I am trying to find news of a cousin of mine that I haven’t seen since about 1983 or thereabouts when I last visited the Island. Her maiden name was Patricia Watts (Patsy). She was married but I don’t know her married name. Her husband as far as I remember was in the oil business, perhaps oil rigs in the North Sea. Her Mother was in an old age home just off Denham Road I think [Little Gypps?]. Her name was Doris Watts (my Aunt). Has anyone any idea how I could find out if she is still on the Island?

I certainly can remember many things about Canvey during the war. I have relatives laid to rest in the old churchyard, like my grand parents, Abel and Hannah Thomas. If anyone would like to get in touch by e-mail they can (see bottom of page).

At the moment I live in Cape Town. I have been here since 1967, but have been back to UK several times since then. Last time on Canvey was about 1983 I think.

I was at Benfleet on the stormy night in 1953 when the seawall was breached. Of all the names I have seen on the website pages none of them are known to me! The only name I knew was a Jackie Watts who apparently now lives in Spain but the dates she gives are much too late to be connected to my cousin Patricia Watts who I said I would like to contact. She lived in a house named ‘Dunroaming‘ in Thisselt Rd which was near Lakeside at the top end of that lake that stretched back towards St Katherines church.

St Katherines Church

I lived on Canvey during most of the war years in a house in Tilburg Road called ‘Doranne‘ made of wood and polite, long since demolished although it was there in about 1983 as I visited my uncle ‘Jack Thomas‘ there. My Grand Father and Grand Mother are buried in St.Katherines Church cemetery, Abel and Hannah Thomas, towards the rear left of the church. Last time I was there in about 1983 the gravestone was a bit skew. I hope some maintenance has been done since then!

As for memories. I can remember the many flying bombs (V1) coming over during the war, we used to dive into the shelter when we heard them coming and the siren going. The local Spits from Hornchurch would try and shoot them down but they were very fast. If not, dive on them and turn them over with their wings. One night a ‘Gerry’ bomber dropped a stick of incendary bombs on the Island and that did a lot of damage with fires. Perhaps some of your site readers will remember this? Almost every night the local gun battery would open up on the V1’s or bombers coming over! As children we used to chase after the loose barrage balloons when they often came down.

Many a happy day was spent in the cornfields in the centre of the Island looking for snakes!

My Father was in the Fire Service on the Island at the time. He had a friend named Jimmy Cotton who was quite an artist and who painted local scenes. I have one in my lounge today called ‘Canvey from the Downs’ painted about 1950. It seems to have been done from somewhere near the top of the road called Hadleigh Way. Is this name correct? [Now Essex Way] There was a water tower at the top.

The Chapman Lighthouse

Another memory I have of Canvey was the green and cream buses. As a kid we used to ride the whole length of the Island from Leigh Beck to Benfleet, especially on one old bus we called ‘Groaner‘, and we were most upset when one day it crashed at the place where the Winter Gardens path joined the main road near Benfleet never to run again. Just like the old bus us kids were very upset when the fastest taxi on the Island crashed near the Dutch Cottage. It was a black Ford Pilot V8!!!

Memories like the boat rides that used to go out and around the Chapman lighthouse. Days going out at low tide collecting cockles on the mudflats off the Point at Leigh Beck.

Perhaps someone can remember the day that a returning bomber came down in the mudflats off the Point [The B17]. I actually saw this and the crew baling out. I don’t know how many survived as it was a windy day and some got blown out to sea.

Just a few more short memories from Canvey in the early 50’s before I was 17! Somebody may remember these.

Sailing on Smallgains Creek

The coasting barge wrecked(?) on the saltings near Smallgains creek called ‘Harvey‘. We used to play on it as kids. My cousin (another one) and I used to sail his yacht from the yacht club on the creek. Once we sailed completely around the Island, it took all day! Other times we would sail to Egypt Bay on the other side of the Estuary. I will never forget the time we capsized off Canvey Point. We found ourselves clinging to our upturned boat in about 40ft. of water. A friend of ours had drowned some years previously in the same area. (His name was Derek Williams and he is at rest in St Katherines cemetery too). It was a windy day and high tide. Our whole lives flashed before us and I remember thinking I was only 17. We stripped off down to our underclothes and decided to swim for it about 200 yds to the seawall on the north side of the creek. There were no other boats to help us so we swam like never before !!!. We swam together and found that when we decided to check where the bottom was we found we at that time we were swimming in 2ft of water only knee deep. We burst out laughing. We managed to borrow some funny old clothes so we could get home by train to London!

Another memory was when swimming at the sea front we always waited for the Eagle Steamers to come past going to Margate and Southend Pier. They were very fast and left behind a lovely wake which one could almost surf on when it reached the shore!

Jeff Thomas

I previously said I lived in Tilburg Road. This was not too far from Cooks Farm, just across the lake (does anyone remember that). As a kid I loved to ride with the farmhand when he was delivering the mornings milk to the pickup point on a nearby road. We were pulled by a lovely big black carthorse.

The Photo is me enjoying some SA red wine before my lunch in a seaside restaurant near my home. Note the sea in the background and the mountains in the distance across False Bay. If you read this and any of your readers would like to comment please give my e-mail address: menagerie @ mweb.co.za

Regards, Jeff Thomas, South Africa

[If you can add any memories please leave a comment below]

Comments about this page

  • Hi Jeff
    Really enjoyed reading the memories of your early years on Canvey! Have you seen Stan Pierce’s graphic eye-witness account and detailed research of the B17 crash in the Wartime Memories section in this site?

    It appears from your description that the bungalow DORANNE was at the Waarden Rd end of Tilburg Rd, in 1992 when we moved in to our present property in Tilburg our nieghbour was Old Jack (presumably your Uncle Jack) who lived alone in a very long Old Canvey bungalow. He was very helpful and lent me some tools to clear up the jungle of a garden we’d acquired. Sadly we’d only been here about a year when Jack passed away and the old bungalow was pulled down and replaced by three properties in 1994. However, I salvaged some of the roof-tiles when the site was being cleared and used them as a base for a patio, I also trans-planted some wall-flowers from in front of Jack’s fence and they still flourish every year in front of our bungalow. So some little bits of Doranne still remain in Tilburg Rd!

    P.S. I’ve given Dave 3 relevant photos to add on. [Now added – Dave]

    By Graham Stevens (27/11/2008)
  • I have added Graham Steven’s photos of Jack Thomas’ house ‘Doranne’ in Tilburg Road

    By David Bullock (07/12/2008)
  • Thanks Graham for the photos of the ex ‘Doranne’ site!

    Uncle Jack had two children, a Peter and a Margaret. Did you ever see them? Strange I should get comment from someone actually living on the same site! When I lived there before Uncle Jack, my Father had a lovely garden. All fruit trees, plum trees and gooseberries bushes and he also grew many veggies too.

    Jeff Thomas

    By Jeff Thomas (08/12/2008)
  • Thanks Dave, for adding the photos. Graham.

    Hi Jeff
    It wasn’t until a few days ago whilst chatting to Brian Durrant, next door (he moved in in 1962 when the properties were new) that our semis were also built on the rest of Doranne’s garden. He also told me that Jack’s children still live on Canvey, but I’ve never met them. My only early memories of this area are from the early 50s, when on a couple evenings I went with my Dad to meet up with Ted Andrews (The Midnight Baker), he was taking extra bread to load on his trike for his bakers/tally round. I think it was at the end of Denham Rd and I vaguely recall that Thisselt Rd seemed to peter out before the end of Sydervelt with a big old house over by the Lake, the rest was just a field of rough grass down to the Lake.
    Regards Graham.

    By Graham Stevens (09/12/2008)
  • The big? old house in Thisselt Road may have been the house that my cousin Patricia Watts lived in in those times although it was more at the Lakeside end of the lake. Between the house and the lake was indeed only rough grass right down to the water and reeds and Thisselt Road did seem to peter out! The old house was double storey! and was owned by my Uncle Chris Watts. I believe the house actually collapsed in the end!

    By Jeff Thomas (10/12/2008)
  • Hi Jeff,
    My name is Shirley Thomas and I am married to your cousin Peter Thomas, Uncle Jack’s son. It was a surprise reading your piece and how you were looking for Pat Watts now Hurd. She and her husband, Tony, have moved from Canvey to Battle, Sussex. Peter and his sister Margaret are both well. It would be great to be in touch with you again – Peter is out at present but I will get him to write something of his own as soon as he comes home.

    By Shirley Thomas (13/01/2009)
  • hey all, canvey seems like a nice place, i havent been there yet, but back in 1959 there was a little girl called janet elizabeth robinson died in the sea she was aged 12, i think, it was in the newspapers, i just wantted to know if any of yous remeber this,if ya do can you email me on.. i-love-joanne@hotmail.co.uk thanks hayley xx

    By hayley (08/04/2009)
  • I read your account of Canvey island and I married Rose Ullman whose father owned the television repair shop near the Haystack pub. My wife has vivid memories of the flood and how she was rescued from the roof top of their house by soldiers. Pat & Tony Hurd were good friends of us and Tony was the best man at our wedding I would like to contact them again can anyone assist me. We currently live in Canada.

    By john chambers (08/06/2010)
  • My name is Tony Hurd I am married to Pat nee’ Watts just joined Canvey archive would love to make contact with Pats cousin Jeff Thomas again plus what a bonus it would be to make contact with Rose and John Chambers again after all these years

    By Tony Hurd (04/06/2013)
  • Hello I remember the Watts family of Thisselt road. Their house had an alleyway that led through to Waarden road and there was just a field between the house and the lake. They had a son who I think was called Derek, He’d be about 79 now. I also remember Derek Williams [son of Harry Williams the builder] who died as we lived opposite them in Urmond road. Hope this helps Regards Sparrow.

    By sparrow (04/06/2013)
  • Hi Jeff. Len Cook is still alive. He and his wife, Georgina now live in London, not far from Madame Tussaud’s. He’s not in the best of health nowadays. I was a bridesmaid at their wedding and speak to Georgina often.

    By Maureen Buckmaster (05/06/2013)
  • Does anyone know my Granddad who was in the fire service when canvey flooded Albert Cashman, and was chief fire officer of Essex, love to tell his great grand children stories about him, and his daughter my mum if I hear anything

    By susan ralph (13/02/2014)
  • I am also a great grandson of Hannah Thomas. I found this site looking for more information on the family for my daughter, also a Hannah, who is building a family tree.

    By Graham Thomas (19/03/2014)
  • My cousin was Derek Williams who drowned age 18 his father Harry Williams was my mums brother my mum was Gwendoline Nice nee Williams. Derecks brother Christopher lives in Armidale Australia and is on Facebook and only a couple of days ago put a beautiful painting of his brother that he painted himself recently 

    By Sandra malyon (02/10/2017)

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