My life as a child on Canvey

Written by Flavia Miller nee Cass

Taken at the wedding reception of James William Cass and Jessie May Beaver in 1931 in the old Village Hall, opposite St Katherine’s Church.

I was born on Charfleets farm one October morning. My Grandfather and father were both farmers. We lived on Charfleets Farm part of which is sadly now Charfleets Industrial Estate. I have a brother David who is 3 yrs younger than me. We farmed Charfleets, Hill Hall, which was at Northwick Corner near the Old Dutch Cottage. I remember an elderly lady with a limp lived there. Cutter Farm and Little Brickhouse Farm were both down Northwick Road.

Old Charfleets Farm demolished 1930s

Canvey in those days was much less populated everybody knew everybody else. We used to get post addressed to “Cass Canvey”. The Parish Church was At Katherine’s, which is now the Heritage Centre. I was Christened, Confirmed and Married there. My parents were also married there. I was a Sunday School Teacher and also sang in the choir when females were allowed to join! The daughter church was St Anne’s at Leigh Beck. It was there that we held the church club. Many Wednesday night we ran down the road (little more than a pathway) to catch the last bus as 10-10pm. If you missed it you had a two to three mile walk home!

In the summer months we used to meet at the home of Mrs Manthorpe, where we played tennis and played an old pianola! Many a romance blossomed at the church youth club and some are still together!

I started school at the ‘New School” in Long Road. Mr Benson was Headmaster. Mr Read was the Headmaster at the “Old School”. I was fortunate to be one of only four to pass the scholarship that year and had to travel to Westcliff High School via two buses and a train.

It was wartime when I started school and air-raid shelters were built on the playing field when there was an air-raid we used to file out to the shelters one for each class. There we sat on wooden benches and chanted our multiplication tables.

Bill Cass with David, Ellen and Flavia c1940

The summer days always seemed filled with sunshine. My cousins Janet, Jim and Ellen lived nearby and we played together a lot. The farm buildings held great delight. A rope from the beams in the barn made a great swing! Haystacks were climbed up and slide down much to my father’s annoyance. Hay carts were transformed into houses and forts. The Shire horses on the farm were a great delight.

In the haymaking season and harvest my father would work all day in the fields. After school we would rush home to find my mother waiting with the tea all packed up. This consisted of cheese sandwiches, small homemade cakes and spring onions from the garden with a twist of greaseproof paper filled with salt for my father. Lemonade bottles were filled with tea and wrapped in newspaper. This was then put into a bag made from oiled cloth. I can still remember the smell! Then we would set off across the fields. It was often a long walk and we would learn the names of the wild flowers and grasses on the way. If they were at Cutter Farm we had to walk nearly to the end of Northwick road and then across the fields by the seawall. We played in the fields or went over the sea wall picking sea lavender if the tide was out. If the crops were very dirty the men would wash in the sea. When the men stopped for tea we sat against the hay ricks in haymaking time or lent against the stooks of corn in harvest. There is nothing like a picnic in the fields! Sometimes we helped, but quite often we roamed the fields looking for berries or mushrooms. At the end of the day we rode the horses home our legs stretched out straight as the horses were so wide. Back at the stables my father would lift us down, our legs covered with the hair and smell of horses then into bed tired and happy.

Hay making on Charfleets Farm

In the autumn my father delivered sacks of potatoes. He would load up one of the hay wagons with the sacks, making a well in the middle for my brother and I. This was a real treat. Then we would set off round the island delivering the potatoes to the people who had ordered them somehow we always managed to be near the Haystack public house at lunchtime! The horse and cart would be tied up in the car park opposite. My father would bring us out a bag of crisps, a large arrowroot biscuit and a bottle of lemonade. He then went back inside for his glass of beer.

Often the people gave us sixpence each which we clutched tightly. Sometimes we were given an apple. One person we delivered potatoes to was a Mr Pricket, who lived at Leighbeck, many years later when I was a Community District Sister I had to visit him he took one look at me and said “your’e Bill Cass’s daughter!” I could not believe that he had recognised me after all those years.

I don’t go back to Canvey very much now. Where we used to play and pick mushrooms, are large warehouses and factories. Where the cows grazed are houses. Where we used to make hay are oil storage tanks and a supermarket.

I still meet people I knew as a child. Peter and Nancy Hawkins at Chelmsford Cathedral on Maundy Thursday. Sheila Powell at Church Wardens Swearing in. Marion Cardwell and Christine and Harold Hart at Bradwell Pilgrimage and Kathleen Clee’s husband at Deanery Synod.

Gone are the days of space, freedom and childhood.

My parents are still there, in the Churchyard. I am pleased to say my father lies in the part of the Churchyard that was once part of his farm.

With thanks to Janet Dolling for allowing us to publish her cousins memories.

Comments about this page

  • I loved reading your story and have to say im most envious of your joyful childhood on Canvey Island. And its only right that your father lies in the part of the churchyard that was once part of his farm, totally profound.

    By Cia Parker (30/10/2013)
  • Lovely story Flavia. I remember you quite well, your mum was the leader in the Canvey girl guides, helped by Alma and Peggy Dudley I seem to remember. My uncle Bill helped your dad with the haymaking when I was very young and I remember him taking a bottle of tea with him, it was one of the old fashioned flip top Sterilized ones they were working on what is now Charfleets Industrial roughly where Neales Bookbinders are now. I thought the big Shires were wonderful. Do you remember the Shows we used to put on at the Casino? one song that has always stuck in my mind was Pedro the fisherman. Sadly there aren’t many old Canvey people left now, but I have lots of happy memories of the Island pre flood.

    By Val Court (nee Hazelton) (30/10/2013)
  • Val I remember your name from way back around 1950’s when my two sisters Eileen and Eunice Juler knew you at school. Eileen (77) and Eunice (sadly passed away 3yrs ago). Val,as you say sadly not many of the old Canvey folk left now.

    By Anita Juler (03/11/2013)
  • Hello Anita.

    I have not been on the Canvey site for a long time so have only just seen  your comment.

    Yes ! I do remember you and your family,I was a class mate of Eunice and we often walked home together after school. Sometimes your Dad would catch us up on his Byke.

    I lost touch with Eunice after we began working for a living and over the years have often wondered what happened to the school children we knew back then. Prior to moving away from the Island 37 years ago,I often had a chat with your Mum when out shopping.

    I am sorry to hear Eunice died 3 years ago. Over the years  we wondered where she was and whether she was still on the Island.I visit the Island occasionally but very rarely do I see anyone I know, so many ‘Newcomers’ LOL.

    By Val Court (01/06/2014)
  • Hi there Flavia, it was really lovely to read your story it brought so many memories flooding back.   I remember you at the farm with your Mum and Dad and David.   The main thing I remember though is you in uniform at the Church Hall with Mum as the Captain of THE GIRLS LIFE BRIGADE, those of us who were there had great times and loads of fun. I vagely remember that you announced to us that you were going to be married and that you would no longer be with us, of course we were very pleased for you but upset you were leaving us. 

    By Carol Norman (28/09/2014)
  • Well done mum, lovely to read about the family and learn the family history. even though I was only young when gran and granddad moved from Canvey I can still remember them living at Magnolia House which is now the nurseries on the roundabout and picking mushrooms in the fields.

    By Sarah Lee (04/10/2014)
  • Hi Flavia I wonder if you are still a live. I remember you so well from school and the bus and train journeys to school. Also your farm and the Girls Life Brigade. Like you I left Canvey. I left in 1951 when I left school, and have only been back occasion. I wondered if any one I knew was still around. I remember the airraid shelters. As you say its too over crowded now.I was Greta Anderson then.

    By greta Olwyn Parker-Quaife (05/12/2021)
  • Hi Greta, I’m Flavia’s eldest daughter Sarah. Sadly, mum passed away February 2019 after a long brave battle with cancer but kept her sense of humour til the end.

    By Sarah Lee (17/05/2022)

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