Stan Thackeray's memories

Canvey 1930s-1940s

Stan Thackeray was born in South Hackney in 1930 not far from Victoria Park where he lived until his family moved to Canvey in June of 1935 having spent holidays on the island. Of Stan’s first visits to Canvey he says:-

1934 Haystack Corner. Stan’s Mum, Great Gran, Auntie Ann and Stan

“My mum and dad had holidays on Canvey Island when I was about 2 years old, we had a Bungalow over Winter Gardens, right over 60 acres for a week, there were duckboards along Central Wall Footpath, and my pushchair would go bumpty bump over the boards. We would go to Luns Stores to get Barley Sugar sweets and a bucket of water for one penny. We would go to the beach and sea and play with the sand. The next year, came to Canvey Island again and had a Bungalow in the Leighbeck area, near the seawall. I remember we had to pick up the key for the house at Mrs Brown’s shop. One morning mum took me to the seawall and we watched the Thames barge unloading rocks to build the seawall up, it was 6am and cold and drizzling and mum took a photo.”

When Stan moved to Canvey he lived with his parents at No 8 Green Avenue in the village a small two bedroom bungalow typical of the times.  Stan says looking towards Hadleigh there was nothing. The move to Canvey had been due to Stan’s ill health. Canvey Village had not been altered then and the old thatched pump there, The Red Cow pub and Blacksmiths, Workshop and Bakers.

By the time Stan was six it was just Stan and his mum. Stan used to keep busy working on the local farm, he says:-

“I used to go over to the farm at the bottom of our road, to collect eggs and washed the milk bottles in the big copper with hot water and soda. When they were dry, we would bottle up and fill the milk bottles by hand with the measure and then topped the bottles with cardboard caps. Sometimes I would go on the milk round with the milkman in the horse drawn milk float. In summer there was haymaking and we all made haycocks to keep it dry ready for carting. I would drive the horse and wagon to and from the field and the Stackyard.” The farm was run by Fred Cook who later became his Stepfather.

They often had family coming down from London for holidays once they woke up to find four of our cousins and their dad asleep in the living room after having cycled all the way from London.

“Mum used to let part of bungalow out in the summer to people she knew or were recommended about 1937/38 we had a family from Poplar London they were polish Jews and had a shop selling ex army gear. Mr. Bernstein brought a bell tent down to Canvey for them all to sleep in, the boys and I slept in the tent. On August bank holiday the whole family as well as our own relations descended on our two bedroom house and at a count there were 32 of us sharing the house that weekend. I remember Kellogg Corn Flakes gave away an aeroplane with two packet tops (I think it must have been a copy of the plane that won the Snydertrophy) anyway all us boys had a plane by the end of the holiday.”

It was around this time that Canvey Village changed due to the widening of the roads to accommodate the new terminal down Haven Road. The pump and the old Red Cow Pub were demolished with a new pub built further back, the building is still there today then called the Red Cow later changing to The King Canute. The old pub had been right on the very sharp corner.

Furtherwick Road was also widened and the Monico Pub was built, Eastern and Western Esplanade was built, before that all the roads were only grass tracks. The Casino was very popular and had a good ballroom, people came from all round the area to dance there.

In 1938 the M.O.D. built the fort on the sea wall just west of Dead Man’s bay now called Thorney Bay. There was already a camp there, Stan had to go up there to clear it out before the Army took over. It was still open just tents there. They had to clear out the stores. There was a lot of individual pies that were going mouldy and milk that had gone off. They took them all back to feed the pigs, but also ended up with the boys throwing them at each other.

“As the road did not run as far as the fort, as they were still building it. there was a narrow gauge railway that stopped at the top of Kit Kat road,and we used to ride on the bogie to the bay always wondered how the men got on when they came to work and found the truckmissing because we never remembered to ride it back.” — They never got found out.

“As the seawall had a borrowed dyke alongside access to the wall was limited and at one point there was a gateway along where now Eastern Esplanade is ,it crossed over and on busy times in the summer a little old lady sat on a stool and charged a penny to go through, otherwise it was a long walk round. Nearby Andrews fair ground was at the top of May Avenue and stood there for many years. In the 1950s when I worked on the farm I had the job of moving one of the old fairground trailers with the tractor, it had been in the same place all that time and was well stuck in the ground, but I moved it and earned myself a good drink.

One day my aunt Ethel took me to Southend as she spent her holiday with us, she decided to take coach trip from the seafront, mystery tour and guess what we ended up at Canvey, it was such a disappointment especially as we taken all the way back to Southend only to have to come back to Canvey by train.

To get to the seafront from the Haystack pub you could take a landau or a brake both horse drawn, they were run by Kirbys and he stabled his horses in a barn in Furtherwick Road which later burnt down. It stood where the shops are now opposite Grafton road. The horse traps and landaus from the Red Cow Pub to the Lobster Smack Pub were run by the Crow brothers, you could also go to the Kynocks Hotel on the seawall where the oil terminal now stands.

One year mum and I were in the Canvey Carnival I was dressed as a cowboy and mum had made her crinoline dress and cut my dad’s straw hat up and made a bonnet. We sold programs and lucky heather picked from the saltings, all went well until we had a down pour of rain and mum dress made of crepe material just went like a rag, so we went home and changed. The carnivals were good in those days. The fair was o n the paddocks and in the evening they had a mock up house that was set on fire and the fire engine would rush in with bells ringing and a brass helmeted firemen would put up the ladder and rescue a dummy from the fire. This was usually followed by a firework display. All the money collected was to go to build a hospital on Canvey, but nothing came of it.

One time I remember going to the paddocks in the evening to watch the Russian Cossacks and the fantastic horse riding skills, standing on the horses back, swinging under its belly, and swordsmen chopping Swedes mounted on a pole also three horses with the Cossacks all standing in a pyramid on one another’s shoulders galloping round the arena. It was a really good show.”

There was a film made around the Lobster Smack pub and Haven road it was called the Lonely Road, I did see it at Canvey Rio cinema years after, it was not a very good film. (1936 “Lonely Road” was the first of Nevil Shute’s novels to be made into a film. It was produced at Ealing Studios by Basil Dean, Associated Talking Pictures, directed by James Flood, and starred Clive Brook and Victoria Hopper.)

In this great picture is Stan’s mum, Stan, ? and Fred Cook who later became Stan’s Stepdad

Of the war years Stan has many memories.

Just before war broke out a large gun from the first world war had been put in the fields on Charfleets farm, Stan says it was on a track but it was so antiquated it would have been useless.

The family stayed on Canvey during the war. Stan remembers going to the police station to get their gas masks and told how to wear them. The School closed because there were no shelters and they were given home work to do.

The Camp in Northwick was under canvas at the start of the war. Stan says they used to get the pigs swill from the cookhouse. Fred Cook would see the cook and he would end up with a sandbag full of potatoes and a bag of tea and a load of dripping. Sometimes they ended up with an ‘H’ bone of beef. Stan said they did alright.

“There were a lot of empty bungalows around us as some people had been interred because they were aliens. The Hans family down our road were Germans. The workmen came next door and built a concrete Anderson shelter for us and the neighbours Mr & Mrs Wheeler, we put a bed in it and a chair for old Mr Wheeler we filled sacks with mud to make a blast wall in front of the door, that was made from a wood frame and heavy corrugated iron.

An anti- aircraft gun on Chambers farm (little gypps) and four 4.7 ack ack guns installed, and when they fired what a noise. One night there was a raid on and looking out of the shelter we saw incendiary bombs burning all round us with the A.R.P men digging earth up to douse them out, we had four around our house one on each side but luckily none hit the house.

One incendiary did not go off and Ted Cutler put his belt through the bomb fin and pulled it out of the ground and took it home, he was a bit mad. Ted worked on the farm as a cowman and also did the milk round with a horse and milk float. All the farm workers joined the Home Guard, but Ted Cutler became part of the special forces to sabotage the enemy in case of invasion. His spare room was like an arsenal with guns and maps. His training included swimming across the Bay in full kit.

One night they had a task to get into the fort at the bay, it was heavily guarded as it was built to defend the Thames estuary from enemy ships and submarines with four naval guns . Anyway the force got in from the fields and ditches and planted bags of dummy explosives all over and round the magazines and power plants. You see these farmer boys knew the lay of the land and proved to be a force that would wreck havoc to the enemy had the need arrived. Rupert Ives the man who owned the shoe shop in Furtherwick road was the captain of the unit, and security was tightened up on all the army camps after that.

The raids were very bad and we stayed in the shelter every night for weeks. One night we heard voices outside and Mr. Scott the coalman an ARP warden told us to stay put as Mrs Hurrel had seen what she thought was a parachute, it was so funny the home guard were walking with guns and fixed bayonets through the ground mist, anyway the parachute turned out to be a barrage balloon that had become free.

After a while we decided to stay indoors throughout the raids, one night a bomber that had been damaged, unloaded his bombs on the village, ten in all were counted, one dropped by a caravan on the farm that we used as a camp, the rest fell in the fields around the church and Charfleets farm, except one fell on a house in Coker Road and hit the side of the house where a soldier was taking shelter under the table and he was killed.

Two of the bombs did not explode that fell in the field in Haven Road (where the Methane football club play) the bomb disposal squad dug down for a long way but could not retrieve them as they had gone down into the mud so far, (they are still there today under the new road).

One Saturday Pat Lazell and I was playing in Ken Cockles garden at the top of Green avenue with his steam train, when all of a sudden we heard a stouker dive bomber diving, we jumped into the shelter as the bomb dropped, it hit number 2 Green avenue a bungalow that was empty, it was a oil bomb that covered the place in black oil, was meant to cause a fire which it did as it hit the side by the gas meter. I can remember as the asbestos roof tiles exploded it sounded like gun fire. I had to run past the place to get home.

I used to make a lot of models of aeroplanes and warships, one day a Lysander aeroplane flew very low at the top of our road and the pilot waved to me, I was thrilled a Lysander became my favourite plane after that and I just had to make a model. We had salvage collection at school and got points for our houses, we collected shrapnel from the fields and if we found a nosecap that was great. One day I found a cannon shell from an aircraft that was still live, my cousin had shown me how to disarm a 303 rifle bullet, you pulled out the end, empted the cordite out and set fire to it and it went up poof, next you put the case in the vice and hit the detonator to make a bang. Well that was ok with a small bullet but with a larger one my word what a bang when I hit the detonator with a long screwdriver and hammer ‘BANG’ I was lucky I only had a miner cut on my hand , I still have the scar, of course I did not tell anything to mum.

As the war went on one day mum and I took the tea to the field for the men haymaking behind the fort we were now farming the field at Scar House farm. On the way back we heard a drone of an aircraft as it was cloudy we could not see them mum said I hope they are not Germans, when suddenly all hell was let loose with the strafing of a troop ship in the Thames, with machine guns and anti aircraft guns.

When the men came home that evening they told us they had to dive under the wagon they were loading with the hay there was no time to unhitch the horse from the shafts and it was jumping about quite a bit with all the noise, Henry Laiman who was helping with the harvest, put his head between the wheels to look at the raid Fred Cook told him to get back you silly little bugger or you will get run over if the horse takes off.

In the winter of 1941/42 we had a large snow fall it was the first time I had seen snowdrifts, you could not see where the ditches were as all was full of snow. I remember the army was called on to clear the snow drifts at Northwick Corner to get the traffic through, it was six feet deep but the next day the wind changed round and blew it all back so they started again chucking it all the other side.

I had to deliver milk on a sledge to the village with Bob Jennings after he finished milking. I tripped over a tree stump in the snow and broke my arm mum took me to Dr. Stephens (who by the way was the only doctor on Canvey until after the war) he set my arm and put it in sling, and said to go to Southend Hospital for an X-ray. It hurt like hell, we travelled by three buses as there was no direct route then. We sat freezing in A&E for ages heating was minimal then. After the x-ray and the minimum of treatment we made our way home.

When the bus got to the top of Bread and cheese hill the road was a sheet of ice and the bus driver said we could all take a chance in the bus or walk down the hill and be picked up at the bottom, we all decided to stay put. What an experience slipping and sliding all the way down. I am glad to say all were safe and sound what a cheer went up for the driver.

Our bungalow was so cold as there was no isolation in the place, the house was only roughcast wood and asbestos walls and asbestos ceilings, we only had one fire place but mum had a gas fire put in that we could move around the house. One morning we got up and next to the fireplace we had a goldfish in a bowl and there was a skim of ice formed on the water. I can always remember feeling cold the only time my toes were warm was when I had chilblains on my toes and they throbbed. I must have looked like a book mark when in bed as I had so many covers on I even put the mat off the floor over me sometimes you never took your underclothes off at bedtime you put pyjamas on over the top, mind you I wore mine out and had a pair from my cousin who went into the army.

Wearing short trousers was the thing and my legs were always chapped in winter very painful. Our socks were wools they would wear out on the heel especially as Wellingtons was a must to get around in all the mud and water the farm was no place for shoes, our road was unmade so when we went up to London the drill was to wear the boots to the top of the road put them in a bag under the bushes and put our shoes on, and at a return, put the boots back on. Nobody ever stole them.”

Taken c1949/50 on Carnival day outside Brown’s Shop now a florists on the corner of Haven Road. Stan’s friends Toby, Charles Bartlett, Morris Scott and the last one was a cowman for Jack Cass.

Stan left school in 1944 and went to work for Farmer Leach for a while. It was the same weekend that the doodlebug dropped 22 July 1944. He saw one of the rockets coming over. He was working at Leaches and looked over at the sunrise and could see the white streak coming. You would hear two bangs as it went through the sound barrier. Two landed on Leach’s farm one near the seawall.

Comments about this page

  • Fascinating

    By David Bullock (26/07/2012)
  • I think the one at the front is Dougie Wright.

    By John Buckmaster (28/07/2012)
  • We think the boy on the left is one of the Stacy boys who lived down Northwick.

    By val and harry court (08/06/2013)
  • You’re right Val And Harry it’s Peter.

    By john buckmaster (11/06/2013)
  • I am sorry to say that Stan Thackeray has passed away. He will be greatly missed. 

    By Janet Penn (03/12/2015)
  • Sad news about Stan, one more of our ‘old Islanders’ gone.

    By Val Court (03/12/2015)
  • Hello…I was so interested to read these memories by Stan. I am a cousin of Pat Thackeray, Stan’s wife. My earliest memory of Stan, was being at his wedding in 1950’ The Baptist church in High Street. A Canvey girl myself, although younger than Stan, it is lovely to know that his knowledge and stories shall not be lost. I spent a little time with Stan just a few months before he died. 

    By Janette Sheern (08/01/2017)
  • I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. Thank you for sharing it. I was particularly interested in the connection with Fred Cook. As a child I remember that the Cook family kept cattle on the Marshes in Coryton where my grandparents lived. I would be very interested if anyone can remember anything about Fred’s family. This is an interesting and very well written document of memories between the run up to and during WW2.

    By Muriel (07/07/2021)
  • For those interested:

    The “Lonely Road” film spoken about is available to view online here:

    By Martin Lepley (07/03/2023)

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