The Parks Family and Canvey Island
Marjorie Parks' memories of Canvey
The Parks relationship with Canvey Island began in 1928 when the family came here for their holidays. In those days there were very few main roads and the roads were unmade. There was lots of open space to run around and explore and this coupled with the estuary air (recommended for respiratory complaints) would have done the children the world of good.
Marjorie Parks nee Holt, now ninety, would have been ten or eleven years old. She stayed with her parents and siblings in what they referred to as ‘The Dolls House’. It was a small wooden house in the back garden of a bungalow called ‘Medcot’ that was situated near to St Anne’s Church. The Dolls House looked very much as its name suggests. It had two stories, there being a tiny bedroom at the top which the children reached by a wooden stepladder. They would have slept on the floor. There was an oil lamp for lighting in the small kitchen area but any cooking involved a visit to a bakers shop near Leigh Beck. For a fee the baker would cook their leg of lamb for them or anything else they needed cooking. The Dolls House had no sanitation and there was a hole in the roof, but the family loved staying there.
Marjorie’s mother, Clara Holt, especially fell in love with Canvey during that first holiday and although Marjorie’s father Joe, a French Polisher by trade, had been looking to purchase a house in Southall, the family eventually bought a bungalow in Dovercliff Road called ‘Tarry A While’ with Joe and Clara Holt eventually retiring there. This remained the family’s property on the island until 1960 when Joe decided to move on. He received about £850 from the sale of the property.
They kept a wind up gramophone in the front parlour and they grew asparagus in the front garden. In the back garden were several trees such as Green Gage and Victoria Plum. There was a problem with black caterpillars back then – caterpillars with a rather nasty bite. It could almost have been called an infestation on the island. Thankfully the floods killed them off.
There was no bridge over to the mainland so people would cross using a series of barges. On one occasion Marjorie’s mother was struggling across with what was probably a very heavy case of dirty washing and four of her children in tow, when disaster – the case broke open and all its contents spilled out. I imagine it must have taken sometime retrieving it all.
The family would often go and play by the Chapman’s Lighthouse. They walked through the mud with their clothes tied around their necks to keep them dry. The lighthouse keeper would keep an eye on them, letting them know when they should be heading home so as not to be caught by the tide. There was an area of harder ground to one side of the light house where they would play rounders with their friends. They also used to take a rowing boat out stopping just beyond the lighthouse where the estuary suddenly drops off into much deeper water. One of their friends Stan Lance was a very good swimmer and fearless. He would dive from the boat straight into this deeper water.
Marjorie’s best friend was Enid. They attended Southend Girls College together at the age of thirteen. Enid’s mother was a pianist and her father was a talented violinist. He played at the Smallgains Club and could often be heard practising his music at home. Marjorie and Enid kept in touch as adults meeting up when they could usually at Tilbury Docks. Marjorie worked in London and Enid had a job at a hotel in Tilbury. Enid used to say it was lucky to touch a sailor’s collar and she would often do just that, disappearing immediately after leaving Marjorie to deal with the bemused sailor. Marjorie later moved to Ipswich having married, but she missed Canvey terribly. Her sons would often visit Canvey.
Marjorie and her son Bob, an artist, both feel a deep attachment to the island though they now live in Hampshire. They describe the island as being a place like ‘nowhere else’, a place with freedom of spirit and expression and the friendliest of people. It is clear that Canvey Island will be a source of fond memories and inspiration to the Parks family for many years to come.
Many thanks to Marjorie for making the long trip to Canvey and sharing her memories and pictures with us. It was nice meeting you.