2 - Stanley Perry's Recollections of Canvey.
Along Furtherwick Road there is the Haystack pub, along from that there was the Co-op, now Iceland, Van den Steen’s fish shop, a café, Claxton’s before it moved to larger premises on the corner of Oak Road, a butcher’s and the gas show rooms on the corner of Lionel Road.
The Haystack belonged to the Drapers whose daughter died aged 18 and is buried in St. Katherine’s churchyard. The Drapers donated the land on which the Paddocks Centre was built. Their bungalow was opposite the pub in Long Road where the flats have recently been built.
Recalling the parade of shops in Furtherwick Road from what is now New Look to the Halifax. What was there before these shops were built? It was an open area with a plant nursery and a long, low wooden building which was Redman’s estate agents. On the corner of Waarden Road was Strutt’s Stores and just before that a greengrocer’s. The Strutt family lived just around the corner in a big bungalow that had one of the big dykes running alongside it. The daughter lived in the bungalow opposite on the corner of Waarden and Vaagen Rd. They owned the greengrocer’s. Their name was Evans. The Strutt’s had a tennis court in their grounds which was next to where the Convent School playground is. Another court was to be found in Convent Road in the back garden of the big house called ‘Runneymede’ which still stands. The tennis courts have been built on. On the other side of the road to Strutts was Barclays bank where the Nationwide now is. When Barclays built the new bank on the opposite corner, the former bank became a dress shop. Next to that was Warwick’s the newsagents, a café, barbers and Attwell’s butchers on the corner of Trevia Avenue. This road disappeared when the Knightswick Shopping Centre was built.
The Rendezvous Club was in Goirle Ave. Just after the war there was a second hand timber yard between Florence Road and Oxford Road.
Matthews Charles was also an estate agent. His shop was opposite the Haystack pub. Old Mr. Matthews was a very portly man who used to sit outside the shop in a chair. He ran it with his wife. They lived in Folksville Road with their two daughters. The middle shop in the parade was Cockle Jacks and on the end was Green Stores. There were 3 of these on the Island, another one being in Maurice Rd. The shop that was Claxton’s and is now a pet shop was built on the site of a huge duck pond. In front of this was a palmist called Marie and next to that was a jockey’s scales which people used in the season. On one side of Oak Road was the Mascot a confectioner’s. Outside was a brass-topped collection box in which they collected money for a cottage hospital on the Island. It was never built. It was to have been situated where the old Furtherwick Park School stood. I heard that the money collected was used for a clinic at Little Gypps. The buildings at Little Gypps used to be accommodation for those working on the gun site. There used to be 3 gun emplacements one at Little Gypps, one at Northwick and one at Thorney Bay near the sea wall. There were two 6” guns and they were only fired once. The shell ricocheted off the sea wall and ploughed up a field.
The Rio cinema – I used to go there to see films. Mr Betram ran it. The first film shown was called ‘The Tunnel’. Loe, who was a bricklayer and was part of the firm that I worked for, worked on the Rio. He was also sub-contractor for Fielder and built his houses. Loe’s son Alf had taken an architect’s course and was also in partnership with Price Powell an estate agent who had an office at Gains corner (the building is still there). Loe tiled the old Convent building. During the war and immediately after it was used to house American soldiers. Then it was briefly a holiday camp.
Chambers used to have a dairy at Chamberlain Avenue where the parade of shops with the service road in front is. People used to have to cross a bridge over a dyke to get to the dairy. Where the car spares shop now is was where Chamber’s greengrocer’s was. Opposite where the car sales is now was the cow shed, in fact it still is there. Chambers used to graze his cattle where Castle View School now is. His farmhouse was situated where the Job Centre now is and was the last farmhouse to be demolished in the early 60’s.
Long Road / Village
Retained fire service – during the war what became the council offices housed the fire station on the left and the ambulance station on the right. Next to the building on the left was a wooden bungalow which was used as a canteen and accommodation for the retained firemen. The fire chief at the time was a plumber by trade and lived on the corner of May Avenue where the tool-hire shop now is. I went to school with his son Dudley. In the late 50’s early 60’s the chief had a Landrover fitted out so he could get to the scene of a fire quicker. The firemen were summoned by the siren.
The flat roofed houses near the junction of Long Road and Hawkesbury Road were built just after the war. They were known as the atomic bungalows. There’s only one left with the original flat roof. The builder had a French sounding name. The reinforcing for the roofs was mine sweeper nets because building materials were rationed and in short supply they recycled everything they could. There’s a story of a man who wanted to build himself a house in Delfzul Road but couldn’t get hold of materials so he built it from whatever he could lay his hands on. He managed it in the end and then named it ‘Sodemall’!
Tibbett’s father had a shop on the site where the fish and chip shop now is in the Village. He apparently invented the chemical toilet and his son Archie used to make the wooden seats. There’s an example of one of these at the Dutch Cottage.
During the war the fuel storage tanks at the bottom of Haven Road were encased in brick to protect them from attack. My mother told me that she had heard Lord Haw Haw on the radio saying that the fuel tanks on Canvey hadn’t been forgotten. There was the London and Coastal Oil Wharves and Regent. What had been Kynoch’s hotel was turned into offices and used as their headquarters. It was they who removed the embellishments from the roof. It was demolished in the mid 70’s. In Benfleet the Crown pub was renamed the Half Crown after part of it was demolished by one of Regent’s tankers.
A Doodlebug landed on No.7 Deepwater Road. I was on the sea wall near Scar’s Elbow when I saw it fall. It was shot at by guns in Kent probably with the intention of shooting it down but instead it made it alter its course and it fell on the Island.
B17 crash. I was on the sea wall at Deadman’s Point and saw the plane crash off the Island opposite the Bay Country Club. The tide was out. There was a datum for the guns which was a big hoop on 4 big pylons which was used to line up the guns. An airman parachuted out of the plane but landed 12 ft. away from the mud and in the water. His parachute was caught by the wind and he was dragged across the river. A navy launch which was kept at Kynoch’s hotel tried to rescue him but unsuccessfully. A memorial was held in 2014 for the airmen who were killed.
There used to be two booms out in the river to make the estuary smaller. One was from Kent and one from near Shellhaven.
To get back to the William Read School – Dicky Read, as he was known, lived with his wife in a bungalow in Hertford Road. Its garden backed onto the boys’ playground. The main entrance to the school as over a piped section of the Long Road dyke which was wide enough to allow lorries to make deliveries to the school, especially coke lorries as the school had coke-fired boilers for the school central heating system. A bungalow has been built where this was. I assume it was for the caretaker. This was after the old school was knocked down and the new school built. A section of the dyke that ran through the school grounds has been piped and filled in for a path to allow access to the school playing field. This was at the side of two green painted wooden buildings that were the Infants’ School.
When I was 7 my mother brought the younger children to live on Canvey. I assumed it was because of a domestic dispute with my father. I was far too young to understand about anything like that. As a result I was enrolled in the Infants’ School for the Easter and Summer Terms. The buildings later became kitted out as a woodwork classroom and a science lab. Whilst the boys did woodwork; the girls did domestic science i.e. cooking etc. These buildings later became kitchens and a school canteen. These kitchens prepared school dinners for all the Island’s schools. The ones for Leigh Beck and Long Road were delivered by a Mr. Toby Tipthorp with his horse and cart, similar to the one Steptoe and son of T.V. fame had. These other two schools were the only others on the Island at that time. A Mrs Nightingale used to collect the dinner money and issue different coloured tickets for those that were entitled to free dinners and those who had to pay. This caused friction between pupils who used to taunt each other and the practise finally stopped after irate parents complained. Even then it took some time. Children can be very cruel to each other.
I was at the William Read School for most of the war and at that time a Mr. Lazell was the caretaker and he lived in Pilgrim Cottages. These were similar to those either side of Somnes Avenue roundabout and were situated half way along Northwick Road about where Roscommon Way is. In these days Northwick Road was only a country lane. It was only made up during the construction of an oil refinery that was never commissioned. The cottages were probably destroyed as were several other buildings in a general clearance prior to the beginning of the oil refinery.
During the war Canvey became a dumping ground for German bombers returning from raids over London, dropping bombs they had left over. It was mainly breadbaskets of incendiaries many of which never ignited. At the school there used to be about an 8 foot wide strip of grass between Mr Phillips/Miss Wiggs side of the school and the hard surface of the girls’ playground. One night in 1941 a bomber dropped a land mine. It missed the school itself but hit this strip of grass. We all had a few days off school whilst the army bomb disposal team tried to find and disarm it. After quite a long search they were unable to find it and we were eventually allowed back to school. It lay there quietly forgotten until the old building was being demolished and someone remembered it. I think it was the old school caretaker’s son who remembered it from when he was a boy. He told the demolition gang about it and they in turn told the powers that be. Again the bomb disposal team was called in and after a long and intensive search they too were unable to find it. It caused a furore at that time and a lot of indignation that the authorities would allow a school to be built on top of an unexploded bomb. However it all eventually died down and the new school was built. As far as I know the bomb’s still there buried deep in the Canvey mud.
Canvey didn’t start to be developed until the late 50’s early 60’s and was criss-crossed by hundreds of dykes. These were kept clear of rubbish and silt by a 3 man team. The leader was a Bob Jennings. The others were a chap I don’t know the name of and a deaf mute who I also don’t know the name of. The dykes that crossed Mayland Avenue, Beverly Avenue, Southwick Road etc. were crossed by a wooden bridge made up of 8 foot by 2 inch slats. The road itself was about a 10 foot wide strip of concrete, no curbs or footpaths just a grass verge either side. The surface of Southwick Road became very badly chipped by a Bren gun carrier taking soldiers between the fort at Fielder’s camp and the gun emplacement at Little Gypps. Bren gun carriers were track laying vehicles.
Bob was my neighbour when I lived at ‘Dolce Domum’ on the corner of Long Road and Village Drive. He lived in the first house on the right in Village Drive. Bob tried to be as self -sufficient as he could. He owned a large plot of land that stretched from Village Drive to Edith Road. He used to plant his potatoes by moonlight. It was something to do with ancient folklore and germination. When my daughter was 3 years old his wife offered to make the jellies and blancmanges for the party. When the children tasted the blancmange they immediately spat it out. They had never tasted goat’s milk before. Such was the efficiency of Bob and his team that the water that flowed through the dykes was crystal clear. Anyway the water that flowed across Mayland Avenue was. So much so that whilst on holiday here before the war, armed with a fishing net bought from Jones Stores and a 2 pound jam jar with a string handle I was able to go fishing in the dyke and was able to catch 3 types of newt, freshwater shrimps and sticklebacks.
The water in the dykes was eventually allowed to flow through the sea wall via sluice gates. These were like a one-way valve and consisted of a 6 foot by 4 foot metal flap. When the tide was in the pressure of the sea kept the flap closed and when it was out the water in the dykes lifted the flap and was allowed to trickle through into the river. The sluices had a grill on the inside to trap any large pieces of debris that would wedge the flap open and let the sea flood in. There were several of these sluices dotted round the Island. There was one near Sluice Farm, which was how the farm got its name. A man from the Essex River Board was in charge of looking after the sluices. His name was Mr. Mileman and he lived in the ‘Gables’ in Marcos Road. He also happened to be my sister’s father-in-law.
His son Lesley is in the photo of my brother’s wedding taken just outside St. Katherine’s Church. After most of the dykes were piped and filled in, a lot were built on. The Denham Road one as it came to Long Road had Blockbuster Video Rentals built on it. It is now Jones Corner Café. The building at the side which is now Ladbrokes betting shop was built for the Nightingale family.
The one whose wife used to collect the school dinner money. They opened it as a grocer’s store and the little shop on the side which is now a Chinese take-away was a café. The Nightingales had 2 daughters. The youngest lived with her husband in the bungalow immediately behind the shop and ran the café, whilst her elder sister helped their parents in the shop. Prior to the present premises being built in 1949 the site was occupied by a single storey shop that was also a grocer’s. It had 2 foot 6 inch wide white shutters that could be lifted out to open the shop. The shop was owned by a Mrs Walker, a rather rotund lady who always wore a wrap-around pinafore. When I was 7 or 8 I remember being in the shop when an irate lady came in to return a bag of sugar saying that it was absolutely rancid. I knew that it must have meant something bad by the way she spoke. At that young age I had never heard the word before and it has always stuck in my mind.
Where the dyke was on the south side of the Long Road is now a square of grass with a council notice board and flower trough. Before the dyke was piped and filled in there was a narrower strip of grass next to Craven Avenue. On it was the old War Memorial. It was the same design as the present one at the Paddocks. It was moved there because of the congestion on Remembrance Sunday due to the increased population of Canvey. The shop which is now a Nisa and Post Office was the same type of shop when it was built and was called Tremain’s and was the main newsagent on Canvey. The area is known as Jones’ Corner because a Mr. Albert Jones had a shop where Bob Nash’s butcher’s shop is now. It was a general store which sold most things similar to Arkwright’s on T.V. of ‘Open All Hours’ fame.
He owned the whole site from Craven Avenue to the police station car park. Where the hairdresser’s and Boots chemist’s is was his garden. It was just a plain lawn with a concrete birdbath in the middle. The shop front was similar to Mrs Walkers that had stood opposite. His shutters were painted brown. There is a photo of his shop taken during the flood in 1953. It shows people in a boat next to a grizzly bear with the sign ‘Bear up. Canvey will rise again’. The bear stood inside the shop next to a rather handsome grandfather clock for years. His sister Phyllis ran the shop with him until he was called up during the war and he had to join the Army. Although he was not supposed to he was always very obliging so that if you ran out of anything on a Sunday he would always serve you.
The Sunday trading laws didn’t come in until the John Major government. Prior to that you could not trade on a Sunday thanks to strong lobbying from the ‘Lords Day Observance Society’.
Near the Island Yacht Club was the Beach House. Nearby was a long green wooden building on stilts which was a coastguard look out during the war. Fred McCave published an article in his paper from a man who had emigrated to Australia. He told the tale of when the hut fell into disuse after the war he raided it for timber to build his own house.
Canvey characters – Peggy Deller, a lady of disrepute; Marie the palmist, her son and the man who lived at the Point. He lived in a caravan in his garden because he thought his house was haunted. He also wore oilskins all year round. There was also another man who was a chemist. He used to recite all sorts of remedies out loud. It’s thought his mind had turned when his son was killed in the war.