Summers on Canvey in the 50s

Tad Opyrchal has sent in some great photos and memories of his visits to Canvey Island in the 1950s.

Tad says: I spent many summers in Canvey during my childhood in the 50’s. Apart from the regular trips to Thorney bay during the summer to the former army camp which is now a holiday park, sometimes I went to a farm or smallholding which was located, I believe, on the east of the island.

The archive believes this is the playground nr the football club

My parents were Polish and this place was a way to get a holiday for their children. The Polish church in London organised it as a holiday place. All I can remember is that it was a large house with a verandah, made of wood, with a field attached.

Looking at a map of Canvey Island, I think that this was located somewhere around “Point Road” to the east, however I was just a nipper at the time. Across the road from this property there as an estate with a grass square and small playground and past that the road led to the sea wall. The other thing that might jog some ones memory is that on the farm there was a flagpole and it used to fly a Polish flag when we were there. Many children!

I wonder if anyone remembers the place or has any photographs. I imagine that it has disappeared under a wave of new developments.

The trip to Canvey was an adventure. I remember all the children poking their heads out of the (steam) train as it approached Benfleet, some of them waving buckets and spades. If the train had to stop on the final curve there was a whoop of delight from all the children as the train started to puff its way to the station. There was a level crossing and the station was spotless with flowers and shiny paintwork. I’ve been past there since of course, by car, all the joy has disappeared.

Tad has also sent us in these great photos:

Shows Tad with a cricket bat with his brother Ryshard at Thorney Bay Camp

They are all from Thorney Bay. We loved it until the beach was destroyed by an oil spill. I distinctly remember grabbing a razor shell as it came up for air and losing the fight. Just as well I suppose.  Children used to fish off the breakwater. The camp was luxurious for us because it has a bathroom with unlimited hot water – our bath at home was hung from a wall. A dangerous game was entering and climbing around the huge gun emplacements. All taken in ones stride, London was miserable by comparison. The image shows me with a cricket bat with my brother. The large image shows a row of happy children (I’m No. 5)  holding their sweets after appearing at the talent show in the Thorney bay holiday camp.

Shows a row of happy children (Tad No. 5) holding their sweets after appearing at the talent show in the Thorney bay holiday camp.

They might trigger some happy memories for other Londoners. Canvey was this child’s paradise and I suspect that it still is in the minds of many other children of that era.

The accommodation at the Thorney Bay holiday camp was  quite spartan – Nissen huts with bunk beds and a metal stove between the bunks. Two bunks to a unit.  I imagine my parents were totally fed up of army camps by the time we stopped going!

Tad at Thorney bay

Can anyone help? Do you remember the Polish Children in the 1950s? Please comment below.

Comments about this page

  • I think the farm , smallholding he was referring to was Stella Maris at the end of Hlbeck rd to the right.

    By TONY FROST. (06/02/2022)
  • Yes Tony you are quite right! The normal entrance was from Point Rd was a gate next to Mrs King’s bungalow( now the Spiritualist Church which still has the same appearance as it did then). The path led down across a small field to Stella Maris House and the flagpole with Polish flag was in the middle of that. I think it must have been used by the Polish community into the early 60s as remember delivering something there when I started working in the family bakery business. There is a photo from the north which includes the gypsy caravan on the Archive page re the Island Farm Lake.
    I think the property was owned by a lady of Polish origin who was a member of the Canvey Catholic Church, can’t remember name but Maureen Buckmaster has mentioned her on the Archive.
    Hi Tad, your memories are very clear. The other side of Point Rd is Park Lane which was exactly as you describe it, playground etc and is now (and has been for a long time) Canvey FC ground and clubhouse.
    Thanks for sending your memories of summer days on Canvey and how you enjoyed them! Also you have filled in some of my curiosity about the London Polish community.
    Graham Stevens
    PS Tad you are right about redevelopment I think at least by the late 70s it became Stella Maris Close and some terraced properties facing Point Rd.

    By Graham (06/02/2022)
  • Thank you so much for your comments! Now I can investigate a little further. The church organising the holidays was and still is in Devonia Road, N1. (https://parish.rcdow.org.uk/polishchurchislington/) The congregation used to spill out onto the road, blocking traffic. Times change, congregations shrink, all the people who may have been involved have long since passed away or moved away like my family. Graham, thank you for the compliment however what I now know as Stella Maris House is etched into my memory, it was so different and special compared to London. Our circumstances improved, of course, but those days in Canvey were gems and I often revisit them through my minds eye. As I wrote this I recalled that the field next to Thorney Bay holiday camp was home to a herd of cows. Where there are cows then there is sorrel which makes a very tasty soup. There were mushrooms to pick too around that field. Happy days. No telly, just fun.

    By Tad (06/02/2022)

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