A Sad tribute to Chapman once premier in Canvey’s ‘Golden age’

A Sad tribute to Chapman once premier in Canvey’s ‘Golden age’

Are there any of you left? – that remember the smooth grass-topped low mound earthen seawall, that perimeter ridge that masquerading as a sea-defence. This ripple of earth surrounding and protecting the island survived from the 17th century with minimal maintenance, it withstood centuries of elemental pounding, until in 1953 it surrendered, finally yielding to the inevitable. As a result 58 lives were lost. A memory recently surfaced from my early years, I recall pre-flood. The summers always seemed hot, sometimes reaching 65-75 Fahrenheit .Yes! we were a hardy bunch in those days however; the winters were always, always cold with snow and often very windy. My memory wanes with age. However; my most vivid memory and possibly for anyone of that era, was watching men standing thigh – deep in mud building enormous ramparts of sandbags to repair breaches in the shattered wall. My overriding sound-bite from that era is the constant clanking and hammering echoing over the island day and night from pile drivers, pounding in interlocking piles to repair the flood ravaged seawall. The bang & clank sounds became symphony No1 over the entire island. I clearly remember young and old men toiling with army regulars in the freezing cold with clinging thigh-deep mud, rushing to complete repairs before the next tide. This recollection has burns deep into memory. The repairs continued a further two years even as an infant sleep was hard to come by. Eventually Piling stopped and the wall was capped with concrete, thankfully silence and sleep returned. For the army workforce fresh from the War, it was another order to obey, but for the majority it was a desperate defence of home.

Over the intervening years I’ve often voiced much gratitude and admiration for those men who toiled in terrible conditions to defend and save the remnants of their homes. Surely it’s time a memorial was erected to the forgotten army, both National and citizen’s that toiled in atrocious conditions to save the island.

In happier times from early 1930 to the mid to late 50’s. The sandy beaches of Chapman beach Seaview Road area had attracted countless holiday-makers and families with young children most had never been out of London and many had never seen the sea. The small Seaview paddling pool encouraged many children to splish and splash about. For many years vacant land at the end of eastern esplanade had been used for storage of dinghies and sail craft a jetty was built for sailing and it has been the summer focal point for countless school children since. Over the years the pool fell to disrepair, forgotten by those laughing happy children, but sand is sand and it still attracts the younger generation with their crab nets looking for ‘monsters in the deep’.

As an infant I remember my first, nearly last solo swim next Chapman jetty after being taught to swim by a disabled solider, the following week I scrambled up the seawall with friends and jauntily dived into the sea. Unfortunately I had been taught in a shallow paddling pool and my confident dive to the murky depths was almost my last. It’s not true what they say, your life doesn’t flash before you, – Merely gallons of seawater and regrets. BUT! my lucky day, after swallowing half the Thames I was plucked from the deep by my solider friend, wrapped in bundles of towels and in no uncertain terms told. Not to do it again! and when mum found out she slapped my legs. Oh! That hurt. But! those were the days, great fun!

Since that time my pre-emptive strike has been copied many times thankfully by more experienced swimmers and the jetty remains a focal point for the Seaview road area. It survived the 53 floods and the consequent rebuild of the wall in 75. Despite it’s now sad appearance with fencing, wire and gates, every summer it draws numerous school leavers for the annual summer ritual of the dive and swim. In its time Chapman has been a premier beach destination and witness to the Golden age of Canvey. With the passage of time the golden age and premier beach status has deteriorated. Sadly so has the Jetty. After the 2023 revetment repair Chapman jetty will be no more. My old friend joins ‘Davy Jones’ for an extended visit. My tribute to the passing years and fun times experienced:
‘Goodbye mate, ‘it was fun while it lasted’, we had the best times!

Thom J

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