Captivating Canvey from the 1931 edition by Bertram McCave
re-published in 1981 by Fred McCave
Those who have known Canvey Island during the past twenty years, and who may occasionally reflect upon the changes they have seen in it, must be greatly impressed by its remarkable development during the latter half of the past decade. Where, up to even ten years ago, comparatively few houses and bungalows were sprinkled over the Island, the last six or seven years have seen single buildings surrounded by groups; these groups forming the nuclei of larger agglomerations, which, apparently, actuated by the spirit of life, have still further grown, until, now, the Island is the site of a strong, flourishing community, and this progress continues as the wonderful attractiveness of the spot becomes known and appreciated. Impressive as this irresistible march of progress is, it should not be in the least surprising, as Canvey is in the happy possession of such a combination of exceptionally favourable attributes, that its destiny was plainly to become one of the most popular health and pleasure resorts in Essex.
In shape an irregular oval, about five miles in length and about two-and-a-half miles in greatest breadth, comprising an area of about 4,370 acres of land; 30 of inland and 2,624 of tidal water and 2,031 of foreshore; it is situated in the Thames Estuary and only divided from the Essex mainland on the North by a narrow strip of water called Hadley Ray. This is now spanned by a bridge which, it is expected, will be open to traffic by the time this guide is in the hands of the public. Hitherto, when the tide was in, the passage of Hadley Ray was made by row boat, ferrymen being on duty at all hours of the day and night to convey passengers across; whilst, when the tide was out, pedestrians could walk across dry-shod , and the bed of the river was sufficiently hard for the heaviest vehicles to cross. Thus the “Islands” enjoys the unusual distinction of being a “real” island twice a day, as with the tide in, it is then undoubtedly “a piece of land surrounded by water,” whilst, during the remaining hours of each twenty-four, it is a Peninsula.
On the Southern side of the Island is the main stream of the Thames, separating Kent from Essex, widening very rapidly here to its mouth, so that the eastern extremity of Canvey (which is Canvey Spit or Point) faces the open sea. An hour’s comfortable run by the London, Midland -and Scottish Railway, from Fenchurch Street, lands the visitor at Benfleet Station, where he alights and, within a very few minutes, can cross the Ray and set foot on the shore of Canvey Island. Until 1931, the only means of crossing between the Island and the mainland, when the tide was in, was that most ancient of all methods of water transport, the row boat, and although it lacked the speed and comfort of modern methods, yet there was a great charm attending the thought that one had probably been in the midst of the rush and turmoil of the crowded city only a short hour previous to this primitive style of negotiating the passage of the river. It seemed a fitting introduction to the freedom and unconventionalities of Canvey Island.
Having landed on the shore of the island, the majority of people notice, immediately, that the air is stronger and with a more marked savour of the sea in it. This statement may seem an exaggeration to one who has not yet visited the Island but it only requires a visit to experience that it is an actual fact. Even if one comes straight from Southend, or Leigh-on-Sea, directly the Ray is crossed and one is on the Canvey shore, the difference in the air is noticeable, and it can be observed every time that one arrives on the Island again after even the shortest absence from it. The explanation is that Canvey, being surrounded by the sea at each tide, and there being large areas of marsh lands (“saltines,” as they are so descriptively called) which are covered by the sea when the tides are in, the evaporation there from, during the time when the tides are out, charges the air with ozone, which is thus constantly being renewed and freshened. This is the grand secret of the wonderful health-giving properties of the Canvey air, and, so, it can be readily understood why so few other places in the Kingdom can offer such a healthy and invigorating climate.
Sheltered from the North by the hills of Benfleet, Hadleigh and Leigh-on-Sea, with its frontage on the South and East of over three miles to the open river and sea, it escapes much rain that the mainland attracts, and enjoys a very generous share of sunshine, so much so, indeed, that it is a very frequent occurrence for those who live on the Island and travel to London daily, to leave Canvey bathed in glorious sunshine and, during their train journey to town, to run into rain, dull weather, and, in the later months of the year, fog. On such occasions, in particular, it is that the genial climate of Canvey is appreciated to its full, and the residents there are to be envied.
The mud of the creeks and “guts” that abound in “saltings” surrounding the Island, possess properties highly beneficial in the treatment of rheumatism, gout, and other kindred complaints, and, the opinion of a Physician of long standing regarding the climate of Canvey that, “The air is extremely salubrious, clean, clear and bracing. It is especially suitable for those who suffer from Neurotic troubles and from consumption, scrofula, asthma and rheumatism. It is well adapted for those desiring a rest cure, and for all complaints for which sea bathing is indicated, while it is a notable fact that its residents are long lived and active beyond their years, and the death rate of the Island is low”
The main road traverses the Island from the causeway, which leads down to the ferry, and, about a mile from the causeway along this road, on its west side, is one of the two little Dutch houses that still remain as relics of the days when the men from Holland were busy “inning and recovering” Canvey from the sea. They are octagonal structures, small, but very strong and compact, in appearance, and surrounded by their little enclosures of land, they present quaint pictures of the Canvey homes of three hundred years ago. The date on this cottage is 1618, and the other one, which is in Canvey Village, 1621.
A couple of hundred yards further along, the road to the right leads to Northwick, while to the left is the direction for Canvey Village. A walk to Northwick is well worth while on a summer’s day, as this part of the Island is still unbuilt on, and is delightful, quiet country, with one or two farms scattered here and there, and the shores of Hole and East Haven creeks at the end of the ramble. Until quite recent years, Canvey was noted for its plentiful and varied wild bird life, but, as human habitations have increased, the feathered songsters have, perforce, deserted some of their old haunts, and it is now only in localities like this, on the Island, where the song of the lark can be enjoyed, and the habits of many varieties of beautiful birds and field life can be observed.
Taking the main road, just before entering the village, there is, on the left, the Parish Church of St. Katherine, and opposite, the old village school which served the requirements of the Island until 1924 when the new school was built on Long Road. In the centre of the village stands the old, thatched roof, village pump, no longer in use, but it is hoped that it will not be allowed to fall into decay, but the means will be forthcoming to allow of its being preserved as a link with the rural life of past years. Following the road to the right through the village, passing the old Dutch Cottage dated 1621, and, a little further, and on the opposite side of the road, the Vicarage, after about another 1/2-mile, is seen, on the left, Kynochs Hotel, boldly standing on the sea-wall while, the old Lobster Smack Inn is at the end of the road at the base of the sea-wall. At this spot the sea-wall is at its strongest part, being some 60 ft wide at its base with the promenade along the top about 15ft in width. This is Hole Haven, still a well patronised yachting centre with deep water.
The main road from Canvey village, due East, enters upon a course parallel with the sea-wall, on its right, of a mile in length, which is called Long Road, and, this is the longest stretch of straight road on the Island. Furtherwick Road crosses the Eastern end of Long Road, and, the junction of the two roads looking along Furtherwick Road in a Southerly, direction, towards the sea-wall, it is a very pleasant, leafy lane, and one of the few tree-lined roads on the Island. This is a direct route to the Shell-Beach. Pedestrians could have arrived at this spot from the bridge by an alternative route over the fields, shorter than the main road route, but available to pedestrians only.
The outskirts of the bungalow end of the Island have now been reached, a good proportion of the ground between here and Leigh Beck being occupied by houses and bungalows. There is charming freedom about life on Canvey which will appeal to most people whose work-a-day life has to be spent in towns or in their suburbs. The change of scene is complete in every respect; streets, brick and mortar, are replaced by bungalows of varied designs and appearance; the strict conventions of dress and deportment, so tiresomely observed in towns, can be ignored here, and the visitor casts off all artificial restraints, simply observing the ordinary rules of decency and respect towards others which his own courtesy will dictate.
For the family there is no better spot than Canvey for holidays. The children can enjoy unfettered freedom on beach and fields, with all the recreation so prized by the young-bathing, paddling, shrimping, sand castles, and, after leaving the beach, instead of coming straight from the shore into the paved streets of a town, there are fields and the grass to wander through on their way to their temporary homes. So they have the advantages of sea-side and country holidays in one, and the glorious, exhilarating air sends them home again pictures of health and happiness.
Having settled himself at his hotel or boarding house, it is safe to suppose that one of the first places the visitor will make for is the sea-wall, which he has undoubtedly heard a good deal about before coming to Canvey, and with which he will be anxious to make a closer acquaintance. The wall completely encircles the Island, and, following all its windings in and out, covers a distance of about 13 miles. On the South-East side of the Island it provides a promenade of three miles by the shore, and this is at all times an Interesting walk, with extensive views of the Island on the one hand, and on the other, of the mouth of the river, bordered in the distance by the wooded hills of the Kent shore.
The Chapman Light, in the fairway of the river, is 800 yards from the shore, due South-East. It was opened in 1851. The traffic on the face of the water is always far more interesting than at most sea-side resorts. Whilst at the majority of places by the sea ships pass at a distance almost beyond the ken of the naked eye, from the beach and sea-wall of Canvey there is never a moment of the day when ships and boats are not comfortably visible, ploughing their lonely furrows through the waters, as all the vessels homeward or outward bound to and from the large ports on the Thames must pass by Canvey, and thus a constant procession of vessels of all sizes can be watched with interest and pleasure. Monster, ocean-going liners bound for the other side of the world (fascinating spectacles at night as they majestically glide past with their tiers of light streaming out and giving, them the appearance of floating towns); sailing vessels with their full rig of canvas spread, and, as the sun catches the sails, delighting the eye with one of the most haunting sights to be imagined; red and brown sailed barges “tacking” to catch the breeze; fishing boats and pleasure yachts-the Estuary teems with interest at all times. Here one can also realise that despite the progress of motor and steam in water travel, there still remain quite a number of ocean-going vessels under sail only.
Amusements and Recreations
It must be confessed that the Island is no longer the paradise for shooters that it used to be. At one time there was excellent wild-fowl shooting to be enjoyed, but now this is considerably curtailed, although, in the winter, quite good bags can sometimes be obtained. There are, however, many other forms of amusement and sort more suited to its stage of development, and visitors need never be at a loss for the means of passing the time in healthy and interesting outdoor amusements.
Boating.-There is good boating with plenty of accommodation in the creeks for harbour.
Bathing.-The bathing is excellent. There is a long, clean stretch of beach composed of natural powdered shell, sloping very gradually and thus being perfectly safe, provided that ordinary care is exercised. It is always advisable to bathe on an incoming, rather than an outgoing, tide; while no one should dive without knowing what is beneath the surface, since at certain points there are groins which are underwater at high tide.
Shrimping.-This interesting and healthy pastime can be indulged in with gusto, as the hauls are generally very satisfactory, the certainty of which knowledge undoubtedly gives a keener zest to the amusement. A happy time can also be spent, when the tide is out, in clambering amongst the rocks in some parts searching for mussels and winkles, of which a good harvest can usually be gathered.
Cricket and Football.-Canvey puts into the field two cricket and two football teams in which much local interest is taken, and which give a good account of themselves in upholding the prestige of the Island in these sports.
Golf.-There is no course on the Island but there are good links on the mainland near Benfleet.
Tennis.- There are several courts (including hard courts), where a good game can be enjoyed by devotees of this sport.
Yachting.- The two centres of yachting and small boat sailing are at the Hole Haven on the South, and at Benfleet on the North side of the Island, where the headquarters are in the houseboat moored in the Ray, close to Benfleet station.