The Ozonia Saga

Recollections of Ozonia by Harry Russell

Published in Fred McCave’s ‘The Bulletin’ May 1982

The Ozonia Saga

At the southern end of Canvey’s Seaview Road there was for many years a building known as Ozonia. It started off as a hotel, was used for housing, had its own shop and was later demolished. The man behind the original concept was Ernest George Trobridge (1884-1942) who was born in Belfast. Now an exhibition of his work is being prepared by the Department of Architecture, Oxford Polytechnic, with the Grange Museum London Borough of Brent. I was approached on behalf of the Polytechnic and in addition to being able to give some information to supply a copy of The Bulletin showing Ozonia. As a result of this Harry Russell has kindly written an account of the building’s construction and decor. Harry, a gifted artist, has proved equally adept with words as readers will gather.

Fred McCave, editor.

Recollections of Ozonia by Harry Russell

Harry Russell

The building which came to be known as Ozonia was constructed, so far as I can recall, over the period 1936-7. It was built as a temperance hotel, and was financed by a lady of some wealth, who employed Mr Trobridge to design, and be responsible for the building of the hotel.

There was none of the usual set up of building contractors with attendant sub-contractors, but craftsmen and labourers were engaged directly by the man appointed as general foreman and agent to Mr Trobridge, the architect. This man, whom I can only recall by his first name, Peter, was round about 30 years of age, quiet, easy going, but withal a good tradesman, in his own right, which was normal to the situation, that of carpenter and joiner. Peter had worked a good deal on exhibition, and show place type of jobs, and previously had been employed working at his craft in Southend Kursal.

The Ozonia Hotel

So far as I can recall Mr Trobridge made frequent visits to the site, sometimes in company of the lady who was footing the bills – I can but dimly remember her, she rarely came in contact with those of us who were working about the place. I have stronger impressions of the architect, who was a man of medium height, stiffly built, and generally dressed in the garb of the professional gentleman of the time. That is to say dark suit, dark grey overcoat and always a mid-grey bound brimmed felt hat. He also had a neatly trimmed, pepper and salt, goatee beard.

A lot of the work inside especially, seemed to be carried out in extempore fashion, no previous plans or drawings being made available.

I never started work there, until the building was in a fairly advanced state and I was not there very long, but still long enough to take a lively interest in what was going on and appreciate the difference from more usual run of the mill kind of construction.

What the precise rates of pay were, I cannot now call to mind, but I do know that we were paid over the local rates and money seemed to be no problem. One of the oddities, easily remembered, was the fact that towards the completion of the job, no decorating was carried out in the normal way, but Mr Trobridge himself, from somewhere or the other, had found a man, a down on his luck artist. This fellow was taken on with the object of being put to work in painting every room and compartment with creations and designs of every description-whether he was given some guide lines to work to, or whether he carried on as imagination led him, I cannot say.

Some of his work was pure fantasy, beautiful dream gardens etc., but the one small bedroom which I remember most vividly would have provided a field-day for any psycho-analyst with an interest in the mind of the artist.

This room was painted to resemble a stone cell with an apparent opening to one side – towards the top. Here one was apparently looking out to what looked like the battlemented top of a fortress wall with stone steps leading from the top down to some dark abyss. Down these steps were tumbling and falling a crowd of people dressed in a kind of mediaeval costume and in a state of panic which came out strongly. Urging them on from the top were demons with pitch-forks, whips etc.

Hell Room

This was not all – at another point in the room, it had been painted to appear as though a large block of stone masonry had been removed, leaving a dark cavity. From the depths of this cavity, there peered a most horrific devilish face with fierce red eyes. The whole effect, startling to behold.

It did occure to me, that as this was a temperance place, anybody who had been lodged in this particular and who had maybe gone out for the evening to sample such entertainment as Canvey could then provide, perhaps falling by the wayside, by taking the odd spot of alcohol would on returning and being faced by all the signs of Hell, would for ever after be abstinent !
All this is by the way, and boiled down conveys only the barest facts about Ozonia.
It was a fairly large building on three floors, ground, first and second. The second, or top floor, being built with dormer windows, attic style into the roof. The roof was thatched, and on the exterior of the first floor, the covering was chiefly cedar shingles. At ground floor level, the construction was of brick and breeze block, but this being before the days of lightweight partition blocks, the two upper storeys were of timber frame, plaster board and asbestos sheeting.

The number of rooms escapes me now, as do the details of bathrooms, lavatories and general plumbing. I’ve no idea as to heating, but vaguely recall that there were one or two fireplaces, built into chimney stacks on the ground floor.

Aquarium Room

The south and east elevations of the ground floor were recessed under the overhang of the first floor. This overhang was supported by a series of double red brick columns, each pair springing from a common plinth, at about two feet off the paring level, then forming 9″piers which were built on a central winding pattern. The whole effect being a rather clumsy imitation Tudor, heavy, without, I would think, being particularly strong, for the number of bricks used.

Whether it was originally designed that way, I do not know but one part at ground level, facing onto Seaview Road, was opened as a general store, groceries, fruit and vegetables, confectionery etc.

It is hard to say if this place would have ever been commercially successful as the timing was so wrong with the advent of World War 11. I believe the shop remained open until the last, but the use of Ozonia during the war years was just a matter of accommodation for those who needed it.

After the war, the property was purchased by Lt. Col.H.P. Fielder, T.D. and was used to house people. Ozonia later stood empty until it was acquired by the local Council. It was used for housing and was then demolished to make way for the present housing development, flats etc.

I don’t think I can add any more, than to say that Ozonia was certainly a unique place, in more ways than one. It is possible that there are still documents drawings etc. lodged in the Council’s archives which could presumably be seen if necessity arose in connection with research on this place, which in Canvey history must rank that other unfilled edifice the terminus hotel.

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More can be read about the Ozonia Hotel here.

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