Thorney Bay Army Camp

Scars Elbow & Dead Mans Point

In 1940 a six pounder Coastal Artillery Battery was constructed at Scars Elbow Point on Canvey Island, its purpose being to guard against enemy torpedo boat raids. Twin hand loaded 6 pounder gun turrets were installed that could deliver up to 100 rounds a minute. It never saw action and was dismantled soon after the war and later abandoned in 1956. Aerial photographs taken in 1946 and 1960 show two large gun Casemates 40 yards apart.

Rare Photograph of Thorney Bay Army Camp taken from the lookout Tower. There is another view at the base of this page.

I remember as a child in the late 1960’s walking along the Sea Wall past some of these concrete structures that had large slots facing the Thames. It was dark inside but my brother tells me they still had the chained lifting mechanisms inside to carry the shells up to the former guns. Apparently there were also five Searchlight positions to illuminate the water. The Camp now has all but gone, the Sea Wall based positions being destroyed or buried under the new higher Sea Wall built in the early 1980’s.

This old Post Card of Thorney Bay holiday Camp aka Fielders features many of the old Army Buildings

In 2008 there are still a few remains in the shadow of the Sea Wall. On the easterly end of the position of the Camp is a very solid concrete garage style structure with heavy steel doors (see Photos at the base of this page) said to be an ammunition store. Just to its west there is another Concrete structure protruding out of the Seawall (again see photos at the base of this page). This area has the designation “SMR7165” and is at National Grid Reference (NGR) TQ 7868 8202.

Just to the East of Scars Elbow was the older six inch Coastal Artillery Battery at Dead Mans Point, just before Thorney Bay itself. This site has the designaton “SMR7216” at NGR TQ 7911 8216. This Battery was installed in WW1 for general defence of the East Coast. After the War in 1918 it was mothballed until 1938 when it was brought back to life for WW2. My Grandad Fred Moss told me he used to drive to the camp when he was in the Services.

Thorney Bay Army Camp

Along with two Gun Casemates on the Sea Wall 40 yards apart, there were approximately 35 various army structures including huts and lookout towers. I remember a remaining lookout tower in the 1960’s that was barbedwired off but people still used to climb it, including Peter Wonnacot who took the two amazing photos featured exclusively here! It is said the battery was manned by ‘175 Thames & Medway Heavy Battery R.A. Coast’. Many of the buildings survived well into the late 1990’s but now have sadly all but gone.

The site was incorporated into Colonel Fielder’s Thorney Bay Camp & Caravan site where many Londoners spent their holidays by the sea side, including my Grandparents. Today the Caravans are slowly making way for mobile homes as has happened at Kings Camp at Newlands. As for the Army Camp, there remains here another Concrete Ammunition Garage with its steel doors and there was a ‘Cross Thames Cable’ Hut right up until early this year (Feb 2008) when it was flattened leaving only the small adjacent warning pole. Fortunatley I managed to get some photographs of it a week before (See below). It may have been used by the Post Office, does anyone know its purpose? There is also supposed to be a Pump House  in this area but I haven’t seen it.

Panoramic View of Thorney Bay Camp during redevelopment works in Feb 2008 – The Cable Hut in the foreground has since been demolished

Click below to see what few pictures we have of these bases and the photos I have taken of what remains on the site. If you have any information, memories or Photographs please contact us or leave a comment below.

Comments about this page

  • I grew up in the 1960’s on Canvey Island and spent my weekends exploring thorney bay army camp.
    The camp was huge and prior to the new sea wall you could explore everything there unless you came upon a certain Mr Fielder who owned the land.
    As a child I did not realise what the camp meant to people but after finding this site I will give all the memorys I can to you about this subject.
    My playground was the gunsite situated in West Cresent a place of fun for us kids.
    Now I live in Cyprus and long to see the Island and it’s history again.

    By Christopher Culley (05/07/2008)
  • Yes, these are the gun emplacements on the sea wall. I used to play in them as a kid. I would get down inside and then struggle to get out as they were quite deep. They were not empty, there was some stuff in there I cannot remember exactly what it was. I think I may have done some courting in there as well…mmm

    By joan liddiard (bishop) (19/08/2008)
  • I remember the towers depicted in the b&w photos. In the late 1950’s, when we were kids, we used to climb to the top even though a whole section of stairs had been removed. We would pull ourselves up on part of the handrail that remained. We would also climb down the ammunition hoist that led to the very dark magazine below.

    By John Dawkins (01/01/2009)
  • I was a small child in the 1960s, I remember spending Hoildays their as my father owned a caravan on Thorney bay. I remember Mr Fielder, me and my 2 brothers and 2 sisters spent many hours playing in the old towers on the sea wall, we let our imaginations run away with us, it is a real shame these places have gone but the memories still stay with me.

    By miss t sanders (15/03/2009)
  • As a small child, in the early ’50’s, I well remember Fielder’s Holiday Camp. We lived in London and would pack up a tea chest full of towels and linen to be sent by Carter Pattersons ahead of time. Getting off the steam train at Benfleet Station marked the beginning of the holiday. We would board a double decker bus along with many other holidaymakers to the camp. After retrieving our tea chest from a small warehouse next to the office off we would go to our “chalet”. These were spartan buildings packed with bunk beds. I would always claim the upper berth! Mother would get up early and gather mushrooms from the cow pasture behind the camp. Breakfast was cooked on a small gas stove supplied by a coin operated gas meter.

    Entertainment was going to a small row of stores a little way out of the camp and playing the slot machines, walking along the seawall and playing on the beach. In the evenings old films were shown in the camp theater, mostly silent one such as those by Charlie Chaplin. There were also talent shows and such.

    Colonel Fielder ran the place with the air of a military commander. It was always well kept and he did not allow unruly behavior.

    Such a simple time, before all the frenetic amusements required for a good time now. We enjoyed our holidays there.

    By Keith E (05/06/2009)
  • Hi, the tower illustrated with the small added on area at front. (the added on area was the control point for the cross Thames inner boom at this point.)

    Both scars elbow and deadmans point batteries had their own director towers to direct fire from each gun, the overall fire control for all guns was from deadmans point tower with the extra building for fire control and boom control.

    In the national archives at Kew are the fort record books for both batteries, just search names on online catalogue
    under dept WO heading, they also have the other Thameside batteries like coalhouse. To get a readers ticket just follow the links on NA website.

    Main boom access was from kent side with 2 searchlight towers mid Thames and a controlled boom gate and a camp on the kent side. The 2 remaining garage like buildings are in fact generator buildings for the searchlights, the larger gun engine rooms having gone.

    These and the degaussing stn are sadly all thats left of the ww2 heritage on the island.

    By KEITH WARD (23/06/2009)
  • I remember thorney bay camp, Col.Fielder chased my friends and I out of the camp this was back in 1962 approx. He actually caught up with us and hit me with his walking cane, but these were great days

    By janet (06/07/2009)
  • I remember well playing in those gun towers along the sea wall. It would have been late 50’s / early 60’s. My Grandad owned a caravan on the site whose entrance was just across the road from Benfleet station. Some of the stairs and handrails at the towers had long since the war corroded or fallen away so it was a bit precarious to get to the very top and look out of the observation windows. Often meant jumping across the roofs of the lower buildings and actually swinging across gaps on the doors where the landings had long since fallen away.I often wondered whether I was the only kid in this amazing playground and finding this site has stirred such great memories. Thanks so much.

    By laurie atterbury (22/09/2009)
  • I remember going to the Holiday camp to watch the shows 1950s, very often Fielder would walk in and check every one over, he used to say to my brother David Wilson and I, you two live on Canvey don’t you, we both used to say NO SIR, until one day our dog walked in and sat down by us, he came up to me and said your **** George Wilson’s girl GET OUT lolo
    I used to love to watch the JUVENILES dance shows , my friend Maureen Ford was in it and at one time I think her little brother, Freddy played the piano there, he was very clever and he was only a little kid at the time
    My Father and Fielder were like red rags to a bull , I never knew why ?

    By mick (03/01/2010)
  • I remember my parents taking me to Fielder’s Holiday Camp at Thorney Bay. I will never forget “Auntie Renee” who hosted some of the shows (mainly talent competitions) in the outdoor theatre. Although its all gone, I sometimes return to Canvey Island to reminisce……

    By Steve (16/01/2010)
  • During the late 1940’s or early 1950’s if my mother ran out of bread on a sunday she would send me over to Fielder’s holiday camp to sneak in and buy a loaf (I think there was some restriction on buying bread elsewhere on a sunday,except for the holiday camp-I can’t remember the finer details) In any case on this particular occasion my friend David Harcus and I were caught by Colonel H.P. Fielder and quickly ejected over the boundary ditch next to Thorney Bay seawall. During the summer we could hear from our house in Jesmond Road instructions given to the campers via the holiday camp tannoy system -something of the nature of- “On completion of their week’s stay all campers WILL vacate their pitches by the agreed time”. Also I recall that the toilet blocks were at one time called ‘Ablutions’! Ian Newman

    By Ian Newman (04/02/2010)
  • My Aunt owned a caravan on the Thorney bay beach camp and we spent many summers there during the school hols. During the early 70s i remember exploring all the Gun enplacements and watchtowers and just enjoying the whole area. The camp at night used to have single light bulbs strung around and we used to have to walk to the tin hut toilets by Torchlight. Simple times but they just seemed happier back then.

    By Phil Cruse (16/03/2010)
  • I remember the Canvey coastal defences very well . My Mother moved our little old caravan to Newlands in the early sixties and the Island , then totally unknown to my brother Stuart and I , was a fantastic place to explore .

    We quickly became friends with the Kings (particular the youngest member of the family at that time ‘Jeff’ as he was closer to my age- and I still have fond memories of what was a lovely family) and together we covered quite a lot of the island on bike and foot in the following years .

    I recall the land locked houseboats (including an old barge- I think ‘The Rochester’ as only the stern and part of the skeleton remained -and the odd converted 60′ MTB/ HSL- there was one of these by the ‘old bridge’ of course-seen from the 3A bus to Leigh Beck) just over the sea wall from or new camp, the concrete barges at the Point, the B17 crash site (a little more difficult to get to across the mud) and of course the emplacements along the sea wall at Thorney Bay.

    I also remember finding what was to be an old Mk 1 or 2 British steel helmet in the little stream at Furtherwick during one of these forays . During that time Canvey only had just begun its programme of redevelopment and much of the character still remained.

    The old battery was a great place to explore and during my mothers convalescence there  and with new founds friends met at William Reid school in the late sixties, again interest turned to exploring these sites.

    A school friend of mine at the time Keith ‘Fuge’ Fugal showed me what I remember to be a really great camp or hideout under the Labworth Cafe as he and his parents lived nearby and he had a keen interest in anything ‘war’ like me. Certainly room for a few adults and the burn marks and evidence of old candles still there – what this was I cant be sure but it was certainly well concealed -any ideas?

    The most interesting I thought, was the old gun battery as it sometimes took what we thought were ‘death defying’ leaps to get onto the roofs of these and other adjacent structures. Much of the heavy doors and hoist mechanism still survived at that time and into the early 70’s, but at that time I was a fully fledged teenager (13) and my sights turned to other entertainment and distractions although the seawall walks still featured!

    As development took hold and the comfortably familiar began to disappear and after only fleeting visits to the island in the 70’s, I thought it was time to move on. Sad to see what was obviously great memories for so many disappear so relatively quickly under featureless urbanisation.

    For those who would like to experience what those defences were like there are very similar defences still pretty much intact and very recognisable -including observation towers (despite the best attempts of the Royal Engineers!) at Beacon Hill nr Harwich in Essex. Harwich not being blessed with the redevelopment budget of CIUDC and Castle Point during the 70’s and 80’s . Best wishes to all there that knew me .

    By Malcolm R (30/05/2010)
  • Not sure if I am supposed to comment on the ‘comments’ made, but I lived at number 3, Beverley Avenue as a child in the late 1940’s/1950’s and remember Fielder only too well. My friend Alan Booth and myself were using his slug gun on Fielders property and he took us both to the police station. My dad (a lawyer) came to get us, and give Fielder a piece of his mind for man handling us to the police station! Thorney Bay was the place for most of us kids, and we would play all day on the sand. In those days there was a break water right across the bay so that we could swim any time as the water was trapped. I remember the 1953 flood, and waking my parents up to tell them that the tide was coming up the road! We all walked along the Fort Road to Long Road and the train station. Like most kids of that time, I have a load of stories to tell, and have considered writing a book. Thanks for reading this. Tony Gerard – now aged 68

    By Tony Gerard (08/10/2010)
  • Here’s a photograph of them – that was a lucky find:

    By Liam Heatherson (27/10/2011)
  • We used to go camping here in the 50s. There were about 15 of us in a large Ex army tent. Mr Fielder used to take films of us and show in theater. I remember the stage where we used to perform for sweets. lol Great times, exploring all the old sea wall and military buildings. Would be great if those films still existed.

    By John Paterson (15/02/2012)
  • We used to spend our holidays on Thorney Bay Beach Camp from about 1957 to 1961. We didn’t have a car so got the train to (I think) Benfleet. We stayed in a caravan with calor gas lights (no electric). I have extremely fond memories of these holidays. My sister and I used to get up really early to “explore”. I remember the gun turrets and that ariel thing. Then we would go back to the caravan where Mum would have bacon and eggs waiting. I remember the talent show on Thorney Bay and the Casino with the haunted house and helter skelter with the bowl at the bottom. Great memories!

    By Dave Colli (29/03/2012)
  • Wow, what memories I was looking here to get some pics to show a class of years 5’s (ww2 project coming up) it’s great to see all the comments as I too remember these areas as my playground in the late 50’s early 60’s this was pre health & safety laws of course! We thought it was so cool to swing from a tattered old rope from one side of the gun turret to the other no one ever got hurt (well not seriously anyway) & we had fun for the whole day & everyday of the school holidays. Mind you those buildings did stink didn’t they.

    By dianne fogg (12/04/2012)
  • My grandparents brought their first caravan on Fielders camp in 1958 a year before I was born. We had great times from the 60’s to the 90’s spending every summer there with them, my mum & dad and my brother & sisters they were great times. No running water & gas lights until the 1970’s when the van was updated it was such fun. My Nan telling us that if we were naughty the old Mr Fielder would come and get us. Even when my own children were young we still were enjoying holidays there, they loved it to. I remember most of the things & places reminisced by others here.

    By Caroline Fleming (Matthews) (25/05/2012)
  • I too remember much of the things mentioned above,being chased by Colonel Feilder with his swagger stick, we would run through his flower gardens and enrage him even more! silent movies in the outdoor cinema, fresh cockles picked off the beach, the flood of 1953, the steam train from Romford to Benfleet. I also knew the King family from Romford, Mr. King always drove enormous American cars. There were many Dutch names on the island,and a Dutch style building for a pub. I have’nt been there since about 1958.

    By Bob Coombs (02/07/2012)
  • My grandparents went to Thorney bay for their holidays from the late 60’s to the mid 80’s. As a youngster in the 70’s I often stayed with them, I used to love all the old gun emplacements, there was a massive one on the old sea wall and you could see the vast concrete turning circle of the gun. I always remember kids getting stuck in them and up the tower and the Police having to come to get them out. I will always remember the toyshop on Joneses corner and the Tremayns shop on the camp. Funny to think the site never used to have power between 8.00am and 7.00pm! all the old buildings have gone but I will always have fond memories of Canvey and Thorney Bay!

    By Paul Nash (10/07/2013)
  • Looking at this site the memories are coming in thick and fast, I remember my grandperents used to stay at a friends caravan every year, it was a rectangular type and it was pink and white and called Pandora, it was about six back from the sea front and on the main roadway from the entrance gate right down to the front. As it was the early 70’s there were still a lot of the old round style vans about, and you often saw them being taken to the concrete areas near the old army tower to be burnt! no recycling laws then! I kid I used feel sad that was how the old caravans ended their days! the caravan next to us was an old round grey one and in it lived an old army office called george, he was a very decent chap, had lareg side whiskers and always seemed to wear a pair of desert rat style shorts. One day my grandparents heard of a new cafe opening on the other side of the refinery, I think near the Lobster smack, it seemed to take all day to get there along the sea wall, I am sure we even had to clamber over some pipes! when we got there, they had hardly anything in stock, and I ended up with a ‘Breakaway’ chocolate bar, they had just come out, so it shows how long ago it was!

    By Paul Nash (10/07/2013)
  • My father, Harry Reader and his brother Arthur, used to entertain every Monday night in the 1950s. Barbara Fielder used to introduce all the acts, there was also a kid’s talent competition. Does anyone remember this? I have some photos, one is my dad and uncle and ‘ghost’ in the background who was Colonel Fielder dressed up. At the end of the show, they used to sing “Now is The Hour”

    By Sheila Macey(Reader) (22/09/2013)
  • When i used to climb to the tower lookout room during the 1950s barbed wire had been strung across the stairway leading up at intervals, but so many folk had managed to walk over it that it soon became depressed (so easier to walk over), this was soon realized and someone made the decision to destroy the concrete steps with a sledgehammer, thus making it inaccessible to all but would be mountaineers.

    By Peter Wonnacott (20/01/2015)
  • I remember spending summer holiday’s at thorny bay holiday camp in the early fifties with my grand parent’s and assorted cousin’s. We stayed in one of he chalet’s which were very spartan to say the least’but to us kid’s it was fantastic and we all had a great time. I also remember that on the beach there used to be a couple of barge’s which I think were part of the Baily Bridge’s used on D.Day. We boy’s in the family would spend all day playing on these, letting our imaginations run wild. Happy Day’s

    By Ashley Fairbrother (03/04/2015)
  • I was born on Canvey in 1947 my dad  George (Arthur) used to be a decorator and sometimes worked for Col. Fielder at his camp.

    As kids we earned pocket money taking the holiday makers luggage on our home made carts to and from the bus stop and the camp. We would usually make about 2 shillings and 6 pence each way. A tidy sum in those days. 

    Saturday was change over day, morning out back on the train, afternoon in came the new lot. A long day, hard work but good fun.

    Another scheme to pay for our ice cream and treats, (like the pictures) was to go round all the waste baskets after the day trippers had gone and pick out the returnable lemonade bottles to take back to the shop and get the deposit back. (another 3 pence a throw)  

    By john askew (04/07/2017)
  • I used to visit Thorney Bay as kid in the 70s and 80s, when my mother and grandmother owned a small 4 berth caravan there. I had quite a lot of good memories of the weekends and half-term breaks spent there. 

    I wanted to find out more Colonel Fielder.

    I remember taking the 400 bus from London, changing at Benfleet,  taking 2.5 to get to Jones’ Corner. Those mid summer Friday evenings, just before sundown,walking up that long road towards the campsite looking forward to chips from picked up at the town chipshop. Colonel Fielder had this huge house by the entrance of the camp, that had a large pond and tropical plants and trees surrounding the veranda; it was the most amzingly tropical setting I’d ever seen. 

    I wondered if Colonel Fielder had been based somewhere overseas, like Malaysia or India to get the inspiration for his house? 

    The campsite was fun. There was always the surprise of not knowing which of your mates would be that weekend. There was loads of playing out in the fields, by the ditches and in and around the old WW2 bunkers ammo dumps and the seawall -crab-fishing on the rocks of the bay. Evening Walks to the casino and arcades like Las Vegas and Coppermine with my brother, mum and nan. Getting chips on the long walk back along seawall and having coco and being able to sit up at watch (the old black & white) telly until late.

    The eggy smell of the gas refinery on always lingered over the camp, but you got used to it. Sundays were always a bit sad, knowing that you were headed back to the city in the afternoon.We always had a roast dinner before we closed up the van until the next time…the walk back down the long road after exiting the camp was the saddest part of it.

    The big storm of 1987 was the end of the road . Our caravan was a casualty of the storm and it put an end to it. In a funny kind of way, it was the perfect ending. By that point I was outgrowing the place and starting to resent going there. There was no debating it after that. 

    I’ve visited the place a few times over the years and the thought of Thorney Bay still holds some of the best childhood memories I ever had growing up.

    Martin Goolsarran, London.

    By Martin Goolsarran (01/06/2018)
  • My mother Lylian used play for the dancing school that entertained each week and also the talent show. I was so excited to see the comment from Sheila Macey (22/9/13)-Her father Arthur Reader worked with my Mum entertaining. We lived at Tarpots and Arthur used to come to our house. (One year he bought me a huge Easter egg!) After the shows we used to go into The Fielder’s luxurious bungalow. I used love the bathroom because they had weighing scales. I’d only ever seen ones in shops where you put a penny in!! love to chat with Sheila

    By Diane Bennet (nee Rayer) (11/11/2020)

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