Alan Gregson's Canvey

Maps and descriptions 1993

The maps were drawn by the late Alan Gregson in 1993. Alan was the son of Captain William Hart Gregson and was born on Canvey in 1921 he lived on Canvey for the first ten years of his life. The following is a copy of his memories of Canvey at that time.


Canvey Island, sometimes called Canvey-on-Mud, is recalled as being about 5 miles from east to west and maybe 2 miles (max) from north to south. Its northern shore is only one or two barge lengths from the Essex shore (less at low-tide and a lot more at high-tide when the mudflats are covered). In contrast to the Essex shore (which consists of wooded or grassy hills behind Benfleet and Hadleigh), Canvey Island is wholly below high-water level and is formed – on what must have been tidal marshes – by an encircling seawall; this may look unimpressive from the outside, but its steep grassy slope gives one a sheltered feeling. The top surface was about 6 feet wide and its height about 15 feet. As a precaution against total flooding, the Dutch civil-engineers at the same time built internal levees or embankments, and on these were laid the Island’s original roads.

At low tide, drainage valves opened to discharge stormwater into the sea. Why did they make this island anyway? Apparently to gain grassland for dairy cattle; perhaps a few arable fields. The land is utterly flat except for man-made mounds e.g for Oysterfleet Farmhouse, and a gully at the S-Bend. There was so few trees that the few elms shown on the map were very prominent. All roads except the three main ones were simple fenced strips of grassland,or lines drawn on maps. Near the middle of the island was The Lake, a lagoon almost a mile long and fringed by reeds. It belonged to Captain Gregson. (Alan’s father)

Although Canvey’s coastline to the north and west consisted of saltings (flooded at high tide) the south side was Shell Beach and it faced the Kent coast about seven miles away – alien land, seemingly – with Chapman Sands Lighthouse, a screw-pile red-painted steel tower, maybe one-and-a-half miles off Shell Beach. No sand, but a good mile or more of finely-broken shell grit, pretty at high-tide, the seawall was faced with Kentish ragstone banged-in no doubt by long-dead workmen….and the seaway to the Port of London an endless stream of liners, grain ships, tugs, tramps, quite often in those days, a 7-masted American schooner and the ubiquitous Dutch or Danish motorship.

To reach Canvey you had to come from Benfleet and, if the tide was fully out and for a period of about 1 ½ hours, a vehicle could ford the Creek and then go up a tarmac road between two seawalls and up over the barrier and down onto Canvey. Men were employed with brooms to follow the outgoing tide to keep the tarmac road free of mud.

At all other times, you had to walk a couple of hundred yards from the level-crossing (Benfleet station), past the unloading jetty of the Leigh Supply Co. – mainly bargeloads of Thames gravel or hay or straw for the livestock – and get into Jesse Cripps’ 16-foot rowing boat and he’d ferry you to Canvey as near as possible to where the bus was waiting. Unless the weather was really bad. If it was, just walk back to Powell’s tearoom next to the railway station and wait it out.

Low down in the western sky was the smudge overhanging London. But if you looked north from The Lake you’d see the green hills of Hadleigh, the red-brick Water Tower, and often like a long line of white washing, the steam from the trains going to Southend. Sundays, apart from the Convent bell, there’d be no sound except the very occasional noise of a car or bus. And as evening fell, you’d hear the starting-up of the electric-light engine at the ‘Haystack’ Inn. Everyone else had oil-lamps. Ships’ foghorns were almost continuous on winter mornings.

Alan Gregson's map of Canvey drawn from memory in 1993
Leonie Gregson
Another map from the Gregson family
Leonie Gregson

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