Canvey memories from the 20s/30s

by Alan Gregson written in 2004

I was born on Canvey in 1921, and began primary school with a dozen or so 5 and 6 year olds, in the front room of the Miss Evans’ house a short way towards Wintergardens, about 1926. The two ladies had a brother Basil, the lamplighter, (spectacles, droopy moustache) who bicycles round with a short ladder on his shoulder servicing the oil-lamps at Lakeside Cornet etc,

The next year the Miss Evans opened a purpose-built school near Small Gains, two big rooms separated by sliding shutters, with proper desks. Outside was the playground with ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ pail-closets. I remember one big girl – she must have been at least 9 – named Joan Jennings who could play the piano (faultlessly) for hymns. My own friends were Douglas and Reggie Cooper, who lived near the west end of the lake; so passing our home after school I often asked them to stay and play awhile. We had lots of garden, a Nissen hut, pram shed, workshop, the underneath of my Dad’s office next to Pearces Staging – as most of the roads were on 6ft high embankments in those days, the shops etc were often on stilts.

Most residents in the Twenties did not have a car, so the routine was; catch the bus to Benfleet, and if the tide was up, the ferryman would row you across; walk a couple of hundred yards to the Station, for the train to London or Southend. (If the tide was down, the bus went across the Creek)

I loved to watch the steam crane at the Leigh Supply Co’s wharf unloading Thames ballast or the cargo from the barge. When you have to think of it, the bargemen showed considerable skill under sail alone, coming from the Hadleigh Ray direction – often in a prevailing westerly breeze – to berth at the wharf; and after the Benfleet Bridge was built, they had to sail through its 50 foot wide opening.

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