Doris Flaherty's memories of Canvey Island from 1932 onwards
This interview was in 2008 Doris died in 2014
Doris comes from Dalston in North London and her first visit to Canvey was in 1932 when, she was invited, along with a group of friends from her church, to Canvey for weekend holidays. The person who invited them was to be her future mother in law, who had a bungalow in Maurice Road on Canvey.
After their marriage in 1936 and their honeymoon on Canvey, Doris and he husband lived in London, moving to Canvey in 1946. The reason for the move to Canvey was due to the severe bomb damage in the towns. Apparently at the end of the war with so much bomb damage and soldiers coming home, there was a shortage of houses for them to live in, so the Government commandeered all seaside bungalows that were either let out in the summer or just used for weekends. They then moved all these young couples into the bungalows. Doris’ mother in law said ‘they are not going to have mine. I may never get it back or it may be damaged or destroyed’. She said ‘you go and live in it’. So Doris came down here on the 1st March 1946 with babe in arms and her little girl.
Doris says “Canvey at that time was a retirement place for old people from London who had saved up a few pounds and bought themselves a plot and put a bungalow on it. Canvey was just scattered bungalows. After the war, when building material became available, they built a council estate”.
The influx of young people with families and the post war baby boom meant Canvey’s population increased dramatically and many found it difficult to get their children into schools. Doris had difficulty getting her son Tony into school until after he was 5.
Before Doris was married she came down to Southend on one of the Eagle Boats with her future mother in law who said as they passed Maurice Road, Canvey ‘my bungalow’s somewhere up there’ and Doris said they could see the Labworth. When she first came to Canvey the Labworth was derelict but it had been used as a coastguard station. The Eagle boats were paddle steamers Royal Sovereign with two funnels, Golden Eagle, Clacton Queen and the Creasted Eagle. They used to come from London Bridge packed with day trippers to Southend, Margate and on to Ramsgate and back to Southend. It used to take a quarter of an hour from Southend to Canvey. Doris’ children who were playing on the beach used to know when it was time to come in to bed when the Eagle boats came by.
Doris’ in laws were friends with the Thomas family, who lived opposite in a house called ‘Old Jordans’. Harold Thomas a Quaker was the founder of Whittier Hall. The Thomas’s built the hall out of their own funds, it had a hall with a corrugated roof and a canteen at the back. They had meetings of elderly people of Harold’s age group. Doris and her family got involved with them although the Flahertys’ were Baptists and went to the Baptist Church.
There used to be meetings in the main hall, Peoples Sunday Afternoon, it was a mixed meeting, no denominations or politics. With all the influx of young people on the Island a Sunday afternoon at the hall just exploded with young couples. Doris said “they used to drop the children at Sunday School, at the Baptist Church, then go onto the meeting of the brotherhood and sisterhood.”
“Harold Thomas had an orchestra, there was an old man, a brilliant musician who played a piano, a lady called Miss Street who played the violin and Mr Thomas played the flute. They had speakers, someone would take in a picture to talk about. They had a Temperance meeting on a Monday afternoon. Once a month they used to have a concert on a Saturday evening. Someone would get up and play the piano or do a recital or sing a song. We formed a Concert party, we all had children so we got the children involved and really set the place on fire with young ideas. We used to have a Scottish night when we had Scottish songs. I used to listen to the schools broadcasts where they give you dramatised history and we have done ‘The building of St Bartholomew’s Hospital’, ‘The escape of Bonny Prince Charlie to the Isle of Sky’, ‘Alice of Wonderland and Mad Hatters Tea Party’ and the ‘Nativity Play.’ We invited the Girls Brigade to do a concert and we had a Cockney night. The place was crowded. We had such fun. I had a concert book and we did the song ‘A bucket, a broom and a duster’. We were dressed up like char ladies in overalls, with our hair tied up and flitted about with dusters. We had them falling off their chairs”. (for the words of ‘A bucket, a broom and a duster click on the title above, it is really funny.)
Doris does not know whether Harold Thomas built the main building himself, but she says he definitely built the hall to the side which held the Billiard table. Next to that was a tennis court and in the 1940’s he built an extension to hold the large library of books that was left to him. He built a long corridor to house the library then he built a small round building containing a smaller hall. The ladies would have their meetings in the small hall and the men in the larger hall, then once a month there was a combined meeting. Doris says “I saw Mr Thomas, in March, mixing the cement for that place, the extension, with his own hands. I have seen his hands bleeding”.
“There was a big garden, with trees where we had Garden Parties. At the garden parties we would have speakers, afternoon tea, ice cream, sales of work where all the money went to good causes. It was a lovely place for a meeting. At one time Mr Thomas decided to build chalets on part of the garden area for retired missionaries. He did have a lady come from India, but the whole thing did not really take off.”
When Doris’ husband and his friends were in the middle-east during the war, they found out about Mary Lovell and her work with blind girls, their blindness caused by Trachoma. The girls were treated very badly and Mary Lovell had opened a home there and took them in. Doris’ husband and his mates, Bob Clothier, Ted Chill and Eric Peacock were so disturbed by their plight that as soon as they got home, the men and their wives, set up the Lovell Society setting to work to raise money to send to the home. Much of the work was done in Doris’ home in Maurice road.
First sending out begging letters, the money started coming in, in dribs and drabs. “We told Mr Thomas about it and although he had a lot of organisations he was contributing to, he took this in hand. He had a sale of work at Christmas and after giving donations to his favourite causes he gave us the rest which amounted to £23. The home got the money on Christmas Eve. We had sales of work in the summer, I had a crochet work stall. We had Christmas sales where I spent all day Friday cooking, mince pies and sausage rolls. People made jam and I had a stall called ‘Aunties Kitchen’. I put up curtains and made it look like I was serving from my kitchen window. We had the sale of work in the afternoon then in the evening they would clear all the work away and then I would ring the school bell and we would have hot dogs with our tea. Then in the evening we had a concert and we used to raise a lot of money.” The Bible Lands Missions Aid Society was contacted and they eventually incorporated the Lovell Society into their work. Today they are known as Biblelands. One of the men, Bob Clothier was made the Secretary of the BLMAS remaining until 1985 and he was at the opening of ‘The Hellen Keller Centre’ in Jerusalem in 1964.
“Mr Thomas would have liked my husband to take over running Whittier Hall after his death but unfortunately my husband died first. Both my husband and I were either the president or secretary in different years. We really did a lot and were very involved emotionally”.
Doris says that after the floods of 1953 they did away with a lot of the dykes that interlaced the Island. The dykes ran between the roads and the houses, the water trickled through and you would have to go over a little bridge to your garden. In Crescent Road the verge in the middle used to be a dyke, from St Anne’s Church to Maurice Road. “Our bungalow was No 48, 2nd one round the bend and you could see straight down Crescent Road. There was mud on either side of the road in wet weather. I have seen tractors having to pull horse and carts out of the mud. It was not a full dyke, it was a dry dyke, it took excess water. After the floods Canvey was so devastated they considered writing it off. But they had just started up the industrial estate and there was big potential. The government decided to take over and built roads etc. We stayed away for three weeks until the government said we could come back. They ran special trains from Fenchurch Station and you were allocated which train you were on. We came home about 3 o’clock on Saturday afternoon. They had started on the sea wall and they had to finish it by the time the spring tides came again in the autumn. Three steam hammers were going all round the Island, day and night. 12 foot interlocking girders hammered 9 foot into the ground. After twenty five years the girders were rusty and a new wall was built in 1976-7. At this time some of the land at the point was given back to the sea”.
“After the floods in one of the shops in Altermans Arcade were all the cats that had been rounded up and rescued, all these cages with cats in, labelled up ‘answers to the name of Tommy’, ‘answers to the name of Timmy’ were waiting to be claimed. One of my neighbours who had been very ill with pneumonia came home from hospital and she had a cat that was lost and when she came home this cat walked in. He had been found and taken to Chelmsford, he had found his way home from Chelmsford, all his paws were bleeding”.
“Winnie Capser used to keep goats on waste land next to our bungalow. We had tried to buy this land but no one could find out the owner. We presumed they had been killed in a raid or something. I used to get my eggs off of Winnie. I remember her father he used to do the Punch and Judy show. After her father died she did some sort of show on the beach and the children used to call her Auntie Winnie. She did not have much of a life really. She just seemed to live her life dragging the Punch and Judy stuff down on the barrow to the beach helping her father”.
“The Stuckey sisters lived in a Tudor beamed house they had built. They had Dykelands Kennels and they bred spanials. Every dog had the Dykeland in their name. They were brown and white spaniels. There were two or three sisters there. I once boarded my cat with them when I went on holiday. One sister used to come to Whittier Hall, she was in a wheelchair. They used to take ½ dozen dogs at a time down on the beach to let them run in the water”.
“We originally had eight plots of land. At one time you bought plots of 15 feet x 60, so if you bought four plots you would have a 60 x 60 but we had a 120 foot frontage it covered the ground from one turning to another. But that was too much to handle so we sold off half of it so we had 60 x 60. The Stuckeys were interested as they wanted to open a home cooking shop there but this never materialised. Another family came along and built a big store there with groceries and they used to do a round”.
“There used to be a large bin with a lid at Maurice Road and Crescent Road to take all our rubbish and it was emptied once a week. Then there was the old man from the point who used to come round with a horse and cart, we would have a gallon of oil and a hundredweight of coal this was just after the war and there were shortages. Because we had a son with Asthma, we were given a larger ration”.
Doris is a lovely old lady of 101 with a fabulous memory. I hope she is with us for many more years.