The Deep Water Docks schemes

Sale of part of the Spitty Estate

Sales Catalogue

The sale of part of the Spitty Estate to the Port of London Authority in Sept 1928 brought to an end a sixteen year battle to develop a Deep Water Wharf on Canvey Island.

The sales catalogue for the property, kindly lent to me by Graham Stevens, describes the property as ‘Rich Fatting Marshes’ with a frontage to the River Thames of about 1,350 feet. It goes on to describe the location and tenancy of the property:

  • SITUATION. -The property is situated about 1¾ miles from the Village of Canvey, in the Parish of Vange, and is within easy reach of Benfleet Station and abuts on to the water front about midway between the Kynoch Hotel and the Southern part of Leigh Beck. The approach is via the old Coastguard Station at Hole Haven, and thence along the Drove Way under the Sea Wall to an entrance gate at the South- West end of the property. It is about 29 miles from London in a rapidly extending residential part of the Island.
  • POSSESSION. -The Property is held on a yearly Michaelmas tenancy by Mr. A. M. Clark and is sold subject to this tenancy and to the terms of his Agreement.

13th Sept 1928 The Times.

The exact location can be seen marked in blue on the maps in the gallery below.

In 1966, Marie Simpson wrote a study about ‘The Development of Modern Canvey’ in which she had done a very in depth investigation into ‘The Abortive Dock Schemes’. I have made use of this study to try to understand what was happening at this time.

It was in 1907 after a Poll Tax was introduced by the Dover Harbour Authorities that Canvey was first look at as a site of a possible Deep Water Wharf. The Belgium State Railways, who were already in trouble financially, were very opposed to the introduction of the Tax started looking for alternative sites and Canvey Island was one of the sites where it was stated “excellent accommodation could be provided for a sum not exceeding £200,000.” Due to contracts and the distance, not to mention the time that would be needed to develop the necessary docks, the scheme was quickly dropped and the Belgium State Railways paid the Tax instead.

But the idea had been brought to people’s attention and it was in 1912 that the first of seven Bills were presented to Parliament. This Bill was proposed by Canvey Deep Water Wharf and Railway, the planned wharf was to be of a ‘similar design to those used in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Hamburg, that is a wharf supported on pile foundations instead of the usual solid, brick dockwall. The ferro-concrete wharf 3,000’ long, complete with sheds and railway was to be built on the foreshore, parallel to the land between the Coast Guard Station and Scarhouse. Here it would have had sufficient depth of water (35′) to accommodate even the largest ocean-going vessels at any state of tide, while the 80′ wide dock behind the wharf allowed for several lines of barges. It was to have been connected to the land at each end by the railway line, the two lines eventually converging near the village and continuing across Canvey Island in the direction of South Benfleet, where it was proposed it should cross the creak by means of a bridge over the ferry. The bridge was also to provide room for foot and horse traffic. The railway was then to join the London Tilbury Southend Railway Line at a point on the Southend side of Benfleet Station. At this point of juncture was near the level-crossing formed by the Canvey-Benfleet road crossing the railway line it was further proposed to close the level crossing and to divert the road to run under the railway bridge spanning the small creek (Benfleet Little Creek) on the London side of Benfleet Station.’

Local men were the promoters and they included the following:
Mr Charlton Hubbard, a solicitor and then Mayor of Southend
Alderman J C Ingram, a property developer and ex-Mayor of Southend
Mr King, City Merchant and Alderman of Southend
Mr Mark-Healy and Mr Crawley both members of the Corporation
Mr Nelson and Mr Wills associated with shipping and cold storage
Mr Arthur Mayhew Clark, Landowner

They had the support of the local people ‘as they believed the bridge and railway by providing easier access to Canvey would help in the development of the island as a seaside and residential resort.’

There was some minor opposition regarding worries about flooding of the road under the railway at High Spring Tides and the propose level crossing on Canvey to cross Benfleet-Leigh Beck Road. But the main oppositions came from the PLA because of the competition saying they already had improvements in the pipeline for their docks therefore a new facility was not needed. The LTS Railway Company were also opposed as the planned new railway would cut across their fast lines and the Explosive Companies were worried they would lose their licence to unload in the creek due to the minimum distances from railways, highways and buildings etc. they had to work to.

However when it came to the financial side of things the promoters were said to ‘lack business-like efficiency’ and it was announced on the 2nd May 1912 that they had ‘failed to prove their case’.

By 1914 work was being done to get together another syndicate to again put the idea forward but because of the outbreak of WW1 this was delayed until 1918. In the new scheme put forward by the Canvey Deep Water Wharf and Railway the proposal was: ‘A wharf was to be built on land between the Coastguards Cottages and Scarhouse in addition to the one parallel on the foreshore. The railway was to ring the two wharfs and a branch line was to be built across Hole Haven Creek and Pitsea Marshes to join the London Midland and Scottish Railway Line (previously LTS line) east of Pitsea Station.’

There was again strong opposition from the explosives companies because of their worry about losing their licences. In addition Kynochs themselves had applied to build a wharf and railway and which was at that time going to appeal after their application was refused. The Midland Railway Co were very unhappy with the proposals and suggested they ‘should have been consulted before drawing up the plans.’ The PLA again put forward their objections pointing out that improvements were underway with a 1,000 long wharf at Tilbury.

extract from the 1919 Bill.

But it was again the financial side that caused the Bill to be refused. In less than a year a new Thames Ocean Wharf and Railway Bill was presented to the house. The plan was very similar to the 1918 Bill but with modifications where the previous objections by the London Midland Railway had been taken on board. Graham Stevens has kindly lent me a copy of this Bill which was very heavy reading. (Thanks Graham!)

There was overwhelming evidence presented to the commission of support for the scheme but the London Midland Scottish Railway still opposed the scheme. The Great Eastern Railway also objected to the junction with their line at Fenton Junction. Once again the PLA objected and implied the evidence presented by the promoters ‘implied criticism of the London Dock facilities rather than support for the wharfs at Canvey.’ They pointed out that improvements they had planned had been delayed because of the war with some of the plans already completed. They also stated they did not fear the competition.

extract from the 1919 Bill.

When giving evidence earlier in the proceedings Sir Joseph Guiness Broodbank, Chairman of the committee of the PLA stated ‘having formed the PLA with the responsibility of earning interest on the £30,000,000 it would be stultifying to allow the creation of numerous miniature PLA’s up and down the Thames threatening our finances by their competition. It would mean that we should probably have to reduce rates on ships in order to prevent them going to Canvey.’ From this remark Marie concluded that ‘it is apparent that although the comparatively small scheme at Canvey represented no major threat, the PLA saw the Bill more as a Test Case. If The Canvey Bill was approved then others would follow.

Their Lordships decided the Thames Ocean Wharf and Railway Bill ‘was contrary to the principles of the Port of London Authority Act, 1908.

The promoters were very determined and again presented their plan in 1920. Local interest in the land lead to rumours circulating that Harland & Wolfe the Belfast Shipbuilders were thinking about opening a ship-yard on the land. This was apparently denied by the company in the Southend Standard on the 26th August 1920.

From the 1921 Waterworks Company Petition against


They went on to complain that the lands needed to build the wharf, road and railways interfered with their plans which had already been authorised by the above Act. Once again the plan fell foul with inadequate finances. The PLA asked if they could claim for compensation against the promoters. Marie was not able to find out whether or not any compensation was awarded but the promoters were not deterred, the plans were again deposited in 1922.

However during the interim much of the land, which had belonged to Kynoch Ltd was put up for auction on the 24th April 1922. It was purchased for £29,000 by Sir John Bethell, MP who was also a surveyor retained by the PLA and Marie suggests that he had in fact bought it on their behalf. The promoters made one last attempt in 1926 when it was reported ‘to construct an Ocean Wharf and Railway at Canvey……… has been dropped owing to opposition of the Ministry of Transport.’

In January of that year 250 acres of land purchased by Sir John Bethell was conveyed to the PLA. When the land on the Spitty Estate described above as ‘Rich Fatting Marshes’ came up for auction in 1928 it was also purchased by the PLA for £4,000. So any further ideas of a deep water wharf at Canvey finally came to an end.

Many thanks to Graham for lending me so much of the paperwork covering this topic and much gratitude for the fantastic work done by Marie Simpson without which I would probably never have understood enough of what I was reading.

Comments about this page

  • Thanks Jan for researching and writing this important investigative piece.You have unravelled all the legal jargon and re-woven it into a really interesting narrative of a very important (but probably forgotten) part of Canvey’s history. What a different place Canvey would have become if any of these schemes had come to fruition!

    By Graham Stevens (12/08/2009)
  • Great work Jan & Graham. I have additional info on this scheme including some on the old website

    By David Bullock (12/08/2009)
  • I see then they thought about closing the level crossing and diverting the road under the railway line down Benfleet little creek later done in the late fifties, I can remember standing on Benfleet Station platform looking through the wooden boards at the creek below before this was done

    By Christopher Price (29/02/2020)
  • The Daily Mirror wrongly stated on 25/04/1922 that Sir John Bethell MP had purchased the whole Island for £29,000

    By Robert Exley (26/11/2020)
  • Hello
    In the 1930s there was also a plan for a seaplane base in Tewkes creek but there was lack of finance and WW2 put an end to it

    By robin howie (27/11/2020)

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