In A Quiet Corner
The Challis family
In a quiet corner of St Katherine’s Churchyard is a neglected grave of Christopher Thomas Challis and his wife Eliza Marie. It is not clear from the records we have when the couple came to Canvey but it was possibly after the 1918 Electoral Register as they are not registered. However we have not been able to find them in the 1911 census anywhere. They appear in the 1929 register as living at ‘Les Dunes’, in Aalton Avenue.
So what is their story? I am afraid we know little about the couple. Christopher Thomas Challis was born c1848 in Brighton, his wife Eliza Marie Marshall was born in Marylebone c1849, they married at St Peters, Brighton in 1878. They appear to have mainly lived in the Brighton area. Christopher died in 1933 and his wife died in 1934 they are buried at the Eastern edge of St Katherine’s churchyard. Their son George Christopher was born in Brighton in 1888.
This is where it starts to get interesting. George Christopher was with his parents at ‘Les Dunes’, Aalton Avenue in 1929 along with his French wife Marie Antoinette they had a son George Christopher Joseph Challis b1919 in Kensington so would have been 10 in 1929. George and Marie were living in Charlton according to the 1911 census and in Kensington in 1919. From the information so far it would appear that either George and his wife moved to Canvey between 1919 and 1929 and brought his elderly parents with them or the parents were here first and George and family joined them. We will probably never know. But George’s story is of interest.
George Christopher Challis in the 1911 census was a motor mechanic which is likely why during WWI he served as a private in the RASC 2nd Motor Ambulance Convoy. It would seem likely that he met his French wife whilst he was stationed in France as they married soon after in 1918.
In WWII he served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Initially as a Pilot Officer then confirmed as Flying Officer in 1941 and eventually he became a Flight Lieutenant. What happened to him we can only guess he died in 1941 and was buried in the Buchanan Churchyard Extension aged 53. The Buchanan Churchyard Extension was where some of the patients from the military hospital at Buchanan Castle near Loch Lomond, Scotland were buried so was he a patient and died from his injuries? (NOTE:Just found his probate papers and it confirms he died at the hospital)
The hospital at Buchanan castle is the same place Rudolf Hess was taken after he crashed at the end of his flight to the UK in 1941.
George was a recipient of the French Croix de Guerre at some point but no details are known.
At the time of his death his wife Marie was living at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, but the family home was in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.
What of their son George Christopher Joseph Challis? He was born in 1919 at 30 Fulham Road, Kensington, one article noted his father was a chauffeur, another said he was an engineer and car designer. He went to Kings College School, Wimbledon later joining Gaumont British News as an assistant in the camera department. He went on to be a distinguished cinematographer on more than 70 feature films including Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Now how much time he spent on Canvey is pure guesswork. The family were here from before 1929 until at least 1934. George Christopher (he preferred to be called Christopher) may have been a border at Kings College so it would only have been on Canvey during school holidays and/or weekends.
My personal feeling is Christopher Thomas and Eliza Marie were the first to live on the island, they were already elderly. Perhaps the extended family had spent holidays here. Perhaps they needed help as they got older and infirmed so George and Marie came to stay to help them and with George Christopher boarding at Kings they felt free to do so. George Christopher wrote his memoirs ‘Are They Really So Awful?’ in 1995 perhaps I need to read them to find out if Canvey had any influence on his life. He died in 2012.
UPDATE: The photo of their grave has been updated and additional information from great granddaughter Sarah has been received and added below.
‘My great grandfather had a very long family connection to Brighton. The family ran the London Brighton stagecoach and owned the famous Greyhound Inn. He was a Conservative Councillor and a founder member of the Primrose League. At some point he was British Consul in Dieppe.
My father remembered his grandparents with fondness although his tiny grandmother was a martinet. He suffered from mastoiditis and stayed for some months with them on Canvey to recuperate . He became good friends with the Prout brothers and messed about in boats with them.‘
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The Challiss Family do not appear in the Spring 1924 Electoral Roll or Poor rate book. But they do appear in the 1924 Autumn Electoral Roll and Poor rate books. They were living at “Les Dunes” then which was next to “Lorenso” and “Nido Nestro” NOTE: I might have mis-read the property names. The family owned the Property.
In the Electoral Roll (Autumn 1924) the names were:
CHALLIS, Christopher George
CHALLIS, Elizabeth Maria
In the Spring 1925 Electoral Roll The family are listed as:
CHALLIS, George Christopher
CHALLIS, Marie Antoinette
Thanks Martin. Names are not quite right but at least we now know they were on the Island from 1924.
I am the son of Christopher George. Also a film maker now retired and living in Devon.
My father was Christophe George Joseph Challis and his wife, my mother, was Sylvia Margarite Mossman. They were married by my mother’s brother Donald in 1941 at St Mary’s Harmondsworth. Clive Wyndham was their eldest son and Sarah Hope their daughter. Sarah lives in Dorset and is a celebrated author.
I was fascinated to find this website and read about my great grandparents. My father, Christopher, spent a lot of his childhood holidays with his grandparents and loved the freedom and most of all the sea and sailing. His grandfather was a sailor and I think it was this that brought them to retire to the island. My great grandmother bred red setters and dalmatians and there was space for that too. I have photographs of the island at this time. What my French grandmother thought of it all is not recorded.
I am saddened by the state of their grave and wish we were able to tidy it up. Any suggestions of a local firm who might help would be gratefully received.
Hi Sarah thanks for adding some detail to the story.
It has been a couple of years since I photographed the grave and I can tell you we now have volunteers who have cleaned up and maintain the graveyard so it is likely it now looks better. If I get a chance I will take a look and report back.
My grandfather Christopher George Challis was an engineer and was involved in mining under German trenches. While engaged in this he was gassed and invalided out. He then joined the RFC and at the end of WW1 he was without a job so he chauffeured a gentleman called Castleton Knight who owned Gaumont British News. He went on to work for both Alvis and Jaguar where he was involved in the design of their cars. As you say my father Christopher got a job with Gaumont before also joining the RAF. He worked on many operations as a cameraman with the RAF Film Unit based at Pinewood studios. Much of the newsreel of the bombing raids over Germany was filmed by him and he was mentioned in despatches several times. Other films he photographed were Battle of the River Plate, Sink the Bismarck and the much loved Genevieve. He also photographed my film The Riddle of the Sands.
Christopher was a boyhood friend of Roland Prout and the two of them got into all sorts of trouble in boats on the waters around Canvey.
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