When St. Katherine’s Church, Canvey Island was built shortly after 1700 the few who worshipped there could never have anticipated that more than 250 years – and four new buildings – later it would become a centre for art and craft visited by thousands each year. The first church on the site was built by the Dutch who settled on the island and did much of the work on reclaiming the land from the sea.
This church fell into disrepair and was demolished to make way for a smaller building holding around 80 people. There was no resident minister and so, whenever a service was held by a visiting cleric, a flag was flown from the steeple announcing the fact.
The flag served another, and more earthly, purpose advising the smugglers that no contraband could for a time be stored in the building.
Around 1840 this building, too, was in poor repair and by 1845 it had been rebuilt again, this time dedicated to St Peter.
By 1876 the island community had grown considerably and a resident minister was appointed- the Rev Henry Hayes. Mr Hayes did much for the island including installing water pumps in the villages so that, for the first time, residents had pure water. He organised the building of a school on land opposite the church and, following his predecessors, set about rebuilding the church on land behind the existing building. The porch and five stained glass windows from the old church were incorporated in the new, which was again dedicated to St Katherine.
Two or three years ago the building was declared redundant by the Church Commissioners following the building of a new greatly enlarged church nearby.
Seeing the potential of the old building the Canvey Island Historical and Conservation Society offered to become trustees and now Canvey Island’s Heritage Centre is open as a home for arts and crafts and as a folk museum. Highly skilled lace making is one of many crafts which have been given a new lease of life. A glass engraver and a wood carver and turner often give displays and the art of handbell ringing has many followers.