Canvey - Benfleet Crossing

From Dowd's Canvey Cyclopaedia

All the Facts and Figures about the crossing as compiled by David Dowd in the 1970’s.

THE WALLS, Upkeep of Canvey’s Sea Defences

In the Fifteenth century the fine applied for not keeping up the Sea-Walls was called ‘bi-scot’ and was about two shillings a perch of damaged wall (i.e., 2 p a metre). An account-book ‘bought for the yous of the survaires of the Cassey and footbridges and roads belonging to Canvey island’ dates from 1742 to 1789 (Ref.: E.R.O. D:P 270:21.) and indicates that every year one or two ‘fraits’ (i.e., barge-loads) of gravel were delivered to Hole Haven for road and causeway repair.

It took two or three men from two to three weeks to make use of these fraits, at a cost of from £10 to £ 30 for their hire, thus:

13/4/1742‘For one days’ work, a cart, three horses and two men     6s 6d
‘For a frait of gravel£ 3 5s 0d
‘For a knew footbridge over the creek into the island£14.13.8d
12/7/1756‘Freight of gravel by the Calf-boat for the causeway£ 2.18.0d
?/7/1761(Fifteen cartloads of stone were brought from Laindon for the causeway): ‘…and paid for 10 days works  at the Cassey (causeway) 

16s 8d

and for going to Laindon Hills to agree for the stones      2s 6d
27/11/1774‘Payd Luke Underwood for mending the Caseway Bridge      2s 7d
‘Payd for 40 feet of Oke Plank for same    14s 0d

Apart from gravel and stones, chalk, flint and bushes were also employed in bolstering the walls. The surveyors were to maintain the sluices and counterwalls, to provide ‘handfasts’ for the footbridges over the fleets, care for the Chapel and supply the annual dinner; thus :-

‘Paid Jolly for 13 Sundays and whasing (washing) the surplis9s 0d
‘Paid Bennett for being cleark at the chapple 12 Sundays6s 0d

THE CAUSEWAY, Upkeep of Canvey’s Main Access

The bridges mentioned above, being probably only one plank wide, traffic other than pedestrian had to use the causeway. This amenity was variously spelled according to the writer’s interpretation of the local dialect pronunciation; as cassey (1761) or caseway (1774); and occasionally referred to as the ‘horse-dam’ indicating its main use at the time.

As mentioned for road maintenance, the causeway was also provided with a regular supply of gravel – to replace that gradually washed away by the tides. If the items mentioned in the Surveyor’s Account Book were typical and annual – i.e., paying to arrange supplies from Laindon gravel-pit; cost of a barge-load of gravel; wages for ten day’s work – amounting to, say, £ 3.75 per annum – this was a heavy burden on the Canvey ratepayers.

When cement became available a new technique was tried : that of filling buckets with the mixture and, when set, half-burying the upturned resultant ‘stepping- stones’ across the Creek – but though the remains of the gravel can still be seen, the stones have all gone (except for a sample outside the old Council Offices).

THE CANVEY BOAT, Maintenance

Shortly after the Wright’s sale of the ferryboat, after much local long-term clamour for a bridge, a Traffic Census was undertaken by the Ministry of Transport from 15 to 21 August 1921 – it showed that the following was the break-down of ferry-boat & causeway user types from a total of 18,954 crossings (i.e., individual, not ferry-boat, crossings):
Census of Causeway & Ferry Commuter Crossings, August 1921

Hackney Carriages7174
Trade Carts3622
Farm Carts1310.70
Farm Wagons670.35

Note that ‘carts’ usually meant two-wheeled light horse-drawn vehicles, whereas ‘wagons’ meant four-wheeled and heavy. ‘Lorries’ originally meant long flat (sideless) wagons and may still have had this meaning.

Note also that by this time there is no mention of ridden horses, since farmers would use traps and the less well-off could not afford to keep horses at all.

Of course the ferry became totally redundant on the opening in April 1931 of the Bridge.


From 1793 to 1820 local turnpikes (including the Tarpots to South Benfleet Road) were administered by Hadleigh Turnpike Trust. Until 1830 the road access to Canvey came across Benfleet Downs, but, about then, the Court of Quarter Sessions agreed an application to divert it through Benfleet proper and it now wriggles its way under the railway before turning south to the bridge. At Michaelmas 1706, James Snesher and a Mr. Ballard were indicted for neglecting this highway.

On the Canvey side a new approach road for the Colvin Bridge (opened April 1931) was formed from a straightened-out adaptation of an ancient track, and it is now known as Canvey Road. After the bridge was built, with the attendant increase in traffic, a road modernisation programme was found to be necessary – motor vehicles were faster and needed to pass each other – and the High Street (1) was lowered (it would have been dangerously high should any vehicle have overridden the edge).

The new second access road to Canvey crosses East Haven Creek at the same point as had the old Roman Road – it was the A 1301, part of the A 30 scheme from Trumpington in Cambridgeshire to Northwick Corner on Canvey (one wonders if anyone has actually done the whole journey which road signs invite you to do).

The Services Census of November 1950 relates that Canvey had : –

Census of Mains Services to Canvey, 1950

Type of Road  Miles% increase on pre-war
  Total Extra
 Pre-war Post-war


  1. 1. originally called the High road since it was built on an old Dutch inning-wall


There are mediæval references to plank bridges across the Canvey guts.
There probably was a bridge across the Creek in the Sixteenth century; (certainly in 1742 there was an oaken footbridge [not necessarily where the present bridge is, of course], and this was repaired perhaps annually [at an average 85 p] and replaced totally occasionally [at a cost of about  £ 14.70]. It presumably consisted of a line of single planks on trestles [each formed from two upright poles with across-bar] with a handrail to one side – in rough weather at high tide this must have taxed commuters’ courage. Wherever it was it would have had to span about 75 metres [2 or 3 hundred feet].
Until recently most of the houses on the island were separated from their roads by small drainage ditches and perforce had small bridges for access, many constructed from second hand telegraph- poles (a few still exist).
The Rev. Hayes attempted to organise a subscription for a lifting (bascule) footbridge across the Creek to be built by Rochford Council in 1900 – unfortunately he died before this came to fruition.
The Ministry of Transport having been petitioned by Canvey inhabitants about access to the island, and having conducted a Ferry/Causeway survey in 1921 (see above), did nothing further for eight years (probably at the behest of Canvey’s arch-enemy, the P.L.A. whose excuse this time would be regarding access for boats to Benfleet), so the Ministry of Health were approached and held an enquiry at the Council School on 19/12/1929, as a result of which the Ministry of Transport were shamed into immediate action.

The estimated cost of the original plan for a high-level (i.e., non-opening) bridge in 1930 was £ 150,000 – far too much for this small island to warrant; so in March 1930 the Ministry sanctioned the building of a 91-metre (300-foot) so-called ‘swing bridge’, and contributed nearly half its construction costs, i.e., £ 9,263 of the £ 20,000.

H.J. Deane, B.E., M.I.C.E., the Council’s consultant engineer, designed the bridge which was built by A.E. Farr. The inaugural pile-driving was done by the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Brigadier- General R.B. Colvin, C.B., after whom it was named, on May 21, 1930; exactly one year later the opening ceremony was performed by Alderman John H. Burrows, J.P., of Southend.

The ‘Colvin Bridge’ was in fact retractile, not swing; two leaves rolled along a prepared underwater track on wheeled pillars, worked by electricity and controlled by one man – taking one minute to fully retract. The last time the bridge had to be retracted (to allow the passage of a reasonable size of vessel) was on Nov. 26, 1968 – the structure was demolished in February 1973.

It must have been extremely galling, during the 42 years that the retractile bridge was in operation, for commuters to have to wait in car or bus, or on foot, for the bridge to open to allow a boat through, then close, whilst watching their train arrive and depart at Benfleet Station. Furthermore, in the Summer holiday season and at week-ends, there could be tail-backs of traffic of up to three miles (nearly 5 Km).

The present, fixed, bridge was constructed in 1973 – by this time the P.L.A. had lost most of its Parliamentary influence and consideration could be given to the needs of the public.

At almost the same time as the new bridge was completed, so was a new access road with viaduct across the marshes to join the A 13 at Sadler’s Farm Roundabout (in our county of roundabout- mania, the planners had not realised that the considerable local home-bound traffic feeding in from minor roads would have the right-of-way on this, so making it almost impossible for eastbound A 13 traffic to join in – Sadler’s Farm Roundabout is now prodigiously extended with five satellite roundabouts so that is possible and legal to circumnavigate the original ‘the wrong way round’). The new access road was opened on 9/4/1973

Of 3,839 Canveyites regularly commuting across the bridge, the 1951 Census has this to say:
Census of Canvey Bridge Commuters, 1951

Place of employmentMalesFemales%
near London57822121
in London1861238

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