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The name 'Canvey Island' was derived from the Anglo-Saxons, meaning 'The Island of Cana's People'.
It was originally made up of five separate islands, these being mainly marshlands.
Early Roman settlers found the marshlands ideal for the production of salt - in demand for the curing of fish and meat at this time. Much Roman pottery has been discovered and pieces can still be found today.
Sheep farming then became the major industry for many years as the marshland offered superb grazing. Sheep wool and meat were valuable commodities, as well as the cheeses made from the ewes' milk. Before the building of sea defences the shepherds and sheep were the only inhabitants of the island, leading what must have been a difficult life due to the constant flooding of the island.
Although the inhabitants had frequently tried to maintain sea defences it was not until 1623 that the landowners of Canvey agreed to build a sea wall. Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, who was commissioned to drain the Fens, was heavily involved in the creation of the sea wall. Maintenance of the wall was the responsibilty of the Dutch and was expensive. Many of the Dutch left the island, possibly due to the cost, and the wall deteriorated. Between 1791 and 1897 a series of floods proved costly and many farmers eventually sold up and left the island.
The Dutch also built their own style of housing on the island. Two of the remaining cottages dated 1618 and 1621 are still in existence, one is a museum, the other a private house.
Drinking and Smuggling
Built around the 17th Century, the Lobster Smack Inn is the island's oldest public house. Passing boats from Hole Haven creek offered plenty of trade and the inn was also connected with the activites of smugglers. The inn hosted the annual fair, a family event where home produce was sold, and outside the inn regular bare-knuckle prize fights were held.
With the decline in farming, land on the island became cheap to buy and business man Frederick Hester began buying up land, dividing it into plots and selling them as holiday homes to city dwellers. Hester built 'Winter Gardens' - glass conservatories housing fountains, plants, flowers and birds. He constructed a mono-rail tramway through the gardens, a pier, and many of the islands roads. Canvey became a popular hoilday destination and although Hester went bankrupt in 1905 tourism continued to thrive.
One of the major problems on the island was access to the mainland. Before 1931 the only way of crossing was by ferry, or stepping stones at low tide. In 1931 the Colvin Bridge was opened. This remained open until 1968 and was demolished in 1973 to make way for the new (present) bridge.
The worst disaster to befall Canvey was the flood of 1953. Freak storms led to the sea wall being breached in the early hours of February 1st. The fire brigade alerted the residents with sirens, but unfortunately not all woke to hear them. Consequently 58 people died. After the clean up operation, a new sea wall was erected and advance warning systems are now in place to prevent future disasters.
Barsby, G (1992) Canvey Island-A Pictoral History, Phillimore & Co: Sussex
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