diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 05, 2009

Seaside postcard: Canvey Island
There can be few less attractive midwinter tourist destinations in South East England than Canvey Island. A flat muddy estuarine island in the lower Thames, most of it below sea level, packed with housing estates, creeks, caravans and gas tanks. So I went for a visit at the weekend, so that you don't have to. And you know, it wasn't that bad.

Thorney Bay caravan site

Flooding: It's not immediately obvious why anyone would choose to live in the middle of the Thames, below the water line, hemmed in behind a concrete sea wall. But almost 40000 people think otherwise and have made Canvey Island their home. Their confidence is occasionally misplaced. One hour into February 1953, a cataclysmic North Sea storm surge broke through the sea wall and innundated by much of the island. Those living in bungalows and caravans were particularly imperilled, and by morning 58 lives had been lost.

Canvey sea wall, Thorney BayMany lessons have been learned since that grim day, and the sea wall has been rebuilt bigger, thicker and stronger to try to keep the next innundation out. The wall's a great place for a bracing walk, all the way around the seaward side of the island if you so choose. Every so often there are steps up and over the barrier, through a locktight floodgate [photo], and at these spots you can climb up top to compare the difference in elevation on either side [photo]. It was high tide during my visit and, yes, sea level was very definitely higher than the front gardens and ground floor rooms of the Canvey houses in the depression below. Several three storey homes have been built with their living rooms at the top in an attempt to see over the wall, but most residents live out of sight of any clue that the seaside is only a few yards away. One of Canvey's suburbs is even called Sunken Marsh, which doesn't exactly engender confidence. I'm not sure I could ever live around here and sleep soundly in my bed at night.

Seafront: Strange as it may seem, in the first half of the 20th century Canvey Island grew to become one of Britain's most popular seaside resorts. Proximity to London can be the only explanation, making this a popular destination for time-starved East Enders, at least until 1970s package holidays lured them away to somewhere considerably warmer. In midwinter 2009 those golden summer days seemed impossibly far distant. Various ramshackle shoreside booths were shuttered, the lacklustre crazy golf was securely locked and nobody was even thinking of sitting outside The Monico mega-pub. Cheeky Monkey's Outdoor World [photo] claimed to be open "every day of the year", but when I stepped inside this sparsely-fitted children's funfair I found nothing but mothballed rides. It was hard to imagine anyone spending a day entertained around here, let alone a full week.

Labworth CafeBut there is one extra-special leftover from Canvey's holiday heyday, and that's the Labworth Cafe. It's a bold modernist structure made of reinforced concrete, with central rotunda and two symmetrical wings, said to resemble the bridge of the Queen Mary. It was designed in the early 1930s by Ove Arup (not the company but the Danish architect himself who would later go on to found the internationally renowned construction company). The cafe was once an integral part of the seafront complex but has since been isolated behind the sea wall and is only properly appreciated from the beach. Unfortunately I arrived at high tide so my attempts to capture the Labworth's fine frontage were somewhat compromised [photo] [photo]. Inside the place seemed busy enough, with chatting friends and smiling families enjoying the home-cooked food and hot beverages. I was mighty tempted by the menu, and by the chalkboard of daily specials visible through the window, but foolishly resisted going inside. Maybe it's a good thing the Labworth's not located somewhere more fashionable or easily accessible, so this Art Deco treat can remain a special secret a little longer.

Canvey old sea wall, at Canvey PointCanvey Point: Follow the sea wall to the far easternmost point of the island and you reach one of Essex's less exclusive sailing clubs. Their car park looked like a dead end to me, until a single wooden signpost suggested otherwise. And yes, there between the squat brick clubhouse and a flotilla of laid-up yachts was an unassuming public footpath leading shoreward. It had to be worth following, even though it looked especially muddy. A few yards along there was a warning notice advising that the path ahead was sometimes submerged at high tide. but that just made venturing forward even more tempting. The path soon threaded beside a brackish creek to a primitive wooden stile (more mud), then dropped down to a broad expanse of squelchy salt marsh. My OS map insisted that the footpath continued for another half mile to the tip of the island, but I could see no discernible right of way across this barren estuarine landscape. I negotiated the first few steps safely enough, before stopping to scrutinise a curve of spiky weed-coated timbers [photo] (which I later discovered were the chalky remains of Canvey's first 17th century sea wall). It was at this point I noticed how much mud had attached itself to my walking boots. Taking everything into consideration (lack of path, being all alone in the middle of nowhere, high tide approaching) it seemed unwise to try to proceed any further. I managed to scrape some of the Thames off my boots on the walk back to civilisation, but there are still dried chunks of Canvey littering my doormat.

Flickr photo sets of photogenic Canvey (honest)
Canvey History
Canvey Community Archive
A walk right round Canvey (and another) (and another)
Dr Feelgood in Canvey
Visit Canvey (no, I'm kidding, there is no such website)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream