Canvey Island

Canvey Island derives its name from the ‘Island of Cana’s People’. The Island was many feet higher in Roman times than it is today.

Records tend to show that Canvey was not one island but several and, even as late as the 17th century, maps show at least two other islands east of Canvey between it and Southchurch (now part of Southend). The first references made in English documents to the name we now know are to ‘Caneveye’ in 1254 and ‘Koneveye’ in 1259.

Constant flooding during those early days did little to encourage habitation, and not until the 17th century, when sea walls were built and the island reclaimed, did it become the site of a permanent village community. In 1621, Sir Henry Appleton, who was the chief landowner on Canvey Island, and a syndicate of other local landowners agreed with Joas Croppenburg, a wealthy London haberdasher, to the drainage of the island’s 4,000 acres. The syndicate agreed to convey to Croppenburg one third of Canvey on the condition that he would foot the entire bill for drainage. The sea walls were completed in 1623 under the guiding genius of Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden.

As a result of the reclamation, Canvey became largely populated by Dutch people, who built unusual octagonal cottages, of which two survive today. One cottage, in Haven Road, was built in 1621 and is still in private ownership. The other, further west along Canvey Road, was built in 1618 and is now run, on behalf of the Council, by the Benfleet and District Historical Society as the Dutch Cottage Museum.

As the Dutch population grew on the Island, a Dutch church was built in 1628. The advent of these ‘lowlanders’ was unpopular with local people, and some disturbances were caused at the time. In the course of years, a number of the Dutchmen returned home and the others became absorbed in the Canvey population.

In the 16th century, Hadleigh Ray, the stretch of water on the north-east of the Island was used in oyster cultivation, the young brood that was fattened here later being taken across the Thames to mature on the famous Whitstable beds.

An historically interesting feature is the ‘Lobster Smack Inn’ at the end of Haven Road. With its weather boarded walls, the inn is very typical of Essex coastal architecture. A popular haunt with yachtsmen, it was built, it is believed, during the 17th century. It was formerly known as ‘The Sluice House’ and then ‘The World’s End.’ In mid-Victorian times, and no doubt, because of its seclusion, it was the scene of a great deal of prize fighting. Dickens, in his ‘Great Expectations’, referred to ‘The Lobster Smack’ and to its four poster beds.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Canvey Island remained primarily a rather remote agricultural area with only small villages. Development elsewhere along the Essex coast passed it by. At the turn of the century, however, and following a great storm that half-submerged the Island in 1897, modern development began. The Island was transformed throughout the 20th century into the residential area we see today.