Canvey Island

Canvey Island
District:Castle Point
Region:East of England
Ceremonial County:Essex
Traditional County:Essex
Postal County:Essex

Canvey Island (area 18.45 sq km; pop. 37,000) is an island in the River Thames estuary off the coast of Essex, England. It is also the name of the town on that island, though this is sometimes shortened to Canvey.

The island's name is Anglo Saxon in origin, and means "Cana's island". It was first recorded in manorial records of 1255 as Caneveye. The island is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, but sheep grazing marshland lying to the south of the county is mentioned extensively. Geologically, Canvey Island was originally part of the mainland, then the coastline broke up into smaller pieces, and the modern island is made up of five of those pieces. There are historical maps held at the Essex Record Office that show where the five separate islands originally lay and it is thought that these are the marshes referred to in earlier records. Sheep farming was a mainstay industry of the island until very recently.

Because of the geological history of the island subsidence was a common problem and sea defences have been built to protect the island from the Thames since the 14th century. In the early 17th century Dutch builders were employed to reclaim land from the Thames and to strengthen the sea defences. Because of this a strong Dutch community formed in Canvey Island, evidence of which can still be found in local street names, place names and architecture.

Arms of the former Canvey Island Urban District Council
Arms of the former Canvey Island Urban District Council

In 1791, 1881 and 1897 the whole island was almost completely submerged due to extensive flooding of the River Thames. More modern sea defences have now been installed, and are maintained regularly. However, in 1953 serious floods along the east coast hit the island and caused the death of 58 people.

The coast of Canvey was host to the Chapman Lighthouse famously described in Joseph Conrad's novel 'Heart of Darkness'. Built in 1851, this all-iron lighthouse replaced a lightship which had been moored in the area for the preceeding four years. The lighthouse was demolished in 1957 due to its poor condition. It is believed that the peril of the mudflats below such shallow waters off the Canvey coast prompted the Romans to devise some form of beacon as a warning in the area. The hexagonal lighthouse was constructed by the engineer James Walker, a consultant lighthouse engineer at Trinity House at the time.

During the Second World War the island was one end of the GHQ Line, a line of concrete pillboxes constructed as a defence against the expected German invasion. Some of the old pillboxes are still in place today.

More recently (in the 1970s), Canvey Island was a centre of the pub rock musical movement, featuring entertainers such as Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury.

Other settlements on the island apart from the main town include Newlands and Leigh Beck. Other local islands include Lower Horse and Two Tree Island.

External links

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