History Page

Until the 17th Century Canvey Island was a dreary marshland separated by creeks and waterways into six Islands and subject to flooding at periods of high tides.
Though unsuited to human habitation the marshes and saltings afforded valuable pasturage for sheep and the grazing rights were, from early times, divided between the parishes of South Benfleet, north Benfleet bowers Gifford, Pitsea, Vange, Laindon, Hadleigh, Prittlewell and Southchurch.
The building of a Dutch Cottage on the Island in 1618 seems to indicate that a Dutch Engineer was then resident to consider the problem of protecting the island from flooding. Four years later the sea wall was begun.
It is probable that most of the capital for the enterprise was raised by Joas Croppenburgh, haberdasher and citizen of London, and that he engaged the famous Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden and several hundred Dutch labourers to carry out the work.

The Heritage Centre was originally a church. The history of the previous church buildings up to the current building and its change of use from St Katherines Church to a Craft and historical Museum is recorded below:
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The Dutch Chapel.
A small chapel of timber was completed before the end of 1631 and the Bishop of London licensed the Dutch Church in London to appoint a minister to perform Divine Service on Canvey in the Dutch language. This arrangement lasted until 1704. By this time many of the Dutch had left the island and had settled in Benfleet and other places on the mainland and as they had learned the English language they were satisfied to attend the services in their parish churches.

The First English Church.
The Dutch chapel being in a very dilapidated condition, was rebuilt in 1712, presumably on the same site. It was consecrated to St. Katherine by the Bishop of London on June 11th 1712. In this small timber church, which accommodated about 80 people, services were held more or less regularly until 1745. The nine mainland parishes, between which the parish of Canvey was divided, shared the responsibility of supplying a minister.

The Second English Church.
Like it’s predecessor, the chapel built in 1845 was constructed of timber, with a roof of red tiles. During the winter months, or whenever there was to be a service, a flag was hoisted on the small spire and the shutters were taken down. At that time there were 50 houses on Canvey with a population of about 200. The building was partially rebuilt in 1849 and the interior beautified in 1862. The Island Commission for wall and drainage and been set up in 1792. At this time services were taken by visiting clergy.

The Third Church.
In 1872 the Reverend Henry Hayes was appointed the first Curate to be given independent charge. In 1881, when Canvey was formed into a separate ecclesiastical parish, he became the first Vicar. A new church was built in the old churchyard about 20 further back from the road and was consecrated by Bishop Claughton of Rochester on November 9th 1875 and dedicated to St. Katherine. In essentials the church of 1875 has remained unaltered.
It is constructed of timber and the five East windows and the Porch are from the previous building. In 1962 the civil parish was converted into an urban District.

Heritage Centre pic

Vicars of Canvey.
The Vicars of Canvey were: 1881 Henry Hayes; 1901 Watson haggar; 1909 Joseph Romanus Brown; 1919 Edwin Green; 1927 Reginald Arthur John Chute; 1928 Edward Bonamy Dobree; 1936 Hubert Arthur Stanley Pink; 1938 Allan Whittaker Swallow; 1945 Arthur James Mortimer; 1953 David Gilbert Cullen and 1960 John Fleetwood.

The Registers show entries of Baptisms from July 1813, of Burials from December 1819 and of Marriages from June 1861. Previously Burials were at South Benfleet and Marriages and christenings at one of the nine parish churches on the mainland.
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The building was saved from demolition by the founding of an Historical and Conservation Society by Aubrey Stevens (baker) and Margaret Payne (schoolteacher) and thanks to the Church Commission we have been able to use the building as an Arts and Crafts Centre and Folk Museum since 1979.

The Museum:
The Heritage Centre Museum contains a fascinating collection of bygone artefacts, many relating to Canvey Island, others of more general interest.
For decades, people have been donating items of interest to be preserved for future generations and to provide a link to our past.
Some items are very old; such as the remains of a horse and cart dredged out of the lake, the busts of famous poets from the early 1900’s development of the Island by Frederick Hestor, the pulpit from the old church and many, many others.
Other items chart Canvey Island’s history from the early days of its development from farmland to the modern township it is today, like several old Dutch style clogs, a water container used to purify rain water prior to mains supply in the 1920’s, and an old fashioned school desk with writing slate.
Some artefacts date from the days of Canvey’s heyday as a seaside resort; like the amusement signs from the old casino at the seafront.
Realising history is made every day, and that things nobody would think of as particularly important today, may well become interesting artefacts in years to come, the museum has accepted things which mark recent events; the closing down signs from the Woolworths store, a bookmark celebrating the 85th anniversary of William Reed School.
There is much to see at The Heritage Centre Museum:
Lamps (probably used to light late-night trips to the outside loo) – old radios and bakerlite telephones – the old bicycles hung from the ceiling – models, paintings and old photographs – clogs – wedding dresses and costumes – cinema projectors – church furnishings such as the old pulpit – dolls houses – retro toys – clocks and bells from the old schools – old fashioned vacuum cleaners – etc, etc.
For any place to have such a collection, and so much of it unique to it’s home is very rare. If you haven’t yet visited, it will be a treat for you as you become the latest visitor to look through the amazing oddments, view the historic building – a real part of old Canvey Island – and add your name to our Visitor Book.

The Millenium Quilt-created by Heritage Centre members and local schools. On display in CPBC Offices reception area.

The Millenium Quilt-created by Heritage Centre members and local schools. On display in CPBC Offices reception area.

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