Last weekend, Kath and I and our friends Jon and Maggie took a train to Benfleet in Essex, on the Thames estuary, and walked over to and round Canvey Island. Why? you may ask – if you have heard of Canvey Island. The answer is the great mid-70s rock’n’roll band, Dr Feelgood, who hailed from Canvey Island and, in my view, paved the way for punk.
Their first album – their classic – is called “Down by the Jetty”, and I’m pretty sure that the photo on the front cover was taken on a windswept Canvey Island. The photo below is of my vinyl copy of the album (taken in the evening, hence the light blurs) which, you will notice, has a Spanish subtitle. I bought it in an Oxford second hand record store in 1977, a year or so after its release. But I knew it off-by-heart by then, having listened to it so much at school when it – and Eddie and the Hot Rods – caused some of us to move away from metal to three minute rock’n’roll roll songs. That left us ready for the Pistols, Damned, Clash, Jam, Buzzcocks and all the rest.
Left to right: buzzsaw guitarist, Wilko Johnson; bassist John B Sparks; The Big Figure on drums; and singer Lee Brilleaux.
Canvey is an island, but only just. There’s a creek that separates it from the mainland, which is pretty narrow in places. In the photo below we are on Canvey, looking across to Leigh-on-Sea, which comes just before Southend, as you travel east. The tide was out for all of our time on the island, so it could be a bit more watery at other times.
We stopped for a cup of tea here, just as the cafe stopped serving breakfasts on a Sunday. That worked out well later – see the black and white shots. The Old Git, whoever he is, must surely be a Brexiteer.
Canvey Island is known for its industrial landscapes when in fact it is mostly rural or suburban. The views you capture tend to be not so much of the island itself but of the scene looking out from it. The big beaches, sea, sky – and those refineries.
Canvey Island’s favourite band is celebrated in this mural on the sea wall.
Holiday caravans and industry exist side-by-side on Canvey Island.
On the southern coast there is a seaside area which was actually rather attractive and full of people on a sunny day. The black and white effect takes you back for sure…
This was a very good cafe where we had lunch – the Labworth.
The Lobster Shack is the current name for a pub which was previously known as The World’s End and featured in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” as a place for smugglers.
In the early 70s a new oil refining development was constructed, complete with vast jetty. But it was never opened and the jetty, though built, was never used. It sits there, still, today, a magnificent white elephant.
We never did locate the jetty that was in the “Down by the Jetty” photo. We think we may have walked under it early on, thinking it would be where all the main industry was.
The sea birds have made good use of this structure.
More views away from Canvey. Thames estuary at nearly its widest point, at low tide.
Beyond the Lobster Smack, on the western side of the island, you found yourself on a dyke above the channel separating it from the mainland. This is one of the clearer bits – it was the most difficult part of the walk as it wasn’t cleared and later on there was a lot of undergrowth. The walk overall, turned out to be about 18 miles. Some tired legs at the end!
We caught a train back to Liverpool Street from Benfleet and had what was one of the most refreshing pints I’ve had for a long time – two in fact. Brooklyn lager of all things. Much needed!
To finish, back to that mural. Me (right) and Jon, in front of the boys.
I’ve been searching all through the city, See you in the morning down by the jetty…
Intriguing place. I like the sound of the Lobster Smack.
It’s a boat used for catching and transporting lobsters, apparently. It sounds like a form of GBH.
Yep, must be the drug-runners’ local.
An interesting blog, John, exploring one of the margins of London’s curious industrial/seaside landscapes. I totally understand your wish to go the source of one of your favourite bands, even if no great meaning (and certainly no great beauty) awaits. His Honour Iain Sinclair would be proud of you – and that’s no faint praise.
How profound is the meaning in “She Does it Right”?…
I bow to the brilliance of Iain Sinclair, though he may have taken at least twenty pages to describe a walk round Canvey!
Interesting post,especially The World’s End!
It was the end of civilisation on Canvey Island!