The islands are scattered like little gems along the Thames.
There are many weird stories that emerge from these islands, and none are stranger than the tale of the terrifying ‘thing’ that emerged from the depths on the shores of an island in the Thames Estuary. .
As Miranda Vickers points out in his excellent book, Eyots and Aits, Islands of the River Thames, Canvey Island today has a major image problem.
READ MORE: The cannot-visit Thames Island that was a secret hangout for royal lovers
It tends to be seen as a place of grim industrialization and out of date trailer parks.
And yes, it is true that in the southwest corner of the island there are oil and gas silos, and large caravan parks reminiscent of the island’s tourist golden age.
But there is much more to Canvey Island than that.
The low-lying island is almost completely flat – and at one time was just a swamp.
Because it is two meters below the average water level, it has also been affected by flooding.
Yet, as Miranda points out, there are parts of the island that are very original, pleasant and well maintained – and it is a true haven of nature.
The history of the island dates back at least to Roman times, when salt making and pottery work existed here.
The Vikings once moored their ships in coves around the island, and remains of Danish settlements have been found.
The name Canvey dates back to Anglo-Saxon times when it was recorded as the Isle of Cana.
Presumably, it was the name of a local chief who settled his band of Saxon immigrants here.
In the 1620s, part of the island was given to Dutch settlers in exchange for their skills in building dikes to protect the island.
The ingenious Dutch built a series of drainage ditches across the island and a 20 mile wall around it that helped hold back the floodwaters.
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Two strange 17th-century octagonal-shaped cottages still survive on the island to this day and the Dutch islanders have built their own church.
In the western part of the island, in a secluded cove called Holehaven, lies the 16th century Lobster Smack Inn. He is mentioned in Dickens’ play Great Expectations.
This part of the island has been described by Essex historian FG Whitnall as the ‘end of the world’ – and rightly so.
The place feels lonely and secluded even to this day.
Some company was found among the many sheep that inhabited the island and the islanders produced their own sheep cheese.
There were also more disreputable visitors in the form of smuggling gangs who tended to use the island as a base to unload their goods.
But nothing could have prepared the islanders for the visitor who arrived in November 1954.
That month, the horribly decomposed carcass of a strange creature was found washed up on the island.
Miranda Vickers says she was over 2 feet long and had huge bulging eyes, reddish-colored skin and two paw-shaped fins.
Was this some kind of Cold War-era X-Files alien?
Anyway, the zoologists who examined it couldn’t find a name for the species and rather than preserve it, just cremated it!
And then it happened again the following year.
This time the beast was almost twice the size of the first and just as ugly.
It was apparently much better preserved too, but none of the experts could yet figure out what it was.
Locals believed it could be anglerfish – fierce-looking deep-sea creatures with mouths full of sharp teeth and bulging eyes.
It seems more likely from looking at the photos that it may have been a burbot, although locals have insisted they believe they have more ‘humanoid’ characteristics.
Either way, they didn’t destroy the island – but they may have helped put its declining tourism industry back on the map for a while!
However, other unwanted visitors quickly followed.
An Islander reports: “When I returned to Canvey and lived on Bardenville Road around 1962-1963, we had other rather unwelcome visitors. rat.
“My sister noticed the first one, which must have been from the stream, in our back garden. She told mom about an oversized rat.
“Soon after, the nutria were reported in the local press and the islanders warned to stay away from them as they were about to attack. I’m surprised no one else mentioned them because it was was pretty scary back then. “
Things had generally improved on Canvey Island over the years.
The disease that tended to plague the islanders – known as fever – gradually subsided as drainage improved as the mosquito population dwindled.
Tourism began to increase in the 1920s, increasing the island’s population.
The rail network meant tourists could now flock from the overcrowded East End slums to vacation on the island after taking the train to Southend.
In 1931, the road bridge was built, making the island even more accessible.
Caravan parks sprang up and there were cabins on the beaches and donkey rides on the sand.
Huge Art Deco seaside buildings were erected and there was even a casino – although its name was misspelled like Monico – rather than Monaco – an irony that perhaps has not been lost on many. of those who have visited it.
During World War II, many Londoners even fled the Blitz to their vacation homes in Canvey and decided to stay for good.
Disaster struck, however, on the night of January 31, 1953, when 300 people drowned after severe storms and high tides engulfed the island – its dilapidated sea defenses simply had not been updated.
The island was evacuated and although a few tourists began to return after the construction of a 10-foot seawall, the flooding dealt a catastrophic blow to the tourism industry.
Today, the island has a thriving population of 37,000 hardy islanders protected by a 15-mile-long seawall erected in 1982.
It is also now home to many rare bird species and the RSPB opened a 256 hectare bird sanctuary in 2010.
About 1,300 species, many of which once thought were extinct, have now made their home there.
Definitely worth the trip to get a taste of a unique part of London life, take in the breathtaking views of the Thames Estuary and watch the container ships arrive.
But if you go swimming, watch out for the strange species of fish that sometimes wash up there!
Do you have a story you think we should cover? If yes, please send an email Martin.everyday@ reachplc.com