Floods along The Thames, 1953

Canvey Island floods 1953

Here’s a powerful reminder of what we so very nearly experienced again along the Thames back in early December – we were lucky that in many places along the estuary the storm surge and the high tide occurred at different times.

I was able to visit Oare Creek a few hours before the high tide that night, and it was very much as if the tide was already in. If the storm surge hadn’t fallen before the usual tide arrived, without doubt the damage and flooding would have been worse, though that’s clearly not much comfort for folks such as the family that run the Shipwrights Arms, who were badly affected when the sea over-topped the sea defences at the end of last year.

Anyway, here’s some striking words about the effect of flooding on Canvey Island back in 1953:

‘Essex County Councillor for Canvey Island West, Ray Howard was 11 years old when the 1953 North Sea Storm struck his home. A combination of low pressure, high spring tides, and winds of record-breaking velocity caused a massive tidal surge to travel southwards along the East Coast. Many of the communications systems that we take for-granted were not in place then and few coastal residents were aware of the magnitude of the storm coming their way.

‘Though Canvey Island had been the fastest growing seaside community in the UK between 1911 and 1950, the nearest main police station was in Brentwood, there were rudimentary telephone and telegraph connections, and the population of about 13,000 people mostly lived in poorly constructed buildings. The island had regularly flooded before 17th century reclamation by Cornelius Vermuyden, and in 1953 the sea-walls were still effectively those built of clay, chalk and Kentish ragstone by the Dutchman over 300 years earlier, and were not more than a metre or so taller than mean high water.

‘That night over 1,600 km of Eastern coastline were to be devastated but it was on Canvey that the largest single loss of life occurred…

‘Breaching of the sea walls began in the north at Sunken Marsh at around 1 am on February 1st when the 4.6m high surge arrived. Of the 58 people who died on Canvey that night, 53 drowned here as water rushed in so fast that few had time to escape while their single-storey pre-fabs either filled to the ceiling, or were smashed by the rush of debris-laden water.’

Read more about what happened on Canvey Island in 1953 here and more about the 1953 floods more generally here – what may have been powerful storm to affect Scotland in 500 years did widespread damage and then created a surge that raced down the East Coast into the southern North Sea, where it was exaggerated by the shallower waters causing flooding in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, London and Kent, and of course Holland and Holland, where the damage was enormous. On land in the UK it’s said 307 died, while the death toll at sea for the UK including many trawlers and the ferry MV Princess Victoria is estimated at 224.

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