Dutch Canvey

The Northwick 1618 Cottage

Canvey Island was drained and embanked by the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden in the 17th century. Numerous Dutch workers and their families settled here and they built rather unusual octagonal cottages of which two still survive. One cottage, west along Canvey Road, was built in 1618 and is now run, on the Borough Council’s behalf, by the Benfleet and District Historical Society as the Dutch Cottage Museum. Given to the then Canvey Island Urban District Council in 1952, it was restored, repainted and had its conical roof re-thatched ready for opening as a museum in 1962. Further extensive restoration works have been carried out to the cottage. The rooms of the cottage, which include a living room, passage and large and small bedrooms, now contain a variety of exhibits that illustrate the history of Canvey Island, including models of the types of sailing craft which passed the Island from Roman times onward. Attached to the cottage is a modern demountable exhibition hall that houses the many exhibits.

The Museum is open from Spring Bank Holiday to September from 2.30 to 5.00pm, on Wednesdays and Sundays and 10.00am – 1.00pm and 2.00 – 5.00pm on Bank Holidays. Tel: (01268) 753487.

The Village 1621 Cottage

One cottage, in Haven Road, was built in 1621 and is still in private ownership after being restored and redecorated. It wasn’t until almost a century after Cornelius’ reclamation of Canvey, to whom we owe great respects to this day, that Canvey was invaded by the Dutch and ‘taken over’ to an extent.


Cornelius’ Reclamation

As well as salt gathering, Canvey was used as sheep farm-land, from the 5th Century, under Saxon ownership, to the coming of the Dutch in the mid 16th Century due to a falling trend in dairy product popularity, as meat took over the scene. A now rarer breed of sheep, being of a long-tailed variety, was farmed on Canvey. When William the Conqueror invaded Britain in 1066, he took England over and ordered that a mass census be carried out, recorded as the Doomsday Book, explaining each town and city, and what people roughly owned there, as far as land, buildings, and livestock, were concerned. Canvey Island was described in this book as being a ‘sheep farming parish under the control of nine parishes’. In this era, Canvey was split into several sections, each of the nine parishes which surrounded Canvey owning 1-2 sections of Canvey’s land each.

In 1623, a Canvey land owner known as Sir Henry Appleton, ordered expert Dutch engineer Cornelius Wasterdyk Vermuyden to reclaim Canvey’s constantly flooding landscape. He set about constructing dykes, seawalls, and a drainage and sluice system made from hollowed-out Elm tree trunks for pipes. Many dykes are still used, even if modified, and the seawall is still prominent in many parts of the island. The ‘Point’ of Canvey Island is where the Dutch seawall can be witnessed along with the original local chalk inside layer and wooden stakes. The Dutch seawall in its more complete earthern form exists across the Island to this day. With the reclaimed land, Canvey was used for growing crops and also for cattle. In 1627 a petition was put out by the Dutch wishing for a house in which Dutch religious services could be carried out in. In 1630, this was agreed to and a small Chapel was constructed on the then highest point of the island.

In the Victorian Era, the Dutch sea defences of Vermuyden were either used as secondary ‘counterwalls’ or upgraded into more prestigious earthen mounds. Still not containing a ‘wall’ as such, it did feature a flattened path along it’s top. It can be seen opposite Smallgains Corner or west of the Benfleet Bridge. It was larger and taller than the Dutch one, although still was nothing more than piled earth, and could have been breached easily if the tides took their toll as they did in 1953 when these earth walls were all the Island had.


Dutch Invasion!

Tensions soon arose between the original inhabitants of Canvey and the Dutch, who came to Canvey as refugees from Spanish Catholic persecution, at times massacring Englishmen on their own soil. The Anglo-Dutch ‘Battle of Canvey’ took place in 1667 and a Dutch fleet landed on the shores near the Lobstersmack, pillaging houses and buildings. The Lobstersmack itself is Canvey’s oldest remaining building, an as been here since roughly 1510 – not having changed much structurally. It was used as a smuggler’s inn and used for the handling of contraband such as alcohol in its early days. In its Victorian days, it was known as ‘the World’s End’ after being so far from civilization on Canvey. It is mentioned as a Thames-side inn when a boat passes by it in Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations.

Read about the ‘Battle of Canvey’ in detail:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s