The Beckwith’s, The Lobster Smack Inn & Sluice Farm Canvey Island

 
 
 

The Beckwith family of Canvey Island originated from mid Essex where my Great Great Great Grandfather, David Beckwith (born in 1759) was a miller and also had a bakery business in Maldon which was eventually taken over by his son David. He lived until he was 85 and died at the Cock and Magpie Inn in Stanford Le Hope in 1844. His son  David Beckwith was born at Messing,(1794) he married Elizabeth Cottee in 1813 and had six children my Great Grandfather Charles being the youngest, later in his life David ran the bakery business in Maldon. From there he moved to the Cock and Magpie Inn (now no longer there) in Stanford le Hope in the early 1800’s, and at the same time ran the Swan Inn at Horndon on the Hill. The latter being a very busy coaching Inn with stables and extensive facilities at the rear of the Inn, (these have been subsequently knocked down to make a car park). He also had a market garden business some land and houses, he died twenty two years after his father at the Cock and Magpie Inn. William his eldest son ran the Swan Inn in Maldon High Street and later took over the bakery business. David’s son Charles Beckwith senior was born at Copthorn Hall in Margaretting in 1834 and was christened at Little Baddow Independent Church together with other members of the family in 1836. In 1854 Charles Beckwith senior together with his sister Mary Ann took over the running of the Ordinance Arms Inn in Gravesend, from there Charles moved to the Lobster Smack on Canvey Island, while his sister remained at the Ordinance Arms.


Charles Beckwith senior and his son also Charles ran the Lobster Smack Inn and Sluice Farm (also known as Beckwith’s Farm) on Canvey Island from 1862 until1915 (Charles Beckwith senior from 1862 to 1903 and Charles Beckwith junior to1915) which found Charles fighting in France. My Grandfather had joined the North Hants 15 Platoon of the B.E.F. which saw action in France, and which he was lucky to survive.

Due to the war the business suffered as there were no visits from the sailing clubs, also it was difficult for my Grandmother to find men to work the farm as most fit men were in France, so in 1915 the farm and the inn were sold and the money split between my Grandfather and his Sisters.


In the 1800’s poverty on Canvey was very marked there being very little work and such work that there was (usually labouring) was not well paid, hence people went short and struggled. My Grandfather could not stand to see this and was often seen giving a hunk of bread and some cheese to some deserving cause not knowing that he had been spotted doing it.

The outcome of his time in France was to change his outlook on life, and he was happy to exist and enjoy as much of life as he could, hence sport, hunting, shooting, fishing and sailing filled a large part of his life.


My Great Grandfather had six children five girls and my Grandfather, who had two daughters Clara and Lucy, my Mother Lucy being the youngest.


My Grandmother Clara Ellen Eliza Beckwith (nee Collins) of Newcastle was related to the Chief Customs officer on Canvey, a Mr John Green who lived in the Coast Guard cottages next to the Inn. Unfortunately his Daughter Amelia Rosa died young and is buried by the path to the rear of St Katherine’s Church. Their families originated from Portsmouth but as my Grandmothers Father and Brother were Master Mariners, this caused my Great Grandparents to relocate to the port of Newcastle which then became their homeport. It was on a visit to her relations in the Coast Guard cottages that my Grandmother met my Grandfather and led to their marriage in 1904. In 1905 my Aunt Clara was born and my Mother followed in 1907.


Until the first world war the main purpose of the Inn was to look after travellers and it was an act of parliament which changed the law and brought in licensing hours to help the war effort. As the Inn stood next to the sea wall it drew a lot of business from ships and yachts, so that if a ship arrived on the tide at say 3 am in the morning there was a maid on duty to take care of their needs (It should be remembered that the majority of ships were still sail powered). My Grandmother said that the popular food served at that hour was a slice off one of the home cured hams hanging from the ceiling fried on the solid fuelled kitchen range (always with a fire day or night) together with two fried eggs, and with the top or half the bottom of a cottage loaf, this was accompanied with what ever drink they required (usually beer). Water had to be hauled first from Benfleet or a local farm, subsequently from the village once the well had been sunk, there being no fresh water supply at the inn or farm, any well that near the sea would have been filled with salt water. A photo of the cart with a very large barrel used for fetching the water is in the photo section. The beer was hauled from the brewery in Southend.


Many of the sailing clubs were regular visitors and knew the Inn as Becky’s which reflected the warm welcome and excellent food all home made which was always available, afternoon teas were very popular and were served upstairs. Becky’s was well written of and can be found mentioned in many of the publications of the time.

There are even accounts of Dutchmen enjoying fresh Lobster which they claimed were most excellent.

The upstairs room on the sea side was used for serving afternoon teas, and as it is today you could walk off the sea wall straight into the Inn. Many of the yacht clubs from Gravesend and around the coast would think it a good trip to visit Becky’s enjoy some good food and return home again. The teas were of a very high standard, you could say silver service as all the items used were silver. When my Grandmother left Canvey in 1963 I went down to pick her up and casting my eye around looked into the kitchen draw and spotted that the cutlery was silver, so I picked them up and took them with me. There is a photo in the photo section of a sample of spoons all with my Great Grandfathers initials engraved on them.


Also, the Inn has been featured in books by Dickens and Buchanan, part of Great Expectations, with the marches and prison hulks featuring, and Buchanan’s Andromeda a Victorian novel all about the Lobster Smack Inn and the area around the Island.


Sluice Farm or Beckwith’s Farm had a farmhouse and several thatched barns which were demolished after the second world war, (I remember them as they looked very picturesque) this was an integral part of the Inn as the farm (142 acres, run by four men and one boy) provided most of the provisions needed by the Inn. All the normal farm animals were kept, so that fresh milk, eggs (chicken and duck) as well as pigs which were slaughtered on the farm. My Mother had to be told when a pig was to be slaughtered so she could be elsewhere as she could not stand the noise of the pig squealing. The Inn also made its own butter and cheese as well as home cured hams. The sign on the side of the Inn at present, which states that Sluice farm exists further down the road is not correct, there is nothing left of the farm except some photos that I have included with this history.


My Great Grandfather and Grandfather were also known for supplementing the menus by taking a punt and gun together with a curly haired retriever dog (bred for the marches) and bringing back game. There are records of both of them being great wild life enthusiasts with many recordings of different birds spotted on Canvey, going back to 1882. Fishing also provided a wide choice, eels were very plentiful, and were caught by threading worms onto strands of wool which were hung in bunches in the water. My Mother said the eels became stuck on the wool, but were easily removed and ended up in the frying pan.


One other source of food came from Holland, my Grandmother told me that cheese and other items were brought in by boat, and that there was a concession that allowed the Dutch to do this as part of the repayment for the work they did on the sea walls back in the 1600’s, (the papers which defined this went with the inn).  Coal was also brought in by sea as was oil for the lamps.


The transport for guests who came and stayed at the inn, consisted of a Victoria and Brougham carriages, one was open with a hood and the other closed to keep out wet weather. Guests usually arrived at Benfleet station, and were taken across the causeway tide permitting (the Bridge was not built until the 1930’s) and driven to the Inn. If the tide was in the guests had to take the ferry boat and join the carriage on the island side. Horses were kept on the farm and my Mother learnt to ride as well as sail, my Grandfather also had several boats kept in Hole Haven creek.


Prior to WW2 my Grandfather also told me that the Island often became flooded as the old sea wall did not manage to keep out the spring tides, however, this was normal at that time and allowed for as all the roads had fleet’s or ditches along their sides into which the sea water drained (the remains of the fleet between the inn and the Farm can still be seen albeit dry now) however, many have now been filled in. In old pictures of Canvey houses, one can see small bridges over the ditches leading to the front doors of the houses. So the procedure was to wait for the tide to fall and open the sluices placed in the sea wall to allow the water to run out. The sluice after which the farm was originally named was located in the wall between the Inn and the farm, this has since been filled in but one can see where the fleet ran.


My Grandfather told me that there was no smuggling from the time the family took over the inn, also that the chief customs officer (stationed in the custom house cottages still in existence east of the inn) was there to prevent it. He did have a good laugh as a subsequent landlord uncovered a fireplace that my Grandfather had bricked up many years earlier, and claimed that it was a smugglers hideaway.


During WW1 my Mother remembers seeing the Zeppelins flying up the Thames to bomb London, apparently there was a searchlight and a large guns on Canvey and when they opened up you could feel the vibration and hear the noise all over the Island.


When my grandfather returned home after the war having seen so many of his friends die, he had a different outlook on life, and was much more interested in sport, shooting and fishing, and still had his boats and which he and my grandmother enjoyed sailing. Eventually he negotiated the purchase of Attwells the butchers in the village and ran this until 1947 when he sold the business to Mr H.C.Cook. Some people may still remember visiting the shop and seeing cases of stuffed birds on display, these my Grandfather had shot on the marshes, and which added interest for customers. Some specimens were special and ended up at the Natural History Museum.

His lack of regard for money following his war experiences, and his interest in his fellow beings often brought him into trouble with my Grandmother who really ran the butchers business. He would listen to hard luck stories and let his customers have their meat on account, however, there being no chance of the bill ever being paid.

When they retired my Grandmother said that if all the people who owed them money were to pay their bills they could retire in comfort, but my Grandfather’s view was “live and let live”.


My Mother Lucy Beckwith attended the village school, this being a Church school a great importance was placed on religious knowledge, and each year exams were held and certificates were awarded if you had reached the required standard. Later she played a very active part in the church choir where she was the principal woman chorister. During the week she had a job working for Mr Jack Bone in the village Post Office situated in the bungalow on the corner of Edith Road, Jacks wife was called Edith hence the name. Part of the employment arrangement was that my mother had to have her midday meal there even though she lived just fifty yards away. This was a ploy to reduce the amount of money given to her, the down side was that Jacks wife was not a good cook and if you wanted gravy you were given the water in which the greens were boiled. The Post Office had previously been run by Mr James Wood and there was a period when it was jointly run before Jack Bone became the postmaster.


My grandfather had some land between Edith Road and the Church land, this had fruit trees and vegetable plots which made him almost self sufficient. Old age pensions came in 1947 unfortunately my Grandparents were too old to receive it, (you had to be under the age of 65 at the start) so their old age was funded by their savings, not  many people now would know this now. As before the welfare state if you became destitute it was charity or the workhouse. My Grandfather smoked a pipe but he also grew his own tobacco drying the leaves and folding them up with molasses and other ingredients and pressing them in an old leg vice to make plug tobacco. This he would slice up and put in his pipe, which he said smoked very well. After his death in 1957 (he was still playing cricket three days before he died at almost 82) the land was sold and there now three houses on the site.


My Grandmother Clara Ellen Eliza Beckwith lived on Canvey until 1963 when she went to stay with her eldest daughter Clara who was now widowed in New Eltham, she lived for another three years until the age of 88. She died at Eltham but is buried with my Grandfather and his Father outside the porch of St Katherine’s Church, as are several other members of the Beckwith family. I do remember her saying there were people who were not living on Canvey at the time recounting events with great authority which were unfortunately not correct, so caution should be applied when checking details.


One of my Grandfathers godsons Henry William Vine is buried between Lucy Beckwith, my Great Grandmother and my Great Grandfather. He was born in Gravesend, but came to work at the Lobster Smack when he was about 14 years old but at the age of 44 while seeing some guests onto the London train at Benfleet station he prevented two girls from having a disastrous accident, when he himself was caught by the train and died from his injuries.


He was also a Grand Primo in the Anchor Lodge of The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, and in 1885 was presented with an inscribed jewel, the Lodge met in the Pub of the same name in Benfleet (I still have his jewel).


Also buried is one of my Grandfathers sisters, Ellen who died at the age of seven years.


Lucy Beckwith (ne Cutts) my Great Grandmother came from Vange and had suffered from ill health for some time and died at the early age of 50 years.

Her eldest daughter Alice married and had two daughters and was resident on the outskirts of London.

Their third daughter Edith married a printer book publisher and lived in Ealing with one daughter who died young.

Their fourth daughter, Lucy married a German, had one daughter, and had set up a very successful business with a grocers and delicatessen shop at Hither Green. At the outbreak of war her husband ran back to Germany without a word and was not heard of again, but she did tell my Grandfather that if he ever met up with him in France he was to shoot him.

Lizzie, the youngest daughter married a Scotsman and lived in Scotland.


My first link with Canvey was in February 1938 when I was christened in St Katherine’s church (I still have the certificate). Later during the war we visited my grandparents at their house, the highest on the Island, which had the butchers shop attached. During the floods of 1953 my Grandmother assisted the troops drafted in to rescue the inhabitants by handing out their food rations, it being one of the few dry places on the island.


During the war we moved from Leigh on Sea because my Fathers job at the LMS railway headquarters had taken him to Watford in Hertfordshire to avoid the bombing. It was a great struggle to visit Canvey for my Mother with two small children crossing London to Fenchurch Street Station, however, I remember seeing from the train the ruined houses of Stepney and the east end of London having been badly bombed.


I also remember visiting some friends of my Mothers, living in wooden bungalows on the island but they had no running water so one had to go to a standpipe for that. However, the strongest memory was the thunder box at the end of the garden, and if it was due to be emptied it was not a nice experience.


When I visited the Inn with my Mother after WW2, she was very disappointed as apparently the Inn had been changed out of all recognition and did not resemble any of the old features except the front of the main building. The whole rear as it had been was no longer and the small internal rooms had gone, My last visit revealed that the whole upstairs had now been gutted with the bedroom where my mother was born is now no longer there (all bedrooms originally had four poster beds), but the Inn still stands and is a link with the past.


To view the photos, please click on the photo link at at the start of the article.


James Alan Blackwood                                          

Kings Langley

pegasushunter@aol.com


© All rights retained J.A.Blackwood 2009                                Revised July 2012

The Beckwith’s

 

Introduction

 

This family record has been compiled by James Alan Blackwood the grandson of Charles Beckwith jun. and is not to be reproduced in whole or part without his permission. There are now several articles on the Beckwith family all of them have errors, the people who wrote them did not have all the facts and accepted incorrect records as fact, the details quoted here are the correct ones.