At the time of writing it is 60 years since the Great Storm of 1953, which happened on 31 January-1 February 1953. Some years ago, because of my interest in the science around the global rise in sea levels, I first heard about this storm, in which sustained winds of over a hundred miles an hour combined with high tides to produce a powerful sea surge in the North Sea. Breached sea defences led to severe flooding that affected many coastal areas: in the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Belgium, with the most extensive loss of life being in Zeeland. Nearly a tenth of Dutch farmland was flooded, and close to two thousand fatalities were recorded in the Netherlands.
But the area I wanted to write about was in Essex. Like a microcosm of Zeeland, Canvey Island is on marginal land that is partially below sea level (hence place names like the Sunken Marsh, or Newlands). Having grown up in Dublin, I didn’t actually know a whole lot about Canvey Island. But, with help from local residents, Canvey local library, Canvey Community Archive and the newspaper archive at the British Library, I found out. I even went to Canvey and talked with people who remembered the floods… It took a bit of time, but it was an absorbing journey. The events of that night were pretty horrifying for Canvey residents: over 50 people were to lose their lives.
In earlier centuries settlers from Holland reclaimed the Canvey wetlands, building walls or ‘dykes’ to keep out the salt water. On that day in 1953, the sea walls failed. There were no flood warning systems, and relatively few people even had a telephone. That morning, in the Orkneys, the storm had caused severe damage, but as it moved south the news did not pass on in time to warn those in its path. The sea surged through coastal defences with fatal strength. In one night, many lives were lost along the low-lying English south east coast with over 300 storm-related deaths recorded across the UK.
This last week in January 2013, as Canvey residents pause to reflect on those difficult times six decades ago and remember those who lost their lives, Dancing on Canvey has been made available as a single story at no cost via Amazon. To download a copy for the kindle, visit Amazon