The only way is Essex – Canvey Island

13/04/2011

As seafronts go, Canvey Island is somewhat unusual in that you can’t actually see the sea. There are 14 miles of high sea walls around the island in Essex, following one of the biggest UK disasters when a North Sea flood killed 58 people in 1953.

Canvey Island’s seafront was built in the 1930s and still retains much of the charm that made it the fastest growing seaside holiday destination in the 1950s. It is somewhat faded these days and like a pretty face with a missing tooth, there is a hoarding up where luxury flats will be built on the front and where amusement arcades used to be.

Sue at Sue’s café is not impressed, “We all think it’s a shame that they didn’t keep amusements or attractions in that area,” she says. “But there were arcades there and the site stood empty for a long time, so they had to do something.”

The remaining arcades include Las Vegas, Parkins Palladium, Carousel and Fantasy/Casino, which is next to the fairground. Fantasy was doing brisk business on a sunny Monday afternoon in the Easter Holidays. Outside there is a lovely mix of new and older kiddie rides, most nicely priced at 20p. Unfortunately, the famous Casino Horses are no more, since an old lady lost control of her car last year and mounted the pavement, smashing them to bits.

The Casino Horses were a grey and chestnut prancing pair of kiddie ride horses that enchanted smaller visitors to Canvey Island for around 60 years. A local website has a page dedicated to people’s memories and photos of them.

Inside the arcade there were two friendly staff members and steps by many of the 2p pushers, which was great for those with small children like myself. There was a good mix of oldish video product which was again well priced at 30p a go. Kids and their families were milling around. I saw a SAM baby air hockey and had a go with my three-year-old. He loved it even if he didn’t know who had won the point and cheered for me as well as for himself.

We stayed in the arcade for quite a while, playing on the redemption pieces, some of which were not really working that well and others that strangely didn’t pay out tickets (crocodile whacker). My only other complaint was a little old red truck kiddie ride outside that swallowed our money and didn’t work. When I went to complain the guy inside said he was too busy to talk to us.

At Parkins Palladium the atmosphere seemed to be for an older crowd. There were more AWPs and the young guy in the change booth had his feet up on his desk and was leant back in his chair chatting on his phone. The place was empty and the décor looked very tired. We looked around for something suitable for a three-year-old to play and found an old Derby racing machine that took 2p pieces. I think my son could have played it for the rest of the afternoon but luckily we ran out of change.

Other arcades like the Carousel were not open but there was a Bentley parked outside bearing the legendary registration plate “Da Boy” so I figured perhaps the owner wasn’t too far away? Over the road the Monico bar still bore the traces of its fifties heritage but looked a bit on the rough side. We went inside, and it was busy with people playing pool and the strangest wooden cage with a £500 jackpot machine in it marked 18s and over only.

On the plus side, I would say that Canvey Island has bags of charm and could really be restored to some of its retro beauty. The Fantasy fairground looks fabulous for kids and although it wasn’t open, I would go back. The Fantasy arcade is a kid’s paradise but please do something about the décor – particularly the ceiling, it looks dirty and unsafe.

I will get on my hobby horse again and say, if only some proper investment could be given to the seafront – I know they put toilets in recently but these were locked, probably for good reason. Will the flats bring anything to the area? I doubt it. What they need are more family attractions. And some paint to brighten up some of the buildings. Call me notstalgic but I would like to see a whiff of the heyday of Canvey island restored – Punch and Judy on the beach and more retro amusements and machines.

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james are you doing anything on your birthday tomorrow ?

STEWART Doyle
a friend
19/11/2016, 18:18

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