Walton Talks

Walton Talks: 1953 North Sea Floods

Remembering the 1953 North Sea Floods
Recorded at Walton and Frinton Yacht Club, January 2023.
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Julie Lewarne 
Jean Halls
Mike Chaplin
Harry Francis
Mick Pratt

Jean Halls
I was 16 and I worked in Clacton, and I’d come home on the last bus. I lived in Churchfield Road, walking down Churchfield Road I could see water coming up. So, I got home and woke my parents up and we had to move upstairs and get as much furniture up as we could as it was going upstairs, it was very bad.
It was about half eleven. It was coming from from Titchmarsh’s, coming up there from the backwaters. We lived on the back and it was going into the houses and for years afterwards you could always smell salt water.

My husband was in the lifeboat crew then, and he always said that people now would never believe it, him and Jonas Oxley the coxswain took a rowing boat up to the church, launched it, rowed down Kirby Road, and took the people, Mr and Mrs Thornley that lived at a bungalow on Kirby Road, Bridge Cottage, by the carpark, they were sitting on the table and they took them out the window and rowed them up to the church. You just couldn’t believe it, no one would ever believe it.

Julie Lewarne
My great aunt, lived just near Bridge Cottage, and Chris Keeble’s parents lived there, and the guy from Sound and Vision, his parents lived there in a little cottage. My great aunt lived in a cottage called Tower View, because she could see the Martello tower, she was evacuated.  But I was 11 and we were living in Walton Road, so we were well out of it. She had just had an operation on her feet, so she was unable to walk, so she was rescued, possibly by Derek and Jonas and they bought her up to our house on Walton Road, where she stayed for weeks, possibly months. It became almost like an adventure for us, we children. She was obviously distressed. But going back to her little cottage, which wasn’t sound, it was so damp, but she insisted on going back and lighting the fire, and it absolutely stank, it was horrible, that’s all I remember the smell. I was at Clacton County High. There were stories about Walton, but no one believed us, there were only a few of us from Walton there.

Eleanor Brown
What did everyone do? How did you know what was going on? Did you turn on the news? 

Julie Lewarne
There was an instant grapevine. People coming out onto the road. My father Bob Oxley, had to go back to work in the High Street, and there was water there that had come up through Mill Lane. It was horrendous.

Jean Halls
My family, Halls, had the boat yard, and of course that was absolutely flooded, it was terrible. Of course, after that they put the flood gates.

Eleanor Brown
Were boats destroyed?

Jean Halls
Oh, yes, a hell of a lot.

Peter Lawes
Were there house boats at the time down there?

Mike Chaplin
Yes, Well, they survived there up until the 60s.

Eleanor Brown
How long did it take for the waters to go down?

Jean Halls
I don’t know really, it must have taken some time I would have thought.

Julie Lewarne
And the sludge and the muck, the sewage, it was horrible.

Peter Lawes
You didn’t move out? You had to carry on living in your house in Churchfield Road?

Jean Halls
No, we didn’t move out, we just had to gradually clear everything up. All the walls had to be redone. All the carpets had to go. It was awful.

Peter Lawes
How high did the water get in the house?

Jean Halls
I would have said, a quarter way up the stairs.

Peter Lawes
And I would have thought if you were awake in the night watching it, you would have been pretty worried.

Julie Lewarne
It was very dark. You didn’t have lots of light or coal. There was no central heating. (Laughs)

Mike Pratt
Any electrics would have gone with the flooding.

Julie Lewarne
Today there would have been more publicity. I don’t even know if there was a local amenity fund.

Jean Halls
I think there was something. I remember my parents saying they did get some help.

Harry Francis
There were several things going on. The Lord Mayor of London started a fundraiser, and there were people sending stuff over from abroad. I remember my dad receiving carpets from abroad.

Jean Halls
70 years ago, crikey! What did Trevor (Halls) say?

Mike Pratt
More or less the same thing, that he rowed down from Kirby.

Jean Halls
They would have known mostly in those days where everybody was.

Mike Chaplin
It was a small town, and everybody knew everyone

Jean Halls
I think most of the lifeboat crew went out helping people.

Mill Lane. Image from Putnams Archive. Taken on 1st February 1953.
Read more about the Floods in Walton on Pete Frost's Walton Tales

Mike Chaplin
I was in Thorpe at the time. We didn’t know much about it in the morning. I was in the Thorpe Church choir and went along to a service at 11 o’clock and when we were changing into our choir robes, one or two of the boys said ‘have you heard about the bad floods? So, we said after the service we would go down Landemere Road, leading to Landemere, and when we got to the end of the road we couldn’t believe our eyes, because all the land that was fields, was a big, big lake, and we could not believe it. That sight has always remained with me. I went home to tell my dad what we had seen and he said ‘right boy, we’ll go down to Jaywick and see what we find down there. I remember going down the Jaywick Lane and that picture emerged, everything was underwater up to the end of Golf Green Road. Those images have always remained with me. The national news began talking about where things were worse.

Harry Francis
Canvey Island got all the coverage in the papers, a lot of people drowned in Canvey, but if you look at the percentages, a higher proportion of people drowned in Jaywick.

Listen to Harry Francis (Sonny's) story of surviving the flood at Jaywick.

Peter Lawes
Jean, were all the families around you in Churchfield Road affected? And where else in Walton was?

Jean Halls
Yes, and Stanley Road and Canada Cottages.

Mike Chaplin
And the school was surround by the floods. Essex County Council, after it happened said, they were going to have to rebuild the school, so that it wouldn’t happen again, and they had plans to rebuild it – but those plans never came off. Fortunately, the sea walls were built up to help protect it more, but they never rebuilt Walton Primary school. It is still on a flood plain.

Julie Lewarne
Were the children moved up to the High Street?

Mick Pratt
Yes, we went to the library, that’s where I went to school. I can remember being up there for some time. I was in the junior school at the time.

Mike Chaplin
And the secondary school was relocated and spread around to other schools.

East Essex Gazette, February 6, 1953. From Harry Francis's collection.

Diary entry of farmer John Eagle on 31st January, 1953. 

 

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Walton Talks is a local YouTube channel. We are aiming to record and publish Walton folk talking about their lives. If you have a story to share, or you would like to be involved with the recordings, get in touch. Watch more Walton Talks on YouTube

 

 

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