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Escaping the Flood

Linda Hurdwell from Ascot, Berkshire remembers:

Linda’s nan back home in Canvey after her house had dried out.

It was late winter in 1953 when my Nan, Grandad and Uncle came to stay with us in Ilford for quite a few months. This was because they lived on Canvey Island, Essex and that weekend there were terrible floods covering so much of the land.

My grandparents lived there having moved from Barkingside not that long before and had a smallholding. All that was lost, and all the animals including geese, chicken, rabbits and a goat were drowned. I don’t remember how they arrived in Ilford but thankfully they did.

I was excited and glad they were going to be living with us. Mum had a part time job in grocery store nearby, so it was nice having my nanny there to talk to and my uncle who was only three years older than me to play with. Mum would say he teased me constantly, but I can’t remember that. It just seemed a glorious spring and summer.

Mum and Nan had quite a turbulent relationship, no doubt too many women in one kitchen. I never cared, thinking how good it was to have a full house. Nan never worked but she did paint little lead soldiers and if she made a mistake, we children had the tiny toys to play with. In those days, Nanny more or less chain smoked and we would affectionately call her Fag Ash Lil.

Grandad was a printer in Fleet Street, so living with us for a while made his work even nearer.  He seemed to work mostly a night shift so I don’t remember him being around that much.

My Daddy was a tally man and our house would be full of women’s clothes and shoes which he would attempt to sell door to door to hard-up wives. I often spent the day dressing up in hats and shoes. He wasn’t a very good salesman, and usually the items would be in our home for ages.

Soon it was almost June when the new Queen had her coronation. Where I lived there was a street party with fancy dress for the children. Nan, being very adaptable said she would sew me a lovely costume. This was exciting. Nanny suggested a woolly dog outfit but Mum said a hula girl would be more appropriate. Sadly Mum won the argument and I was dressed in a straw hula skirt and thin top. That day the weather was almost as cold and grey as a winter day and so I joined the other children, shivering and feeling depressed, wishing so much that I had been a warm woolly dog instead. Needless to say I never won; there were quite a few hula girls and I was a very shy girl who hated parading around wearing this skimpy costume. I can’t remember if my Uncle dressed in fancy dress.

I remember watching the Coronation on our little television. As we were the only family with a television in our street, quite a few neighbours came in to view this great day.

My Nan often turned her hand to sewing clothes. For a short while I started a drama group, (being only six years old it never came to much) but Nan diligently made pink trousers and other garments for us as to wear. I was to be the soldier in the song, Soldier. Soldier Will You Marry Me? We never did our drama of sagas and stories, but it was fun dreaming about it. I think Nan enjoyed the dream as much as I did. When she was older, she entertained the elderly by singing and dancing, and my mum in later life followed suit.

All too soon my grandparents’ house had dried out and, after some renovations, they returned to Canvey Island. They used to have only an outside toilet which I found terrifying because in the night time I always imagined the creepy crawlies would be waiting to land on me. But with the new renovations, a bathroom was installed inside the house. It was near to the sea so we often visited and would sit on the rocky beach with a picnic and have a chilly paddle in the Thames Estuary. A great wall was built after the floods which changed the look of the place a lot.

In time we moved to Slough and then Winkfield, and my grandparents to York to be near their youngest son who had married a Yorkshire lass and moved to be near her family. By this time my Nanny had stopped smoking, but she lived to the grand old age of 103, so obviously it hadn’t done her too much harm.

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