Ted Heaney

The Birdman of Benfleet

I do not think that I ever came across Ted, as I feel certain I would remember him. He lived in Benfleet up until 2002 and spent most of his time living on a houseboat in the creek.  He died in a Royal Seafarers Society home in Banstead, Surrey in the same year.

However, mention his name to Benfleet folk who have been around a while and you get a mixed reaction, ranging from “a pain in the neck” to “a real gentleman”  I think most people would regard someone, who frequented the Clock Cafe wearing a pith helmet with an ovaltine tin bolted to the top, as an eccentric at the very least.

Everyone who knew him seemed to have different memories…from serenading the commuters on the London-bound station platform from his boat on the creek, to flying enormous kites on the Downs.

His kites were so large that on occasion he would seek permission to lay them out for repair etc in the Methodist church.  He was in the habit of dressing blow-up rubber dolls in underwear and hanging them from his kites. For certain he was not afraid to offend sensibilities!

If you search the internet you will come across a series of photos showing him participating in parascending exploits on Canvey with the Sandivers Club. Another story is that he was arrested attempting to swim naked out to a royal boat passing up the Thames.

He was wealthy…he was poor…He certainly did not give the impression of being monied, yet he was one of the houseboat owners who paid their rates bill promptly. He was a war hero and received a medal is another belief, which I have yet to substantiate.

His houseboat eventually gave up the ghost, not helped by vandalism, and he was persuaded to move to a flat in Merrivale.    He was clearly a character, even if he was not everyone’s cup of tea.

His musical talent and his”Perfect Gent” label are endorsed in the sound recording of Rita Archer’s memories of Ted…some of which pre-date his arrival in Benfleet.

I would dearly like to get a fuller picture of the man, so if you can add to or confirm what’s already written, please add a comment below.

Ted in relaxed mode
Don Liddard
Meeting of the Sandivers Club at the Anchor. Ted is on the far right
Don Liddard
Ted parascending on Canvey
Don Liddard
A definite lack of interest from the local inhabitants !
Don Liddard
Ted's boat Oct 1997
Don Liddard
Ted looking decidedly older
© Echo Newspapers
Ted and the re-modelling of the waterfront
© Echo Newspapers
Hi, Just thought you might like a photo of my nan's Uncle Ted in his younger days. Kind regards Nicola Lacey
Nicola Lacey
Rita Archer's memories of Ted Heaney
Rita Archer describes her memories of Ted Heaney. - Her first memory of him is in 1940, with the Blitz in full swing in London, and Ted lodged with her aunt in the East End. - Her next memory of him was in 1949 when her father was building the San Souci and Ted sailed into the creek in a sailing boat. His wife fell into the water when trying to board it. Rita's father said that Ted had had a public school education. Ted used to leap into the creek with his top hat on and his Pekinese dog under his arm. - Rita remembers going to see a bungalow he was building in Lambourne End she recalls a grand piano which Ted "played beautifully". - Ted spent Christmas with her family in 1959, but she never saw him again after 1965. She describes him as "always a character and a perfect gent". 2 mins 10 secs.

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  • The boat Ted had in the creek was called PAXL my husband and I bought it off him and as there was a bridge built in front of it thus making it impossible to move down the creek we had to hire a very large crane to hoist her out onto the trailer
    Once renovated many happy days were spent sailing her

    By Kim (10/02/2023)
  • Miss you uncle Ted. Fond memories forever I’m my heart. R.I.P. 💋

    By Janice Vinton (30/12/2022)
  • I used to spend a lot of time chatting to Ted. He lived in a garage by the sea scout hut at Benfleet Creek after his boat sank. His source of electricity was a line coming from the ‘sub station’ by the bridge going direct into his garage. I remember visiting him with my pastor, one Christmas day. We found him extremely unwell and took him to hospital where he was admitted. After spending some time in hospital he was taken to a nursing home in Southend until he fully recovered. The council did then try to house him in a flat in Benfleet, but after a short time he went back to his garage, preferring life by the creek. He told me many stories about his life. He demonstrated his musical ability when he played the Piano at an Oasis Church coffee morning. He certainly claimed to be wealthy and was never short of money. It would not surprise me if there are still some untraced bank accounts around holding his money. Certainly one of Benfleets greatest characters.

    By Paul Roberton (07/01/2022)
  • Hey! I knew Ted! As a child I went to Oasis church and he would frequently pop by. He was a friendly old man, always wanted to make us laugh. I remember often being at meetings and he would pop his head up at the window (behind the Pastor) wearing a comical disguise. When the pastor would turn around he would duck down again but Ron knew he was there as we would all be giggling. It kept us entertained!
    He would give us sweets and drinks as gifts (obv through my parents as he didn’t want to overload us with sugar without their consent) and we would be respectful and accept his kind gesture but it always stunk of garlic. I was always told by my dad it was because he would eat raw garlic.
    I have lots of fond memories of Ted as I was growing up. He was a strange but very friendly man who loved the simple life. Always used to spot him sunbathing on the Oasis lawn. This was all in the 90s that we knew him

    By Hannah (17/01/2021)
  • I can concur with Constable Voss. On one occasion talking with Ted Heaney, we spoke of boats and boating. Most knew that he lived on his boat in Benfleet Creek opposite the railway station, but he also told me that he owned a rather splendid yacht that was up on the mud on the Canvey side of the creek. The hull of the yacht was constructed of teak on oak and had silvery grey appearance.
    Such a great gentle man of Benfleet. Tremendously upset when the local authority (apparently) forced the removal of the boat residences.

    By John Wimbleton (14/12/2019)
  • We were good friends.

    By Clive Pepper (19/05/2014)
  • Ted Heaney was my nan’s uncle, he was a great character 😉 I always remember him eating raw garlic cloves and that he always took our tin cans as he said he was going to build a raft to live on haha.  Great memories x

    By Nicola Lacey (26/11/2013)
  • Ooh I remember my uncle Ted soo well…what a laugh he used to bring to us all…and I do remember him flying the naked blow up doll over Benfleet. He was truly one in a million don’t think anyone would have another uncle Ted. xxx

    By Janice Harrison (13/10/2013)
  • I knew Ted, when I was about 18, he had a canoe that he let my brother and I use. I remember him saying you have over 2 hours tide lads enjoy. He was a real character, I have fond memories of Benfleet creek, as my mum and dad lived on a house boat after the war.

    By Ieon King (25/08/2013)
  • Ted Heaney was my great uncle and reading the articles about him brought back many memories of my younger days spent in his company. He was also a keen motorcyclist and trained opera singer. Sadly, the last time I met him by the Creek he did not know who I was and it was clear he was probabably in the early stages of dementure. True, he was not liked by everyone but still a real character.

    By Keith Vinton (15/07/2012)
  • I was a police officer at Benfleet between 1980 and 1983. One Sunday afternoon I was on front office duties. On this particular Sunday I took a call from a very nervous sounding Irish lady who told me that there was someone flying a hang glider over Benfleet Downs by Benfleet Creek and that the pilot appeared to be stuck. He had, she reported, been in the same place for over half an hour as she watched from her window. 

    I called one of our cars on the local radio and despatched them to investigate. The mystery of the stuck hang-glider pilot was soon solved. The hang-glider was merely a very large kite and its pilot was a life sized blow up woman dressed in a red tracksuit. The kite was being flown by Ted Heaney from the deck of his houseboat.

    I used to sit in Ted’s houseboat and drink tea. The tea was always welcome but it often tasted of paraffin from the fumes from Ted’s heaters. Pete

    By Peter Voss (17/01/2012)

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