Route to Canvey from Benfleet changed in 1828

A change which ultimately destroyed Benfleet High Street

The ancient route to Canvey Island in 1777
Phil Coley
The new route to Canvey Island via Benfleet High Street as shown in 1867
Phil Coley
An artist's depiction of animals being driven up Benfleet High Street

In 1828 the first major change for centuries took place in the Benfleet Road layout. The way to Canvey Island had always been to go down School Lane and over the Downs to the Causeway. This was largely level but did have a steep drop as it reached the creek. (It is still possible to go this way but care has to be taken in crossing the railway line.)

The local business men and parish authorities decided that this was not good enough. We can presume that the reasons may have been the steep climb for taking cattle and sheep off the island, the long way around from the wharves to deliver material to Canvey and the fact that two of Benfleet’s pubs were missed by people coming off the island. Whatever the reasons  a petition was made to Special Sessions held in Sessions Room, ‘Crown’, Billericay to change the route.

The detail was to change the route from:

Highway (part) in South Benfleet from south-west corner of the Anchor Inn, south-east along village street to north-east corner of orchard of Henry Wood of Hadleigh, gentleman, in occupation of William Emberam Benton, along east side of it through lands of William Lockwood, Daniel Nash gentleman and Wood, to south-east corner of Dodds Field, alias Wharf Field of Nash, south-east across the Downs of Nash to South Benfleet Creek at a ford to Canvey Island.[533′ x 18′] 

This was a length of 533 feet (162.5 m) and the width of the road was 18 feet (5.5 m).

The new route was described as: 

Highway from said corner of Inn west along said street to north-west corner of stable of William Sopwith, in occupation of William Pratt, turning south along highway in front of the Creek to north-east corner of wharf of Wood, in occupation of Benton, behind it and another wharf of Jonathan Wood of Prittlewell, in occupation of Benton, to gate at end of said highway forming entrance to wharf yard of Henry Wood, then along north-east side of said yard, along south-west side of Dodds Field alias Wharf Field through the Downs to said spot on the Creek. [840′ x 25′]

This was a length of 840 feet (256 m) and the width of the road was 25 feet (7.6 m). The road was longer but less steep as well as being wider. The petition to the court was successful.

This change, which was sensible at the time, led in the 20th century to many alterations in Benfleet High Street to accommodate more traffic to Canvey resulting in a large number of the buildings being demolished.

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