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9th February 2011

The Houseboats Of Old Leigh (Guest Blog)

Two girls on a houseboat at Old Leigh

The Life And Times Of The House Boats Of  Leigh On Sea
1920 -1950
By Carol Edwards

As a freelance writer of articles and the occasional interview for the local paper. I never expected to join the growing number of authors, writing about their local area . But sometimes tucked away or airbrushed from history, there is on occasion, a story waiting to be told. Such was the case with the houseboats of Leigh On Sea (near the old fishing village) which in time grew to some 200 vessels moored along
the sea wall.

A London barge turned into a house boat at old Leigh

Comet, Albert Lawson's houseboat, an old London barge turned into a large family home.

The Community Takes Root
They began appearing around 1920, many of the houseboats occupied by poor families, where fathers following the 1st World war, had been unable to find regular work after being demobbed. Affordable accommodation was also in short supply. Although in and around Southend on sea at this time, large estates were being constructed, but cost placed them far out of the reach of many….

Memories Revived Of Life In The Houseboat Community
The opportunity to write this book, came to me purely by chance, when I was working in the Heritage centre at Leigh. A man came in to enquire if we had any books on houseboats. His interest lay in the fact that his mother had lived on one in the area, as a child. I admit to be totally perplexed, as having lived in Southend most of my life, could not recall the houseboats, or having read about them in the local paper or history books.

A  cafe and sweet shop run on a house boat at Old Leigh.

Alfred and Lylie Palmer who had a small café and sweet shop on their houseboat the St Kilda.

The writer in me saw an opportunity to interview his mother and hopefully sellthe story to a magazine or newspaper. Having agreed to meet me, I went along at the arranged time, still fully intending to write up nothing more than an article. We talked for an hour or more about her early life. I learned how all the children went to the local school. The milkman delivered twice a day and the postman came at 8am, 11 am and 4pm. I realised there was more to this story and headed off to the local library.

A Hard Fought Battle And Final Eviction
My first point of reference were council minutes. Here I discovered, that the houseboats dwellers were decidedly unwelcome and the Corporation of the day were intent on ridding themselves, of what they saw as a public nuisance. Unfortunately when the tide was out, the mud on which the boats rested belonged to The Salvation Army at Hadleigh. The Corporation insisted they evict the families, even though they had nowhere to go at the time. A
long and acrimonious battle commenced. Eviction of the remaining houseboats
when it came, was not until 1950……The Life and Times Of The House Boats Of Leigh On Sea

My book details the struggle between the houseboats owners and the corporation. Interviews with other families , who lived along the creek. And how some turned once derelict wrecks, into comfortable living accommodation……

Email Carol to buy her book for £6.25 including P&P within the UK.
If you are outside the UK enquire for postage costs.

House boat communities still exist in Essex today on Mersea Island and under overanging trees along a woodland path at Pin Mill on the banks of the River Orwell. SchoonerSail sails past Pin Mill on two weekend sailing holidays in April and May this year.

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