Canvey Island Floods in 1953
Interview with Mrs Peggy Champion, recorded in 1978, in which she remembers her experiences during the floods which engulfed Canvey Island and other parts of Essex and the eastern coast of Britain on the night of 31 January 1953 (SA 6/306/1).
In this recording – which lasts only 7 minutes – Mrs Champion (who, at the time of the floods was Mrs Peggy Morgan) tells the story calmly and without hyperbole of how she woke in the night to find sea water in the bedroom of her home on Canvey Island and how, during the course of that night, she witnessed the deaths of her husband, her mother-in-law, and her five-year-old son. She goes on to describe her time recovering in hospital in Rochford, and being treated as a local celebrity, meeting the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and [Winston] Churchill.
It has been said that listening to an oral history interview is the closest one can come to time travel since it involves real people from the past talking about real events as they were genuinely experienced, and the emotional impact of this one recording can perhaps tell us more about the experience of natural disaster than any number of statistics or written reports. Hearing this recording may have been one of the things which spurred Patricia Rennoldson Smith to gather testimony from other survivors of the 1953 floods for her book The 1953 Essex Flood Disaster: The People’s Story. It is a striking example of why it is so important that sound and video recordings are preserved and made available alongside the other records held in the Essex Record Office.