The Princess Royal visits Essex to commemorate the 1953 Great Flood disaster

Princess Royal meeting guests at the reception

Princess Royal meeting guests at the reception - Credit: Nick Strugnell

HER Royal Highness The Princess Royal visited Essex today (Thursday January 31), to attend a special service at Chelmsford Cathedral.

Princess Royal meeting Nellie Verton of the Watersnood Museum in the Netherlands

Princess Royal meeting Nellie Verton of the Watersnood Museum in the Netherlands - Credit: Nick Strugnell

The visit marked the 60th anniversary of the Great Flood and was arranged to commemorate the many lives that were tragically lost in Essex and further afield.

Princess Royal saying goodbye to ECC Leader Cllr Peter Martin and ECC Canvey Island West Cllr Ray Ho

Princess Royal saying goodbye to ECC Leader Cllr Peter Martin and ECC Canvey Island West Cllr Ray Howard as she takes her leave from the reception - Credit: Nick Strugnell

Essex County Council chairman Cllr Kay Twitchen and leader Cllr Peter Martin warmly welcomed The Princess Royal and the Lord Lieutenant of Essex Lord Petre. Guests from abroad in attendance included Nellie Verton of the Watersnood Museum in the Netherlands, Marjeriet Leenhuis, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and invited guests from the community in Essex.

The private service brought together dignitaries and representatives from across south Essex, including survivors of the floods, to reflect on the tragedy which disrupted and destroyed so many lives.

Cllr Twitchen said: “We have been very pleased to welcome the Princess Royal to Essex for this occasion. Her presence is recognition of how important this day is for our county and how important it will be for many residents to commemorate the tragic events which unfolded 60 years ago.”

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Cllr Martin said: “It is an honour to know that a member of the Royal Family was able to join us for this very special service.

“The flood disaster of 1953 was a tragic and terrible point in Essex’s history, but it nonetheless is a tremendously important event that we should remember. Hundreds of lives were lost, families were torn apart and thousands of homes were destroyed.

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“I hope everyone in Essex takes time to remember this day in our history.”

The service included a reading by The Princess Royal, an address by Essex councillor for Canvey Island West, Ray Howard, of his memories as a Canvey flood survivor, a drama performance by the Cast and Crew Flood! Workshop, and a prayer reading by Cllr Martin.

On the evening of January 31, 1953 England was struck by some of the worst flooding from the North Sea in recent history which caused devastation to the east coast including many of south Essex’s coastal towns. MPs in Essex were released from Westminster to support their communities.

The worst hit area was Canvey Island while Jaywick, near Clacton, and Harwich also suffered very badly. A total 100,000 hectares of east England were flooded.

Damage stretched to Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, and the outer Thames Estuary, as well as further afield in The Netherlands and Belgium.

In total 307 British people died, 24,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and more than 30,000 people were evacuated. A further 1,800 people died in The Netherlands and 23 in Belgium.

The Very Revd Peter Judd, Dean of Chelmsford, said: “The cathedral has been honoured to welcome The Princess Royal to the service to mark the 60th anniversary of The Great Flood.

“We were pleased to host this service, and to welcome leaders of the community, and those affected by these tragic events. Memory matters to us, and we hope that this service has both remembered the struggles and tragedies of those events, and helped in the healing process.”

The service was followed by a reception where The Princess Royal was introduced to special groups and guests from the community connected to the Great Flood. They included survivors, people involved in the relief effort, representatives of voluntary groups, flood agencies, public services and Armed Forces, the Cast and Crew Flood! Workshop, landowners and heritage and museum representatives.

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