VISIT SOUTHEND'S HISTORY HOTSPOTS

You'll be surprised at Southend's rich and diverse history, with many fascinating history hotspots around the town which show how past residents used to live.

Originally the "south end" of the village of Prittlewell, Southend was originally home to a few poor fisherman huts and farms that lay at the southern extremity of Prittlewell Priory land. In the 1790s landowner Daniel Scratton sold off land either side of what was to become the High Street, and the Grand Hotel (now Royal Hotel) and Grove Terrace (now Royal Terrace) were completed by 1794, and stagecoaches from London made it accessible.

Due to the bad transportation links between Southend and London, there was not rapid development during the Georgian Era like Brighton. It was the coming of the railways in the 19th Century and the visit of Princess Caroline that Southend's status of a Seaside resort grew.

During the 19th century Southend's pier was first constructed and the Clifftown development built, attracting many tourists in the summer months to its seven miles of beaches and bathing in the sea. Good rail connections and proximity to London mean that much of the economy has been based on tourism, and that Southend has been a dormitory town for city workers ever since

 

SOUTHEND PIER

Southend Pier is the town's historical icon as well as being the longest pleasure Pier in the world. It stretches for 1.34 miles, putting Southend on the map as well as into the record books.

Since it was built in 1830 the Pier has seen both good and troubled times. With its many changes it has evolved to meet the trends of the passing decades of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is a true survivor, having lived through fires, boat crashes, two world wars and economic decline as well as braving the elements of Mother Nature in beating off the effects of the weather and the waves.

The present iron Pier was first opened in 1889 but only extended as far as what is now known as the Old Pier Head. The first extension was built to accommodate the increased number of steamboats visiting the Pier. This was opened in 1898 and is known as the New Pier Head. An upper deck was added and opened in 1908 and further extensions to this area were completed in 1927. The final addition to the length was opened in 1929. The Prince George Extension brought the length to 2360 yards (2158 metres) or 1.34 miles, making Southend Pier the longest pleasure Pier in the world.

The electric tramway was installed by Cromptons and opened in 1890. It had one car of the toast rack type which operated on 0.75 miles of single track. By the following year the track had been extended to the full 1.25 miles and two further cars were added. More cars were added until four trains were operated with seven cars in each.

In 1949 the rolling stock was replaced with four new trains similar in design to the London Underground stock. In 1978 the electric railway stopped operating due to the wear and tear of the track and the high cost of repairs.

Between 1984 and 1986 the Pier was repaired and a new track laid. Two new trains began running again in 1986 on a single track with a passing loop. Each train has a diesel-hydraulic locomotive at the southern end, five trailer coaches at the northern end and a driver control unit with passenger space.

For further information on this iconic landmark please see the Southend Pier museum website.

PRITTLEWELL PRIORY

Prittlewell Priory was founded by the Cluniac Order in the early 12th century as a cell to the Priory of St Pancras at Lewes, Sussex.

It was one of the lesser monasteries housing not more than 18 monks. In 1536 much of the building was destroyed and what remained was much altered during the 18th Century. Alterations were made again in the early 20th Century, when the Refectory was restored and partly rebuilt. A number of original features do survive, including a 12th Century doorway with chevron and dog tooth ornamentation.

After the Dissolution the Priory was a private residence and it was granted to Lord Chancellor Audley, who conveyed it to Robert, son of Lord Rich. It afterwards passed with the manor to various families. The last family to live there, the 19th Century Scrattons, are explored in an exhibition inside the house. In 1917 the building was purchased by Robert Jones, and in May 1922 it opened as Southend's first museum.

In 2011 works began on refurbishing the existing buildings and the construction of a new Visitor Centre. The £2 million works were in part funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Cory Environmental Trust in Southend and were undertaken by The Facility Architects and Ibex Interiors. Works were completed in the summer of 2012 and the Priory re-opened in the June of that year. The new Visitor Centre, adjacent to the Priory, opened in February 2013.

SOUTHCHURCH HALL AND GARDENS

Southchurch Hall is Grade I Listed Medieval moated house located in Southchurch. The Hall was home to farming families until the 1920s.

The current hall was built c.1321 – 1364, and has a Tudor and a 1930s extension. The Great Hall is still presented in its 14th Century form. At this time, the Great Hall would have had a central fireplace and original smoke-blackened timbers can still be seen in the roof (although much of the roof was replaced in the 1930s restoration). At the end of the Great Hall is the cross-wing, housing the North and South Solars. These rooms reflect changing fashions for more intimate rooms; the South Solar is a late 16th or early 17th Century extension.

The hall probably stands on the site of a much earlier Saxon hall. The land on which it stands was given to the monks of Canterbury in 823AD and the tenants of the hall subsequently inherited the family name "de Southchurch". This custom survived until the death of Peter de Southchurch in 1309.

THE CLIFF LIFT

The Southend Cliff Lift, is a funicular railway, constructed in 1912. The lift operated for the first time on Bank Holiday Monday, in August of that year.

The line is owned and operated by the Museums Service of Southend Borough Council, and has the following technical parameters:

  • Length: 130 feet (40 m)
  • Height difference: 57 feet (17 m)
  • Gradient: 43,4%
  • Cars: 1
  • Capacity: 12 passengers per car
  • Configuration: Single track, with separate counterweight track
  • Main track gauge: 4 ft 6 in (1,372 mm)
  • Counterweight track gauge: 21 in (533 mm)
  • Traction: Electricity

The line has an unusual configuration, as it runs on a single-track elevated structure. The counterweight track runs within this structure, immediately below the main track that carries the passenger car

CENTRAL MUSEUM

Southend Museum was built in 1905-6 at a cost of £9,374 and originally housed Southend Library.

The building was commissioned and paid for by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born American immigrant, who went from rags to riches in the steel manufacturing industry. Later in his life, Carnegie sold his steel business and systematically gave 90% of his collected fortune away to cultural, educational and scientific institutions for "the improvement of mankind." In total he spent over $55million on building over 2,509 libraries throughout the English-speaking world and was commonly referred to as the "Patron Saint of Libraries".

The museum houses collections of local and natural history and contains a planetarium constructed by astronomer Harry Ford in 1984.

 

THE KURSAAL

The Kursaal is a Grade II listed building, which opened in 1901 as one of the world's first purpose-built amusement parks.

The venue was opened in 1894 by father and son Alfred and Bernard Wiltshire Tollhurst, on four acres of land purchased the previous year, as the 'Marine Park and Gardens'. In 1901, they opened a grand entrance pavilion, called the Kursaal, designed by Campbell Sherrin, containing a circus, ballroom, arcade, dining hall and billiard room. The word Kursaal is German, meaning a "Cure Hall" or spa, and it seems to have been adapted to mean a place of healthy amusement. Southend's Kursaal became the largest fairground in the south of England.

In 1927 two Scotsmen named Jimmy Shand and Tom Wilson approached Southend United F.C. who played at the Kursaal, they agreed a deal to start greyhound racing on July 27. The greyhound operation lasted only two years because Shand and Wilson refused to pay the increased rent demands, as well as the impending ban on greyhound racing at grounds from the F.A. (due to the damage to the pitch). The football club remained there until 1933, when they moved to Southend Stadium.

The Kursaal declined in the early 1970s, with the outdoor amusements closed in 1973, and the main building finally succumbing to closure in 1986.

Although the outdoor amusements were redeveloped for housing, the main Kursaal building reopened in 1998, after a multimillion pound redevelopment, containing a bowling alley, a casino and other amusements.

THE PALACE HOTEL / PARK INN PALACE

Originally named the Metropole, the Palace Hotel was built in 1901. It was one of the last great Edwardian Hotels, and at the time the only 5* hotel on the southeast coast.

It had 200 bedrooms, a billiard room and a magnificent ballroom. During the First & Second World Wars it was temporarily converted into Queen Mary's Royal Naval Hospital & Headquarters.

During the 1950s & 1960s the Palace fell behind with the times and eventually came into financial difficulties. It was then bought by Polish refugee Motel Burstin who turned the building into an old people’s home. In the early 1970s the Palace provided cut price bed and breakfast but by now the building was beginning to fall into disrepair.

In 2007 is was purchased by the Radisson group and the Park Inn Palace Hotel remains one of Southend's most prized hotels. 

ROYAL TERRACE AND THE ROYAL HOTEL

The earliest concerted attempt to develop Southend as a seaside resort is seen in Royal Terrace.

1-15 Royal Terrace and the Royal Hotel were built in the 1790s as the first phase of the 'New Town'. New South End was designed as a fashionable seaside resort to rival Margate, Brighton and Weymouth. A grand ball marked the opening of the Royal Hotel in 1793. The Shrubbery fronting the houses was laid out as a private garden for residents and Royal Mews to the rear were their stables.

The Terrace was named "Royal" following visits by Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, in 1803 and for a short time attracted fashionable society. But difficult access from London by road and river discouraged further development until the construction of the railway in 1856. Royal Terrace is the only surviving Georgian terrace in Southend.

QUEEN VICTORIA STATUE

The statue of Queen Victoria was presented by Mayor Bernard Wiltshire Tolhurst, to the town to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee in 1897.

It was originally situated at the top of Pier Hill, in 1962 it was moved to its present position in Clifftown Parade. Residents joked that in her original position she pointed to the gent's toilets!

THE HIGH STREET

Southend High Street became the new focus for retailing during the Edwardian period.

The first major store, 'Garons', opened in 1885 other new shops quickly followed. Electric trams were introduced in to the High Street in 1902 and proved very popular with shoppers until their removal in 1942 during the Second World War.

The High Street was pedestrianised in 1974 when it became one of Essex's regional shopping centres.

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