A Seaside Town Southend-on-Sea

A Brief History

In the early 14th century there appears to have been a landing place on the foreshore. Grain was brought here from

Milton, to ‘Strathende’, to be loaded on to boats for transport to London. Strathende is thought to have been at the site

of Southend, probably near the site of the old Kursaal. However, it was not until the end of the 15th century that we

find the first mention of the name ‘Southend’. The name appears in a will, dated 1481 , as a geographical term,

making reference to a settlement on the shoreline at the south end of Prittlewell Parish. “...venella vocat Southende

parochie Beate Marie de Pritwell.” (Loosely translated as ‘a lane called Southend in the parish of St. Mary’s

Prittlewell.’) At this period Southend probably consisted of little more than a lane leading to a jetty, with a small

collection of fisherman’s huts.

The Settlement did not grow until after the beginning of the 18th century, when the cultivated oyster industry began to

develop here. The foreshore then became valuable property, and legal battles were fought concerning the use and

ownership of it. In 1767 John Remnant built a row of cottages “one with good accommodation and firing”, for the

oyster fishermen. These were known as Pleasant Row, (demolished in the 1960s). The following year a scheme was

proposed to “render Southend a convenient place for bathing”. Although the scheme never really got under way, the

Ship Inn was among buildings erected at this time. From this period the town began to expand, and by 1790 there

were 19 houses in the ‘town’; in 1793 a theatre was opened, and two years later, the Caroline cold and warm sea

water baths were opened.

At this period Southend was that area around the site of the Kursaal, the buildings concentrated along the foreshore.

The principal road was Southend Lane, and the southern end of Southchurch Avenue.

Southend was becoming a popular resort, although still trailing well behind Brighton and Margate. However, in 1791, under the promotion of Thomas Holland, the Grand Terrace, Grand Hotel and Library were built on a prominent ridge to the west of the ‘Old Town’. The scheme also included Assembly and Coffee Rooms.  One writer described this development as an ‘Earthly Paradise’ and ‘I doubt not but South End will be the rage’. A visitor to the old town at this period describes “....the humble cottages of the fishermen interspersed with a few houses neatly built and finished as lodging houses..; whilst the Inns offered viands and wines not at all inferior to those of the Grand Hotel and....on much more reasonable terms.” The Terrace and Hotel was completed in 1793. The Terrace was renamed “Royal” following the visit to the Upper Town, of Princess Caroline, in 1804. Her daughter, Princess Charlotte, had visited the Lower or Old Town, for the bathing, three years earlier. She was attended, it is said, by a Mrs Glasscock, her personal ‘dipper’. The “Globe”, in 1806 began to publish a list of Society visitors to the now fashionable resort, and so popular was the town that the local inns were not large enough to accommodate all the visitors. From the early 19th century passenger ships carried visitors from London to the resort of Margate, usually passing by Southend for lack of landing facilities. There were local pleasure craft and barges, owned by Mr. Mayall, Mr. Cockerton, and Mr. Vandervord; however, apart from short jetties and ‘hards’, no pier existed for passengers and goods landing at low water. Those who did land, had to be carried on the backs of fishermen to the shore. In 1828, a group of local landowners, who could foresee the benefit of increased trade and traffic, met at the Royal Hotel, and proposed, among other things, that a pier should be erected. Therefore an Act of Parliament was to be sought, prompted by by Sir William Heygate, one of the local landowners, former resident of Royal Terrace, and former Lord Mayor of London. The scheme was to be financed through subscriptions and shares, and the money recouped through toll charges on goods and people. After some arguments, and various objections the pier was built at the foot of Royal Terrace ridge, and a toll house erected at its entrance. On the east side of the pier was a harbour, consisting on little more than breakwater; the pier was opened in 1830, and was built almost entirely of wood. The journey from ship to shore was still not an easy or particularly pleasant affair. A vessel named “Clarence” had been purchased by the newly formed Southend Pier Company, and anchored off the end of the pier. Passengers would disembark on to this stationary vessel, and then be rowed by small craft, or walk, depending on the the state of the tide, to the pier. This vessel was later replaced by the ‘Lighthouse’ or ‘Mount’. By 1846, however the pier was extended to 1 ¼ miles in length, with a wide landing stage and three birthing places. In the same year the Southend Pier Company sold the pier by public auction, which realised £17,000. In c1874 the structure was purchased by the Local Board, and twelve years later the decision was taken to replace the old wooden structure with a new one made from iron and steel. Sir James Brunlees was to be the engineer. This new pier, begun in 1885 alongside the old one, was opened in 1889, complete with new brick entrance. In 1890 the pier rail track was completed and the first electric tram was operational. This replaced the horse drawn tram which had carried passengers along the length of the wooden pier. In 1901/1902 a water chute was built in part of the old harbour, against the east side of the pier, to be replaced quite soon afterwards by a boating pool. In 1908 the upper deck of the pier extension was opened and by 1930 the pier measured 2158 meters in length. In the following year the old pier entrance was demolished, to make way for the widened pier entrance and new seaside road. The pier became most popular towards the middle of the century, with over 2 ½ million people using the pier in 1950. From 1787 a regular stage coach service was operated between the “Ship” at Southend and the “Bull” in Aldgate. By 1806 two coaches daily arrived at the town, beside the frequent post chaises. Southend was becoming fashionable, but the only roads into the town were the Turnpike routes, from Hadleigh and Rayleigh. The first paddle steamer on the Thames was the ‘Marjory’ or Margery, closely followed by the ‘Argyle’, later renamed the the ‘Thames’, which begun operating in July 1815. The Sir Joseph York was acquired in 1824 by the General Steam Navigation Company, and used on the London-Southend-Sheerness run. However, the town’s population did not begin to grow appreciably until the building of the first railway line to Southend made travelling to the resort easy, fast and reasonably comfortable. After much discussion by several railway companies, it was decided to lay a track along the coastline, to terminate at the pier. However, after objection from the residents of Royal Terrace, who claimed they would be disturbed by the noise and stress, the station was finally located to the north of the Upper Town, on the present site of Southend’s Central Station. The line was constructed by the Eastern Counties and Blackwall Railway Companies, and leased to Messers. Peto, Brassey and Betts. The line was completed to to Southend and opened in 1856. In 1889 the Great Eastern Railway was extended to Southend, with terminus at the south end of Victoria Avenue. With cheap and easy travel, the resident and visitor population of the town grew rapidly after the mid 19th century, and it soon became necessary to provide an efficient public transport system within the town. Before the end of the 19th century the only form of public transport was the horse drawn coach or bus, and the smaller vehicles, such as the ‘fly’ operated by Peter Trigg. The Trigg family were proprietors of several of the town’s inns, from which the fly and coach services operated. In 1898 plans for a tramway system were prepared by the Corporation’s Light Railway Committee. The service, radiating from Victoria Circus, on a 3’ 6” gauge begun in 1901. In 1910 a ticket office and waiting room were built at Victoria Circus, as the number of visitors to the town increased yearly. However, as motor bus services, operated by the Westcliff Motor Services Ltd., grew in number, and the tramway services were never sufficient during the season to cope with the number of visitors, the tram services declined. They were replaced, after 1935, with trolleybus, and then by the omnibus. With the growth of population and visitors to the town, new roads were built, and housing estates grew up. The first of the new housing estates was ‘New Town’ or the ‘Cliff Town’ estate, developed by Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts, and later Porter’s Town. The Park Estate, Burgess Estate, etc. In 1892 the town achieved Municipal Borough status. The greens, which fronted Marine Parade (Fairhead’s Green, Darlow’s Green, and Pawley’s Green) were purchased by the Corporation and the road widened. These greens had been the traditional site for market stalls and side shows, and many years previously, fairs had been held on Fairhead’s Green. From 1884 the greens were levelled and laid out with grass and flowers. Westcliff and Chalkwell Esplanade were laid out in 1903 and, after 1930, the Pier entrance was widened and road continued. The High Street, in 1870, was little more than a country lane, leading from the ‘White Gate’ to the shore. About halfway down this road stood Mr. Attridge’s cottage, a small thatched building building adjacent to a shell-fish stall. The principal commercial streets at this time were Nelson Street and Alexandra Street; at the corner of this and the High street stood John Rumbelow Brightwell’s drapery shop (founded in 1872.) Opposite was Baker and Wiseman’s timber yard; near the London Tavern was Tyler’s Field, and, by 1873 Thomas Dowsett had opened his stores. Luker’s Brewery was to the north of Attridge’s Cottage; Mrs Edward’s Tobacconist was near by, and in 1890 R. A. Jones opened his Jewellers in the High Street. In the previous year, William Heddle had opened his Cash Clothing Stores.
In the last few years of the 19th century the north end of the High Street was developed, the Victoria Hotel built and rows of shops were built, with living accommodation above. Several photographic studios were opened, among which was Shepard’s Studios. and Lawton’s School of Photography and some well known names had come to Southend including Garons and the Penny Bazaar (later on the site Marks and Spencer). In 1906 the Public Library was built at the south end of Victoria Avenue, and in 1914 the town achieved County Borough status. By that time Southchurch and Leigh had been incorporated into the Borough, and in 1933 Shoebury and Eastwood were taken into the expanding Borough boundaries.

1914 the town achieved County Borough status,

the reading of the Charter of Incorporation at

Pier Hill

c1925 Hotel Victoria

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea

The History of a Seaside Town

Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea © 2010 - 2021 P. J. Wren. All Rights Reserved.

Thames Estuary View The Pier Southend-on-Sea
Sea of Change Southend-on-Sea