The origins of Southend
Originally known as the ‘south end’ of the village of Prittlewell, Southend began to take shape in the late 18th century. The introduction of the railways in the 19th century developed the links between Southend and London and created the boom for the town as a seaside resort. With seven miles of beaches, Southend soon became a popular destination for holiday makers and the seafront hotels, shops and amusements have developed ever since to embrace tourism as the town’s focus.
At 1.34 miles, Southend can boast the longest pleasure pier in the world. Due to the shallow sea in the area, large boats were unable to dock in Southend and so prospective visitors would continue to other seaside resorts. As a result, it was agreed that a pier would be built to stretch out into the estuary to allow tourist boats to reach the town.
Construction began on a wooden pier in 1829 and it was continually extended until 1847. 40 years later work began to replace is with an iron pier that eventually became the development as we know it now in 1898.
The pier is home to the new Cultural Centre in the pavilion and the pier railway, which has carried people and goods from the town to the pier head since the its construction.
The Cliff Lift
The Cliff Lift (or Cliff Railway) was developed on the site of an early predecessor to an escalator, in order to help access between the town centre and the seafront below due to the steep cliff side. Since its opening in 1912, the lift has undergone three modernisations and is now owned and operated by the Museums Service of Southend Borough Council.
The major redevelopment of Victoria Avenue in the 1960s included the transformation of a former brickworks sandpit into a new public park, Churchill Gardens. The resultant sunken form of this park is now a popular respite from the noisy traffic along Victoria Avenue. The gardens were named Churchill Gardens to commemorate Sir Winston Churchill who died in 1965.
Southend 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.