The origins of Southend
The first settlement at Prittlewell is thought to have been a 6th or 7th century Saxon village, close to St Mary's Church. In fact the church still possibly contains evidence of a Saxon arch on its north side. The rest of the present church dates from the 12th and 15th centuries. St Mary's has always been one of Southend's most important churches and is the only church in the locality mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
From the 13th to the 16th centuries Prittlewell was a busy market town. During the 15th and 16th centuries it prospered and substantial building work took place apart from the church, only 255 and 269/275 Victoria Avenue now survive. Recent historic evidence suggests that 255 Victoria Avenue was originally a mid 15th century shop and possibly the market hall on its first floor and would therefore have been an important meeting place for the local community.
Victoria Avenue, south of East Street / West Street was constructed in 1889 to link Prittlewell with the centre of Southend. This road building scheme meant that a number of buildings, including the original Blue Boar Pub, were demolished. The existing building was built at the new road junction in the late 19th century. With its corner turret, red brick and tiles and decorative boarding it is a typical Arts and Crafts design of this period. The Blue Boar is locally famous because it is believed that Southend United Football Club was founded here in 1906.
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 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".
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.
1-15 Nelson Street was the original focus of shopping in Southend prior to the development of the High Street. It was built about 1860 as the shopping street for the 'new' Cliff Town Estate. Note in particular the unusual raised Yorkstone pavement and the only remaining original shopfront can be seen at no. 15.
Clifftown Congregational Church and Cliff Town Estate
Clifftown Congregational Church:
Built in 1865 Clifftown Congregational Church is an important focal point for the estate. It is a typically gothic mid-Victorian non-conformist church.
Cliff Town Estate:
The London-Tilbury-Southend railway was completed in 1856 and provided the stimulus for larger scale housing development in Southend. The railway developer leased land from Daniel Scratton, the Lord of the Manor of Prittlewell, for housing development between the new railway and the cliff top to be known as Cliff Town. This area extended from Royal Terrace westwards to Wilson Road. It also included the adjacent cliffs and beach for recreational open space.
Scratton imposed strict design controls on the first phase of development which resulted in a unique example of mid-Victorian estate planning. Designed by Banks and Barry and built between 1859-1861, the estate provided five classes of terraced housing and shops, all with unified designs and materials.
Lutyens's War Memorial
The War Memorial on the cliff top was built in 1920 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the First World War. It was designed by the famous English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, who is also responsible for the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.
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!
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.
The Palace Hotel and St John’s Church
Originally named the Metropole, the Palace Hotel was built in 1901 and was once the only 5* hotel on the southeast coast. It had 200 bedrooms, a billiard room and a magnificent ballroom. During the First World War it was temporarily converted into Queen Mary's Royal Naval Hospital.
St John's Church was opened in 1842 and was the original church of New South End. Southend's first Mayor, Thomas Dowsett, is buried in the churchyard.