Historic Walking Tour of Southend-on-Sea

Historic Walking Tour of Southend-on-Sea

Southend Museums Service have developed this app using images from the town's social history archive. Explore the high street and pier, clicking on the markers to learn more about each location and to see historic images.

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Walk Map

Beecroft Art Gallery

Beecroft Art Gallery

Beecroft Art Gallery
(Location 1 of 21)

Southend's art gallery, the Beecroft, was established by Walter G. Beecroft, a bachelor solicitor practising in Leigh-on-Sea in the early 1900s. In 1927, Beecroft pitched his idea for a town art gallery to the Libraries and Museums Committee of Southend Council. At first, the proposal was denied in favour of a Municipal Art Collection hung in Central Library to which Beecroft donated two works. In 20 years' time, Beecroft offered to provide the town with a building to display arts and culture. After several years of fundraising, in July 1953, Beecroft opened the Warwick Hotel as the Beecroft Art Gallery. The first few works were donated by Beecroft and others were purchased. In 2014 the Beecroft Art Gallery moved from Westcliff to the old library building on Victoria Avenue in Southend.

Today, the gallery is the largest in Essex, showcasing diverse art from the original Beecroft and Thorpe-Smith collections as well as contemporary art and other cultural events.

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Central Museum

Central Museum

Central Museum
(Location 2 of 21)

Southend Central Museum is a Grade II listed historic building, which was completed in 1905 as a free library using £8000 of funding from Andrew Carnegie (business magnate and philanthropist).

Following a long life as the town's principle library, in 1981 it re-opened as Central Museum. Visitors can still visit for free and learn all about the history of the town through exciting and interactive exhibitions. Central Museum is run by Southend Museums Service as part of the Borough Council.

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Victoria Avenue

Victoria Avenue

Victoria Avenue
(Location 3 of 21)

Victoria Avenue, now one of the main entrance routes to Southend, was once in the town of Prittlewell, known as North Road. The southern end of the road (from the Blue Boar pub down to Cuckoo Corner) was not built until the 19th Century. Originally, timber-framed homes and shops lined North Road, with many backing onto St. Mary's Parish Church. By the 1880s, there was need for Prittlewell to better-connected to Southend high street, so construction began on Victoria Avenue. As a result, lots of the timber houses in Prittlewell were demolished between 1912 and the 1930s. Southend Central Museum (built 1905) and the Beecroft Art Gallery (opened originally as a library in 1974) are found on Victoria Avenue.

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Southend Victoria Station

Southend Victoria Station

Southend Victoria Station
(Location 4 of 21)

The trainline from Southend to Wickford, including Southend Victoria station, was opened in 1889. Since then it has provided services to London Liverpool Street. Between 2016 and 2017, it took 1.878 million passengers!

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Victoria Circus/Victoria Avenue

Victoria Circus/Victoria Avenue

Victoria Circus/Victoria Avenue
(Location 5 of 21)

In 1896, authorities added a tramway to the town, which increased use of electricity in homes and shops. Tram routes converged at Victoria Circus, giving it the nickname 'Cobweb Corner' after the mass of overhead wires that met here. At the middle of the roundabout there was a tram ticket office, built in 1910. After construction, the first trams ran in 1901 and their immediate success led to expansion into Shoebury, Wakering, Rochford and Hadleigh. In 1964, redevelopment of Victoria Circus began, with plans to build Victoria Plaza Shopping Centre and a bridge to connect it to Victoria Station. The picture is looking from Victoria Circus to Victoria Avenue, where you can see the old Technical College on the left of the picture.

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Dixons

Dixons

Dixons
(Location 6 of 21)

One of the most prominent businessmen in Southend was J. F. Dixon. Originally the owner of a draper's shop in Upper Norwood, he set up shop in Southend as Victoria Circus was expanding in 1913. Dixon's was established on the site of the Theatre de Luxe and became one of the town's major landmarks. It was particularly famous for displaying its clothes on mannequins on the high street during the 1960s. Following vandalism of the glass cases, they were removed during the 1970s and eventually the store closed in 1973.

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Victoria Hotel

Victoria Hotel

Victoria Hotel
(Location 7 of 21)

Opened in 1899, the Hotel Victoria was a destination for visitors to the town. It was owned and run by E.A. Broadhurst, a local businessman. In its heyday at the turn of the century, Southend was a popular tourist destination. Hotels like the Victoria hosted day-trippers from London who came to enjoy the sea air. In the 1960s, road expansion led to the demolition of the Hotel Victoria, which stood on the corner of Victoria Circus.

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Gaumont Cinema

Gaumont Cinema

Gaumont Cinema
(Location 8 of 21)

The Gaumont Cinema used to be the Hippodrome Theatre, which opened in 1909. In 1930 crowds gathered to see the crowning of Southend's Carnival Queen. The Gaumont Palace Cinema opened its doors in 1934 and first showed 'Meet my Sister' and 'A Cuckoo in the Nest'. On the 11th February 1954, during a screening, disaster struck when the cinema caught fire. Following the tragedy, the interior was redecorated. Just two years later the Gaumont Cinema closed down.

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Keddie's

Keddie's

Keddie's
(Location 9 of 21)

Keddies was a family run department store, that existed from 1892 to 1996. The building still stands today, at the top end of the high-street, and is recognisable by its Palladian columns. In 1934 these were the exciting new additions to the shop front and are thought to have been inspired by Selfridges own pillared façade.

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Dixons Mannequins

Dixons Mannequins

Dixons Mannequins
(Location 10 of 21)

Dixon's department store was creative in its marketing and at one stage displayed mannequins dressed in its latest fashions on the high street.

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Odeon

Odeon

Odeon
(Location 11 of 21)

This was the site of two cinemas, the first was the Astoria which opened in 1935 and was one of the largest cinemas in the UK. The Astoria was renamed as the Odeon in 1940 after being sold to Oscar Deutsch's Odeon Corporation. More than 20 carnival queens were crowned here over the years. When the existing Odeon opened at Victoria Circus and proved more popular, the older cinema closed down in 1997, its last film being Star Wars.

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View of the railway bridge

View of the railway bridge

View of the railway bridge
(Location 12 of 21)

This railway bridge carries trains from the Southend Central C2C line along to Shoebury and into London Fenchurch Street. Over the years, it has been used for advertising for private companies and for the town's events.

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Crossroads High St./Tyler's Ave.

Crossroads High St./Tyler's Ave.

Crossroads High St./Tyler's Ave.
(Location 13 of 21)

From the 1960s the high street and the area around Southend Victoria underwent a process of modernisation. 1960s 'brutalist' architecture emerged with the new Civic Centre and the high street was pedestrianized. Whilst this change was part of a process to transform Southend into a thriving Business and commercial hub, it meant that many Edwardian buildings were lost.

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The London Hotel

The London Hotel

The London Hotel
(Location 14 of 21)

The site of the London Hotel, later renamed 'Tavern', was a social hotspot within the town. In the 1950s and 60s many dances were held here, enjoyed by young and old alike.

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Southend Central Station

Southend Central Station

Southend Central Station
(Location 15 of 21)

Only some of the children in Southend were evacuated during WWII since it was not compulsory. Over 8,000 children did get sent to the countryside, travelling by bus from their schools to embark trains at Southend Central Station in June 1940. Despite the hot weather, children wore their winter clothes to be prepared for any eventuality.

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R.A.Jones

R.A.Jones

R.A.Jones
(Location 16 of 21)

Robert Arthur Jones was a prominent benefactor in Southend during the late 19th Century. He was known for his jewellery store on the high street (The County Jewellers). A well-known philanthropist in the town, Jones purchased Priory Park for the residents of Southend and he oversaw the 1920s restoration of the priory itself. The famous R.A.Jones clock was recently lovingly conserved through Southend Museums Service with money raised from Essex Heritage Trust and a Crowdfunding campaign.

If you look up, you can still see the name 'R.A.Jones' embossed above the clock!

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Fleet decorations

Fleet decorations

Fleet decorations
(Location 17 of 21)

The fleet decorations were a celebration of the Home and Atlantic fleets mooring at Southend-on-Sea in July 1909. For a week, ships from Britain's naval force anchored along the coast during a time where British seapower was at its finest.

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Ritz Cinema

Ritz Cinema

Ritz Cinema
(Location 18 of 21)

The Ritz super cinema was built in 1935 by a force of some 400 workmen. The interior was simple, but elegant, with marble mosaic floor, green and gold walls and jade-green seating. Seating 2250 people, famous films shown included 'Nell Gwyn', 'What Happened Then', 'The Sound of Music' and 'El Dorado'. Sadly, in 1968, two new Odeon cinemas opened, and the Ritz began losing money. Following a few failed business initiatives the Ritz eventually closed and was bulldozed in January 1981. Today the Royals carpark is built on the site.

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Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel
(Location 19 of 21)

During the 1890s, the high street was confirmed as the centre of business and commerce. Alongside several new shops, hotels like The Metropole cropped up along the high street and seafront. This was built at the turn of the century, and later became the Palace Hotel. During WWI, the Palace was converted into 'Queen Mary's Naval Hospital', supporting both British and Belgian wounded soldiers.

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Pier Train

Pier Train

Pier Train
(Location 20 of 21)

The first electric tram to run along the pier opened in 1889. Before this horse-drawn trams were used to ferry people up and down.

The 1986 restoration of the Pier Railway, featuring new red trains, was formally opened by Princess Anne

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The Pier

The Pier

The Pier
(Location 21 of 21)

The pier was originally constructed to allow passengers to board small steamboats that could not pull up close enough to the shore. People could walk along the pier to board without getting muddy feet. In order to compete with other prominent bathing resorts, there was a rush during the Victorian Era for towns to have the longest and most exciting piers. Opened in 1830, the original pier was only 600 feet long (significantly shorter than the current 7080 feet!). During WWII, the pier was closed to the public and used as a naval boarding point, known as HMS Westcliff.
During the 1940s and 50s, the pier was home to tea-dances, theatrical performance and big band shows. Hundreds would gather on the sun deck to enjoy being outside in the sunshine. In 1980, the pier was closed by the council, but the residents pleaded to have essential maintenance carried out. During the 1980s, tragedy struck when a large ship cut the pier in two. Interestingly, the pirate radio ship Ross Revenge broadcast a 28-day Radio Caroline programme to the area. Today the pier is still visited all-year round by Southend residents and visitors to the town.

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My Historic Walking Tour of Southend-on-Sea Notes

Historic Walking Tour of Southend-on-Sea

Historic Walking Tour of Southend-on-Sea

Southend Museums Service have developed this app using images from the town's social history archive. Explore the high street and pier, clicking on the markers to learn more about each location and to see historic images.

Southend Museums Service work as part of Southend Borough Council to provide access to the town's four museums: the Beecroft Art Gallery, Central Museum, Prittlewell Priory and Southchurch Hall. Access to all of these sites is free, but check opening times before visiting. All information can be found on the Southend Museums website (www.southendmuseums.co.uk).

This app was developed by the museums' curatorial team as part of a mental health and well-being initiative to encourage more residents and visitors to the town to get out and about exploring. The walk is suitable for children and adults alike, and is fully wheelchair accessible. Feel free to post comments and thoughts about the walk and email us your selfies to: Museums@southend.gov.uk

*Disclaimer: Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult when using the app or taking part in the Historic Walking Tour of Southend.*

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