A Brief History of Southend - 1

The Origins of Southend

At the time of Domesday Book, the area we now call Southend was divided between the manors of Prittlewell and Milton. Other manors in the area included, to the east, Southchurch Hall, and to the west Leigh. In the early 12th Century Robert Fitzswein, lord of the manor of Prittlewell, gave part of his lands for the foundation

 of the Cluniac Priory of St. Mary (Prittlewell Priory).


Earls Hall circa 1950

He retained a part of Prittlewell for himself, and this later became Earls Hall manor. By the 13th Century or so, the original two manors of Prittlewell and Milton had been divided into the manors of Prittlewell Priory (or Priors), Earls Hall, Milton and Chalkwell Hall. To the north of the Priory lands there was also now the manor of Temple Sutton, lands belonging to the Knights Templar. Milton Hall had been given to Christ Church, Canterbury, before the Norman Conquest.

Prittlewell Priory owned lands that stretched right down to the seafront. As early as the 14th Century there was a landing stage called "Stratende" and, by the end of the 15th Century this had become known as South End – the south end of the lands of Prittlewell Priory. 

Prittlewell Priory

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536), a survey was made of the lands of the Priory, and in this Survey are mentioned the properties lying in South End. Another survey was undertaken for Robert Rich, the owner of the Priory in the late 16th Century; this is very detailed, and it is possible to draw a map of Southend at this time. There were a number of farms here (on land owned by the Priory) and, no doubt, fishermen’s cottages. We know that there were fish traps (or keddles) all along the foreshore from Leigh to "South End" at this time.

A similar Survey was also made of the lands of the manor of Milton Hall (also for the Rich family), and this is equally detailed.

In the 17th Century this original South End was bought up by Mr. Hercules Arthur. His principal house, originally Facons Farm, was now called Southend. He also bought up some land to the west of Southend Lane (now Old Southend Road and Southchurch Avenue). It was this area that was developed in the mid-late 18th Century.

The Eighteenth Century

Gradually buildings began to appear to the west of the original South End, along the shore. 

John Remnant's Cottages

In 1767  John Remnant built some brick cottages for local fishermen, called Pleasant Row, at the north end of Pleasant Road. These were demolished in the 1950s. On the seafront the Ship Hotel had been opened in the 1760s and, later, the Hope Hotel. Southend was becoming a "watering place" where people could "take the waters", making use of a bathing machine in which to enter the sea modestly, or visitors could perhaps try the "South End Baths," on the seafront. Tokens for the Baths were issued to the "genteel" visitors to the town, These probably served as "season tickets".


By the end of the 18th Century buildings had probably been built right along the seafront, from South End Lane (Southchurch Avenue) in the east to the end of Marine Parade in the west. 

Southend in c.1790

A painting by J. de Fleury in the Beecroft Art Gallery, shows South End in the late 1790s, looking from the west, showing the seafront buildings and what is probably the Caroline or South End baths. Also notice the early bathing machine. Southend had become, by the late 18th Century quite a thriving small town, with public houses, shops and private and lodging houses, almost all of them clustered along the seafront. There was also a regular post- or stagecoach service from London. To the north were the fields of the local farms, such as Porters (now the Mayor’s Parlour or official residence), Milton Hall and Prittlewell Priory (at this time, of course, a private house). To the east was the farm of Southchurch Hall. The nearest towns were Prittlewell itself, separated from South End by all these fields and Leigh, an ancient ship building and fishing port to the west.

The New Town

Panorama c.1820. showing South End theatre

In 1793 it is recorded that a Theatre was opened in South End. It was also at this time that the lord of the manors of Prittlewell and Milton Hall (Daniel Scratton), decided to have the western end of his estates developed into a "new town". He leased three areas of land, on the cliffs, to developers, for the building of a grand terrace and hotel, a smaller terrace and library, and a new road linking the new estate with the main road from Shoebury to London. 

Royal Hotel 1870

This road was to be known as High Street, and the estate was called the "New Town" or upper town of South End. The original settlement along the seafront to the east was now known as the lower, or old town.

The developers of the New Town were Pratt, Watts and Lowdoun, and John Sanderson. 

Grove Terrace c.1870

The Grand Terrace and the other elements (Grove Terrace, Library, etc.) were completed by about 1793, Thomas Holland having taken over the work. The intention was that the new estate would attract "genteel" visitors to the town but the venture was not an immediate success. However, in 1803 Princess Caroline (the wife of the Prince Regent) stayed in the Terrace, and hence the new name "Royal Terrace".

The first roads off High Street were Market Road (leading to market gardens) and Clarence Street. Market Place became York Street (later York Road) named after the Duchess of York public house on the corner of the road, and the Duke of Clarence public house gave its name to Clarence Street. (The Duke of Clarence public house was, however, immediately north of Royal Hotel.) Along High Street at this time were mainly private houses. Shops did not appear until the late 19th Century.

The First Pier

The Pier c.1870

One of the main reasons for the slow development of Southend as a destination for visitors was the lack of a pier. Travel by paddle steamer would have been far more comfortable than the five hour journey by road, but there was no convenient method of journeying to the shore from a large boat. It was decided, in the late 1820s, to built a wooden pier. This would be used for both commercial purposes (loading and unloading goods) and for people travelling by water.

The foundation stone of the pier was laid by the Lord Mayor of London in 1829. This first pier was quite short, with a landing stage or "mount" further out into the river. A rowing boat would take you from the landing stage to the main pier at high tide and, at low tide, it was possible to walk between the two. In 1833 the pier was extended into deeper water. 


The Pier Head, with William Bradley's Cottage c. 1880

At the end of the pier a small cottage was built, which served both as a home (for the pier head man) and as a light house. A toll gate was erected at the entrance, with a small harbour on the east side.




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