Saturday, June 3rd 2017
We went on a gentle visit to Southend-on-Sea today. I say gentle, because we have been out and about a lot lately and did not feel like rushing about but just taking an easy stroll. If you want to locate Southern on the map, click here.
The name Southend is said to come from the fact that what was to become a town and a seaside resort grew up around the southern end of the village of Prittlewell where fishermen had their huts. From the end of the 18th century, Southend grew in size and prestige, a process that was further encouraged by the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century. Today it is a popular destination for day trips from London or longer stays.
Southend Victoria Station
We arrived at the younger of Southend’s two railway stations. This one was opened in 1889 as Southend-on-Sea and acquired its current name, Southend Victoria, in 1949, perhaps to emphasise it links with London. Its elder relative, Southend Central, preceded it by 33 years.
Southend Central Museum
The Central Museum and Planetarium is quite near the station and we paid it a visit. The planetarium is open only at certain times but the rest of the museum can be explored daily.
First floor corridor
The building is Edwardian, dating from 1905, when it opened as a public library, with funding provided by Andrew Carnegie. The library moved to new quarters in 1974 and the Grade II listed building reopened in 1981 as a museum of Southend history and life. Here are just a couple of items from the collection.
Reynolds House Fireplace, 15th century
How did you keep warm indoors in the 15th century? Well, you built a nice warm fire, of course, but a fine brick fireplace like this one was an innovatory design. Reynolds House, from which this fireplace comes stood in Prittlewell, then a flourishing market town. The house was demolished in 1906 but the fireplace was recuperated and rebuilt by the Victoria and Albert Museum and transferred here in 1974.
Model of a Thames Barge
This beautifully executed model represents the sailing barge Eva Annie, built at Milton Creek, Sittingbourne (Kent) in 1878. Such craft were flat bottomed and able to sail in the shallow water of estuaries and creeks. Popularly called ‘stackies’, they carried mainly hay and straw from Kent farms to London as food and bedding for the capital’s horses.
Le Revenir (The Return)
In an open area opposite the station stands a lively sculpture by Belgian sculptor René Julien. It is called Le Revenir or, in English, The Return. It shows a young woman who has thrown herself into an embrace with a man. Her depiction shows vigorous movement and excitement. The man, on the other hand, is either less enthusiastic or has been caught by surprise at the exuberance of her welcome and has managed only to raise one hand to her back. Bizarrely, between his feet a couple of birds are mating. I don’t know when it was sculpted but believe that it was installed here in 2011.
Panorama of the seafront
If you follow the High Street, as we did next, you come to Pier Hill from which a steep descent, by steps or by lift, takes you down to the seafront. From this vantage point I took several shots of the view and combined them into a panorama. (Click to see a larger version – and click that to see a still larger one!)
The Park Inn Palace Hotel
The view from here is dominated by a massive white building that now bears the rather schizophrenic name Park Inn Palace Hotel. It was built in 1901 and then called the Metropole. Later, it was renamed the Palace Hotel, though I don’t know exactly when. During the First World War it was requisitioned for use as a military hospital and there are accounts of convalescing servicemen crowding the terraces and being thrown sweets, cigarettes and money by members of the public. It is now owned by a hotel chain called Park Inn, hence the double-barrelled name. For some reason, it makes me think of a transatlantic liner. It comes within an ace of being a blot on the landscape but I would be interested to see what the view is like from the top floor.
The Borough Hotel
Southend is a town that unashamedly devotes itself to providing pleasure and entertainment for visitors. It has been doing this for a long time and very successfully too. Consequently, there are plenty of pubs in Southend and on a sunny day like today, they do a roaring trade. I picked this one at random for no special reason other than that I liked the look of it. Its existence is recorded from 1902, though whether it was a new build or replaced an earlier pub on the site, I do not know.
Foreign visitors to the UK are often puzzled by the fact that many of our pubs include the word ‘hotel’ in their names despite the fact that they do not offer accommodation. If it’s any consolation, it puzzles me too. I speculate that it is a hang-over from the days of the stage coach when inns combined the role of pub, restaurant, hotel and stables, so that ‘hotel’ became a posh or up-market synonym for pub. That’s just my guess and research on the topic continues!
Southend – the beach
One must not forget that along with the more organized and commercial amenities, Southend also has a beach. Quite a nice sandy one, actually. Here one can spend a more leisurely time, sitting or lying in the sun and watching the sea (well, actually, it’s the estuary rather than the sea proper, but who’s counting?), the gulls and perhaps the people. We did this ourselves and enjoyed the relative calm before gathering ourselves up once more and returning to the station to rattle our way back to London.
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