Saturday, August 6th 2016
On a sunny day the seaside presents itself as a desirable destination. Today we chose to make a visit to the town that, more than any other, has gained a reputation as London’s seaside resort, Southend-on-Sea. A glimpse at the map below shows that it is situated at the mouth of the Thames and therefore belongs as much to the Thames Estuary as to the sea. Perhaps it is this ambiguity that gives Southend its unique character.
We have visited Southend and its area many times, for example in June last year (see Southend on Sea). For other visits type ‘Southend’ into the search box.
On the way to the railway station, we stopped off in Shoreditch to photograph a couple of items of street art. They are both on the corner of Holywell Lane with Great Eastern Street. The one above is by a group of artists who work together and sign their works with the name ‘Lost Souls’.
Round to the right is another painting, shown above, signed by Lucas Aoki. (See Update below.)
The best way to go to Southend for us is to take the bus to Fenchurch Street Station from which there are frequent trains to Southend Victoria Station. The journey was uneventful though, being a sunny Saturday, there were plenty of people going, like us, for a day at the seaside.
Our first port of call was the handsome building now known as Southend Central Museum. Designed by Henry Thomas Hare and built in 1905, this is now a Grade II listed building. It was originally created as Southend’s first free public library and, as such, attracted £8,000 funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It became a museum in April 1981, the library having moved to new premises.
The exhibition that we had come to see is entitled BIBA: The Fashion. The Lifestyle. The Brand and tells the story of BIBA, the store that during the 1960s and 1970s developed from humble beginnings to become a trend-setter in fashion and interior design until its sudden and no doubt untimely demise in 1975. Photography was not allowed, so I cannot show you any images.
In Victoria Gateway Square, near the station, we found this rather lively sculpture. It is by Belgian sculptor René Julien and is entitled Le Revenir (‘The Return’). The sculpture consists principally of a man and a woman, the latter having just leapt upon the man in a flying embrace. In contrast to the vigorous movement of the woman, the man seems strangely static, whether because he has been caught by surprise or because he is not as effusively happy about the reunion as his companion is. A curious feature of the work is that between the man’s toes we see a couple of doves that appear to be mating.
I don’t know when the sculpture was made or when it was installed here, in Southend, but it seems to have attracted notice and to be well known. There may also be copies of it. I understand that £50,000 funding was was supplied by the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency as part of a project to refurbish the square.
We naturally gravitated towards the sea front, following the long High Street which, as its name suggests, is packed with shops and restaurants but has the virtue of being pedestrian-only for most of its length. It leads to Royal Terrace and Pier hill from which you can have a good view of the seafront and the pier which lie below you.
Southend’s pier is world-famous, being the world’s longest pier with a length of 2158 metres or 1.34 mile. It is the second pier on the site. The first pier, made entirely of wood, was built between 1829 and 1830 but because of the differences between water levels at high and low tide it was extended three times and by 1848 was the world’s longest pier at a length of 6400 metres or 1.2 mile. In 1887 work began on a new iron pier to replace the wooden one. Although the new pier opened to the public later the same year, construction work continued until 1889.
While it is pleasant to simply walk along the pier, enjoying the view and the sea breezes, most of what visitors look for on a pier is at the far end. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that there is a pier railway that ferries passengers between the two ends. It costs £2 for an adult to access the pier on foot or £4.50 for a return train ticket.
At the ticket office we were informed that the pier railway was not running as it was closed for emergency repairs. The pier itself was open but if we wanted to go to the end we would have to walk. We bravely decided to do this. After all, what’s 1.34 mile between friends?
As it turns out, quite a lot, especially on a hot, sunny day with hardly any shade, with benches only few and far between.
We persevered, conscious, of course, that we would have to cover the same distance all over again on the return journey.
We eventually reached the far-end railway station where we found this unusual tall, thin pillar box bearing the royal cypher of George VI. I don’t know whether it has ever been used but the aperture is currently blocked, meaning that the box is out of commission.
The railway doesn’t go quite to the end of the pier and from the station it is still a little walk to reach the shops, entertainments and cafes.
We finally reached the pier’s end which is where the RNLI has a lifeboat station, museum and shop. We spent some time here, enjoying the sun sparkling on the sea, watching the activities of the gulls and taking our ease in the calm atmosphere. Then it was time to start back, beginning with a 1.34 mile walk back to the shore.
As days out go, this was a good one and I expect we will visit the pier again some day but probably not until the railway is back in service!
Update August 12th 2016: On the way home this evening we saw that both the paintings shown above have disappeared. This is because building work on the site is nearing completion and the fencing on which they were painted has been taken down.