A brief glimpse into Southend’s history over the past century, with decade-by-decade photographs.

Southend in the 1900s

Southend Seafront 1902

Southend seafront in 1902 – by Ray Munns Photography.

FACT: In 1902, there was a water chute built at the Pier entrance, complete with a basin that filled with sea water. Unfortunately, this only lasted two years and was dismantled in 1904.

Southend Pier 1908

Tourists on Southend Pier in 1908 – by Ray Munns Photography.

FACT: In 1908, a ship hit Southend Pier, causing major damage as it sliced straight through, due to a severe storm over Southend.

Southend in the 1910s

Southend Scouts Parade 1910

Scouts on Parade at Victoria Circus around 1910, heading Southwards.

FACT: In 1910, Southend received one of the first Employment Exchanges in the UK. The birth of the Southend Job Centre.

Southend Seaside 1919

Southend seaside in 1919. Before the bikini, this was considered typical beach wear.

FACT: In 1919, Southend United left Roots Hall and relocated to Southend Kursaal, back when it was still a funfair and zoo!

Southend in the 1920s

Southend 1925 Leigh Regatta Mud Football

A game of football in the mud, during the Leigh Regatta in 1925. Football in the mud was an annual event to occur during the Leigh Regatta.

FACT: In 1925, the A127 Arterial was built to increase tourism to Southend by enabling easy travel to Southend-on-Sea.

Southend 1928 Leigh Cockle Sheds

Leigh-on-Sea’s cockle sheds in 1928 – customers queue up to buy from R. Harvey cockle merchants.

FACT: Though the annual Southend Carnival has been going since 1906, it wasn’t until 1928 that Southend crowned its first Carnival Queen.

Southend in the 1930s

Southend Kursaal funfair 30s

An aerial view of Southend Kursaal during the 1930s.

 More information about the Kursaal’s colourful history in Southend-on-Sea can be found here.

Southend Kursaal Ride 1930s

Group of young girls having fun on one of the many rides at the Southend Kursaal in 1939.

FACT: 1939’s carnival celebrations in Southend were to be the last before the start of the war. Many renown actors and celebrities joined in with the seaside carnival festivities.

Southend seaside 1939 beach pajamas

A couple of young women in 1939, strolling along Thorpe Bay seafront in their “beach pajamas”. Similar to the currently fashionable playsuits I keep seeing…

FACT: In 1939, the start of the Second World War, Southend seafront was commandeered for war duty. The pier was closed to the public and was commandeered along with other properties along Southend seafront, such as the Royal Terrace and Grand Pier Hotel. That November, the Germans machine-gunned Southend’s pier.

Southend in the 1940s

Southend Seafront 1940s

Southend Seafront in the 1940s. As you can see, lots of restaurants…

FACT: Southend-on-Sea went through some major changes throughout the 1940s, as the beginning of the decade saw Southend suffering from bombing raids. Bombs were indiscriminate and hit many places in and around Southend, including Westcliff School, Avenue Road baptist church and the high street.

Southend Police Officers on guard duty 1940s

Two police officers on guard duty in Southend during the 1940s. With their tin helmets and guns.

FACT: During the mid-40s, after the war, there were many sicknesses spreading throughout Southend-on-Sea. Including Scarlet Fever, Measles, Whooping Cough, Pneumonia and Jaundice.

Southend Kursaal Wall of death 1949

In 1949, Southend Kursaal was back to life after having been closed to the public during the war. Pictured above is sixteen year old Maureen Swift, riding with “Tornado” Smith around Southend Kursaal’s Wall of Death attraction to promote BSA motorcycle.

FACT: In 1949, the rolling stock on Southend Pier was replaced with new green and cream coloured trains, similar to the design of the London Underground stock.

Southend in the 1950s

Southend Carnival Procession 1950s

The Circassian Circle Folk Dance club wins first prize at the Southend Carnival sometime during the early 1950s. The above pictures them passing under Southend Pier during the Southend Carnival Procession.

FACT: During the early 1950s, Ekco became the largest employer in Southend-on-Sea with over five thousand employees working in the town. Roots Hall football ground was also started to be built as one of the most state-of-the-art football grounds for its time and for its league. The Shrimpers moved back into their brand new Roots Hall in 1955.

Southend seaside 1950s

A woman buys a toffee apple from a 1950’s Southend seaside vendor, also selling seaside knick-knacks and gifts, candy floss, popcorn and seafood.

FACT: In 1959, the Southend pier was yet again struck by fire and approximately 300 people had to be rescued from the structure, as thousands of seaside visitors along the seafront spectated.

Southend in the 1960s

Southend High Street 1960

Southend High Street in 1960, looking toward Heygate Avenue. Recognise anything? The pedestrianisation of Southend High Street began in 1966.

FACT: In 1960, local residents’ concerns were expressed regarding the conditions of the Chalkwell Park Zoo. Curators from London Zoo advised Chalkwell Park Zoo to improve the goat enclosure, extend the bear cage and improve chimpanzee and monkey accommodation.

Southend Victoria Avenue 1960

Southend Victoria Circus in 1960, looking toward Victoria Avenue.

FACT: 1960 marked Southend’s first post-war Regatta, with over 3000 people in attendance to spectate the water sports and water-themed events on Southend seafront.

Southend Peter Pans Playground 1960s

Peter Pan’s Playground in 1961 with the Palace Hotel in the background. 

FACT: The Excel 10-pin Bowling Centre was built on the Pier in 1961, at the shore end.

Southend in the 1970s

Southend High Street 1970s

Southend’s bustling High Street during the 1970s – Photograph by Philip Rosz

FACT: The Millers Family took over Peter Pans Playground in 1976, over time transforming the amusement park to what it is today.

Southend 1979 skinhead gang on high street

A large gang of skinheads on Southend High Street in 1979, on a day trip from London’s East End.

FACT: The Famous Potatoes (whom you may recognise from Nicola’s blog about the Famous Potatoes at Leigh Folk Festival) were formed in 1979, one of Southend’s most noted local bands. They are still rated as one of the best Barn Dance acts in the country.

Southend in the 1980s

Southend 1980s Protest High Street

A peaceful protest, Ban The Bomb demonstration, near Southend High Street with Southend CND (Southend Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) during the early 1980s. – Photo by Ang Smith

FACT: In 1984, the iconic Grand Pier Hotel was demolished along with other buildings, to make way for the Royals Shopping Centre.

Southend Victoria Plaza 1980s

Young boys in the 1980s used to jump down from the first level of the Victoria Plaza onto the high street from above the C&A, a couple decades before the Victoria Plaza was transformed to be an indoor shopping mall. – Photo by sockdogsoup

FACT: In 1986, the Kursaal building was closed down after 85 years in operation. Not to be reopened until 1998, when the surrounding area was bulldozed to make room for the Kursaal housing estate.

Southend in the 1990s

Southend Never Never Land 1990s

Southend’s Never Never Land on Pier Hill during the 1990s.

FACT: The inaugural Leigh Folk Festival was in 1991 and is now the largest free folk festival in the United Kingdom. In 1993, the Southend Sealife Centre was opened in 1993, as part of a chain of Sealife Centres around the country. The year 1995 saw the beginning of the annual Southend Shakedown by Ace Café, the expansion of Peter Pan’s Playground east of the pier, and yet another fire for Southend Pier.

A side-by-side comparison of Southend-on-Sea in May 1994 and April 2011. See what you can recognise!




You can find the original sources of all these photographs and more on our Old Photos of Southend Pinterest board!

Thanks to Southend Timeline for the historical references!

45 Responses

  1. bek

    Could you please acknowledge the owners of the photos and not just leave people to follow a link. My photo is the one of the young lads by C&A and my friend Ang Smiths photo is the Ban the Bomb photo also under your 80s heading
    My photo is constantly being published with no recognition of myself and to be honest really gets my goat..especially when people claim to be in it who arent.

    • Ria

      Yes, of course, I understand. I can add the attribution now.
      Can I ask what name you would like the C&A accredited to?
      I’ll add Ang Smith as the owner of the Ban The Bomb one.

      Thank you for letting me know! :)

  2. johnny

    FACT! The girls riding on the Caterpillar at the Kurrsal WAS NOT IN 1939 BUT MORE LIKELY 1959 Please get your facts right when putting these historic pieces together it is very annoying or maybe it was just a “typo” ??? Thanks JG

    • Ria

      Apologies, Johnny, if the date is incorrect. But Pinterest’s original source of that photo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/castlekay/1760823647/) says 1939. As do the other sources that I could find for the image, such as the photograph’s print copy on Amazon.

      I’m not saying that they’re right and you’re wrong, but I just haven’t seen anything saying that the photo was taken in the late 50s. I’m not a historian. I’m just compiling some old photographs I’ve found online. If anyone is able to correct any of the information, and is able to prove that the information is wrong, I would happily correct the information immediately.

      • Ria

        According to the Kurt Hutton’s (the original photographer) Wikipedia page:

        “He then became one of the founding staff of the groundbreaking pictorial weekly news magazine Picture Post. One of his most famous images used there showed working-class girls enjoying themselves in Funfair, Southend, Essex (1938).”


        So, if anything, I’ve dated the photograph off by a year. Which I apologise for.

    • Jirral Darmoise

      That is NO WAY 1959….you are way out there…def late 30s early 40s !!!

  3. james page

    I was devestated when never never land closed down (sill am a bit!) I did find one of the “gnomes” in someones garden when I was clearing it a few years ago.

  4. Eileen

    I would love to email these pictures to my friend who is not on Facebook how can I do the a lovely déjà Vu time for al of us who grew yo there thank you excellent

  5. Margaret

    Lovely pictures, however in the picture of the town in the 1960s it states that your looking towards Heygate Avenue when in fact your looking towards Victoria Circus.

    • Ria

      Thought it didn’t really look like Heygate Avenue, but the original source for that particular photograph on Barling Wakering Villages says “July 1960, Southend High Street looking towards Heygate Avenue.”

      Didn’t want to contradict the original source.

      • Richie

        The true direction of this shot is at Bradley Street looking up Victoria ave towards Prittlewell, I know this only to well as I used to walk it every school day after getting of the no 4 bus from great Wakering and stroll home to Priory avenue in 1958. Great memories though cheers Ria.

    • jim adams

      before santander it was abbey national building society and before that it was the alexandria pub known as the bottom alex ,the top alex was up the road a little opposite the old billiard hall regards jim

  6. Henry Wilcocks

    I remember the misery of being forced to traipse round C&A by my mother for school trousers, which used to signify the summer holidays were coming to an end……

  7. Ryan

    There’s a still of me driving my very first car on Sutton road (behind my old family house in Glenhurst road) in that video

    • Ryan

      Sorry it’s. It a still it’s forage of my car driving off towards the high street

  8. christine bunker

    Some really memorable photos, especially of the 1960 s. I used to wait at bus stops pictured to get No 7 home to Rochford after getting the no 4 from southchurch.. What a pity the Kursaal shut down, what great rides!!

  9. Simon Parry

    This makes me sad. Southend used to be a lovely town and is now a dump.

  10. Vicky

    A fascinating glimpse into Southend’s seaside past. Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos.

  11. louise

    The Kursaal wasn’t knocked down in 1998 but in the 70’s. I’m sure that’s what you may have meant but it reads as if it was demolished in the 90’s?
    I have a crocodile from NeverNeverLand as all the pieces were dumped in a building that my family later acquired. I wish I had more of it now

    • Ria

      The Kursaal building wasn’t knocked down in the 90s, it was re-opened. However, the surrounding Kursaal area (where the Kursaal housing estate is now) was all demolished and bulldozed over to make way for the housing estate blocks.

      It seems like a lot of people were left with a little bit of Never Never Land to remember it by. Someone in the comments above found one of the gnomes in someone’s garden! lol

      Should have just collected it all, and re-opened it privately elsewhere.

      • Taz

        Most of the Kursaal Amusement Park’s site was cleared in the 1970s after the outdoor amusements were closed down in 1973. The estate was built there. The Grade II listed building closed in 1986 and was renovated, re-opening in 1998.

  12. Karen Shields

    Sorry that last message should have read 1980s and not 1080s. Apologies.

  13. Pauline

    Next to Woolworths was a pub bottom Alex then changed name to Charlotte’s in the 80s

    • Ed davis

      It was also called Drummonds at one time…..i used to sit in there wstching them build the Royals

  14. Sharon

    Does anyone remember or have photos of the little miniature church, glass enclosed on whitegate Rd ? Late 60’s, into 70’s?

  15. jim bunce

    As previously mentioned the picture that shows Hepworths is not at Heygate road but looking towards Victoria Circus with Whitegate road the one by Barclays. Probably taken from a train

  16. John Maxwell

    Hi Ria,
    My Father Jack Maxwell was Managing Director of J&T Maxwell and Maxwell, Manners & Pring with offices next to the pier overlooking Marine Parade. The companies owned Peter Pans Playground, The Golden Hind and Boating Pool.
    Following WW2, dad and CJ Morehouse, who owned the Kursaal, re started the Illuminations, Carnaval and Torchlight Processions. My Grandfather John Maxwell, together with his brothers, Jim and Tom, started J&T Maxwell, hiring out Carley floats to row on the pond where dad built the Golden Hind.
    I have fond childhood memories of working at Peter Pans and the Boating Pool during the school holidays and probably getting covered in mud when the Golden Hind was being built.
    If anyone has photos or stories 1945-1960 relating to this I would love to see them.

  17. Alison Browne

    My father, Rev. Philip Brownless, was the vicar of St Luke’s Prittlewell from 1948-1954; on going through his papers, I find one or two photos from that time, of people and the vicarage and some of the church fete. Might someone be interested in the photos of people, or be interested in the historical aspect of these photos ? I am happy to pop them in the post to yourselves if you give me an address ?


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