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!