Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s plans to build a new museum on Southend seafront have been well-known for a few years now. But from as far back as 2012, people have been questioning whether this museum will ever come to fruition, as well as debating whether it should even be built in the first place. With an approximate cost of £40 million (a figure that seems to increase with every new statement), many are in doubt that the council will be able to conjure up the money for such an ambitious project.

Southend Museum Cliffs Garden

The museum is to be located on Western Esplanade, overlooking the Thames estuary, and will be submerged into the Cliffs Gardens. The Cliffs Gardens is made up of 22 acres of land that stretches from the high street to Cliffs Pavilion. Currently the cliffs is home to winding footpaths and gardens that many enjoy in the Summer for picnics and seafront strolls. But the eastern and western sides of the cliffs have felt quite disjointed in recent years. Heavy rain caused a landslide on the cliffs in 2002 which has made this section of the cliffs inaccessible for years whilst work was undertaken to repair the damage of the slip. The proposed museum is aimed to attract both locals and day-trippers to explore more of Southend’s seafront, in addition to stabilising the cliffs with its structure and reconnecting the surrounding gardens of the Cliffs Pavilion with the Pier Hill gardens where Never Never Land once attracted huge numbers of visitors opposite the fairground today known as Adventure Island.

Cliffs Garden Museum

The first challenge will be building the 200 space underground car park which will lay the foundations for the museum itself, and provide more much-needed parking for the seafront. Completing the £1.5 million underground car park is the first priority for Southend-on-Sea BC and is the first phase of the long haul project that will reinvent Southend’s seafront. Many Southenders have argued however that once the car park is built, the rest of the plans for the museum and cliff landscaping will never go ahead due to budget. (It’s also worth noting that by “underground” they mean built into the cliff beneath the museum, but still at pavement level.)

Cliffs Museum Southend

First off: One of the first things you’ll notice is that Southend council are definitely following a theme in the recent design of buildings, notably the Royal Pavilion and The Forum. The CGI photos have a sort of familiarity to it, following Southend’s “shiny, modern brand” where everything is very glassy and sleek. Unfortunately though, the Royal Pavilion is all the way down the end of the pier while the issue with The Forum is that (despite being mere seconds away from the high street) nobody seems to know where it is!

Southend Museum GardensThe museum itself will display artefacts from the Saxon King burial chamber and the London shipwreck. But additional attractions will be necessary to incentivise repeat visits of the facility.

According to AEW, the new museum will include:

  • four galleries
  • educational areas
  • café
  • restaurant
  • shop
  • planetarium


New Southend Museum interior

Councillor Mary Betson, Executive Councillor for Enterprise Tourism & Economic Development:

“We need a venue of this magnitude as a home for the internationally significant finds unearthed when the tomb of the Prittlewell Prince was uncovered here in Southend, as well as other nationally important finds such as those from the shipwreck of the London that was recently excavated.”


New Southend Museum restaurant

We’ve seen a lot of big, flashy proposals over the years for new seafront attractions. From shopping centres to luxury apartments. All with impressive computer generated images of the futuristic designs. Many people have expressed their uncertainty online in regard to how realistic these fanciful plans actually are, expecting that many of the designs will eventually be downgraded.

Opinions on this seafront project vary greatly, but these seem to be the most popular:

  1. Only the car park will ever be built.

  2. The building will destroy the cliffs – either visually or structurally.

  3. The project is another one of Southend BC’s “white elephants” that, even if it ever sees fruition, will never live up to its expectations and end up costing a lot more than it’s worth.

  4. The museum will become an iconic attraction of Southend, and prove to be as popular as the council dreams for it to be.

Let’s hope for the latter…

New Southend Museum at night

All images are CGI designs by AEW Architects, who secured the architecture design of the proposed museum in 2012.