The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings and activities, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For more information on recent events and current programme, please email or contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434

Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew

Foxearth and District History Society

“Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew” 

A film screening, 14 February 2023

However much I love the country lanes, footpaths, fields and woods of our part of Essex, every few weeks I have a yearning to be by the seaside (writes Andrew Le Sueur). Since moving to Borley, Aldeburgh has become our beach of choice. For something more remote, Shingle Street or Lee-over-Sands are good options. But for a full-fat bucket-and-spade candy floss experience, Southend-on-Sea is hard to beat.

The FDHS’s February meeting (well-attended despite or perhaps because it fell on St Valentine’s Day) was a screening of a 55-minute film “Southend Past – the Town Our Parents Knew”, narrated by Sally Ann Burnett, part of the Your Region on Film Series produced by Timereel Studios released in 2008.

The archive film traced the development of the town as a holiday resort (“a matchless Cockney paradise”) across the first 60 years of the twentieth century. The town was clearly a place for family fun and relaxation but the thoughtful narration did not shy away from highlighting the realities of life during this period. In the run up to the First World War, the town was a hierarchical society recognisable to the mid-Victorians. The Great Depression of the 1930s made it clearer than ever that Southend, while presenting opportunities for escapism for day trippers and holiday makers, was a town of haves and have-nots.

The 1950s were the last hoorah for mass tourism. The train trundling the mile-long pier was electrified and the film clips evoked an era of the simple pleasures of Miss Lovely Legs competitions, bowls and putting greens. The rise of package holidays abroad might have been the death knell for the town, but for a while Southend Airport boomed as a hub for scheduled and charter flights across Europe. It was astonishing to see air-car ferries from the 1960s, with cars being driven onto planes for the short hop across the English Channel, where passengers started their continental holiday.

For all the challenges it has faced over the years, the film emphasized the town’s civic pride. The film ended with a 1967 clip of the Queen Mother opening Southend Civic Centre, a concrete and glass tower block designed by the borough architect. The good cheer of onlookers was not dimmed by the “gentle but persistent drizzle” – something that those of us who prefer holidaying in England are familiar with.


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