Today’s generation of Southenders will be unfamiliar with the Grand Pier Hotel that once stood proud on top of Pier Hill. It was a tall building, set back from the Palace Hotel, next door to the Eastern National coach company, just across the road from the Ritz Cinema. For guests staying there they really did have everything at hand. Splendid sea views along with the convenience of being very close to the town centre and all its amenities. Today of course this view is very different, save for the Royal Hotel to the far left and the Palace Hotel peeking in from the right, the whole centre section is now taken up with the Royal's Shopping Centre.
Southend Timeline is rapidly becoming a regular nostalgia trip for the many 'ex-pats' now living around the world. One such person Brian Mendes from Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, kindly contacted us and mentioned he once worked at the Grand Pier Hotel; never to miss an opportunity Timeline arranged an 'arms length' interview, and considering the time that has passed Brian has done a splendid job in recalling his days in Southend, enjoy....
Southend Timeline - Brian thank you very much for taking time to provide Southend Timeline an inside glimpse into another remarkable building the Grand Pier Hotel, that has long since disappeared from the town's skyline.
So when exactly did you work at the Grand Pier Hotel?
Brian - I worked there as a temporary hall porter from sometime in July 1949 until about mid December 1949. I was living with my father and his second wife in a bungalow on Chalkwell Avenue having sat the Higher School Certificate exam before leaving Dunstable Grammar School (right) in June 1949. I had applied for University entrance but my acceptance was dependent upon my gaining a State or County Scholarship. I knew that if I did not get into University I would have to complete my National Service starting soon after my eighteenth birthday which was in September 1949.
So I went looking for a job to earn some money regardless of whether or not I went to University. My exam marks were not good enough for a State Scholarship or a County Major. Every eighteen year old male knew the process following registration for National Service, which for me was knowing the fact that I would be called up very early in 1950. Without deferment there was no point in seeking a job with career prospects, knowing that no employer would take on a fellow who would be called up for National Service only a few months after being hired. So the job as a temporary hall porter at Mickey Wilson's Grand Pier Hotel in Southend was my occupation upon leaving school .
Southend Timeline - What was your role in the hotel? Can you describe your duties?
Brian - I was at the beck and call of the Hotel Manager, his wife, the permanent hall porter and the hotel guests...a general factotum, so to speak. I usually worked the day shift but came in late afternoons when asked to. My fixed duties were to clean the mens washroom on the first floor, polish the brass plates where ever they were, tidy up the small lounge bar which was separate from the large Public ,Saloon and Lounge bars which were on the ground floor. I met guests at the separate hotel entrance, carried their luggage to and from their rooms. I suspect that the regular porter, made sure he attended to the regulars who were good tippers. I did take ordered drinks to guests in their rooms The most unpleasant job was assisting the old fellow who washed the dishes in a tiny scullery. This was not a regular assignment. Much of the shift was spent listening to the stories from Jimmy the regular hall porter and the waitresses who waited tables in the restaurant .
Southend Timeline - Can you describe the hotel, what it was like inside, did it have any function rooms, restaurants or bars? What standard of hotel was it?
Brian - The Grand Pier was generally regarded as one of the better hotels in Southend. I recall it having both AA and RAC approval. Downstairs was separate from the hotel and restaurant ,and had a manager and staff for the three bars. It was a Truman House as you can see from the photo. There were very few free houses in those days. The hotel manager and his wife (who I worked for ) had London hotel experience as had the regular hall porter. The chef was quite a character who lusted after one of the waitresses, an attractive 30 something redhead..Marge was her name, I believe. I do not recall any large reception rooms but suspect that in the later years the large restaurant area may have been used for functions. The focal point of the first floor hotel area was the small lounge bar that had its own select patrons. I doubt that most downstairs patrons even knew of its existence. I saw the lunchtime regulars..mostly nouveau rich businessmen, often accompanied by their lady friends. One was a neighbour of ours who lived next door on Chalkwell Ave...he never realised who I was !! Several of the patrons of this bar were lushes to the n'th degree and had to escorted to a taxi well after closing time. The hotel manager knew his stuff and gave fawning attention to those who dropped big money in the bar. I am pretty certain that the Grand Pier was commandeered during the war and was one of the places where convoy control was organised. There was a naval theme mural on one of the walls of the upstairs bar and it was said to have been painted by one of the naval personnel from the wartime operations.
The owner, Mickey Wilson had good connections with the county cricket crowd and the Essex team(or opponents ) stayed at the hotel during Festival Week at Southchurch Park. The Regal Music Hall Theatre was still open and several of the performers stayed when they hit town. I remember only one... Max Wall the comedian (left), because I had to fetch something from his room when he was not there and was surprised to see a large book on his table.. The World's Best Jokes.
Southend Timeline - Can you remember at the time what a young guy would do with his spare time in Southend?
Brian - I was not typical because from 1940 to 1949 I was away at boarding school and only home for the holidays. We lived in the town from 1935 to 1940 when I and my brother were evacuated. My parents moved to Richmond ,Surrey but returned to Westcliff in the summer of 1943, once the travel restrictions were lifted. Home then was 98 Chalkwell Ave and I used the No 17 bus to get to and from work. Once I left school in 1949, I joined the Southend Rugby club and the few friends that I had were club members. My mother ran a ballroom dancing school just off Hamlet Court Road and I learned enough to go to dances. Val West (who now lives in Toronto) and I used to try our luck at the Kursaal Ballroom where Howard Baker's Band (right) was in residence. I lost touch with all my pre-war school friends and none of my Dunstable chums lived in Southend. In fact I was very glad to go into the army when called for National Service.
I was saddened to learn many years after the fact that the Grand Pier Hotel had been torn down to make room for a shopping centre. I have been an infrequent visitor to the UK since emigrating to Canada, and it is only since acquiring a PC that I have tried to follow events in the town .I did purchase a copy of The Southend Story... A town and its People, compiled by Tom King and Kevan Furbank and learned more about the town than I ever knew when I lived there.
Brian thank you for this insight into your early life in Southend.