Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life

Happy Valley & The Floral Hall

The Happy Valley was located midway between what is now the Gentings Casino (Westcliff Casino/Westcliff Leisure Centre) and the Esplanade Public House on the lower level of Western Esplanade, it was running before 1909.

   

The original Clifftown Parade bandstand that was built in 1902 was relocated to the Happy valley site in 1909 as the Clifftown site was increased in size to cope with the demand of people visiting.

   

At the Happy valley site the relatively gentle slope of the cliffs provided a natural amphitheatre, There was racked seating facing a stage which could accommodate between 3000-4000 people, a charge was placed upon the seating area, however the footpaths to the back of the site remained free for people to stop and stand on too watch and listen to the shows.

   

One of the early acts was the music hall star G.H. Chirgwin (14 December - 17 November 1922) who's face paint gave him the nickname of The White Eyed Kaffira his act would be a mixture of cockney material as well as straightforward blackface songs and sketches.

   

During 1913 the Harry Rose Concert Party was playing twice daily concerts, no matter what the weather the band played on.

Happy Valley was replaced by the Floral Hall in 1920 which continued to be used for concerts as well as flower shows, the building was built so that it could be opened up in hot weather or kept closed in cold or wet weather.

   

The Floral Hall was built by Herman Darewski who operated it for a number of years before it was taken over by the Council.

To keep people warm in the winter radiators were installed to eat the building.

   

Seats could be booked in advance to make sure you were able to get in, or you could turn up on the day and hope that there was space left to get it, performances took place every night at 8:00pm except for Sundays.  The programme was changed every Monday & Thursday, a matinee was staged on Wednesdays at 3:00pm with Grand Gala Nights every Thursday.

    

Although the Southend Carnival has been in action since 1906, the tradition of crowning the carnival queen, which continues to this day, dates back to 1928 when Ena Bone became the first to be crowned at the Floral Hall.

   

During the 1933 season the Floral Hall was staging "Modern Follies".

  

Fred Beck and his cast of 16 performers were the resident act preforming the Follies during 1933, they included:

Dorrie Dee who proved very popular with constant encores at the end of her act,

Thurza Rogers & Lascelles with classical & eccentric dancing,

Ena & Vera Fawcett doing tap dance,

Ann performing a Blue Danuble dance,

Tony Drew singing baritone

Madge Villers signing soprano

Fred Beck & Dennis Lawes comedy act

Reg Lindo & Howard Clark on pianos

  

On Thursday 12th September 1935 the South African and Essex cricket teams attended the Floral Hall as the guests of the Parks and Entertainments Committee, the event was also attended by the Mayor & Mayoress.  The resident lead Fred Beck arranged a special programme for the evening including an argument between Golf and Cricket, Spanish Serenade, a military medley and a musical burlesque.

  

The Floral Hall would remain popular until the tragic events of Saturday 14th August 1937, Soon after 4:00pm a young lad spotted smoke coming from part of the building, within an hour the building was left as nothing but a twisted skeleton of steel uprights and cross members, the intensity of the fire and the heat it had generated had scorched near by trees, the firefighters had to quickly dampen down the trees to stop them combusting and spreading the fire up the cliff gardens, the trees survived but were scorched.

   

As the fire raged hundreds gathered to watch the unfolding drama despite the rain, as the fire took a firm grip on the timber building the building begun to collapse in on itself, as the sea facing wall collapsed if slid down the cliffs on to the esplanade below.

  

The fire had happened close to the end of the summer season, so the Council started to look at what they could do for next season, a marquee was proposed but quickly rejected as there was little likelihood that an entertainment licence would have been granted on such a temporary building as satisfactory kitchen and sanitation facilities could be included in the tented structure.

   

In December 1937 it was proposed to build a cafe on the north side of the site, the building would be of "Old World" type construction, being built from weathered Elm & Oak boards with a straw & heather thatched roof, however the plan was dropped as it was not expected to have been ready before the start of the summer season and that the flammable construction of the building could be a danger to further fires.

   

The Floral Hall had been fully insured, this saw a pay out of £6000 for the building, £2000 for fixture & fittings, £4, 9s, 6d lost cash box, £31 lights & £200 for two pianos.  The money for the pianos was immediately handed over to Mr T.J. Gilbert of 100 High Street Southend, who had leased them to the Council, £10 was handed to Messrs B Roberts & Company of Leeds for the loss of advertising curtains.

    

At the time of the fire the hugely popular Paramount Follies had been the resident show, with no plans in place to replace the building the Follies could not find a new home to stage the show so it closed.

  

With no time to construct a new facility it was decided to clear gutted remains of the building and tidy the site to make it presentable for the coming season, the site was landscaped to become part of the Cliff Gardens, the central point became a small fish pond, after a number of years the pond was filled in to become a flower feature.