Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life



Busy Bandstand Season - Although war was around the corner the show went on at the Bandstand, with a staggeringly long season starting on 7th April with the Royal Tank Corps Band, ending on 2nd October with the Royal Dragoons.  The variety of bands was dominated by the military with shows from the Welsh Guards, Royal Marines, even the Jamaica Military Band; but also civilian representation was there too with the Metropolitan Police Band, Waldini and His Gypsy Band also Percy Bush and His Orchestra.

Police War Reserve - On 4th September 1939, the first 95 men were sworn into the Police War Reserve.  Utilising the hall to the rear of the Westminster Bank at 13-15 London Road.  Extra duties were required of this force not least keeping an eye on the many empty properties due to evacuation.  But also maintaining a blackout situation, Southend's geographical position made this even more crucial.

The Seafront Commandeered for War Duty - Southend Pier became a first line of defence and an essential link to the Naval Fleets in the Estuary, the Navy took over the Pier on 25th August 1939, and the Pier closed to the public on  9th September 1939   and took up its role as becoming part of HMS Leigh, a name given to the seafront area commandeered by the Royal Navy and included properties on Royal Terrace as well as the Grand Pier Hotel, which gained a fascinating Naval mural on a wall in one of the bars painted by personnel employed in managing the convoys through the estuary.  On 22nd November 1939 the first and only serious attack was made on the pier, the Germans machine-gunned the Pier, they dropped fourteen parachute mines between the Chapman Light off Canvey and the Boom.  Due to the pier being so strongly defended it was never attacked again for the dureation of the war. 

The Met Opens - Westcliff saw the arrival on 10 April 1939 of the Metropole Cinema.  A technicolour movie was on show on opening night 'Kentucky' starring Loretta Young and Richard Greene.  Most cinemas in the town seemed to be hit by the scourge of fire, however strangely enough the Metropole endured flooding in 1940 and forced its closure for two years.  In May 1954 the cinema became an Essoldo.  it changed its name to Classic in 1972; in 1973 a second cinema was added into the building.  Ideally located on the London Road, (site of Halfords).  It had seating for 1,189.  The cinema had along life and survived until February 1991.

Southend Switched On -  London Road became the location for a new telephone exchange in 1939.  Allowing the town to be better prepared during a period when war loomed and Southend becoming a crucial military zone.  Today a large British Telecom block exists just off London Road on North Road.

Essex Athletic Championships - The Essex Athletic and Cycling Championships were held on Saturday 19th June 1939 in Southchurch Park.  A full committee worked to provide an elaborate festival which was enjoyed by a huge audience. 


The Prittlebrook - Sluice gates were added at intervals between Leigh and Prittlewell.  This created an emergency water supply of 1,160,000 gals. 

Southend High school for Boys relocated to Prittlewell Chase

The Boom Time - East Beach in Shoebury became guardian to a new structure, a defence boom. It consisted of wooden piles driven into the sands both sides of the Thames stretching to the edges of the deep water channel. Once the deep water channel was reached an anti-submarine net was placed across the remaining stretch of river. Stationed along the net there were large barges called lighters weighing some 200 tons. The boom was armed with anti-aircraft guns & searchlights, the purpose of the boom was to prevent enemy submarines from attacking anchored shipping in the river. It also prevented attack by enemy surface ships. The boom was dismantled after the war & all that remains today are the wooden piles with concrete reinforcing stretching out for just over 1 Kilometre into the Thames. 

New Garden for Priory Park - At the Mayor's (Alderman Dowsett) Garden Party on 27th July 1939, the Old World Garden was opened in Priory Park, alongside the Priory complete with fountains and walled seating.

 Mayor's Garden Party by you.

Even today this small part of the 48 acre park commands respect and liking for all ages due to it's tranquility.

Carnival Attracts the Stars - This year's carnival celebrations, the last before the war, was endorsed by celebrity attendance, film stars Trevor Howard and Gret Gynt both performed the duties of crowning the court.Trevor Howard canvas art print by Anonymous






Church Assist's War Effort - St John's Church beside the Palace Hotel, with the acquisition of most of the seafront, gave there Church Hall for the benfit of the troops.  It became known as the 'Ship's Club' and was used for canteen, instruction and social activities.  many stage shows were put on and Frankie Howard made one of his earliest public performances here.  The Royal Terrace became a Control Station to help with safe passage of some 3,000 convoys, the white ensign that flew above the terrace now hangs within the Church in the North Transept.


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