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Why Southend deserves its spot as the UK’s newest city

I was in Menorca once I heard about the loss of life of Southend West MP Sir David Amess. Notifications pinged on my telephone; buddies shared tales about Sir David’s assist for grass- roots initiatives or how he’d merely been there to assist in a time of want. He’d campaigned tirelessly for Southend to achieve city standing. By the time I landed at Gatwick, that was the newest headline: bittersweet, however a becoming legacy for the man they referred to as Mr Southend.

I grew up in a small city a number of miles away and spent my childhood sliding down the helter-skelter in Peter Pan’s Playground (now Adventure Island) and feeding 2p items into coin-pusher machines in the seafront arcades. In my twenties, I got here to Southend to bounce at TOTS and Mr B’s. Driving in, it at all times felt like a city, with its densely packed housing and high-rise workplace blocks. Yet in lots of respects it was a collection of interconnected villages. That’s partly attributable to its geography, as it strains the north shore of the Thames Estuary, but in addition loads to do with the railway. In 1884, the London, Tilbury and Southend line reached Shoeburyness however intermediate stations such as Chalkwell and Southend East didn’t open till the Thirties, permitting communities to develop earlier than they grew to become infill.

Street artwork brightens up Southend’s city centre

(Julia Hammond)


Packed trains from London’s East End introduced day-trippers like my grandparents to the seaside to eat Rossi’s ice cream and journey the trains to the finish of the world’s longest pleasure pier. One of their favorite haunts was Old Leigh, now one among the city’s most engaging neighbourhoods. In 1969, the 12 months I used to be born, a bunch of locals fought to overturn plans to bulldoze this seaside neighborhood to make approach for the “Road to the West”. Without their dedication, I’d have by no means walked to Leigh’s cockle sheds alongside the Cinder Path, a walkway named after the gritty soot from passing steam trains. Local artist Richard Baxter, who makes ceramics in his workshop at Old Leigh Studios, determined to retell the story and commemorate these activists. Richard has produced a collection of cyanotype images of the Cinder Path that present how one thing so unusual can be lovely.

Across city, a unique site visitors enchancment scheme led to an sudden discovery. In 2003, my each day commute took me by Prittlewell, the oldest a part of the settlement that later grew to become Southend. Like many others who inched alongside Priory Crescent in rush hour site visitors, I supported plans to widen the highway. Then by likelihood, archaeologists uncovered a outstanding Saxon burial chamber, now regarded as England’s oldest. Encased in sandy soil, it had been hidden in plain sight for 1,400 years. The newest guess from historians is that the tomb would possibly belong to a late Sixth-century prince referred to as Sæxa, however nobody is aware of for positive. The extraordinary haul of grave items they recovered is now on show in Southend’s Central Museum. One of the most important finds was a pair of gold foil crosses, making it seemingly the deceased was a Christian at a time when most Anglo-Saxons have been pagans.

Without their dedication, I’d have by no means walked to Leigh’s cockle sheds alongside the Cinder Path, a walkway named after the gritty soot from passing steam trains


Less than 300m away is the Twelfth-century Prittlewell Priory. Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, it was residence to a small neighborhood of Cluniac monks. In 1548, the place was bought to the aptly-named Richard Rich, a villainous, well-connected and self-serving particular person who set about demolishing lots of its buildings so he might use the stone to construct himself a mansion. In 1917, an altruistic jeweller referred to as Robert Jones purchased the Priory. He donated it to the council, so it’s due to him that immediately’s guests can gape at its cavernous corridor with its vaulted, timber ceiling, uncovered stonework and flagstone flooring.

A newer addition to Southend’s array of customer sights is The Jazz Centre UK. It occupies the basement of what was the library, a concrete monstrosity that some optimistically liken to the Barbican. This cultural hub and museum – Jools Holland is a patron – tells the story of jazz, from the greats like Duke Ellington to modern performers such as Jamie Cullum (who, by the way, was born in neighbouring Rochford). It’s a piece in progress, however participating nonetheless. There’s a QR code linked to a Spotify playlist for each period alongside reveals such as Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. But in the event you can, come on a Saturday afternoon once they host stay performances and crank up the quantity.

Local artist Richard Baxter makes ceramics at Old Leigh Studios

(Julia Hammond)


These customer sights, essential as they’re, wrestle to compete with the seafront. More than 250,000 individuals visited the pier this summer season, the highest determine for 15 years. But Jacqui Dallimore, chair of the Southend Tourism Partnership, says there’s an actual need to broaden the city’s enchantment and make it a year-round vacation spot. This September, Southend’s council-supported Arts Festival drew 15,000 guests; its vibrant avenue artwork murals brighten up drained partitions round the city centre. The city simply hosted its inaugural Halloween Parade and a Festival of Light is deliberate for February, which is able to characteristic interactive mild sculptures, stilt-walkers and a maze.

It’s an thrilling time for Southend, although exactly what the future city will seem like is difficult to foretell. What I do know is that passionate, artistic and gifted Southenders will add their voice to these making the selections and work collectively to make their freshly minted city even higher. And I for one can’t wait to see how issues pan out.


The Roslin provides the plushest digs on the town

(Julia Hammond)

Nothing beats looking over the water as the rising solar color washes the damp sand a mushy shade of pink. Close to Pier Hill, the lodging’s largely on the cliff prime, so head east as an alternative to Thorpe Bay the place you’re at sea stage. Southend’s loveliest resort is The Roslin. Staff go the further mile to make visitors really feel particular; Birds of a Feather actress Linda Robson is a daily and calls it her pleased place. Located throughout the highway from the seaside, its spacious rooms have padded headboards, comfortable sofas strewn with cushions and roll prime baths. The finest have balconies overlooking the estuary.

If your price range received’t fairly stretch to that, strive close by Beaches Guest House or The Moorings, which get pleasure from the identical view.


Stop the World Cafe on Leigh Broadway is a well-liked brunch spot – strive a plateful of its common bubble and squeak as an alternative choice to a full English however be ready to queue at weekends.

Down in Old Leigh, dog-friendly Sara’s Tea Garden serves up scrumptious do-it-yourself muffins and its personal mix of espresso in a leafy courtyard backyard. A brief stroll alongside the cobbles takes you to Osborne Bros, who’ve fished for cockles and whelks for 5 generations, processing their catch in close by Cockle Shed Row.

High Street establishment Tomassi’s have been serving up ice cream since 1932. As a child, I might stand on a chair to succeed in the backside of my Knickerbocker Glory glass.

Dine at Food by John Lawson on Leigh Road. Its no-menu idea champions seasonal, natural produce and wholesome consuming. Everything is regionally sourced – when John ran out of artichokes one afternoon, he requested a buddy of mine if he had any going spare on his allotment.


Food by John Lawson champions seasonal, natural produce

(Julia Hammond)

It’s no shock that Hoppily is as a lot a neighborhood hub as it’s a faucet room. As proprietor Mark Fenn says, “Beer is meant to be a product that brings people together”. A big proportion of the craft beer they promote is brewed inside a 50-mile radius of Leigh-on-Sea they usually have a rule to by no means inventory a beer you could find in a grocery store. Keep it native with a glass of Legra Pale Ale from the Leigh-on-Sea Brewing Co or a can of Mad Dog Black stout from George’s Brewery in close by Great Wakering.

Southend additionally has its personal fledgling distillery, Pigs Bay. Try its Essex Pink Gin at the Royal Hotel, the city’s swankiest cocktail bar.

For an genuine nation pub inside the city limits, my decide is north Shoebury’s The Angel Inn. The constructing, with uncovered beams and flagstone flooring, dates from 1650 and there’s a roaring hearth in winter.


The High Street, like so many at the second, is struggling, however Leigh-on-Sea’s unbiased boutiques have weathered the pandemic remarkably effectively. Purchase flavoured spirits like spiced brandy, chocolate rum and toffee vodka from Clink – merely select the bottle and what you’d prefer to fill it with they usually’ll do the relaxation.

Impulse purchase items, equipment and residential decor items at Natural Edge, or at Puddle & Goose the place you’ll fall below the watchful eye of Cooper the canine. A brief stroll away, Leigh Gallery Books is a treasure trove of secondhand books.

For a big selection of latest and used vinyl and CDs, make your solution to South Records in the city centre, which shares every thing from funk to punk. A couple of doorways down you’ll discover Laurence Mathews, an artwork provides retailer which first opened its doorways in 1945.

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