“Will my right hon. Friend find time for a general debate on the criteria for awarding city status? In every respect, Southend-on-Sea, with its many and various qualities, should already be a city. I believe that is an oversight to which attention may be drawn in a general debate.”
Sir David Amess MP, 6 July 2017
Originally the “south end” of the village of Prittlewell, Southend was home to a few fishermens’ huts and farms. Poor transport links meant that Southend was never much more than a hamlet until the coming of the railways in the 19th century, when Southend’s status as a seaside resort grew. Southend declined as a holiday destination from the 1960s onwards, since then much of the town centre was developed for commerce and retail.
Southend-on-Sea was formed as a borough in 1892 within Essex County Council, the borough was enlarged in 1913 by adding Leigh on Sea Urban District. In 1914 the enlarged Southend gained the status of county borough, exempt from county council control and a single-tier of local government. The borough was enlarged again in 1933 by adding Shoeburyness Urban District and part of Rochford Rural District. In 1974 Southend became a district of Essex with borough status and its civil parish was abolished, in 1998 it again became the single tier of local government when it became a unitary authority.
On 18 October 2021 the Prime Minister announced that the Queen had agreed to grant Southend-on-Sea city status as a memorial to David Amess, the MP who had campaigned for city status and was murdered earlier that month. Upon receiving city status the council voted to rename itself ‘Southend-on-Sea City Council’.
Two Tree Island is a small island, reclaimed from the Thames Estuary in the 18th century and used as pasture until 1910 when a sewage works was built on it. From 1936, the island was used as a landfill site. The island is now a nature reserve, run by Essex Wildlife Trust.
The island’s history includes a clear link with war. There are two pillboxes on the island, one on the east side of the island stand and the other on Leigh Marshes. They were part of a communication and signal system developed during the Great War.
There are bird hides on the island. One overlooking a purpose-built scrape for waders and one to the southwest were destroyed by vandals. There are two more bird hides on the east side. As well as a nature reserve, Two Tree Island functions within the community. At the end of the island road on the south side, is a sloping concrete jetty, operated by the Port of London Authority, a boat storage area and two car parks.
In the 11th century Leigh was a marginal community of homesteads. The Domesday Book records ‘five smallholders above the water who do not hold land’. They were probably engaged in fishing meaning that Leigh has a claim to almost a thousand years connection with the fishing industry.
Two of Old Leigh’s pubs – the Peter Boat and Ye Olde Smack – owe their names to types of local fishing boat. Local fish merchants land, continue to process and trade a wide range of supplies daily.
With the advent of the railway line from London to Southend during the mid-19th century, much of the “old town” was demolished to accommodate the new line.
Gunners Park and Shoebury Ranges is named from its former military use, it was purchased 1849 by the Board of Ordnance when the land became an experimental and practice artillery range. From 1859 to 1940 the site was used by the School of Gunnery and later the Coast Artillery School for training. Experimental casemates built in 1872/3, were adapted into the Light Quick Firing Battery twenty years later. The Heavy Quick Firing Battery (1898) also apparently adapted a previous structure. These ranges also saw use as coastal defences in the Second World War.
The park is now a 25 hectare nature reserve, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust and part of the Foulness Site of Special Scientific Interest. It has over twelve habitats, including coastal grassland and ancient sand dunes.