Southchurch: A Short History

Posted on 27 March 2008

A brief chronological study of the history of Southchurch from ancient to modern times. By Alfred B Goodale.

SOUTHCHURCH: A Short History


by Alfred P Goodale
CONTENTS
Publisher’s Preface
Early Southchurch
Lifstanus
Richard de Southchurch
John Barnewell
Dissolution
Parish Records
The Oyster Raid
Canine Madness
Princess Charlotte
Victorian Southchurch
The School
Modern Southchurch

PUBLISHER’S PREFACE

During his long life, Alfred Goodale saw Southchurch change from a small agricultural village into a suburb of Southend-on-Sea. Born in 1903, he was long a familiar figure around Southchurch, where he was busy in all kinds of local activities, particularly those associated with the parish church of Holy Trinity. Alfred Goodale’s love of Southchurch led him to become its best-known and most informed local historian. Previously the history of the parish had been somewhat neglected, and Southchurch had a reputation as a Cinderella ward of Southend, inward-looking and ignored. Southchurch and its Past, by the eminent Southend historian William Pollitt, was the first book to record the parish’s history in detail, and it is a solid enough work, full of facts.

However, it was left to Alfred Goodale to bring life and local colour to the subject, through his two previous books chronicling Southchurch’sheritage. His first book, Southchurch: The History of a Parish, publish in the immediate post-war years, came at the very time was Southchurch was undergoing its final urbanisation. His second work, Holy Trinity Southchurch: 1,150 Years of History, was published in 1974 to commemorate the 1,150 anniversary celebrations of the church in that year. Needless to say, Alfred played a leading part in drawing together the people of the parish for a year-long round of festivities. In 1976, as he was drawing towards the end of his life, he prepared this final record of Southchurch’s history; not a strict chronological saga, it comprises more a series of impressions and snapshots of interesting and important moments and people in the parish’s past, together with some pithy comments about the present and future of the area.

Alfred Goodale’s talents were many; as well as documenting Southchurch’s past, he was much in demand as a public speaker, and he took his full part in local church affairs. He was for many years club leader at Lifstan’s Boys’ Club, which still thrives, and he was also a keen amateur archer. He died in October 1981, and this work is now finally brought to publication as a tribute to his life. The publishers are grateful to Essex County Libraries for advice during the preparation and editing of this manuscript. 

EARLY SOUTHCHURCH

SUDCERCA, SOUTHCYRCAN, SUDCHERCHE, SUTHCHURCH, SEA CHURCH, TORPEIA, and THORPE. These are names mentioned in the Domesday Book, in far older documents and manuscripts in the archives of the Cathedral Church of Christ the King at Canterbury, and on 17th century maps, and they all relate to Southchurch, one of the oldest centres of communal life in Essex. There is evidence that early Man roamed the forest and foreshore of Southchurch about 10,000 years ago.
At the dawn of civilisation, a great lagoon covered much of that area of Southchurch now known as Thorpe Bay, and it is difficult to realise that many of the fine houses and thoroughfares now forming Southend’s show-piece residential area were built on what was once a stinking swamp! The woods on the higher ground of Southchurch provided hunting grounds for the hand-made, flint-axehead, hunters; at suitable times they moved to the waterside for a fish and shellfish diet, and those early inhabitants left behind shell mounds, beakers, flint knives and daggers, all of which have been unearthed by the developers of modern Southchurch. The shells left behind indicate that habits and tastes have changed little in four thousand years and more, because the primitive folk of the area obviously enjoyed the oysters, cockles, mussels and whelks as do the trippers -and some residents - of today.

There were settlements in Southchurch during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, but as the centuries passed, the lagoon silted up, and became a swamp which later was to provide some of the finest brick-earth in Essex. All the discoveries indicate that Southchurch was well populated without a break from 5,000 B.C. until the Roman occupation in A.D.43, but apart from coins and a small amount of pottery, little has been found to indicate there was a Roman outpost at Southchurch. A small community must have been established again by the Saxon invaders, but when Augustine came from Rome in 597 with the first Christian mission to pagan England, a great new era began for Southchurch.

The Christian king of Kent, Ethelbert, sent Mellitus to spread the Gospel to the East Saxons, but they drove him out, and Essex remained pagan until, in 653, Cedd, a monk of Lindisfarne came as a missionary bishop to the land the East Saxons. He founded a monastery at Tilbury and himself lived at Bradwell where, on the site of the abandoned Roman fort of Othona he built St. Peter’s-on-the-Wall, still a tiny stone building and now a national shrine. The followers of Cedd built many churches in Essex; probably one was at Prittlewell but we know for certain there was a church at Southchurch some time before 824, and in 1974 we celebrated over 1,150 years of a Christian ministry in Southchurch.

LIFSTANUS

Lifstanus, a wealthy Saxon land owner in Southchurch, was a Christian, and the earliest documents at Canterbury Cathedral record that Lifstanus gave Sudcerca to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury. Research has proved this must have taken place in A.D. 824. The gift was confirmed by Ceolwulf, king of Mercia. The very name Sudcerca, meaning a church in the south, indicates that Lifstan’s gift included a church, probably made of wood. 
 
Centuries later, under the direction of the monks of Canterbury, a greater church, of stone - now known as the old church - was built. This was between 1120 and 1150, and most of this grand Norman work is with us today. The earliest printed description of this Norman church is given by Salmon in his History andAntiquities of Essex published in 1740. Ten years later, Holman, in a similar work, used some of Salmon’s information and wrote, ‘this parish, or the greater part of it did, long before the Conquest, belong to the Archiepiscopal see of Canterbury, being given to it by one Lifstanus, a noble Saxon, and confirmed by Celulfry, King of the Mercians. This was about A.D. 823 or 824. This is the first place in Essex that was given to that church.‘ He also records that Edward the Confessor confirmed the grant of Lifstanus ‘unto Christ Church in Canterbury by the name of Southcyrcan’.

In the old church there is a complete list of rectors from1287 but two earlier rectors not mentioned were Gilbert Fitzwilliam, from 1193 to 1205, and Alexander, who became rector in 1248.
All the rectors, with the exception of one, were appointed by Archbishops of Canterbury, who included Henry Chichele, Thomas Bourchier, William Warham, Thomas Cranmer and Cardinal Pole. The exception was Robert Derby, who was appointed by King Richard II when the See of Canterbury was vacant. 

The manorial system had been established when Lifstanus, or Lifstan as we call him today, made his gift to Canterbury, but we know little about him except that his death was commemorated at Canterbury on 25th August. When Lifstan went to Canterbury to meet the Prior and monks, two other Saxons, Ealdhirt and his sister Salethryt, alsogave some of their lands at Southchurch to the convent.

Like the church, the manor of Sudcerca was included in Lifstan’s gift and for centuries remained under the control of Canterbury. That manor, now known as Southchurch Hall, is a restored gem of 14th century work. The two other manors in the district mentioned in the Domesday survey were Thorpe, near the sea and now the headquarters of Thorpe Hall Golf Club, but only the foundations of the other manor, Torpeia, exist today, and they are beneath the foundations of a shirt factory! (Publisher’s Note: this (9) building is no longer a shirt factory). All three manors appeared in the Domesday Book, which reviewed England as it was in 1086 and as it had been in 1066. Torpeia, or North Thorpe, in Edward’s days was held by Godric, one of his thegns and later by the great Essex landowner, Suene. Robert Fitzwymarc was there by the time the Domesday survey was made in 1086.

The other Thorpe manor (Thorpe Hall) in King Edward’s reign was held by Ranolf and later by Inguar. The first occupier after the Domesday survey was John de Brus, and his successors included a second Robert de Brus, who died in 1276 and who, it is recorded, held the manor and lands in the village of Southchurch. It is believed he was buried in the church.
The tenants of Southchurch manor provided plenty of fascinating history, especially members of the de Southchurch family who were in occupation from the 12th to the early 14th century. The first to be recorded was Richard de Southchurch who figured in an inquiry at Milton - also linked with Canterbury - regarding the ownership or tenancy of the manor. This was in 1191 and King Richard I, abroad on a crusade, heard that Richard of Southchurch had attempted to usurp ownership of the manor. The king authorised the Prior and Convent of Christ Church Canterbury, to hold the enquiry and if necessary to enforce the restitution. The jury of twelve men from the district decided that Richard was no more than a tenant of the (10) monks. From that time until Henry VIII, Southchurch manor continued to be controlled by the monks at Canterbury.

Seven years later there was a dispute between the Prior and Convent and William de Southchurch concerning all the town of Sutchirca, This resulted in William being allowed to hold the manor on a lease of land and stock, for £20 a year, in quarterly payments, with a fine of 100/- if the lord was 15 days late in paying the rent to the monks. William, and future tenants of the manor were ordered not to sell, give or waste any part of the extensive Southchurch wood except that reasonable for his hearth and the repair of his houses and hedges. Nor were they to unjustly burden or tax the inhabitants of Southchurch.

RICHARD de SOUTHCHURCH 

A notorious member of the family was another Richard de Southchurch; he became Sheriff of Essex, robbed King Henry III who honoured him, spent a time in Fleet prison, added considerably to the family possessions at Southchurch, usually unlawfully, yet was very kind to the people of Southchurch, especially the poor.

This Richard, the heir of William, was made a ward of his widowed mother in 1241 and at the time of his death in 1294 he held the tenancy not only of Southchurch manor but of lands in the adjoining manors of North Thorpe, Prittlewell, Leigh, Sutton, North Shoebury, and Shopland. He had a mill at Southchurch and another at Prittlewell. He was Sheriff of Essex from 1265 to 1267 and it was his duty to provide King Henry III, then encamped at Stratford during the Barons’ Wars, with military stores.

So, in the name of the king, he careered round Essex, confiscating huge stores of wheat and oats, oxen, poultry and cattle. At one place he set up a market and stole all the sheep and cattle taken to the market for sale and purchase.

He could tell a good tale, and centuries before Hitler tried to burn London, Richard went to Ockendon and confiscated a large number of cockerels, telling the owners that fire would be tied to the cockerels’ feet and the birds would be sent flying into London to burn down the city! He stole (12) catapults and cords, pickaxes and spades to break down the walls of London, and great quantities of food were taken to feed the army.

In fact, practically everything he seized was taken to his manor at Southchurch and the cheeky blighter had the nerve to claim on the exchequer for payment of these goods and produce, requisitioned in the name of the king. Naturally he was not popular in Essex and many charges were made against him, including extortion, false imprisonment, the theft of bail money and bribery. He was not punished for any of these offences; in fact, as Sheriff of the county, he was knighted.

The law caught up with him in 1279 when he had to surrender to the king the lands he had seized in the manor of Eastwood. In 1285, he was in Fleet prison, and four years later he escaped a fine of £1,000 by transferring the Manor of Hatfield Peverel to the king.

About 1275 Sir Richard set aside the rent of five acres at Southchurch to provide an annual bread dole, the bread being distributed to the poor each year on St. Catherine’s Day at his chapel in the manor. Richard died in 1294 and further provisions were made in his will for the poor. Among the many bequests were included a horse and armour to the church at Southchurch, and a travelling cloak to the vicar of Prittlewell, with forty shillings to the church.(13) In the will he directed that he should be buried in a chapel of the Blessed Virgin to be built in the cemetery at Southchurch. Although no trace has been found of the tomb, the original contract for its construction is still at Canterbury. It was between Richard’s son, Sir Peter de Southchurch, and Roger, a master mason of Prittlewell. The chapel was to be built 50 ft. long and 25 ft. high; Peter was to supply the materials and make a road leading from the water to the site of the chapel. A great tomb of marble was to be provided. To pay for this, Sir Richard left a silver cup, all his pigs and if this was insufficient, an ox and fat hog. Peter had to set aside one hundred shillings yearly until the chapel was completed.

An illegitimate son of Sir Peter was another notorious member of the de Southchurch family, known as “Henry the Monk”. For eight years he was a monk at the Cluniac priory at Prittlewell but he left the order, discarded his monastic habit, and, for more than 26 years wandered about as a secular vagrant, involved in a number of doubtftil financial transactions. John de Newyntoune, grandson of Sir Peter, brought against Henry a charge of taking possession, by means of a forged will, of more than 600 acres of land at Southchurch with a mill and other property left to John by his grandfather. Henry, the former monk, was put under sentence of outlawry for failing to surrender to the law as a vagrant monk and the Crown held the estates pending trial. Henry died unconvicted and the property was restored to John de Newyntoune.

During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, armed peasants raided Southchurch manor and seized many manorial records including the rolls of court, tenancy deeds and documents giving the obligations and services due by tenants to the lord of the manor. All these records were burnt. The failure of the Revolt meant the peasants had to plead for pardon and re-instatement, and whenever this was granted the lord of the manor imposed his own fines and conditions.

JOHN BARNEWELL

Most people know that some of the finest ancient stained glass in the country is to be found in Canterbury Cathedral, and my research has resulted in the exciting discovery that fragments of an ancient window which was destroyed by Puritan vandalism and Hitler’s bombs have been incorporated in another window near the spot where Thomas Becket was martyred - and - that 15th century window was given by a Southchurch farmer who lived at Southchurch Hall. He was John Barnewell, who died in 1478, after erecting the window in the cathedral to the memory of his father, Thomas Barnewell, a sheriff and Alderman of the City of London and a prominent fishmonger. The dedication read “Pray for the soul of Thomas Barnewell, fishmonger and Alderman of London” and, “Pray for the good estate of John Barnewell, citizen and fishmonger of London, and of his wife Emma”.

Thanks to the splendid co-operation of Miss Oakley, the Archivist of Canterbury Cathedral, the Fishmongers’ Company and the Guildhall Library, I have found that John Barnewell of Southchurch Hall had large transactions with the prior and monks of Canterbury in the supply of fish and wine. By the end of the 14th century, the monks farmed out their manors on leases. John Barnewell leased Southchurch manor and no doubt some of the fish sent to Canterbury came from the Thames at Southchurch. The monks made 26 payments to Barnewell between 1463 and 1490 and he in (16) turn paid to the monks £12. 12.0 a year for the rent of Southchurch manor. His last payment was in 1479, but his some Thomas carried on the farm at Southchurch, and in 1489 the monks paid him £15.16.8 for farm produced, fish and wines.

The fragments of the original Barnewell window in the Martyrdom show the coats of arms of the Fishmongers’ Company, the City of London and the family of Barnewell.

DISSOLUTION

The link between Southchurch manor and the Canterbury monks was broken when Henry VIII broke with Rome, dissolved the monasteries, commandeered their wealth and brought to an end the welfare state which had been created by the church. Canterbury naturally suffered badly and Southchurch manor was only one of the many to pass into other hands. In fact at first the king granted the manor to the dean and chapter of the cathedral, who had to pay him £200, allegedly to benefit scholars in Cambridge, but of course the money passed to royal coffers. Two months later, the king scrapped all this and exchanged Southchurch for other lands in Essex belonging to Lord Riche, who lived at Rochford Hall. The royal tyrant did not grab the church or its rectory and so for over 1,150 years, the living has been in the collation of the Archbishops of Canterbury.

Southchurch manor remained in the possession of Lord Riche’s descendants, the Earls of Warwick, and later passed to the earl of Nottingham. George Asser was lord of the manor in 1738 and eventually Southchurch Hall became part of the estate of the first mayor of Southend, Alderman Thomas Dowsett, and his family presented it to the town in 1925. The hall and grounds were in a bad state but fortunately for Southend and Essex, the Corporation tackled the restoration with courage and vigour and the hall has been restored to some of its original beauty.

PARISH RECORDS

The parish records started in 1682 are still preserved, and the first signature is that of Thomas Case, the rector, who from 1682 until his death nearly fifty years later, did not miss a meeting. Christopher Parsons was chosen as Overseer in 1682 and at that time, in addition to all the manors, places assessed for Poor Rate included the White Horse inn; Samuel’s Farm, first occupied in 1270; Bournes Farm, which took its name from the Bawnes or Bonours family in the 15th century, and Butterys Farm, which took its name from William de Ia Botary in 1395. The Earl of Devon paid rates on The Wick in 1682, and a later resident at that place was Sir Edwin Arnold, author of one of our greatest poems, The Light of Asia.

The parish records naturally provide some interesting stories of a small, mainly farming community. When Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, came to the throne as a child, he was under the domination of the Privy Council and a Lord Protector. Money was short, and they knew how Henry VIII had acquired great wealth by suppressing the monasteries, so they turned their eyes to the parish churches of the land. The churchwarden and overseer at Southchurch had heard how the king’s commissioners had robbed many churches in Essex, and as their little church was well supplied with plate and vestments, they got the consent of the parishioners to sell some before the commissioners arrived. This actually happened on 26th September 1551, (19) and the commissioners were shown an old oak chest; a silver chalice; one alb; two surplices; two altar cloths and two towels. The churchwardens, John Blyatt and Thomas Cele, Robert Carnell, the Parish Clerk, and two parishioners, did not disclose that they had sold albs, copes and other vestments; three handbells; three great candlesticks; a holy water vessel; a ewer and other property, bringing in £8. 10.0, which was a respectable sum in those days. Additionally, a former churchwarden, John Ambrose, had sold a chalice belonging to the church. The commissioners, who had been completely duped by the church officials and parishioners, allowed the church to retain a chalice, altar cloth and towels. The residue was committed to the king’s use through the churchwardens.

I have mentioned that the White Horse inn was rated in1682, and records show that the landlord in 1701, John Darsley, was also the parish constable, and he was allowed 2/- for the repair of the parish musket. His successor, William Cripps, in 1707 included in his accounts 2/- for the repair of the village stocks which were between the church and the inn, and two years later another parish constable, William Goodwyn, spent 10/- on a new whipping post provided near the stocks.

The Archbishop’s visitation returns for 1788 show that there were twenty houses in the parish, the sacrament was administered four times a year and there were six communicants.

THE OYSTER RAID

For centuries the fishery rights of Southchurch foreshore were jealously guarded. In 1381 those rights were granted by the lord of the manor to three men to fish on Southchurch foreshore catching fish in keddles, but it was not until the early 18th century that a flourishing oyster industry was started at Southchurch. One Joseph Outing went to Mr. George Asser at Southchurch Hall and took a lease of the shore at low rent, and cultivated the oyster. As his business increased, other growers at Leigh and Hadleigh followed his example and the local oysters were in great demand in London. This affected the oyster industry on the Kent side of the estuary and in 1724 about 500 men from Kent, led by Captain Evans, Mayor of Queenborough and a Member of Parliament, sailed to Southchurch foreshore and raided and damaged the oyster beds. There were not sufficient Southchurch men effectively to oppose the raiders, so a Justice of the Peace was called to read the Riot Act on the foreshore. Hearing this, Captain Evans and his gang sailed away, Captain Evans shouting, “King George for England” (King George I). Naturally the Southchurch men took legal action against the raiders who were ordered to pay £17,000 damages.

CANINE MADNESS

There was a period when mad dogs so terrorised the villagers of Southchurch that they called a parish meeting to deal with this outbreak of canine madness. This was on 22nd March 1808, and the minutes record that the rector presided, supported by Mr. Saward, churchwarden, farmers and villagers. They passed four resolutions -
“First, That public notice be given in this village on the alarming crisis occasioned by canine madness and that all inhabitants are requested to chain up or confine their dogs.
“Second, That any person who finds a dog at large in this parish is desired to destroy the animal, on proof of which being made, the person who shall destroy such dog shall be entitled to a reward of one shilling from the churchwarden of this parish.“
Then came some nasty threats, because the third resolution read -
“That no poor person who keeps a dog at this perilous time shall receive relief from this parish in any shape whatever.“ “Fourth, That in order to discourage the practice of keeping useless and mischievous dogs in this parish, we will (22) not knowingly give employ to any labourer keeping such a dog.“
The clerk had to read these resolutions at the church door after divine service and a copy of them was affixed to the church door and to the blacksmith’s shop. The clerk also had to visit the White Horse and the Rose inn, and read the resolutions to the assembled companies.

Mr. S award, by the way, was a churchwarden and prosperous farmer, but an unfortunate father because his family tomb records that nine of his children died in twelve years; the oldest child was 9 years old and the youngest one month. Mrs. Mary Saward died when she was 42, and a tombstone tribute records; “As virtuous paths she trod, Heaven’s her sure reward”

PRINCESS CHARLOTTE

It is not generally known that the little village of Southchurch played an important part in the rise of Southend as a seaside and health resort. Study the old maps which locate Prittlewell, Shoebury, Leigh and Southchurch, and you will find no mention of Southend. It was mentioned in a documents of Henry Viii’s reign merely as the south end of Prittlewell parish, and indeed in 1760 it was described as a poor hamlet of fishermen’s huts. In fact, Southend owed much to a king who at the time was completely mad; to his son, a Prince of Wales who was a drunken and immoral rogue; to his wife, the Princess of Wales, who was described as sulky, dirty and smelly; and their only child, Princess Charlotte, whose death in childbirth led to the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne.
All these ‘Royals’ were caught up in the new craze of sea bathing. The king who had bouts of insanity was George III, normally a quiet and popular chap but no doubt many of his troubles were due to his eldest son who became Prince Regent, and on the old man’s death became George IV. As Prince of Wales he was a most notorious rake in the country; he loved the ladies and had so many mistresses that he couldn’t name them all, but he built the great Pavilion at Brighton where they enjoyed their fun and games. He committed the unforgivable (royal) sin of marrying a young Catholic widow, who had twice been married and as his (24) father had not consented to the marriage it was declared illegal. George III refused to meet the prince’s debts of £400,000 unless he married his cousin, princess Caroline of Brunswick. He hated her; he was so drunk on his wedding night that he fell senseless in the bedroom fireplace and remained there until he sobered up the following morning. He complained that his wife was sulky, dirty, and smelly, but there must have been one token of affection because exactly nine months and one day after the wedding, his only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, was born! 

That princess came to Southchurch and benefitted by bathing from Southchurch beach; her mother realising her husband’s frolics at Brighton, thought she too would like a bit of fun and chose South End because it had become a resort favoured by the nobility and gentry, and because her only daughter, when just five years old, had stayed at The Lawn at Southchurch, and greatly benefited by sea bathing from the beach.

This was in 1801 when Mr. Sumner, a relative of the Archbishop of Canterbury, occupied The Lawn, and no doubt the young princess found the countryside and seaside of Southchurch a great relief from the tensions of court life at that time. She attended services at Southchurch church and listened to Rev. Archer’s sermons. Apparently her health greatly improved as a result of her holiday at Southchurch. Two years later her mother, the Princess of Wales, stayed for three months at what is now known as (25) Royal Terrace, but when there was a great scandal three years later and an inquiry was held into her conduct, allegations of irregularities at Southend and Southchurch Lawn were disproved. The baptism registers of Southchurch at that time have been examined by many who have hoped to prove that a child was born, but there is no record of any such event. 
   
VICTORIAN SOUTHCHURCH

Our immediate forefathers lived in humble cottages with well-kept gardens. I remember several old timber cottages which stood opposite the While Horse inn, and in one lived Mr. Hewett Wilton, one of the first professional photographers in Southend, who took pictures of cows grazing in what is now Southend High Street; then nightingales sang in the Cliffs. He died in 1860 and left his wife with a dozen children, but this little woman who reared her family and carried on her husband’s business for thirty years, became a friend of royalty and the nobility. She was the only photographer with a pass to Shoebury Garrison, entitling her to take photographs of visiting royalty, officers, personnel and visitors, her subjects included the Prince of Wales, Princess Louise, H.R.H. The Duchess of Teck, Princess May of Teck, and His Highness Prince Ibrahim.

On 27th January 1850, Anthony Smith, a thatcher and gardener, opened a little Baptist church in a Southchurch cottage. His early life was spent in the workhouse, and - entirely self-taught - he was 42 when he learned to write. The opening of the present Belle Vue Baptist Church in February 1914, free of debt, was a miracle which was (sic) have delighted Anthony Smith.

THE SCHOOL

There is in Southchurch Boulevard, opposite the church gate, an old walnut tree - it must be well over a century old - and in spite of vandalism, neglect by the Corporation, and the drought this year (1976) - it has had another good crop of walnuts. It was originally in the garden of the village shop kept by Ann Arnold who, in 1848, opened a Dame School there for 25 children connected with the church. She must have had a busy time as both School Marm and village shopkeeper, but the cottage school was replaced in 1852 by a church school for boys and girls.
The population then was 455, but included in the census of that time were crews of the ships lying off the Southchurch shore. The old Dame School became the village post office, but this was swept away when the Boulevard was constructed in 1913. The school continued until 1948 when it was closed, as it did not meet modern educational requirements. My aunt was teacher there for fifty years of its 97 years’ existence.

MODERN SOUTHCHURCH

In 1896, Southchurch was still jogging along quietly under the restricted jurisdiction of the parish council, but quite aware that Southend Town Council, formed two years earlier when Southend became a borough, were casting envious eyes on Southchurch seafront, as an extension to Southend seafront. The greater part of Southchurch was under agricultural cultivation. To all intents and purposes it was a truly rural parish, with interests widely differing from those of the seaside town. All the people desired to be left alone, but as farms were gradually purchased to be developed as building estates, the Corporation took decisive action.   

Southchurch then had an area of 1,731 acres with a rateable value of £5,296 and a population of 909. At every stage, Southchurch people fought the council’s proposals, but in 1897 Southchurch became the first area to be incorporated into the borough. Naturally, the land and estate developers were quick to purchase agricultural areas for future development, and many of us can remember the former wheatfields, the pastures and lanes of Southchurch have now become urban - and many fortunes have been made by the families of those earlier Southenders who were quick to realise the great financial potentialities of Southchurch.

The first trams reached the White Horse from Southend in 1901. Between 1913 and 1914, the Boulevard was extended (29) to Thorpe Esplanade and the tram route extended to include the toast-rack tram system which became a feature of eastern Southend. Schools were erected, churches built, and two parishes - St. Augustin&s and Christ Church - were created from the old Southchurch parish. Thorpe Bay had its own railway station provided in 1911 and twenty years later, Southend East station, at first called Southchurch station, was opened.

But it is in the post-war decades that the greatest development has been made. There was a great fuss just after the Second World War when Southend’s Development Plan was being discussed and farmers on the outskirts of Southchurch vowed that the agricultural lands bordering the area were the finest in this part of Essex, and must always be used as such. The planners even produced a Green Belt, but the farmers soon succumbed to the developers’ cash, and now the Corporation are filling up with industrial and leisure sites the very areas they once decided should for ever be green!
In this march of so-called modern progress many of our old buildings have disappeared. The greatest modern scandal was when the Corporation approved the destruction of the late 14th century Dames Farm, at Bournes Green. The fine old timbered Wick Cottages have gone, so too have the remains of one of our oldest manors. The centuries-old Wick Farm, latterly taken over by the Corporation, has been destroyed by vandals. The thatched and tar-timbered tithe (30) barn where we held our meetings and made our own enjoyments, has gone for ever. So too have the bullace and cobnut trees of Hamstel Lane, the wild violets and primroses which grew in profusion in lanes which are now busy highways.   

So much more could be told about Southchurch, but I must end. I hope I have stimulated your interest in a very ancient parish which until a few decades ago was a closely-knit community, which has produced few great names, yet has made a contribution to past and present history, a contribution which I hope this history makes better known to the many thousands now living in the suburban area which was once the little village of Southchurch.

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