Southend is a child of the great age of seaside holidays. Once it was no more than the south end of the village of Prittlewell, but when holidaymakers first came here in the Georgian period, the south end grew into a large and popular holiday resort. Southend on Sea has long since surpassed and subsumed its mother village.
Now a major town in its own right, Southend has grown beyond utter reliance on tourism. It was granted city status on 1 March 2022.
Georgian holiday-makers came to the south end of Prittlewell out of London for the sea air, something particularly fashionable after royal patronage had come to Brighton. The Victorian railways reached out along the south Essex coast and the railway companies were not slow to make "Sunny Southend on Sea" a desired location. This marked the beginning of the town's major growth. Proximity to London and access by train meant the economy has been based on tourism ever since.
Southend Pier is the world's longest pleasure pier, eventually reaching out 2,360 yards (1.34 miles). It has suffered fires and ship collisions, most recently in October 2005, but the basic pier structure has been repaired each time. There has been significant loss of pier-head facilities since the major fire in 1976.
Seaside resorts began to decline from the 1960s and Southend had to adapt. Much of the centre was developed for commerce and many of the original features were destroyed through redevelopment or neglect. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (formerly HM Customs and Excise), are major employers, and the central offices for the collection of VAT are there. Southend opened the University of Essex, Southend to boost the economy.
There are nine railway stations on two lines within the borough connecting it to London, two in Southend itself.
Entertainment and culture
The city is known for its seafront. Southend-on-Sea is home to the world's longest pleasure pier, built in 1830 and stretching some 1.33 miles from shore  Since 1986, a diesel-hydraulic railway has run the length of the pier, replacing the electric service which opened in 1890. The pier has been beset by fires; a fire in 1995 destroyed the bowling alley at the start of the pier and another fire in October 2005 damaged the far end of the pier. The pier was also run through by a boat in 1984.
The Kursaal was one of the earliest theme parks, built at the start of the 20th century. It closed in the 1970s and much of the land was developed as housing. The entrance hall, a listed building, is a bowling alley arcade operated by Megabowl and casino. An amusement park, formerly known as Peter Pan's Playground, straddles the pier entrance. Peter Pan's Playground was eventually renamed Adventure Island as its size and popularity grew, and has since grown into a large amusement park with over 50 rides. The seafront also houses the "Sea-Life Adventure" aquarium, owned by the Miller family, who also own Adventure Island.
The Cliff Gardens, which included Never Never Land and a Victorian bandstand were an attraction until slippage in 2003 made parts of the cliffs unstable, and the bandstand has been removed. The council wants to re-erect the bandstand but a location has to be found.
A modern vertical lift links the base of the High Street with the seafront and the new pier entrance. The older Southend Cliff Railway, a short funicular, is a few hundred metres away.
On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, Southend hosts a farmers' market.
An airshow began in 1986, at the first of which Concorde, swooped overhead while carrying passengers. The show was named the Festival of the Air in 2009, and takes place each May. At the show, one of the largest free airshows in the world, aircraft including high-speed military jets and sports aerobatic displays fly over the sea, parallel with the seafront. The RAF Falcons parachute display team and RAF Red Arrows jet aerobatics team are regular visitors to the show.
Each August Southend Carnival opens along the "Golden Mile" with the lighting of the Southend Illuminations.
There are three theatres.
- The Cliffs Pavilion is a large building to host concerts and performances on ice. The most recent theatre is the New Empire Theatre. It is, unlike the other two, privately owned. It is used more by amateur groups. The theatre was converted from the ABC Cinema, which was originally a theatre built in 1896.
- The Edwardian Palace Theatre is a Grade II listed building, built in 1912. It shows plays from professional troupes and repertory groups, as well as comedy acts. The theatre has two circles and the steepest rake in Britain. Part of the theatre was a smaller venue called The Dixon Studio.
Numerous churches of many demoninations are found in and around Southend. Among these are:
- Church of England:
- Christ Church
- All Saints
- St Mary’s
- Baptist: Providence Baptist Church
- Independent Evangelical: Southend Evangelical Church
- Methodist: Whittingham Avenue Methodist Church
- United Reformed Church: Bournemouth Park United Reformed Church
There are two synagogues, one orthodox in Westcliff and one reform in Chalkwell for the borough’s Jewish people (mainly in the Westcliff area, which has a large Jewish population.)
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